I confess, I am a bonafide gym junkie. But that wasn’t always the case. When I did venture out to a gym (my annual New Year’s resolution pilgrimage of pentance), I always thought it was very strange that people actually wanted to look at themselves in a mirror while working out. They were obviously not looking in the same funhouse mirror I was! Fast forward a few years and now I love the gym (thanks to my awesome personal trainer). There, I can clear my head while getting strong enough to carry all my heavy camera equipment. Occasionally I even sneak a peak in the mirror. Meanwhile, all around me are muscles—big, beefy, brawny, muscles. Yep, it’s that kind of gym. I find myself fascinated with anatomy and I don’t mean that fetal pig from biology class…remember that? Ugh. Somewhere along the way, while I was training to get strong, muscles became esthetically pleasing to me and peaked my creative curiosity. I wanted to photograph them in a way that would speak to the strength, hard work and dedication necessary to acquire them. The idea of photographing bodybuilders began to intrigued me.
On a whim, I photographed a beach fitness competition in terrible lighting conditions and with little access but it set me on fire. I couldn’t wait to get home and look at the images. Next step, I reached out to my friend Anthony, who trains with a passion. Anthony is also the genius behind Crystal Coast Technologies, a website design firm in eastern N.C. He agreed to be my model and we met after-hours at his gym, Cape Carteret Aquatic & Wellness Center, to shoot. I knew he needed to “grease up” so the light reflecting from the oily sheen would accentuate his incredible muscle definition. I had suggested baby oil. He brought spray canola oil—like “Pam”. Now, here I need to mention that Anthony may be the whitest guy ever—even with his spray tan, this guy is WHITE. Perhaps canola oil on brown skin looks golden, I may never know. On Anthony, think jaundice. (Ant, if you’re reading this, I love ya dude, really I do). Luckily, I prefer gritty black and white images for bodybuilding, so it was easy to fix that yellow cast in processing but I wouldn’t recommend canola spray for future sessions.
We turned off all the lights in the gym except a select few and I used my on camera flash, occasionally bouncing it off a reflector, to increase contrast on the peaks and valleys formed by his muscles. I shot my Nikon D600 with the 50mm F1.8G lens. I wanted a narrow depth of field to reduce the clutter of additional gym equipment in the background.
It’s amazing how fast you have to work when photographing a bodybuilder who has been on an incredibly strict food plan. The physical burnout from flexing, posing, and lifting is crazy fast so I had to scramble to be sure I got the shots before Anthony keeled over from exhaustion. Sometimes I think photographing multiple toddlers is the hardest thing to do but I am reconsidering that. The window of opportunity for getting great shots of a bodybuilder is almost as short, but the results were worth it. I was inspired and eager to shoot more.
We followed that session up with another just a few months later shot amongst ancient Mayan ruins and on the beach in Playa del Carmen Mexico. Some of those images he submitted to “Hard Ninety” a hip, fitness and active wear manufacturer. Check them out for some cool workout gear.
The greatest advantage of my recent interest in fitness photography is that when I am in the gym and get caught admiring someone’s physique, I can claim that I am doing research, all in the name of art!