New Year’s Resolution

Hi all (all three of you that visit the actual website). My name is Nat, I started hookgrip. My New Year’s resolution is to use the website more. I started by clearing out a bunch of the extremely outdate information (lots of it still remains — but I left things that we will be updating) and changing the theme to the same theme we use for the hookgrip store as a temporary design change. But there is a lot more planned for this space in 2016 and beyond.

Firstly, to get a few things out of the way, a lot of the information in the blog entries below is outdated. The weightlifting photography article says that I shoot with a Nikon D700. I actually haven’t even owned that camera for several years. Almost exactly two years ago (in Jan 2013) I bought a Nikon D3s and switched over to that body. I’ve since bought another Nikon D3s as a second body and this past summer I picked up a Nikon D4. So now I have three pro-level Nikon bodies. That entry also doesn’t mention video because, well, I wasn’t shooting video at the time. But we take most of our video with either a Sony A7s or Sony FS700. We also just picked up a Sony A7s II and we’ll likely be picking up some more equipment this year (as always).

Secondly, why no website so far? Yes yes, I know, we haven’t really put any time/effort into the website. Quite simply, it’s because we think most people are on social media more than they’re on the web. Plus social media is a great way to spread awareness and reach a lot of people with interesting content. If someone sees something on a website, they can’t just tag their friend so their friend sees it in the same way people can on instagram or facebook. Anyway, while we feel social is and will always be our number one way to reach people, we’ve run into some issues. Facebook is a far from ideal way for us to share photo albums. We can’t customize the interface on social to be designed for our content. We get filtered out of feeds on places like Facebook as their are constantly changing their algorithm. The 15 second limit on instagram is a really pain in the butt sometimes. And so on. We aren’t complaining about any of the social networks though — their owners and management own those platforms and they can do as they see fit with them. We’re just users, like anyone else. But even if we aren’t complaining, we think a lot of those platforms are less than ideal and that we can do a better job of displaying our content on the web. So it’s time to start using this medium.

Thirdly, so what can everyone expect? Good question, we don’t know. We’ve set aside money from hookgrip store profits (thank you to everyone who supports us!) to build an awesome website. We have a lot of ideas — and a lot of great content that has never seen the light of day. And we have a lot of passionate followers who we think can help us to build an awesome site designed to find and consume weightlifting content in the best way possible. However, we don’t have a full time developer on staff. And good developers are notoriously difficult employees to find and hire. We’ll probably start with some freelancers and go from there. There will likely be 5, 10, 100+ problems along the way. Several days this year will probably result in our whole site displaying some error message while I’m frantically on the phone with someone on the other side of the world. So don’t expect perfection or all of our planned features right out of the box. The website will be a work-in-progress basically forever — and that’s okay. But we’ll be working on this project as much as possible in 2016 to make the best weightlifting-related website we possibly can.

Happy New Year to everyone and keep an eye on this site!

Russian Weightlifting Technique Poster Full Resolution

russian weightlifting technique poster
Russian Weightlifting Technique Poster

Here is the original image in full resolution. And here is the translated image in full resolution. For both of those, right-click and “save link as” in order to save them. Or click on them and then drag them to your computer. Both are cropped to 3:2 aspect ratio for easy printing in 18×12, 24×16, 30×20 or 36×24.  Please do not remove the watermark or translation credit.


A lot of people have asked me about my upcoming travel schedule. In addition, I often get questions such as “who sends you here?” and “do you make a lot of money from this?” and “will you come to our meet?” and “where are you based?” (I’m based in Philadelphia) and so on. I decided that it’s time to write a blog to explain how this works! I should also mention that I am flattered and honored that anyone cares about which weightlifting meets I photograph.

First of all, my current upcoming schedule currently has three confirmed meets on it. First, I will be at USA Senior Nationals in Ohio in late July. Second, I will be at the World Championships in Poland in October. Third, I will be at the American Open in Dallas in early December. I plan on skipping the Pan Am Masters in Chicago (in a few weeks) as well as the Pan Ams in Venezuela in a month. I also don’t plan on being at the Junior Pan Ams in Chile. Of course, I will likely be at more than three meets between now and early December but I simply don’t have them on the travel schedule right now.

So, the next thing I should talk about is funding. How do these trips happen? Who sends me places? The answer is that I send me places. I pay for the whole thing out of pocket. Thus far, I have received $0.00 from others to help with travel. And that’s fine, I do this because I like to do it. But going to a meet can range in cost from a few hundred (ie, like when I went to the Pittsburgh Open, which is about a five hour drive for me) to several thousand (ie, like the Olympics, which were my most expensive trip because of the event tickets). So when people ask me to come to their local meets or even to national or international meets, my first thought is usually the cost of the trip and whether it fits into my budget for hookgrip. For instance, I would love to go to the Pan Ams in Venezuela but, as it is, I am doing at least three major international trips this year (Europeans, Junior Worlds and Worlds) and I need to cut it off somewhere. So Pan Ams got cut because it would be another couple thousand dollars in expenditure and it didn’t rank ahead of those other three meets in my mind.

