CrossFit is such an amazing sport to shoot. It’s fast, explosive, gritty and beautiful all at the same time. Plus, it’s a heck of a challenge. Over the last 5 weeks I photographed the CrossFit Open at my local CrossFit gym, CrossFit Mount Eden.

Every week the workout was released at Friday 1pm NZST, and the (majority of the) class would do the WOD the following day, which was when I would go in to shoot, as it was a combination of the best light and the most people. As my first Open experience, not sure what to expect, I brought doubles of everything: two cameras, two chargers, two extra SD cards and three lenses, just in case! 

The brief was pretty open (“Can you come in and shoot the Open workouts?”), which provided the perfect platform to experiment, have fun and soak up as much as I could. Here are a few things I learned along the way.

19.4. Athlete: Rob Lee, Form Physio 

Shoot beyond the WOD

I usually got to the gym early to make sure I got some test shots, checked the light, checked my settings (too many times I’ve been confidently snapping away during a WOD, realizing too late that my shutter speed is too low. Ouch!), captured the group warm-up and stretching session, and of course, the set up for each WOD!

Some workouts, like 19.3, required a bit more prep than others, where the distance for lunges had to be painstakingly measured out or weight plates had to be strapped down for handstand push-ups. This provided lots of opportunities to shoot interesting “behind the scenes” shots that weren’t your standard “athlete lifting heavy weights” photos.

Judge Mark, scoring an athlete!

Inter-workout chats

Airdyne routine feat Physio Josh

Know the movements

Someone said to us “It helps if you play the sport”. And it’s definitely the case with CrossFit, for example, knowing how to frame the shot so the weights aren’t chopped off, or waiting an extra second during a lift, so the athlete is locked out (though it depends what shot you’re going for of course!). Sometimes this might only be relevant in editing, if you’re shooting in burst mode, but it makes all the difference between a great picture and an average one!

Close is good but closer is better

Your average CrossFit box is cramped – there’s a lot going on and in a small confined space. I spent a lot of time hovering in corners, pushing aside rings and boxes to get the perfect shot. As a photographer you have to navigate all the action without being disruptive and put yourself right in the middle of it.

The low-light in the gym means I usually shoot with primes, but with a wide aperture, I have to get right up close to the action. Sometimes it poses an interesting dilemma – do you continue shooting after someone has collapsed in a sweaty pile? Too bad pain makes for great shots. At the end of the day, only capturing the triumphant moments wouldn’t have done it justice.

From the ground

Top down “safe” distance

Perspective is important too. You can get close but shoot from a “safe position” e.g. top down… but the shots that were on the same level as the athlete, turned out to be my favourite! You just have to be prepared to dive quickly and fire away.

Edit quickly and get the photos out there

With a new Open WOD every week, it was important to edit the photos quickly and get them out in the world while they were topical and relevant – whether it was in the gym member group, or on social media. You can spend ages in post touching up the images, but at some point or the other you have to stop, export and put your work out there! 

Here’s a few of my favourite photos from the Open – unfortunately I missed 19.2 as I was away for a wedding, but got four of them anyway!

19.1 – the damned rower!

19.4 – Burpees over bar

19.3 – Box step-ups

19.5 – All the thrusters!