Lens: Canon 135mm f2.0 L. Aperture: f2.0. Shutter: 1/640. ISO: 1000. Xplorer 600 strobe to camera right

The CrossFit Open

CrossFit Open 2019 is in the pages of history. Every year CrossFit Incorporated and Reebok host the CrossFit Games in an effort to find the “Fittest on Earth.” You can learn more about the Games here on the CrossFit Games Wikipedia page. One cool thing about the Games is that anyone can qualify. The initial qualifying rounds are held at each individual CrossFit Box. “Box” is the term for a CrossFit facility that distinguishes it from your ordinary, everyday “gym.” The Open lasts for 5 weeks, one workout per week, typically held on Friday evening.

Why I love CrossFit

Many people benefit from CrossFit in many different ways. It’s not all about the super, muscle-bound, elite athletes you see during television coverage of the Games or on YouTube videos. For me personally, I benefit from strength training to help alleviate the pain associated with osteoarthritis resulting from the surgical steel orthopedic hardware in my pelvis, femur and lower back. If you don’t know that story, you can read about it on my About Chad Foreman  page.

crossfit open sports photography blog 02
Lens: Canon 85mm f1.2 L. Aperture: f1.8. Shutter: 1/640. ISO: 400. Strobes with magmods, camera right and background.

CrossFit Contribution

As a photographer, part of my contribution to the CrossFit community and my local box, AFC CrossFit, is that I photograph the Open each year. The Open is a special time of year for the CrossFit community. It’s the time when all of the athletes push themselves to a whole new level. It’s a time to really test your progress from the year. For me, it’s a great opportunity to practice photographing athletes at their game.

Improvements for 2019

My biggest change and improvement for 2019 was two-fold. I shot the entire Open with fixed, also called prime, lenses. Also, I used a lot of off-camera flash to create dramatic lighting.

Mary C Hammet CrossFit athlete open 2019
Lens: Canon 85mm f1.2 L. Aperture: f2.0. Shutter: 1/640. ISO: 200. Xplorer 600 to camera right and one backlighting her.

Fixed vs. Zoom Lenses

In the world of lenses there are two main categories: zoom and fixed. Zoom lenses have an adjustable focal point that is attained by rotating the barrel of the lens. Think of the term “zoom in” when talking about getting closer to the action. Many sports photos are shot with zoom lenses because the athletes may be coming towards the photographer, like a running back charging for the end zone, and the photographer needs to change the focal length by “zooming out” in order to fit the athlete in the frame. The focal length is the distance from the rear element of the lens to the sensor. The smaller the number, the larger the field of view. Examples of two popular zoom lenses are 24-70mm and the 70-200mm. The measurement in millimeters is the focal length and the two numbers indicate the zoom range of the lens.

Fixed Lenses

Fixed lenses have one focal length. Popular fixed lenses include the 50mm, 35mm, 85mm and 135mm. These are the four lenses in which I shot this year’s Open. You might be wondering “Chad, why would you cary 4 different lenses that you need to change in the middle of the action?” That’s a very good question that I thought you might ask. The answer is two-fold. Just like everything else in life, especially relationships, everything in photography is a compromise. A give and a take. You can have this but you must sacrifice that. There is no one, perfect lens for all things.

crossfit open-sports photography blog 04
Lens: Canon 50mm f1.2 L. Aperture: f2.0. Shutter: 1/640. ISO: 400. Strobe with Magmod sphere to camera right.
Seth Gunnoe crossfit open sports photography
Lens: Canon 50mm f1.2 L. Aperture: f2.0. Shutter: 1/640. ISO: 400. Strobe with Magmod sphere to camera left.
April Smith crossfit open sports photography
Lens: Canon 85mm f1.2 L. Aperture: f1.2. Shutter: 1/500. ISO: 100. Strobe with Magmod sphere to camera left, strobe with Magmod bounce to camera right.

Optical Image Quality

Fixed lenses are called prime lenses because they have the best image quality. There is a certain look attained with a prime lens that is very distinguished. The reason for this is that in order to change the focal length in a zoom lens, there must be multiple glass elements that slide back in forth within the lens. Any time light passes through glass, it gets a little bit distorted. Less pieces of glass equal less distortion.

A Wider Aperture

Fixed lenses allow for a wider aperture. The aperture is the opening in a lens that allows light through it. This opening is adjustable and measured in stops that are indicated with an f-value. The smaller the number, the more light comes through. The aforementioned zoom lenses only open up to f2.8. My prime lenses open up to f1.4 and two of them, the 50mm and 85mm open up to f1.2. That’s two additional stops of light which allow me to use a faster shutter speed, which is crucial for capturing sports action. This is also crucial because the CrossFit box is very dark with a black floor and gray walls. Not so optimal for photography.

George Tabit crossfit open sports photography blog 07
Lens: Canon 50mm f1.2 L. Aperture: f1.2. Shutter: 1/800. ISO: 640. Strobe with Magmod sphere to camera right.

Shallower Depth of Field

An additional benefit of the wider aperture achieved with prime lenses is a shallower depth of field. The depth of field is the plane of view that is in focus. A prime lens at f1.2 is going to have less in focus than the zoom lens at f2.8. The advantage of this is that it puts the focus directly on the athlete. The background is less important and therefore, out of focus. The down side of this is that it can be very easy to get your athlete out of focus. If those eyes aren’t in focus, the shot is lost. Nothing else matters.

Off-Camera Flash

CrossFit Open 2019 was also an experiment for me to use more off-camera flash. Off-camera flash means taking your flash, or strobe light(s) off of your camera and using a remote trigger to fire them. The advantage of taking your light off-axis to the camera is that it uses shadows to create more depth. Our eyes are tricked by light and shadow to create more depth in an image. On-axis light has the effect of flattening everything out and making it look plain and dull.

I did a lot of experimenting with light by placing my strobes at different angles. Sometimes I was trying to outline a side of the figure to define muscle tone. Sometimes I backlit the subject for a dramatic appearance.

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Lens: Canon 85mm f1.2 L. Aperture: f1.2. Shutter: 1/640. ISO: 640. Strobe with Magmod sphere to camera left.

What do you think?

Did you enjoy learning about my lens selections and why I chose them? Do you find off-camera flash fascinating? Are too  many of these pictures not tack sharp enough for your viewing pleasure?

Please let me know in the comments below.