I get a lot of questions about whether I make good money from hookgrip. My internal reaction is to laugh. I lose money from hookgrip. Sure, I sell some t-shirts and posters here and there but I make very little from those because I get expensive t-shirts which I sell for a low price (much lower than others selling the same shirt) and printing one-off posters is not cheap so a large part of what I’m charging is my cost. The t-shirts and posters do not come close to covering the travel costs alone. And, just to be clear, I am not complaining about this at all. Like I said above, I do this because I like to do it. And I know that I could do more things to make money from hookgrip and maybe one day I will start doing some of those things. But hopefully this explains why I can’t go to every meet when each trip means somewhere between several hundred dollars or several thousand dollars in additional expenditure that is typically not recouped (the only exception is the 2013 Arnold — I actually made money on that trip because of the hookgrip booth).

Okay, so how do I decide where to go? I’m looking to get the best ratio of pictures of big lifts to cost that I can get. That’s why I went to the Europeans but I would skip something like an IWF Grand Prix (much fewer lifters). It’s also the reason why I went to the 2012 Canadians (bigger lifters in Olympic year, cheaper to get to) and skipped the 2013 Canadians (smaller lifts, Edmonton harder to get to). For US meets, big lifts are obviously relative but the big benefit to US meets are that people will actually buy their pictures (which helps to offset cost) and almost everyone is on facebook which helps to increase the publicity gained from photographing the meet. In addition to all of that, I am typically looking to get pictures of lifters who I haven’t gotten pictures of yet. In the case of something like Junior Pan Ams in Chile, there’s no reason for me to self-fund that trip simply because the best lifters going on that trip were, in almost all cases, in Peru at Junior Worlds. So I’d be going to take pictures of the same lifters or worse lifters. It’s the same reason that I didn’t attend Junior Nationals in California. I figure that all of the best USA Juniors will either be at the American Open, Arnold, Junior Worlds or Nationals — the other lifters at the meet simply were not worth the cost of flying across the country, staying in a hotel for several nights, etc. And that’s not a knock against them in any way as they are obviously decent lifters if they’re lifting at a national-level meet — it’s just an economic reality that I can better apply those dollars to another trip.

So now you hopefully have an idea of my mindset when it comes to which meets to attend. It all comes down to lifts, cost, uniqueness and so on. I skip at least 10 meets a year that I’d really like to attend. And I don’t want any of this to be construed as me complaining about anything. I knew exactly what I was getting myself into when I started doing this and I am really happy with how things are going. I don’t mind losing money on it because I enjoy it. I hope to be able to keep doing this for a long time and I’m glad that people enjoy the pictures. Looking forward to Nationals, Worlds, the 2013 AO and hopefully a bunch of other meets this year!

Weightlifting Photography Basics

Especially in recent weeks, I’ve received a number of questions about the camera gear that I use to shoot weightlifting events. I also get a lot of questions about the settings that I use on my cameras. Of course, I’m very flattered by this as I’m a self-taught photographer and I don’t have anywhere near the knowledge of the sports photography professionals who’ve been doing this for years and years. That being said, I will do my best to answer those questions in this blog and hopefully help out anyone who is looking to shoot sports or weightlifting events in the future.

First of all, I should say that photography is a very complicated and in-depth subject that takes a long time to master. I am far from a master at photography. However, although many professional photographers won’t admit it, you can get pictures that look almost as good as theirs if you just know a couple of basic settings and you have good equipment. I would say that 80% of good photography is just about being in the right spot ready to shoot with the right equipment. In addition, weightlifting photography has a couple of small quirks so I will do my best to address the basics in this blog.

At it’s core, photography is about recording light. The more light you have, the easier it is record the scene in front of you. Low light situations are difficult because you often butt up against the capabilities of the camera/lens and you need to make decisions about what to sacrifice (I will explain more later). Unfortunately, most weightlifting photography is not only low light (hard to shoot), it’s also high speed (can be very difficult in low light). The upside is that the platform is pretty small and weightlifting is predictable in that you know what the lifter is going to do next.

