What I Learned From Shooting CrossFit

What I Learned From Shooting CrossFit

CrossFit is taking the world by storm. With 11,000 affiliates and growing, it has become a great way to get into shape and is an untapped resource for photographers to sharpen their skills. I started shooting CrossFit as a member in 2010 and learned many things along the way. This is what I learned and how you can improve your skill set.

Stay Healthy- As photographers we tend to work long hours. Personally I shoot weddings, fitness and also work in the AD Department on films. This means being on my feet for 12-18 hours a day. The better shape I am in, the better I feel.  If you hang with healthy people it will eventually rub off. Connecting with people at a CrossFit affiliate can mean more opportunities to better yourself. World class wedding photographer Jerry Ghionis says "If you want to be a better photographer, be a better person". Furthermore, exercise is a great way to relieve stress. I find that when I am less stressful, my client interaction and set relationships only get better.

Photograph of a CrossFit athlete

Carmine Sarazen©

Master a 50m- Several years ago when I started photography, I was really intimidated by the price of gear. Although I use L-Series glass now, it seamed so out of reach to buy or even rent something of this caliber. So I took the advice of my peers and invested in a 50m lens. This is a priceless investment. I have shot everything from portraits to actions shots with this lens. This is a great lens because it is reasonably priced, has a wide aperture and allows you to learn to move on your feet with a fixed focal length. I know exactly how to frame a shot and can feel it before the view finder hits my eye. Knowing the gear that you use is essential and only comes with hours of practice.

Photograph of a CrossFit athlete

Carmine Sarazen©

 

Lighting - A CrossFit affiliate is referred to as a "Box." This is because it is usually a warehouse space lined with black rubber from doors to walls. This makes it easy to throw weights around but hard to find enough light to get a proper exposure. I needed to find a solution. I decided to invest in some lighting gear. I purchased a few small flashes so that I could get a pop of light and take my images from good to great. You can start with the flash on the camera for fill, then move to getting the flash off of the hot shoe to get some more creative light. There are thousands of free lighting tutorials available these days like this one featured here. But nothing can replace experience. Make friends with some athletes and you will never have a shortage of people to practice on.

A photograph of a CrossFit athlete

Carmine Sarazen©

Social Media and Networking- My favorite attribute about shooting the sport of fitness is the people I meet and opportunities it presents.I find that being a member of a box or visiting one is the a powerful way to network.  Whenever I shoot a group class or an environmental portrait session, I edit quickly and share to Facebook. This allows the subject and affiliate owner to tag themselves, which allows other members and their friends to connect with me and associate me a with  "being a photographer". My dad sells real estate, he refers to this as "filling the hopper." The more people I connect with the better more opportunities I have for business. Some of my best clients are people that I have met and photographed at a class.

Photograph of a CrossFit Athlete

Carmine Sarazen©

Capturing intimate moments- It is really easy to get a good shot of a really ripped up and strong athlete lifting a barbell. But the thing that separates a good shooter from a great one is the ability to capitalize on a beautiful moment. An intimate moment between a coach and athlete, a moment of complete exhaustion or a spit second of fear in someone's eyes can make for a powerful image. A great shooter has the patience and discipline to nail the moment with in a moment. These athletes train for hours, days and even years. It is really satisfying when you can offer them a tangible moment in time.

A photograph of a CrossFit athlete

Carmine Sarazen©

 

Anticipation- The CrossFit work out of the day or "wod", usually consists of several movements repeated a few times. For example....10 pushups, 20 sit ups, 200 meter run. Three rounds for time!  This is a photographer's dream. The fact that you know what they will be doing next allows you to take a shot, adjust and reposition to improve on the next shot. Don't allow yourself to get frustrated-- get better. The only way to improve your skill set is to practice over and over. Get out, get in shape and improve your photography skills with some CrossFit shots!

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14 Comments

Jason Vinson's picture

i have coached Crossfit for just over 3 years now and can relate to all of the above!

Cody Schultz's picture

Definitely an inspiring post, and it gives all photographers, no matter their experience level, something to think about...great read :)

Casey Berner's picture

I've always wanted to shoot CrossFit but haven't found an opportunity yet. Great stills to showcase this article.

Nick Collins's picture

I love doing and shooting Crossfit...great post highlighting Crossfit :D

Caleb Kerr's picture

I shoot a lot of crossfit as well, but the main benefit I experience from it is staying sharp. Everything is happening fast, generally speaking, and you've got to a) not get in people's way, b) not get weights dropped on you, c) predict what will happen, and d) have your camera ready when that peak action takes place. I've found that being comfortable shooting things that are sporadic and fast has helped me overall because if you can be quick enough on your feet to shoot live sports in a crowded area, many other things feel easier. I also get more work than I can handle just from referrals from within the gym.

Dan Morice's picture

I recognize your name from friends posting around town. I have been shooting for Crossfit Austin for about 3 years now. Agree with your comment, gotta be on your toes and on your game to get lots of keepers.

Todd Sharp's picture

I've shot a lot of CrossFit over the past couple of years and it is still one of my favorite things to shoot. The pace of the workouts and the repetition have been a great way to build my own stamina and sustained focus while shooting; and waiting for that millisecond of a moment when the artifice drops and I can capture what is really going on inside the athletes... it's upped my work across the board.

Ali Samieivafa's picture

My main job is doing photo and video for a Crossfit gym, great article and everything on point. Couple of things I want to add, one is to not use flash, unless it's specifically a photoshoot, people hate to have flash going off when they're in a middle of an intense workout. two, don't stand directly in front of people, when you're lifting, most often you find a point in front of you and focus and a person with a camera is the last thing you want to focus on. Three, as you mentioned, Fast Prime lens (under f2) shutter speeds faster than 1/200th and just get creative with the rest...
Other than that, just be aware of your surrounding and have one eye around you to make sure you don't get in the way.

james darden's picture

I've been shooting CrossFit comps since the 2011 SoCal regionals when they allowed spectators to use longer lenses. Now with the restriction, I just shoot local events. When it comes to lighting "hard to find" is a drastic understatement. It's darn near impossible unless you're almost maxing out your ISO if you aren't using a flash. My D700 gets really bad upwards of 2000. I have a friend who shoots with a 5dMkIII that has outstanding performance in low light with no flash. It drives me crazy. He'll even sometimes hangs about 6-8 Canon lights with external packs around our box (that has really bad flourescent lights) which really helps. Since Canon's lighting system supports RF and high speed sync, he has no line of sight or shutter speed issues. I have throw on my SB-800 unfortunately. Using a slow enough shutter speed to balance the ambient doesn't really work well because the shutter is still open after the flash triggers resulting in a rear curtain effect. I'm still learning to dial in the right settings and distances to between myself and the competitor. As others have already mentioned, you really need to keep your head on a swivel because things are fast and furious. You can easily get in the way if you don't take your eye away from the viewfinder during the action. There are a few guys I follow on IG that turn out some really good stuff at various local events as well as Regional and The Games. Those provide some good ideas. Thanks for posting this. We have a comp coming up Saturday and I'll be back at it again.

alan carrillo's picture

I've shot a few competitions in southern california. It is very dark in the box. ISO2000-3200 most of the time if I don't have a few speedlights set up.

james darden's picture

What comps and where? I may have seen you at one of them.

alan carrillo's picture

some of the femme royale, crossfit frenzy throwdowns, wod wars, I forget some of the others.