This weekend I realised that I had passed the milestone of fifty MMA photography gigs. I thought that this would be worthy of a post to share my thoughts on the matter, how I have progressed and general feelings about the mixed martial arts scene.

I shot my first MMA event at Fury in September 2012 after a rather chance meeting and job for an unconnected article in the local free mag. I went along to the event excited and unsure of what to expect. Th other photographers were welcoming and friendly, I was clueless as I’d not shot in this sort of environment before, urbex and HDR were my staple diet up to that point. I shot with a ‘nifty fifty’ and Canon 550D, the same body that I still use as my No2 camera. I was pleased with my images and managed not to shoot on auto all night. I was pretty much hooked from the off.

Max Nunes- MMA Photography

Max Nunes at my first event.

Since then I’ve shot at events around the country and covered UFC overseas as well as in the UK, been lucky enough to be ‘official photographer’ on a few of them too which has its benefits. A lot of people don’t realise that those of us that support the MMA scene in the UK don’t get paid a penny, sure we make the odd sale of pics, but its by no means anything to write home about. Those that write have even less chance of making any cash at all. As a photographer we have to get to the events, shoot images and spend the best part of a day selecting and processing pictures. Its very time consuming and from start to end getting to an event, shooting and procerssing can take around 24 hours total work.

Lion Fighting Championships - MMA Photography

Lion Fighting Championships

Initially I was putting up all of my images (unwatermarked) on Facebook, tagging fighters it was great seeing the views and comments rack up sometimes getting more hits than the official photographer. Yes this was a bit of an ego trip and to be honest it felt really good. I’d been doing urbex for a long time but had never had this much praise. I decided to start vending images through the website and made a few sakes, I had a faded watermark at the side of the image so as not to spoil it. However at one event a fighter took low res (shitty quality) screenshots of the full gallery. This ensured that I put a full watermark right across the image to ensure that I got coverage. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly, but it had to be done.

Nick Chapman - MMA Photography

For me, I had a period last year when I fell out of love with the sport. I’d been hailed as one of the best in the UK at one point (something that I am proud of but don’t believe). I shot two events in following weeks, one in Swansea, the next in either Birmingham or Liverpool, I can’t rightly remember. Both took an age to drive to and from and took up the whole weekend. I sold zero pictires and spent over £100 in fuel. This was when I decided that enough was enough and reached tipping point. I decided to reduce the workload and have a bit more me time, a few less miles on the car and a bit more time with my other half who had become an MMA widow.

UFC Fight Night Gustafsson vs. Manuwa

UFC Fight Night Gustafsson vs. Manuwa

The last three years have taught me a few valuable lessons:

  • Everyone has to start somewhere and simply asking if you can come and shoot an event usually gets a positive answer.
  • People will steal images, use them in videos, adverts, on their own websites and to promote shows. This is not cool and its simple to initiate proceedings to sue for copyright infringement (I have done this). Read up on copyright, I wrote a post about it HERE
  • A fancy camera does help but is by no means essential to capture great images.
  • If you want to make money, this is not the genre of photography to follow. Photographers put full sets up on Facebook which will totally nullify any chance of sale. I have been on both ends of this, its just a fact of life that those starting out will want to garner the greatest audience possible.
  • If you are not getting paid, shoot for yourself and don’t worry about getting images out quickly, or if images are a bit poor, it doesn’t really matter, learn form it.

Although this sounds like a lengthy rant I can assure anyone reading this that I have had a great time doing my MMA photography over the last two and a half years. It’s essential that there are people like me, people who are willing to put the graft in for little reward, those who write for websites and run them working hard around the clck to get material and commentary out to the masses. We have to promote the scene to get it recognised and into the public eye, to excite and to intreague them and hopefully grow the sport from grass roots to the leading promotions.

Brad Picket and Ashleigh Grimshaw for MMA Uncaged.

Brad Picket and Ashleigh Grimshaw for Fighting Fit

I now cover a few select events that I really enjoy, the fact that I don’t go every weekend makes it more exciting for me and less of a chore. I love the people that I meet at events and although we’re not close friends I still feel a connection to people in the sport, those that I sit next to shooting, judging and officiating, sharing a laugh and a joke with and chatting about the upcoming bouts.

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Jimmy Wallhead for MMA Plus

The image of the guys that get into the cage as mindless cage fighters who like nothing better than having a ruck on a Saturday night couldn’t be further from the truth. There are very few fights that I have seen where hands are not shaken and congratulations given between the two opponents when the final bell rings, no matter how bloody the encounter. Sure the guys and girls are made of a different cloth to most of us, but they’re all athletes, training hard, eating well and living a very healthy lifestyle. Ultimately they are good people striving to be the best that they can be in their chosen profession or hobby, very similar to the rest of us in life.