How To

Dynamics of Boxing Photography.

Gladiator.
Courtesy Call.
Mohammad Ali At Services In Mosque in Manila.
Ali studying Frazier's technique on film.
Ali holds court at Folk Arts.
Ali Weigh-in.
Frazier Weigh-in.
Right Hook.
First Round.
Frazier Postfight Press Conference.
Post fight press conference.

DYNAMICS OF BOXING PHOTOGRAPHY

by

Carl Kuntze

Sports photography is a highly complex craft in which luck, augmented by technical

skill, plays a great part. Boxing is particularly difficult because of constraints on angling and options that are directed by maneuvers of the boxers themselves. My own initiation was rather promising since the only valid reply to my numerous mailed queries came from a ma-

jor international magazine, Bunte Illustrierte, of West Germany.

The event was The Thrilla in Manila, the third Ali-Frazier match, held in The Philip-

pines, October, 1975. I was elated but a bit uneasy, not having covered boxing before.

The magzine preferred a medium format for their transparencies, which further unsettled me.

I had a pretty neat 35 mm. system, two Pentax bodies, a KX and a K-2, a rapidwinder, and

six lenses, ranging from 28 mm. wide angle to a 200 mm. telephoto. My 6 x 7 was a Lin-

hof 220, with a fixed 95 mm. f.3.5 Technikar triplet produced by Rodenstock. It weighed

3 1/2 lbs, was 3 1/2 " wide and 11 1/2 " high. Its shutter release trigger was on the gun-

stock handle. The viewer was large with accurate parallax frames, an inner one for close-ups.

The split beam rangefinder was easy enough to focus, but both illuminated frames disap-peared when aimed against the light. The built-in exposure meter (visible in the viewer) was superbly accurate for general readings, but I'd be unable to monitor it during fluctuations

of light intensity. All told, it was a bulky piece of equipment not adapted for high-speed per-

formance. I would have preferred to use my Pentaxes, but didn't dare broach this with my

new editor for fear he'd withdraw the assignment. I'd have to explore using flash.

I owned a shoemount Vivtar 283, then developing a formidable reputation for pow-

er and reliability. During fashion shows I covered, I found its light output strong enough to

allow me to close down to f.8 in automatic mode at 12 feet with 100 ASA film. Its 4 second

recycling time was vexing, but it'd probably be adequate for my needs. I took two friends

to Araneta Coliseum, future site of the bout, and positioned them on the canvas, approxi-

mately where the boxers would stand. My tests were disconcerting. From my predeter-

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mined post, the flash reflected through the ropes projected "tiger stripes" which could have

obscured the faces of the boxers. Since I had to maintain a stationary posture to avoid anta-

gonizing spectators behind me, I had to rule flash out.

I would have to depend on the fastest film of the time. High Speed Ektachrome.

Tungsten had an ASA speed of 110, Daylight, 160, which would have given me an extra

stop. Would the quartz lighting used in television leave an orange cast impossible for color

separators to correct? The weigh-in on the day preceding the fight would give me the opportunity to check. It was not particularly critical to the assignment. With tungsten film. I

could use an aperture of f.5.6 at a 60th of a second, much too slow for handheld shots. I couldn't open up to f.3.5 because the reduced depth of field would narrow my margin for error. For security, I brought my Pentax KX with a 50 mm. f.1.4 Takumar lens loaded with Plux X film, with which I took my first shots, then swinging the 35 mm. camera aside, exposed the Daylight High Speed Ektachrome on my Linlhof. I could only shoot twelve frames of the boxers in color, then covered the succeeding events with my Pentax.

I rushed off to have the test rolls developed, and was delighted with the results. Flesh tones were warm, but not unpleasant. Contrast was good with subjects separate from the background. Best of all, the orange bleed that would smudge the image in repro-

duction matrices was absent. Some confidence restored, I purchased two ten roll packets

of 120 High Speed Daylight Ektachrome. This niggardly amount would turn out to be over-

optimistic. When the bout was over, I'd finally have exposed two and a half rolls.

As I expected, I was literally frozen in my third row seat on the day of the bout with

my face glued top the viewfinder. When over-excited competitors were brought to their

feet by furious action, angry demands for them to siddown roared from the backrows. Some local bigwigs were reputed to have paid as much as $ 1000 for their ringside seats.

