How to Take High Quality Photos for CrossFit – Part I: Equipment

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Besides the efficacious workouts and strong community, I believe CrossFit went viral because of the media it has put out over the years. I started CF by following mainsite ( and everyday a workout would go up with a picture and usually a video of some sort. At first, people scoff at the idea of taking pictures of people working out, but it has become commonplace to see everyday people squatting, deadlifting, and snatching barbells and bumpers. For affiliate owners, one of the best things you can do is to take high quality photos of your members. Not only does this serve as great retention for your member base (member: “hey look at me lifting all the weights!”) but it also serves as great marketing material for your website and social media (member’s friends: “hey look at my friend who never used to workout and now she’s lifting all the weights and looking great!”)

As a semi-professional photographer, I’ll break down the equipment and techniques that will allow you to get great shots of your members. To start, let’s go over the gear.

There’s a saying that the best camera is the one you have on you. While there’s no denying that a better camera can produce better images, but it’s not guaranteed. Just like a Ferrari can technically go faster than a Camry, you still need to know how to use it. If you truly can’t afford a DSLR, then wait for Part II on the technique section and come back to this when you have the dough. (But really, you should budget $500 or so for a decent camera and lens!) Below I recommend several camera bodies and lenses.

Note: I don’t include flash because 1. it’s distracting to athletes 2. it usually results in washed out photos and 3. most people need to learn how to use their camera before using flash. I avoid using flash as much as possible.

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A bigger camera is better mostly because it has a bigger light sensor. This is the “canvas” that actually sees an image coming through the lens. The bigger the sensor, the more you can get away with shooting in darker environments. If you’re looking at the two major brands (Canon and Nikon) you really can’t go wrong with either. For most people it comes down to either recommendations from other people or using the controls on the camera itself. This is why I recommend going to a Best Buy and playing with the DSLRs.

Either brand will have entry level bodies (The “Rebel” series for Canon such as the Rebel T6i and any D???? series from Nikon such as the D3300) and the prosumer level bodies (The ?D series for Canon such as the 6D or 5D and any D??? Series from Nikon such as the D610 or D750) The difference between entry level and prosumer is big – both in actual quality (better materials, more features) and price (hundreds or thousands of dollars usually) While the prosumer level WOULD be better because of typically darker conditions inside gyms, paying $1500-4000 just for a camera body is not reasonable for most box owners. And if there’s something to know about photography, it’s that you should spend your money on the lenses. Why? Because these are the “eyes” of the camera and will usually last decades compared to quicker upgrading/turnover with camera bodies. So unless you have a big bankroll, just get an entry level Canon or Nikon body and save your dough for the glass.

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The lens is everything. A standard kit lens (usually 18mm-55mm f/3.5-5.6) that comes with the body is fine if you’re outdoors and have great natural light (think typical box that has huge bay doors that are open in the summer) but that kit lens is crap if you only have artificial lighting (think any other situation – winter, night time, retail space, etc) The reason is the aperture number (eg f/3.5 to f5.6) I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole of explaining what it is, but all you need to know is that lower numbers are better. For a box that has average fluorescent lighting and it’s night time (so absolutely no natural light) you’ll want at LEAST f/2.8 and really f/1.8 or f/1.4 if you can manage. This allows way more light to come into the lens and hit that sensor. How much? Well since aperture is actually a ratio, f/1.4 lets in twice as much light as f/2 which lets in twice as much light as f/2.8 which lets in twice as much light as f/4. So f/1.4 lets in 8 times as much light as f/4! It’s the difference between trying to put out a fire with a straw or a fire hose.