So when a camera records light, there are three main settings that you need to be aware of: shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

  • Shutter speed is self explanatory but it’s basically how long the shutter opens to expose light to the sensor (in digital cameras, the sensor replaces the film). In weightlifting photography, it’s essential to have a minimum shutter speed of 1/250th second or faster. You will get blurry images if you try to shoot at 1/200th or slower. And ideally, you will take your images at 1/400th or 1/500th of a second. Usually any faster than 1/500th of a second is overkill because not much moves that quickly. Only go faster than 1/500th of a second at a very well-lit event.
  • The second setting is aperture. Maximum aperture is determined by the quality of your lens and it’s basically how much light your lens can let in. Aperture is usually listed like 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, etc. In general, the lower the aperture number is, the better (and also much more costly). The downside to using an aperture like 1.4 (ie, very wide opening in your lens) is that you get a shallow depth of field which makes it hard to keep things in focus. The upside to an aperture like 1.4 is that you get a LOT more light and you can either use a higher shutter speed (easier to freeze motion) or lower ISO (less grain).
  • Thirdly, ISO is the speed at which your camera’s sensor records light. When shooting weightlifting indoors, you’ll often need to use a high ISO value because you’ll need all of the light you can get in a short period of time. The downside to a high ISO is that you will get noise/grain in the image. The number that you can push your camera to on the ISO range varies greatly. Some older cameras start to look bad at ISO 800 whereas some of the state-of-the-art high-end cameras can be pushed to higher than ISO 10,000 before things start to look bad. Of course, those cameras start at $4000 and go up from there so they do not come cheap. And that’s without a lens.

Photography is largely about finding ways to balance the three main settings as all of them increase/decrease your ability to record light and each one has upsides/downsides as you change them in either direction. Finding the right balance for the subject matter and your equipment is what a good photographer does. Since your shutter has to be at least 1/250th for weightlifting (or anything fast, for that matter), you can select that setting and then decide on ISO and aperture. The first thing that I do is put my camera on shutter priority (which means I am determining the shutter and my camera is determining the aperture) and set 1/250th. Then I take a few test shots at various ISOs (I don’t use auto ISO for weightlifting) usually starting around 1600. I will go as high as 6400 if need be. Usually I pick an ISO where things are still look reasonably good (typically between 2500 and 5000) and then I just let the camera pick the aperture — which happens automatically on shutter priority. If the aperture is not maxed out (ie, if the camera is shooting at f/4 and I have an f/2.8 lens) then I will typically bump up the shutter speed to 1/320th, 1/400th or 1/500th which will almost always cause the aperture to “max out”. I don’t normally go above 1/500th shutter speed. I always review my pictures to check for clarity (zoom in on a part of their body that is moving in the shot to check for blur), brightness, focus, etc. If I notice something off, I adjust it. If I’m having trouble keeping lifters in focus, I might switch to manual mode so I can control the aperture and increase the depth of field (ie, make it easier to keep lifters in focus). If I notice my shots are blurry, then I will increase the shutter speed.

This should give you a basic idea for how to do weightlifting photography as far as the basic settings go. But settings can only take you so far. It’s invaluable to have good equipment. If you have a $500 camera bundle from Best Buy, you will not be able to get great weightlifting photo results in a dark room no matter what you do with your settings. The two big things to look for are a camera with a good sensor and a lens with a low aperture number (2.8 or lower is essential, lenses like 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 that come with many camera kits will not do a good job indoors). Of course, good sensors and big apertures (the lower the number, the bigger the aperture) are expensive. Sometimes very expensive. That’s just the reality of high quality photography. If you are on a shoe string, I would recommend getting a fast “prime” lens (ie, one that does not zoom) as you get a lot more for your money with prime lenses. At the very least, if you have a fast prime lens, you will be able to record a lot more light. You can see an example of one of these in the images below — look for the lens that has 85mm 1.8D written on it — I used that lens as my primary lens at the 2012 American Open because it was so dark and I needed as much aperture as possible.

Here is a gallery with pictures of some of my favorite equipment:

I primarily shoot with a Nikon D700 with an MB-D10 grip (which ups the frames per second from five to eight, making sequence shots better) and a 70-200 f/2.8 Nikon lens. I also sometimes use my 85mm f/1.8 lens (useful for low light). And at the Olympics, I was forced to use a teleconverter which gave me more zoom but reduce my maximum aperture. As it turns out, the Olympics were very well lit so it did not matter that I shot most of it with a maximum aperture of 4.8 (which lets in way less light than 2.8, which is what my lens would be without the teleconverter). But I needed the zoom reach because the audience was so far away from the platform so it was worth taking the hit on the aperture.

In total, the pictured equipment runs maybe $5000 to $6000 on the used market. But even this equipment isn’t all top-of-the-line — especially the body. I’m looking to pick up either a Nikon D3S (about $4000) or Nikon D4 (about $5500) to use in 2013 as those are the best camera bodies to use for weightlifting photography. I will continue to use my 70-200 f/2.8 and I will use my other lenses and teleconverters as needed. Thanks for reading and please let me know if you have any questions!