Ken Regan of Camera 35 was the only photographer permitted to post himself within the

ropes. He was at the edge of the west flank with several 35 mm. cameras mounted with

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lenses of different focal lengths. I wasn't sure whether he won a pool or had a special arrangement with Don King. Sports Illustrated had a six man team statioined at strategic points of the arena, some with extreme telephotos to isolate the action, others with wide

angle lens to record the panorama. A remote control camera with a 250 foot magazine was

mounted over the ring. The presence of renown regional and international sports photo-

graphers somewhat deflated me. They all came in teams. I was the only one presump-

tuous enough to try covering the event by myself. Across me, I could see Norman Mailer

glowering. He was covering the bout for Playboy Magazine. ABC had several video

cameras and technicians scampering about. They were covering the fight for ABCs Wide

World of Sports, having nailed down the exclusive rights to broadcast internationally on closed circuit TV. Tension was thick.

Just before the opening round, I caught Ali in a quiet moment as Trainer-Manager

Angelo Dundee adjusted his gloves. A young reporter from The Tokyo based Far East

Network, sitting adjacent to me called out: "Think you'll beat him, Ali?" Ali's head snapped

in our direction as he replied calmly. "We're about to find out, aren't we?" This particular shot

exemplifies my own impression of him. Visiting his training site at The Folk Arts Theatre at

The Cultural Center of Manila, I generally came early, well ahead of other sportswriters and

photographers, to note the sharp distinction between the private Ali and his public image

(The Louisville Lip). Since I never goaded him, the only acknowledgement I elicited from him was a faint smile, and a curt nod. The posturing took place later when the limelight was

turned on with an adulating press paying court.

The first skirmish occured in the center of the ring with referee Carlos Padilla frantically

dancing beside them to watch where fists landed to call any fouls. I fired three more quick shots, aware only one of them showed both boxers' faces. The momentum carried them to

the opposite side. The round ended. I still had five shots left. I debated exposing the rem-

ainder of the roll on collateral activity around me, then reload. I decided against it. The bell

sounded for the second round. The boxers didn't wait to clash.

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Ali knocked the mouthpiece out of Frazier's mouth, sending it sailing to my position,

spraying blood. While I knew I caught it on film, I didn't have time to focus. I hoped the blur

would still define recognizeable features which could be useable. I suspected they would-

n't. The bell clanged ending the round. I had to reload. I fumbled as I never had before. When I was ready, I'd lost the entire round. I regretted not acquiring spare roll film adapters,

which could be preloaded, but they cost half the price of the camera at the time. I decided

to save my film, shooting only when I was absolutely sure I was focused, and my subjects,

at a favorable angle. I exposed less but was more certain of acceptable pictures.I felt no

conscious nervousness. The persistent roar of the crowd and the clatter of motor drives had a numbing effect. I lost all sense of time. Reacting more reflexively, it still took me an eter-

nity to reload. Through several attacks, retreats, feints, and clinches, I watched for their faces,

tripping the shutter when they charged for my corner. Despite the bulk of my camera, ba-

lance was perfect, easy to stabilize, viewing was continious, without the slap of a retracting

mirror to startle me. My perception was not as acute, but I vaguely saw Ali drop his guard

down and challenge Frazier to hit him. Dundee's warning was sharply clear. "Don't mess with him, Ali. He's still dangerous." There was something bufoonish about Ali's pose. I de-

cided to forego the static shot. A split second later, Frazier accomodated him. I captured

that, but once again, both faces were turned away from me. I was learning about the frus-

tration of sports photographers, and wondered how early ones grappling 4 x 5 Speed Graphics managed to produce their striking pictures.

I was beginning to feel the strain, and strain was also taking its toll on both boxers. Frazier appeared more battered than Ali did. Face swollen, both eyes nearly shut, and a trickle of blood leaking from a corner of his mouth. Similarly, Ali was displaying signs of fa-

tigue in slower reflexes, and wild swings. Both in their mid-thirties, they were old men in their

violent professions. Yet, they valiantly persisted up to the 14th round. Later, I was told, Ali was so enervated by Fraziers endurance, he nearly failed to answer the bell. "He shows no signs of tiring," Ali protested.