Lenses I recommend in order of price are (prices as of 1/25/16):
Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM – $149
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G – $196 (entry level body only)

Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 – $509
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED – $526
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM – $549
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM – $899 (has Canon and Nikon versions)

Why didn’t I include any lenses like a 24-70 f/2.8?
For those that have the budget and the experience, 24-70 is a staple. But here are some reasons I’m not recommending it (or other f/2.8 zooms) to this audience:
-they’re CRAZY expensive compared to the ones I listed above
-this blog post is for the affiliate owner/coach that doesn’t know much about photography
-they don’t allow as much light as most of the lenses mentioned
-there’s argument for the better clarity, ISO performance, IQ, etc. for prime lenses
-they’re CRAZY expensive (yeah, I listed that twice)

Where’s the 50mm options?
If you are a photographer, you may notice I left off a LOT of options. One of the most popular “step-up” lenses for beginners that is frequently recommended is the Canon or Nikon 50mm f/1.8. I don’t recommend any 50mm lenses here because of the crop factor in entry level cameras. To understand crop factor, you need to know about focal length. The bigger the number, the more zoomed in the image will be. 24mm is being able to see a lot of the scene in front of you while 135mm is “zoomed in” much like you would look down a paper towel tube. If you have an entry level body, you have a smaller sensor which leads to something called a “crop factor” which messes with the perceived focal length. This means a 50mm lens on a Canon Rebel 5Ti or Nikon D5500 actually looks more like an 80mm lens because of a 1.6x crop factor. So while the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens is SUPER cheap and great for outdoors, it’s probably too zoomed in for indoors. Aim for anywhere between 20mm to 40mm. If you go with a full frame/prosumer level camera body, then 50mm lenses are on the table.

If I had to recommend a starter setup, I would recommend the Nikon D3300 ($446) + Nikon DX 35mm f/1.8 ($196). This is going to give you the best combination of price and quality lens. You can only use that lens on an entry level body, so if you’re going to go prosumer/full frame, you’ll have to swap lenses. For a full frame option, I have to recommend the setup I have: Canon 6D ($1399) +Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM ($899). I can’t recommend the Sigma lens enough – the quality is arguably the best out there and while there are equivalent Canon and Nikon 35mm lenses, they cost $1000 more! All of the images of athletes in this post were taken with this setup.

YES, there are a lot of options out there and you may have a system that you like better. Sweet! Post in comments so readers can figure it out for themselves. But in order to avoid decision fatigue, I’ve listed one budget setup and one mid-budget setup. If you have thousands to spend, PM me separately and I’ll give you my recommendations (and ask for some of that as a commission)

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There are plenty of other options out there such as mirrorless, high-end point and shoots like the Sony RX100, and other brands of DSLRS. However, to keep it as simple as possible, I’ve recommended two main setups here to avoid decision fatigue. At the end of the day, if you choose to go with something else, focus on keeping the aperture low (pun intended) and choose a useful focal length.

Click here for Part II where I’ll talk about technique for taking pictures with both iPhone and DSLRs.


World’s Best Salsa Recipe

Not one for hyperbole, I truly think this is the best salsa recipe out there.

Whenever we travel down to Austin to visit Ditty’s family, they have this addicting homemade salsa that puts the Tostitos and other store-bought varieties to shame. For some reason we never actually put that recipe into action until recently. So although my brother-in-law told us to bottle this up and sell it, I’m going to share the World’s Best Salsa Recipe with YOU! (Thank you to Trixie for the recipe!)

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2 cans (14oz each) peeled or diced tomatoes (If peeled, then dice and use all the liquid)
1 can (4 oz) green chiles
3-4 spring onions (scallions)
2 cloves garlic minced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro chopped
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/3 can jalapenos or fresh chiles (if you want spicy. If not, leave out)

1. Dice the scallions, mince the garlic, and chop the cilantro.

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2. Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Pulse for a few seconds at a time until all ingredients are mixed together. You should have a darker red color with flecks of green (which is the cilantro and scallions)

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4. Store in a container and refrigerate. Makes about 4 cups worth of salsa. Keeps for 2-3 weeks. You may also make batches and freeze some.

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Note: This is a bit “runnier” than a standard Tostitos salsa, but then again, it’s 100x better and is Paleo approved. Above is an example of using it on breakfast tacos: corn tortillas, bacon, fried egg, and World’s Best Salsa. Yum.
 Feel free to share this and spread the word!