A bit about hookgrip

Hi all and welcome to the temporary hookgrip™ website while the full site is under construction. As you may know, most of our activity happens on our very active facebook page (over 13000 likes at last count!). We normally post at LEAST one high-quality original picture per day and these pictures typically attract a lot of likes, comments and shares. If you want to see the latest and greatest from hookgrip, we highly recommend that you follow the hookgrip facebook page!

We also have a twitter (where we plan to be more active) and a youtube (which has some of our VERY popular 2011 CrossFit Games videos on it). Right now the full site is under development and being prepared for launch hopefully in the very near future.

One common question that we get asked is why the site isn’t launched yet. To answer that question, I need to explain a bit about how the idea for hookgrip developed. Back in 2010, I was working my normal job (which is running websites) and I realized that I wanted to launched a website about fitness. I wasn’t sure about what. At the time I was doing CrossFit on a daily basis at CrossFit Las Vegas and my initial inclination was that I wanted to launch a website about CrossFit. But I wasn’t sure what the site would be about. I had a few ideas but I really wasn’t super enthused about any of them. In June 2010, CrossFit Las Vegas held an Olympic-style weightlifting seminar taught by John Broz and some of his lifters (including Pat Mendes). I was instantly drawn to the sport. Of course I’d done some CrossFit-style Olympic lifting but I’d never focused on one, two and three rep maxes before. I soon went over to Average Broz Gym for a followup training session and before I knew it I had a garage gym complete with a platform, squat rack and Eleiko bar/bumpers. Around this time, I decided once and for all that my “fitness” site was going to be a mix of Olympic-style weightlifting and CrossFit. So my first move was to look for a domain. I thought about purchasing a high dollar domain such as (they want six figures, blah) and I found a few others that I liked (, which I have since gifted away) but the one that really stood out to me was which I registered for $7 — and thus saved a good amount of money by not invested several hundred or thousand into an existing domain. So I picked up in August 2010. There was a problem though. I was still under contract to my old employer and I was contractually bound to not start any new projects. So, with that, I decided to wait on the project until I was allowed to get going on it.

Fast forward to April 15th, 2011. Without boring you by going into my past work too extensively, I worked for a poker marketing company. We ran sites like and — all sites about poker but you could not actually gamble on any of them (for legal reasons, we did not want to actually take bets). So on April 15th, there was an event known as Black Friday. Once again, without boring you, the basic story is that it threw the whole poker industry into turmoil — including our company. I decided that I should accelerate my plans to start other websites and leave the company. I ended up agreeing to leave the company as of August 1st, 2011. However, the 2011 CrossFit Games were scheduled to occur just before August 1st so I essentially stopped working a few days early and took off to volunteer at the Games and hopefully get some good content. I ended up having a great time and I managed to get some cool slow motion videos, including this one of Camille Leblanc-Bazinet: That video now has over 400,000 views! Pretty crazy. That being said, while I collected a bunch of content and enjoyed the Games, I also interacted with a number of CFHQ employees at that event and I did not get the feeling that my ideas for a CrossFit-related site would be all that appreciated or enjoyed. I also did not want to subject my site to the whims of a privately-held organization. So that trip convinced me that Olympic-style weightlifting was the way to go.

There was just one problem. I needed some content for the site (ie, pictures) and there wasn’t anything that I was excited about going to see until the World Weightlifting Championship in Paris, France. And that was being held in early November of 2011. So on August 18, 2011 I booked my flight to Paris and eagerly awaited getting started on this vision that was, at that point, over a year old! In the meantime I accepted a contract to work for a different company through the end of the year and, as it turned out, I kept working for that company through the end of March 2012. In the meantime, I shot a number of pictures at both the Paris Worlds and the 2012 US Nationals in Columbus. I didn’t get around to posting pictures much until February of 2012 mainly due to the contract work. And, since March, I’ve been working on and off on both hookgrip and my other projects (I need to keep making an income in the meantime!). So that brings us to now, early December of 2012. It’s amazing that this idea is nearly 2.5 years old and it still isn’t launched as a full website. Most of that delay is due to my other employment obligations but I will admit that I have not been totally proactive about finding a way to get it launched no matter what. That should change now, due to a number of factors.

I can’t go into all of the ideas for hookgrip but the basic idea is that it will be a weightlifting information site unlike any other. I feel like weightlifting information, products, media and other info is very difficult to come by. I want to change that. It should be a lot easier than it is and that’s my #1 goal with hookgrip. Make weightlifting accessible and publish tons of great content. Hopefully that gives you an idea about how hookgrip came about and why it has taken so long for the full website to be launched. Stay tuned to the facebook page for daily updates and look for the new site soon!