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"You can do it, Ali!" Dundee urged. "Get out there!" And he revived to carry the fight

to the 15th round when Frazier finally quit. Referee Padilla raised Ali's glove in the universal

gesture of victory, but Ali was not his flambouyant self. He sprawled on his back on the can-

vas as swarms of fans and reporters climbed into the ring, blocking him from my view. I stowed by Linhof away, and picked up my KX, where I'd mounted a normal 50 mm. lens.

set at f.5.6 at a 60th, I snapped one shot as Ali rose, supported by Bundini Brown, one of

his handlers. I'm rather proud of this shot of weary Ali, body glistening with sweat dripping

from his muscular body, reminiscent of paintings of gladiators of ancient Rome. He was after

all, a modern gladiator, whose feats of skill and strength pleased a multitude of fans for years. Mohammad Ali had retained the heavyweight championship crown. This was the

only boxing match I'd ever cover. An airline mixup delayed delivery of my film. Ironically,

my editor had to use Ken Regan's black and white shots. Over the years, some of them

would be used in newspapers and magazines during occasions Ali would reclaim the lime-

light. Lighting the Olympic Flame. Being named Athlete of The Century. During the release

of a new documentary. Granular structure and speed of Kodak High Speed Ektachrome

has improved since then. I could have used Daylight 400 ISO. The color of the shots I took with the "proper" Tungsten version was not faithful, but the corrected duplicates of transpa-

rencies from the Daylight film were richer and sharper. Preparations were crucial to the exe-

cution of the assignment. It helped me pick the right film, and decide to shoot in available

light. The resulting photographs were relatively dynamic as boxing pictures goes.

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42 responses

  • Ævar B. Jak.

    Ævar B. Jak. said (21 Dec 2008):

    Wow, it feels like being there, fantastic article from the photographers view and as a story about the event. I take my hat of for you Carl, GREAT WORK!!

  • Ted Gorczyca

    Ted Gorczyca gave props (1 Jan 2009):

    good job, well photo with good photos

  • Luiz Fernando Ramos

    Luiz Fernando Ramos gave props (28 Jan 2009):

    Excellent description of a great photo essay ! Good job !

  • Joy B

    Joy B gave props (10 Feb 2009):

    Thanks for sharing this. I love the story and the photos!

  • *Tim Needles

    *Tim Needles gave props (21 Feb 2009):

    Love the behind the scenes writing and fantastic shots!

  • Sk Wier

    Sk Wier gave props (25 Feb 2009):

    Excellent photos and story! I always loved watching Ali when I was a kid! It's a shame though that his health deteriorated so much in later years.

  • Christopher J Chalk

    Christopher J Chalk gave props (26 Feb 2009):

    I wish my late Father was alive to read this story. Not only was he amatuer boxer and was a true admirer of Ali, he would have loved reading your behind the scenes action! I would love to see this story in print, i think its a real seller!......(voted)

  • Charles Gossett

    Charles Gossett (Deleted) said (8 Mar 2009):

    Great story! Most of your lessons learned there are timeless and still are useful in todays digital world. I was 15 then, and had bought my first 35 mm slr. Five years later I would shoot a Houston Oiler Football game and your essay brought back all the uncertinty, the butterflies, and mostly, the awe of being amid some of the greats of sports photography. Thanks for writing. Voted
    Charles

  • Fred Moskey

    Fred Moskey   gave props (23 Mar 2009):

    Another great story, successfully doing a difficult job.

  • Mark Williams

    Mark Williams gave props (25 Mar 2009):

    awesome story- thanks for sharing - great photos!

  • PhantoMMouse

    PhantoMMouse gave props (23 Apr 2009):

    great story! my vote

  • Jonny Law

    Jonny Law (Deleted) gave props (26 Apr 2009):

    Great story. Great lessons learned as well.

  • Martin Thomas

    Martin Thomas (Deleted) gave props (13 Aug 2009):

    Brilliant story, and I love your commentary of the fight. I am a huge boxing fan and this is very special. You are indeed a lucky man to have been able to go to the fight and document it. I am most jealous!

  • Debby Adler

    Debby Adler said (8 Nov 2009):

    I am not a boxing fan. I enjoyed your commentary and discussion of the challenges and how you met them, though. Thank you!

