First Try: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

A few weeks ago my buddy invited me to shoot a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) tournament . I'm always down to try something new and I have a casual interest in BJJ and MMA. Yeah, why not shoot it.

It was a very different experience than what I'm used to shooting. I usually photograph action sports which take place outside with a decent amount of light, the action is relatively fast and the actions of the athletes are predictable (they are going to hit a jump, go over an obstacle or do a trick roughly the same way). The BJJ tournament was inside with bad light, the action was slow relative to action sports and it is much harder to predict what the athletes where going to do. It was definitely a challenge that pushed me outside of my comfort zone. 

I was shooting with my Canon T3i with the 28-135 f/3.5-5.6 lens. I wasn't sure how much motion blur I was going to get when the athletes were moving so I didn't shoot slower than 1/250th for the majority of the tournament. Unfortunately this meant that I had to push the ISO to 6400 because the lighting at the venues was so weak. The ISO controls how sensitive the camera is to light. A high ISO means that the shot is brighter but it also introduces a lot of grain and you lose color quality.

I was shooting with my Canon T3i with the 28-135 f/3.5-5.6 lens. I wasn't sure how much motion blur I was going to get when the athletes were moving so I didn't shoot slower than 1/250th for the majority of the tournament. Unfortunately this meant that I had to push the ISO to 6400 because the lighting at the venues was so weak. The ISO controls how sensitive the camera is to light. A high ISO means that the shot is brighter but it also introduces a lot of grain and you lose color quality.

Even with a super high ISO the images came out a stop or two under exposed. I corrected the pictures as much as I could in Lightroom but this brought out the grain and color noise even more. I used as much noise reduction in as I could. Converting the pictures to black and white took care of the color issues and the grain gives it a gritty look.

Even with a super high ISO the images came out a stop or two under exposed. I corrected the pictures as much as I could in Lightroom but this brought out the grain and color noise even more. I used as much noise reduction in as I could. Converting the pictures to black and white took care of the color issues and the grain gives it a gritty look.

Half the time the athletes are just wrestling for better position or you can't see their faces. I got better at predicting when and where they would move but it depended on each athlete's strategy. Some were very dynamic trying to get a quick victory others were content with grinding it out for 30 minutes. 

Half the time the athletes are just wrestling for better position or you can't see their faces. I got better at predicting when and where they would move but it depended on each athlete's strategy. Some were very dynamic trying to get a quick victory others were content with grinding it out for 30 minutes. 

PJ and coach Boogie repping 10th Planet San Diego

PJ and coach Boogie repping 10th Planet San Diego

One of the hardest thing about photographing BJJ is capturing the action with out making it look super awkward. There are a couple of shots where somebody's ballsack is in the other guys face...

One of the hardest thing about photographing BJJ is capturing the action with out making it look super awkward. There are a couple of shots where somebody's ballsack is in the other guys face...

The most feared BJJ move of all: the jaw grab.

The most feared BJJ move of all: the jaw grab.

PJ literally sweeping the leg. 

PJ literally sweeping the leg. 

1/250th froze the action most of the time. I like that PJ (bottom) is in focus but his opponent is blurred a little.

1/250th froze the action most of the time. I like that PJ (bottom) is in focus but his opponent is blurred a little.

My boy Ronnie (left) going head to head in his first bout.

My boy Ronnie (left) going head to head in his first bout.

The ref really didn't want Ronnie to throw up the one and zero. Can't stop, won't stop.

The ref really didn't want Ronnie to throw up the one and zero. Can't stop, won't stop.

I wish I could have used my flash but I didn't want to interfere with the athletes. In this case I want more light on the guy's face on top.

I wish I could have used my flash but I didn't want to interfere with the athletes. In this case I want more light on the guy's face on top.

Ronnie was trying to hit the heel hook all bout but his opponent toughed it out.

Ronnie was trying to hit the heel hook all bout but his opponent toughed it out.

Ronnie rolled his ankle in training and was fighting hurt. His opponent caught his bum ankle and Ronnie had to tap. Wipe off the blood, get back in the gym and take the gold next tourney, Ronnie!

Ronnie rolled his ankle in training and was fighting hurt. His opponent caught his bum ankle and Ronnie had to tap. Wipe off the blood, get back in the gym and take the gold next tourney, Ronnie!

Another obstacle was the refs. A lot of the time they would stand directly behind the athletes, cluttering the background, or they were between me and the athletes. I saw this shot between the ref's legs and fired off a few frames.

Another obstacle was the refs. A lot of the time they would stand directly behind the athletes, cluttering the background, or they were between me and the athletes. I saw this shot between the ref's legs and fired off a few frames.

Sometimes you have to work hard to get the shot. Sometimes the shot comes to you. This is an example of the latter.

Sometimes you have to work hard to get the shot. Sometimes the shot comes to you. This is an example of the latter.

The second most feared move in BJJ: face touching.

The second most feared move in BJJ: face touching.

This tournament was held at a fitness expo so no matter the angle, there was a lot of clutter in the background.

This tournament was held at a fitness expo so no matter the angle, there was a lot of clutter in the background.

Towards the end of the tournament I lowered my ISO to 1600 and kept my shutter speed at 1/80th or 1/60th, hence the motion blur.

Towards the end of the tournament I lowered my ISO to 1600 and kept my shutter speed at 1/80th or 1/60th, hence the motion blur.

This is probably my favorite shot I took. The coach unintentionally said something funny. I love how one dude is smiling and in focus, and the other dude is blurred and angry.

This is probably my favorite shot I took. The coach unintentionally said something funny. I love how one dude is smiling and in focus, and the other dude is blurred and angry.

If you're that red, you're going to tap or you're going to sleep.

If you're that red, you're going to tap or you're going to sleep.