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Technique

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Big hitter: shooting boxing with the
EOS-1D X Mark II

April 2016

Liz Kreutz is a photographer with a big reputation for capturing the essence of her subjects. CPN writer Mark Alexander finds out how the latest Canon technology is helping the documentary sports photographer develop her unique style...

Liz Kreutz loves the sport of boxing. The emotional accessibility of it and the action inside the ring gives her a buzz. Throw in some frenetic action and tricky lighting and the US-based photographer is in her element.

“My heart is in my throat the entire time,” says Liz. “It’s an experience unlike any other. That’s why I like it. You’re anticipating that moment. You’re waiting; you’re ready for it. That’s the kind of photography I like to do. I love the unpredictability of that. I have a knot in my stomach the whole time.”

© Elizabeth Kreutz
© Elizabeth Kreutz

Boxer Tim Bradley under fire from his opponent Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, USA, 9 April, 2016. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 70mm; the exposure was 1/1250sec at f/4, ISO 8000.

When it comes to the cut and thrust of boxing, split-second timing can mean the difference between a good and a great shot. “I need the speed,” she says. “I have to be ready and I have to be fast because nobody is waiting for me. And I know that. There are moments when a second before is so different from a second after. When I am editing, I see that split-second difference in my athlete’s expression or action, that’s why I need such a fast burst rate.”

These days Kreutz gets her shutter-speed fix from her EOS-1D X and EOS-1D X Mark II, but she began her hunt for hustle by borrowing her dad’s EOS 650 film camera and using it throughout her college years. When she started her photography business in 2001, she graduated to an EOS D30, which featured a three megapixel APS sized CMOS sensor delivering a whopping 3fps.

The Canon D30 was a slow start, but as her career gathered pace so did her kit. Today, her EOS-1D X cameras (she typically carries two bodies) work at blistering speeds – the Mark II shoots at up to 14 frames-per-second with full AF/AE tracking and can reach 16fps in Live View. “I don’t want to miss anything,” says Kreutz. “I take a lot of images with the 1DXs, especially with the lighter boxers who are very fast so there can be a lot of action. I love all of it. I shoot like crazy.”

© Elizabeth Kreutz
© Elizabeth Kreutz

Boxer Manny Pacquiao caught training in the mirror at the at the Top Rank boxing gym, Las Vegas, USA, 5 April, 2016. Look carefully and you can spot Liz Kreutz on the left. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 160mm; the exposure was 1/320sec at f/2.8, ISO 8000.

Her appetite for photography and determination to freeze the fight is palpable. Kreutz is one of those photographers who wants it all; speed, accuracy, colour and reliability all wrapped up in images that deliver a knock-out punch. All are important, but her 1DXs also provide her with another benefit that comes to light in her documentary images where she relies on her ability to build lasting relationships with her subjects.

“When the EOS-1D X first came out, it was a real game changer - the speed, the beautiful high ISO. It was so nice,” she says. “I’ve been doing this for 16 years and I still worry about going over ISO 1600. But now I’m shooting at ISO 8000 with no worries. I do it with confidence.”

She continues: “I like to shoot without flash. I like available light. When I am back in the dressing rooms working with what I’ve got, I need to know that if I am wide open on my lens I can push the ISO to get a shutter speed where I’m not going to get motion blur. That’s what I want and that’s how I tell my stories.”

© Elizabeth Kreutz
© Elizabeth Kreutz

Boxer Manny Pacquiao at his official weigh-in at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, USA, 8 April, 2016. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF14mm f/2.8L II USM lens; the exposure was 1/1250sec at f/3.2, ISO 6400.

The tense and heated environment of a boxer’s dressing room just before he steps into the ring must be one of the most charged photographic assignments you could find. The line between capturing an intimate moment and overstaying your welcome can be very fine indeed, and repeatedly firing a flashgun may not placate the situation. “My athletes don’t like being flashed in the face. It’s not only me and my style, but the athletes don’t like it. The least distracting I can be, the more access, trust and natural images I’m going to get.”

When the EOS-1D X was first introduced it had an expanded ISO range that reached 204,800. The latest incarnation pushes this envelope to 409,600. “There are some moments when I do shoot with flash when it is called for and needed, but I would rather not. Ninety percent of the time I shoot without flash.”

She says it’s all part of building up a close, unquestioning bond with her subjects. “It’s not just a professional relationship, there is also a caring, human side that allows for your work to be better,” she explains. “This is especially true in a sport like boxing which is so brutal that anything can happen. The highs are high and the lows are low, and you are right there with them telling their story. You’re not there just getting pictures; you actually care – that’s what makes the difference.”

© Elizabeth Kreutz
© Elizabeth Kreutz

Boxer Manny Pacquiao prays before the match at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, USA, 9 April, 2016. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 16mm; the exposure was 1/400sec at f/5.0, ISO 10,000.