  • Donald Garrett

    Donald Garrett   gave props (14 Jan 2010):

    The chance of a lifetime! What a thing to have on your resume. I stand in awe of sports photographers who can somehow manage to capture action with excessive blur. Well done

  • Gary Benefield

    Gary Benefield gave props (31 Jan 2010):

    great great work,,Ali has always been a hero to me so this hit home Carl (GRAND SLAM)

  • Gary Benefield

    Gary Benefield said (31 Jan 2010):

    thanks for sharing the specs of the setup you used ,,nice insight as to what it take to pull off a great shoot like this..KUDOS

  • Novak Nastasić

    Novak Nastasić   gave props (21 Feb 2010):

    I am not a boxing fan but remember watching this match, excitement around it and a grueling battle that ensued. I was 16 and lived in Serbia at the time. But I guess whole world was watching. I like your story discribing an event from the point of view of photographer. Challenges you faced made the story interesting and dynamic and that nicely balances technical details. Photos are amazing. Story deserving of a vote!

  • HorseWithNoName

    HorseWithNoName   gave props (15 Mar 2010):

    Thanks for sharing !

  • jeff nelson

    jeff nelson said (15 Jul 2010):

    excellent story, this has definitely inspired me to try sports photography. Thank you!

  • Val Behrens

    Val Behrens gave props (22 Jul 2010):

    Captivating story! I hope you still have the Linhof! Voted!

  • Tim Bowman

    Tim Bowman gave props (24 Jul 2010):

    As a boxing fan and photographer I loved this article. Carl's article makes me excited about covering more of the sport and marvel at the legends of yesteryear. Thanks for sharing.

  • tino finocchiaro

    tino finocchiaro said (2 Jan 2011):

    great! you got my vote!

  • Steven Schutz

    Steven Schutz gave props (24 Jan 2011):

    How can one describe how one feels after reading such an account?...

  • Chris Jennings

    Chris Jennings gave props (8 Feb 2011):

    Many thanks for this sincere story.

  • Steve Baker

    Steve Baker   gave props (8 Feb 2011):

    Not everyone's definition of a "starter bout". ;-)

  • Robin Perkins

    Robin Perkins gave props (25 Feb 2011):

    Great story, what a time & leanring experience, you have my vote and my awe

  • Maura Wolfson-Foster

    Maura Wolfson-Foster gave props (12 Apr 2011):

    It is an honour to read your works....a professional photographer. We have much to learn from you, Carl. voted

  • Bruce Stradling

    Bruce Stradling gave props (6 Jul 2011):

    Neat!!1

  • Roxana Brivent-Barnes

    Roxana Brivent-Barnes   said (29 Aug 2011):

    Love it!

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (10 Sep 2011):

    Hell YEAH! Rad!

  • Andrew Dutton

    Andrew Dutton (Deleted) said (24 Dec 2011):

    Great essay! I've tried my hand at photographing sports like
    volleyball and baseball (never boxing) so I have some idea of how difficult it must be. Your photos from the "Thrilla in Manila" make it look like you had photographed dozens boxing matches before this one. Great article...Great Photographs!

  • Donna Mullins

    Donna Mullins   gave props (30 Nov 2012):

    Amazing photos of Ali! Voted!

  • Sonia Adam Murray

    Sonia Adam Murray gave props (15 Nov 2013):

    I too am not a boxing fan, but was interested to see your photos and enjoyed your story. Ali was a fantastic performer to the public, many of whom worshiped him. His later life story is so sad, but despite it all he has been very generous to others. Thank you for sharing, I voted for your story.

  • Lon Casler Bixby

    Lon Casler Bixby   gave props (9 Feb 2014):

    Another good story - thanks for sharing the photos - voted :)

  • JPG

    JPG gave props (16 Feb 2014):

    Congrats on being Story of the Week!

  • Donna Mullins

    Donna Mullins   said (16 Feb 2014):

    Congrats!

  • Sarah Springer

    Sarah Springer gave props (17 Feb 2014):

    Congrats. Carl on your story of the week! Very well done

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (20 Feb 2014):

    Congrats on making Story of the Week!

  • Barbara Kurth

    Barbara Kurth   said (22 Mar 2014):

    Your story was so well written I felt as if I was there ! Photo's are fabulous ! Voted !

  • Frank Summers

    Frank Summers   gave props (30 Mar 2014):

    WOE, Great shots and story. Most have been something! GMV...

  • P L.

    P L. (Deleted) said (25 Apr 2014):

    Very exciting. You have all my votes:~)

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