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Boxing clever: Elizabeth Kreutz on capturing the big-hitting drama of a Manny Pacquiao fight

Manny Pacquiao (left) and Timothy Bradley get stuck in at their title fight at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, USA, on 9 April 2016. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens. © Elizabeth Kreutz

In sports photography, the difference between a good shot and a great one comes down to timing. That's especially the case with boxing, where the action happens at breakneck speed. Here, Texan photographer Elizabeth Kreutz reveals how she captures the most jaw-dropping moments of a bout, and the Canon kit she uses.

Shooting a boxing match is not for the faint-hearted. "You're anticipating that moment when the chance to take a killer shot appears," says Elizabeth. "You're waiting; you're ready for it. I love the unpredictability of it. I have a knot in my stomach. My heart is in my throat the entire time – I have to be ready and I have to be fast, because nobody is waiting for me.

"There are moments when a second before is so different from a second after. That's why, when I'm shooting, I need such a fast burst rate."

Boxer Timothy Bradley protects his face from his opponent Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand.
Boxer Timothy Bradley comes under fire from his opponent Manny Pacquiao. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens. © Elizabeth Kreutz
Christian Ziegler’s

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That need is provided by her two Canon EOS-1D X cameras, which work at blistering speeds – the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II shoots at up to 14 fps with full AF/AE tracking and can reach 16 fps in Live View. These speeds mean it can deliver a continuous burst of up to 170 uncompressed 14-bit RAW images.

"I don't want to miss anything," says Elizabeth. "I take a lot of images with the EOS-1D Xs, especially with the lighter boxers, who are very fast. I shoot like crazy."

She carries three main lenses; an ultra-wide Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, a fast Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM and a workhorse telephoto Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. During the fight, she sticks with one lens, and the resulting images are revealing, forceful and full of drama.

Boxer Manny Pacquiao skips in the training ring, looking in the mirror. We see his reflection, through the ring ropes.
Boxer Manny Pacquiao trains in front of a mirror at the Top Rank boxing gym, Las Vegas, USA, on 5 April 2016. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens. © Elizabeth Kreutz

Elizabeth's Canon EOS-1D X cameras provide her with another benefit that comes to light in her documentary work: what she calls "beautiful high ISO". This is crucial because she mostly shoots without flash, to remain as unobtrusive as possible during athletes' backstage preparations and training sessions, so she can get natural shots.

"When I'm in the dressing rooms working with available light, I need to know if my lens is wide open, 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 how I tell my stories.

"I've been doing this for 16 years and used to worry about going over ISO 1600," she says. "But now I'm shooting at ISO 8000 with no worries. I do it with confidence."

Boxer Timothy Bradley stands behind a screen in a hotel room as freezing cold air is blown around him.
Boxer Timothy Bradley recovers in a subzero cryotherapy chamber. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens. © Elizabeth Kreutz

When the Canon EOS-1D X was first introduced, it had an expanded ISO range that reached 204,800. The EOS-1D X Mark II pushed it up to 409,600. "There are some moments when I do shoot with flash because it's called for and needed, but I'd rather not," says Elizabeth, "so 90% of the time I shoot without."

The Canon EOS-1D X had a profound effect on Elizabeth during her first outing with it. "I had the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV before, which I loved, but when I shot my first fight at Madison Square Garden, I used two bodies; the EOS-1D Mark IV and the EOS-1D X for the first time. I could tell immediately during editing which images were shot with the 1D X because of the more vibrant colours at high ISO. For every fight since then, I've only shot with Canon EOS-1D Xs."

Until that time, she'd never shot full-frame, she says. "All my bodies had cropped sensors. When I went full-frame, I knew I'd never go back. I like to shoot wide with that documentary feel that it gives – it's just awesome."

Boxer Timothy Bradley with trainer Teddy Atlas in the ring before the fight at the MGM Grand on 9 April 2016. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens. © Elizabeth Kreutz
Boxer Timothy Bradley with trainer Teddy Atlas in the ring before the fight at the MGM Grand on 9 April 2016. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens. © Elizabeth Kreutz

Her workflow is dictated by her clients, who are often event promoters keen to document not just the fight itself, but also the build-up and aftermath. Her intimate behind-the-scenes imagery and unique perspective on the fight itself finds its way to social media and gets used as marketing material for future promotions. She applied this method during the second clash between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley in April 2016 (during the first bout, back in 2012, Bradley had won in highly controversial fashion and this was viewed as an opportunity to fix the perceived iniquity of that fight).

"My assignment for this fight was to shoot primarily behind the scenes in the locker rooms," she says. "I wasn't required to provide images on the fly. I got a couple of behind-the-scenes images in real-time before the fight started, then once the fight was on, I just focused on the action, rather than on sending my images immediately. There was another photographer doing that."

Boxer Manny Pacquiao bends forwards as Timothy Bradley raises an arm to punch him.
Shooting low and wide as boxers Tim Bradley and Manny Pacquiao battle in the ring. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 16mm; 1/2500 sec at f/4, ISO8000. © Elizabeth Kreutz

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

It was the first time Elizabeth 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.

Raised on the shoulders of two men, boxer Manny Pacquiao celebrates his victory over Timothy Bradley.
Manny Pacquiao celebrates his victory over Timothy Bradley after their fight. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens. © Elizabeth Kreutz

"I'm looking forward to pushing the ISO even further and getting even better quality images at higher ISOs. I'd like to play with that... That's huge for me as a documentary style photographer."

Written by Mark Alexander


Elizabeth Kreutz's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Photographer Elizabeth Kreutz stands in the middle of a road with two Canon cameras over her shoulders.

Camera

Lens

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

This professional-quality standard zoom lens offers outstanding image sharpness and a robust L-series build. Its constant f/2.8 aperture enables you to take superb photos even in low light, and to control depth of field with ease.

Lens

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

A workhorse telephoto zoom lens with a durable design, a four-stop Image Stabilizer that makes it ideal for shooting handheld in low light conditions, and ultra-low dispersion lens elements to ensure high contrast and natural colours.

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