Adventures in Sports Photography, Wrestling Edition

January 31, 2011 at 11:02 am 8 comments


I had a chance to try my hand at photographing wrestling on Sunday—at one of the biggest duals ever in Rec Hall. Top-ranked Penn State lost to three-time national champion Iowa before a crowd of 6,686, and while I was disappointed in the outcome, I had a great time shooting the action.

I’ve tried photographing other sports before (including women’s volleyball back in December), but I had never shot wrestling. So, after securing a media pass for Sunday’s match, I started doing some homework. I Googled “how to photograph wrestling.” I called Mark Selders, the guy who shoots for the Penn State athletic department, for advice. I watched a wrestling match on the Big Ten Network to see where the photographers sat, whether they used a monopod (they did), whether they used flash (they did, to my surprise; apparently the wrestlers don’t mind).


Frank Molinaro, who won at 149 over Mark Ballweg.

I asked our former art director, April Scimio ’84, who’s a wrestling fan, for advice. She warned me to beware of butts. And she was right—I found that advice in my Google search as well; if you’re not careful with your composition, a wrestler’s rear end can really dominate a shot.

I also had just upgraded to a new camera—the new Nikon D7000—and hadn’t had a lot of time to get the hang of it. So, between the new camera, the possibility of using a flash (which I’m not real adept at), and shooting a new sport, there was a lot to think about. I made myself a crib sheet of things to remember:

Shoot both portrait and landscape. Go upstairs and get a crowd shot. If using monopod, turn vibration reduction off. (Oops, forgot to do that.) Set rear dial to AF-A; if that doesn’t work, try AF-C. Concentrate on wrestlers’ faces. Get some shots of Cael Sanderson. When using flash, remove lens hood. (Another oops.)

By the time I took my seat along the edge of the mat on Sunday—elbow to elbow with about 30 other photographers who were covering the dual—I was thoroughly prepared. The only thing I wish I had thought to do was bring one of those folding Thermarest camp chairs, for back support. I can’t tell you how much I wish I had thought of that. Oh well.


Justin Ortega (197) about to get taken down by Iowa’s Luke Lofthouse.

I also got a last-minute piece of advice from an Altoona Mirror photographer who was shooting the meet as well: Right before each bout, take a picture of the scoreboard showing who’s about to wrestle. It’ll help you ID your photos later.

Once the meet started, it was just wild. You’re shooting almost non-stop, but you’re also getting a lot of bad shots (that’s the thing about sports photography—you have to take a lot of shots to get a few good ones). But there’s no time to go through and delete the bad shots, for fear you’ll miss some of the action.

I think I shot something like 400 photos during the meet. Plus I was shooting in RAW, a format that allows you more ability to color-correct later but which generates huge image files. So I filled up an 8-gigabyte memory card and part of a second card. (One of the cool things about the D7000 is that it has two memory-card slots.) Clearly I can’t continue to shoot RAW unless the Alumni Association wants to buy me a new Mac with a 600-kabillion-gigabyte hard drive.

Anyway, some of the shots I got are scattered throughout here, and you can see more on our Facebook page. I feel like I got a few half-decent ones—including one of Andrew Alton appearing to pin his opponent, though he didn’t get credit for the fall. You can see that shot on Lori Shontz’ blog post from last evening.


Cameron Wade (HWT) gets a hand in the face from Iowa’s Blake Raising.

I loved how the new camera performed—some of these are shot at at ISO 6400, which is what photographers call a “stupid high” ISO, great for low-light, fast-action situations. I never could have done that with my previous camera.

But one thing I’m struggling with—a lot—is the color balance. Partly it’s the weird lighting in Rec Hall, and partly it’s my own lack of skill/experience in color correction. But partly also it’s the nature of wrestling, I think: These guys work hard, and their faces get pretty red with the effort. So I’d get this weird greenish color cast (from the fluorescent lighting) on the wrestler’s legs, arms, and torso, but a reddish tone on his face. The wrestlers end up looking a little like aliens who’ve just had a temper tantrum.

Anyway, comments welcome.

Tina Hay, editor

Entry filed under: University Park. Tags: , , , , , .

Tough Day for Penn State’s Wrestling Team So, I Was Talking to Steve McCurry Today…

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. R Thomas Berner  |  January 31, 2011 at 11:53 am

    I shoot RAW and jpeg, but for photojournalism process only the jpeg version because I’ve got a deadline. I use photoshop and I process in RAW, even jpegs. I’ve learned recently to click on auto for the white balance rather than leaving it at as shot and to see what auto exposure gives me (although it ain’t perfect). I set my clarity and vibrance to +25. I also do automatic lens correction (which doesn’t seem to mean that much unless you’re shooting with your 10:20 Sigma). When I’m done processing, I smart sharpen, relying on the default. You might want to subscribe to Tim Grey’s free e-mail service. He provides almost daily tips. I buy his videos and his quarterly magazine.

    BTW, I have two 16gb cards in my 7000, although I just bought the second one and replaced an 8gb. I’m want to set up my camera so video goes on the second card.

  • 2. Tina Hay  |  January 31, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Tom — This is all helpful advice. Thanks! My brother (who does this for a living) also noticed in the metadata of my photos that the factory default for the colorspace is Adobe 1998, and he suggests I switch to the more commonly used sRGB. Also, I shot yesterday with the camera’s color balance set to Auto, and I see now that when I shot volleyball a month earlier, I had the color balance on the D90 set to Fluorescent. I may have to try Fluorescent next time.

  • 3. R Thomas Berner  |  February 1, 2011 at 8:39 am

    Yes, and I have RAW in Photoshop set to bring up my photo in ProPhoto RGB. Again, I think you’re better off changing the white balance in Photoshop rather than the camera, but that’s my preference.

  • 4. Observed» Blog Archive » volleyball photography  |  June 12, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    […] Adventures in Sports Photography, Wrestling Edition В« The Penn … Jan 31, 2011 … I've tried photographing other sports before (including women's volleyball back in December), … […]

  • 5. YM  |  March 3, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    Dear Tina, thank you for article and great shots. Could you share your settings and what type of lens you used for the shots.

  • […] written before about my forays into women’s volleyball (here and here) and wrestling—and I’ve been thinking about trying football for a while. So I thought that shooting a […]

  • […] time I photographed a Penn State wrestling dual and the second one. In January 2011, I shot the Penn State-Iowa dual in Rec Hall, and yesterday I spent the afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center photographing the […]

  • […] written before about the challenges and rewards in photographing volleyball, wrestling, and a football practice. But, except for one time in the late 1970s when I took my now-antique […]

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