Fitness Photography: highlights, shadows, and the shine

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.

Body building competition, Playa del Carmen, MX

Bodybuilding competition, Playa del Carmen, MX. © Karen Doody Photography

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.

Fitness model gym workout

Fitness model gym workout © Karen Doody Photography

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.

Mayan Ruins & Hard Ninety Fitness Shoot

Mayan Ruins & Hard Ninety Fitness Shoot. © Karen Doody Photography

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!

Fitness shoot wrap, Playa del Carmen MX

Fitness shoot wrap, Playa del Carmen MX. © Karen Doody Photography

2 thoughts on “Fitness Photography: highlights, shadows, and the shine

  1. Anthony

    Thank you for doing such a FANTASTIC job with everything! You even found us the perfect locations to shoot in Mexico and took care of all the details. You are phenomenal and the pictures turned out amazing! Thank you!


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