02 Feb 2018

10 tips for better Crossfit Photography – Part 1

Six years ago when my photography journey started I was scared of using flash. I didn’t understand it at all, and the times I tried to use it just looked awful. I could see that the images I had in my head and the ones I was producing were a long way apart in terms of quality, composition and drama. I knew something needed to change and so after a lot of practice and trial and error, I finally did the right thing and got some professional training with Damian McGillicuddy, something which i continue to this day. That was four years ago, and now it’s very rare that I would ever shoot without flash.


For me, learning to light an image properly was what, I believed, would set my photography apart from my competition. In this day and age where everyone has a camera on them at all times, I wanted my images to stand out. I have by no means mastered the craft, but I now have the tools in place to get the images out of my head and onto a screen. I truly believe that I can now make a picture instead of just taking a picture.


In my three years as a commercial sports photographer I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible athletes across a range of sporting disciplines. I’ve shot GT racing drivers for Ford, Olympic medallists for British Gymnastics, and the fittest woman in the world for Reebok, but the sport that has really caught my eye is CrossFit.


For those of you who have never heard of it, CrossFit is a training program that builds strength and conditioning through extremely varied and challenging workouts.  Each day the workout will test a different part of your functional strength or conditioning, not specializing in one particular thing, but rather with the goal of building a body that’s capable of practically anything and everything.


CrossFit has shown explosive growth over the past few years with new ‘boxes’ (gyms) opening all the time, and with the type of person it often attracts this has opened up a huge potential market for photographers. So, with that in mind, here is the first part of my ten tips for photographing this amazingly diverse sport.

1 – Do your prep

Every CrossFit box is different, so it worth taking your time to look around and scout the box before you shoot. I try to sketch out all potential locations with notes on lighting and what sorts of moves you could fit into each space. When I started my photography career I would try and fit an image concept into the space I had. Now I try far more to make images that make sense for the space.


2 – Know the moves

With any sport, knowledge is key. Every move has a crux point, the point at which a move just looks amazing, muscles are engaged and the dynamism comes shining through. If you’ve never seen or done Crossfit before, it can take a while to figure this out, but if you can do your research beforehand and watch some of the moves then it will improve your pictures dramatically. (Cross Fitters love to video themselves so there is plenty of content out there!) Also, when you are describing what you want your athletes to do, then using the correct terminology can save you a lot of time.

Squatbot - Sarah Harradine

3 – Know what you want to say

CrossFit photography has the potential to cover a wide range of human emotions, figure out what you want to convey in your images, this will make a big difference to when you press the shutter. Determination and focus come as standard with this sport, but the ecstasy of making a lift or indeed the agony of not making a lift can make great images as well. There is a real sense of community and support in every CrossFit box I’ve been to, so don’t be afraid to capture that as well. It can really add to the narrative of your shoot.


4 – Less is more when it comes to light

CrossFit boxes are almost always dark. CrossFit imagery lends itself to being dark and moody and lights placed above your athlete can really enhance muscle definition – and Cross Fitters will love you for enhancing their muscle tone! If you are shooting a live event such as the regular throw downs or competitions that are held, then don’t be afraid to crank the ISO a bit, alternatively a couple of speed lights strategically placed should raise the ambient light of the room to enable you to shoot with a fast-enough shutter. I never step inside a CrossFit box without a good selection of Elinchrom lights and modifiers, my go to mods at the moment are strip boxes and the new parabolic umbrellas. With this set up, I know I can craft the images that excite my clients.

Sports Photographer Professional of Neil Shearer Photography. Neil Shearer, Clients include Reebok and the Ford GT racing team. Specialising in high end prestige commercial sports photography and also the supply of sports stock photography for commercial and marketing use.

5 – Great subjects make great photographs

CrossFit athletes are usually a confident bunch who are not afraid of the camera, so when the action has finished, set your lights up for some gritty portraits as well.

MSDQ Crossfit - Si Davidson

So, there you have it, a quick beginners guide to CrossFit photography and a little insight into how I go about lighting and planning my images. Check out my portfolio to see more Crossfit images and look out for part two coming soon…


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