It’s not just her subjects that Kreutz cares deeply about. The EOS-1D X had a profound effect on her during her first outing with the high-spec camera. “I had the EOS-1D Mark IV, which I loved, but when I shot my first fight in Madison Square Garden - it was a huge fight, 20,000 people - I used two bodies; the Mark IV and the 1DX for the first time. After the fight, I could tell immediately during editing which images were shot with the 1DX because of the colour quality and the more vibrant colours at high ISO. Every fight since then, I’ve only shot with 1DXs.”

She continues: “At that time I had never shot full-frame. All my bodies had been cropped sensors. When I went full frame, I knew I would never go back. I like to shoot wide with that documentary feel, and at full frame; it’s just awesome.”

Kreutz began her documentary style photography around athletic tracks in the US. Ironman competitions followed and then cycling races. That’s where she met Lance Armstrong who she exclusively photographs on many occasions. Armstrong introduced her to Todd DuBoef, president of boxing promotions company Top Rank, and the rest they say, is history.

© Elizabeth Kreutz
© Elizabeth Kreutz

Boxer Tim Bradley with trainer Teddy Atlas in the ring before the fight at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, USA, 9 April, 2016. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with an EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm; the exposure was 1/125sec at f/2.8, ISO 6400.

To capture the spectacle of the ring, Kreutz carries a pair of EOS-1D Xs and three main lenses; an ultra-wide EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, a fast EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM and a workhorse telephoto EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. During the fight, she sticks with one lens for each round rather than changing mid-bout. The resulting images are upfront, forceful and full of drama.

Her workflow is dictated by her clients who are often event promoters keen to document not just the action, but also the build-up and aftermath of the fight. This means Kreutz has a slightly different approach to post-processing compared to many traditional sports photographers who find themselves racing to get their shots across the wires first. Kreutz’s intimate behind-the-scenes imagery and her unique perspective on the fight itself find their way to social media and on to promotions after the final bell has wrung.

She applied this methodology during the recent head-to-head clash between Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley. “My assignment for this fight was to shoot primarily behind the scenes in the locker-rooms,” she explains. “I wasn’t required to provide images on the fly.”

© Elizabeth Kreutz
© Elizabeth Kreutz

Shooting low and wide for impact as boxers Tim Bradley and Manny Pacquiao fight at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, USA, 9 April, 2016. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 16mm; the exposure was 1/2500sec at f/4, ISO 8000.

She did however send real-time photos of the undercards, resizing the images on her laptop and sending them to the social media team at Top Rank. When the headliners arrived at the venue, all of Kreutz’s attention shifted towards Pacquiao and Bradley and the job of capturing every moment of an eventful night. “When Manny and Tim arrived, I just focussed on them,” she explains. “I got a couple of behind-the-scenes images in real-time before the fight started, but once the fight was on, I just focussed on them rather than sending my images immediately. There was another photographer doing that.”

Her arrangement with the promoters meant she was able to cover the fight and everything that happened around it, and then process her RAW images in the comfort of her hotel room. That process took five hours to complete.

“I’m kind of old school - I don’t batch process. I’m sure it would make my life a lot easier, but I do it individually,” she says. "First I pick my favourites and colour code them, and then resize all of those to web size. I bring in Photoshop if anything needs to be colour-corrected. I either send them directly to my client or send them to my phone and edit them on my phone and send them that way.”

The Pacquiao and Bradley fight was the first time Kreutz had used the EOS-1D X Mark II, and like her first outing with the EOS-1D X, it left its mark. “I’m excited to see what I can do with it, especially with my documentary style,” she says. “I’m looking forward to pushing the ISO even further and getting even better quality images at even higher ISOs. I would like to play with that. I shoot in low-light situations in dressing rooms, but I don’t want to worry about motion blur or using flash. That’s huge for me being a documentary style photographer.”

Elizabeth Kreutz’s boxing kitbag:

Cameras:
2x EOS-1D X
1x EOS-1D X Mark II (pre-production body for testing)

Lenses:
EF14mm f/2.8L II USM
EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Biographie: Elizabeth Kreutz

Elizabeth Kreutz

Elizabeth Kreutz is a freelance documentary sports photographer from Austin, Texas, USA, who studied photojournalism at the University of Texas. She shoots many of the world's leading sports events and specialises in photographing cycling events, including the Tour de France, and triathlon championships. Her work has featured in leading publications including Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, L’Équipe, Stern, The Guardian and La Gazzetta dello Sport. In 2010 she won first prize in the World Press Photo Contest in the Sports Feature Stories category and first place in the Pictures of the Year International Contest in the Sports Picture Story category.



Vitrine

Rafael Vazquez (left) and Devin Haney Faceoff after the official weigh in. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 35mm; the exposure was 1/640sec at f/2.8, ISO 1250.