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|| News Item: Posted 2009-06-25

Leading Off: Boxer Victor Ortiz- Class Act
By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Covered in sweat and water after sparing 6 rounds, Victor Ortiz has his gloves taken off. Ortíz is training for a bout June 27 against Marcos Rene Maidana of Argentina at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
I've been around boxers a lot in my 20 years with USA TODAY. From the top amateur Olympic boxers to covering fighters involved in a few of the biggest professional bouts in the 90's through the turn of the century: Sugar Ray, Iron Mike, No Mas, The Golden Boy, The Lion, Big George, Ferocious Fernando, Pretty Boy, The Real Deal and even The Italian Stallion.

The spectacle ringside at professional boxing wore off quickly but I never lost the excitement of watching and shooting the fighters in the environment they spend most of their time: The gym. I always felt the gym was often more telling about the boxer not only as competitors but also as people.

I recently was assigned to spend a couple of days shooting a short multimedia project on junior welterweight contender Victor Ortiz preparing for his fist headliner bout against Argentinean Marcos Maidana June 27, 2009 at Staples Center.

It had been a while since I had done any work in the professional boxing world and I was a little taken aback when I got to the gym and found that it was one of those places that specializes in MMA --- mixed martial arts. There were a couple of "steel cages" and rows of heavy bags with tall, ropey dudes kicking them. The staple of the classic boxing gym, the speed bag, was tucked away, hidden in a corner, but in the middle of the gym was the ring.

As with the more traditional boxing gyms, there were posters touting the biggest fights ever --- with photos of guys I'd never heard of, crouched in the classic fighter's pose, but wearing small fingerless gloves --- the boom box was booming and the light was bad. When I say bad, I mean vapor lights with that weird flicker that gives digital frames shot at 1/250 or higher varying color and exposure.

I have shot and edited a lot of videos in the past couple of years and usually stories like these are perfect for that medium. But having experience with boxing, especially in workout gyms, Sean Dougherty (the picture editor on this assignment) and I went back and forth on whether the best way to tell this story was in video form or using stills with some audio capture.

My thought was stills could best capture the textures, mood and intensity even though it wouldn't have the movement that people love about video and why newspapers are doing more of it. But being able to linger on the fleeting details --- whether it's the classic image of a boxer's hands or the sweat flying when a punch connects --- seemed right to me. And a still frame to me is still the best way to show this. I guess this is a case of experience and knowledge versus the conventional (these days that being "video rules!").

Another decision I made before my first trip to Ortiz's daily afternoon workout was to use prime lenses as much as I could. Some of this was out of necessity --- the 105 f/2 and 50 f/1.4 Nikkors would give me more punch if the light was as bad as I expected (and it was). But the other reason why I went with prime lenses (including a 24mm f/2.8) was I was finding myself leaning on zooming the zoom lenses too much.

One of the things I harp on during the Sports Shooter Academy workshops is "move your feet". I was finding myself content with using zooming to compose and frame rather than "move my feet" to change an angle or perspective.

I have been doing this also with my portrait shoots, especially using the 50mm for my widest lens. I was finding that I was shooting too close to the 24mm end of the 24-70 zoom and getting distortion and other nasty things shooting too wide on people.

I had done a little homework on Victor Ortiz before heading to the gym in Ventura, watching a shaky online video from the presser held in front of Staples Center to announce the bout. The thing that struck me the most was his total lack of the big entourage-macho-chest thumping-$100 bill tossing-screaming-rap blaring-jacked up bravado seen at most promos hyping a fight.

Ortiz was well spoken, even polite, smiling constantly and when asked the usual knockout prediction, he replied simply "Come to the fight and see."

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Victor Ortiz embraces his coach Danny Garcia after a workout. During the hug, Garcia whispers words on encouragement to Ortiz.
At the gym for my two shooting days, what I saw is what I got: The smile, the hugs for everyone --- for his trainers or strangers alike --- a quiet confidence, sweat and lots of popping of gloves. The first evening he entered the gym without the usual trappings of a professional boxer, a posse. He drove himself to the gym in his pickup truck, carrying his own gym bag and not the least bit annoyed that two reporters and a photographer from the local papers were there (plus me) to bug him for time before his sparring session. The second evening he arrived not alone ... but with a surfing buddy who was going to go running with him after the training session.

Much has been made about Ortiz' back-story: Abandoned by his mother at 7. Father left at 12. Foster home. Moved in with his sister when she turned 18 and a year later after she lost her job, living out of her car.

He is not shy about talking about his early life before professional boxing and does not make a big deal about it and is even eager telling it. He doesn't want you to feel sorry for him (about this part of his life) because he came out of it ok and is a stronger kid for it.

After sparring 6 rounds and then working the heavy bag for another 6, Ortiz was more than happy to spend time with me to record an interview --- even when I suggested that we head to the parking lot to do it in my car so we would be away from the thumping of the rock n roll pumping out of the boom box.

A classy kid in a sport that often lacks it.

(If you want to see the short still and audio presentation made from Ortiz' workouts, click the "play" button at the top of the page at this link to the USA TODAY feature: )

* * *

This month the Sports Shooter Newsletter takes you around the world --- well sort of --- for a story from Africa by Melanie Maxwell and from Belize for an article by Erich Schlegel.

Jordan Murph gives us a behind-the-scenes look at Sports Illustrated's coverage of the recent NBA Finals. Robert Seale writes his personal take on the high-res DSLR from Nikon, the D3X, in this month's "Photographer's Toy Box".

A.J. Mast takes a minimalist approach to his coverage of auto racing he writes in this month's "In The Bag" feature. This issue we start a regular tech/gear column from Josh Lehrer, who writes in this initial installment about how setting the blacks correctly in an image can go a long way in making your prints better.

I am also very excited to have a wonderful article from military photojournalist James Pinsky about mentoring and sports photography.

And Doug Murdoch writes about traveling with audio gear in his regular "Travel Smart" column.

* * *

Heavy on the playlist for June are: Arizona Motel from the Hacienda Brothers and Great American Soulbook from the Kahuna's fav, Tower of Power (with guest vocal appearances by Tom Jones, Joss Stone and Huey Lewis).

On the reading list for this month are: Lee Child's The Hard Way (a Jack Reacher novel); Dust And Shadow: An Account Of The Jack The Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson (by Lindsey Faye) ... AND GET THESE BOOKS: Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally and Slide Show from Sports Illustrated ... the best photo books of the year!

As always, thanks to Special Advisors & Contributors: Deanna & Emma Hanashiro, Brad Mangin, Rod Mar, Trent Nelson, Jason Burfield, Grover Sanschagrin, Joe Gosen, Paul Myers, Myung J. Chun, Jared Dort and Bob Deutsch.

Thanks this month to: Melanie Maxwell, A.J. Mast, Erich Schlegel, Jordan Murph, James Pinsky, Josh Lehrer and Robert Seale.

The comments, opinions and other nutty statements that the writers may have expressed, implied, imagined or made up are theirs and theirs alone. Sports Shooter, Inc. and published these articles in good faith with the purpose of education and inspiration.

Permission in writing must be obtained from Sports Shooter, Inc. and the author of the article before being reprinted.

I welcome any comments, corrections, suggestions and contributions. Please e-mail me at

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