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Fitness photography tips

Sculpt bodies and capture spirits with these essential tips for dynamic fitness portraits...

5 Fitness photography tips

1. Know your setting

The first fitness photography tip I have is to know your setting. If you are shooting fitness photos, then you’ll most likely be in a gym of some sort.

Take the time to familiarize yourself with the different pieces of equipment and props available in the gym. For example, during this fitness shoot, we shot at a 9rounds fitness boxing gym.

Woman standing in a 9Rounds fitness boxing gym.
9Rounds fitness boxing gym

I had no idea what was in this gym, so I did a quick search online and looked at pictures of the inside. I saw they had different boxing equipment, such as a heavy bag, a speed bag, and weights.

Images from a 9Rounds fitness boxing gym.
Research the gym beforehand

By researching and knowing what the setting was that the shoot would take place in, I was already able to visualize what we could use in the photos.

I believe fitness photoshoots should involve more than just headshots and full-body shots in the middle of the gym. Your subject should be interacting with the environment. They should be using a machine, using a piece of equipment, etc.

This will help add to the story of the image and make it more natural-looking:

Woman hitting a boxing heavy bag.
Hitting boxing heavy bag showing movement

So, with all that being said, make sure to research and know what your setting looks like so you aren’t walking into the shooting blind. If this is your first fitness shoot and you’re really nervous, check out the setting a few days before the shoot.

I’ve done this before, and this also applies to any style of portrait, not just fitness. It’ll help ease your nerves and make you more confident on the shoot day.

2. Outfit should align

The second fitness photography tip I have is to ensure your subject's outfit aligns with the shoot's theme.

For example, if you are doing a fitness yoga shoot, your subject should probably be in yoga clothing. Or if you are doing a tennis fitness shoot, your subject should probably be in tennis clothes.

Well, let’s say you are photographing a specific fitness shoot for a specific activity, and the subject is wearing improper shoes for the activity, like street shoes on a track.

It could throw off the whole aesthetic, story, and theme of the shoot.

In this case, my fitness shoot was in a boxing gym, so my subject should probably wear sporty-looking clothing and have boxing gloves and boxing wraps:

Woman posing in boxing attire.
Fitness photography wearing proper attire

In my case, Svetlana does boxing at this gym, so she already knew what would be appropriate to wear as she has seen what people wear in the gym. So, if you are photographing a fitness shoot and you don’t know what outfit aligns with the activity, ask your subject or do a quick online search and look at the images to get some inspiration.

My whole point with this tip is to make sure you do the research.

3. Poses have to make sense

The third fitness photography tip I have is to make sure the poses make sense with the activity.

This tip ties in with the last two tips of ensuring you do your research. I have two things to mention regarding the poses.

Natural-looking pose

The first is to make sure your subject has a natural-looking pose.

A big part of fitness photography is capturing the subject activity, whether that be lifting a weight, hitting a ball, kicking a ball, or punching a heavy bag.

You’ll want to ensure that your subject has proper form and looks like they actually participate in that activity. So if it’s a fitness shoot, it usually involves some type of physical movement and action.

Make sure your subject is a little warmed up before the shoot, that they stretch, and that they are aware of all the poses they will be doing before the shoot.

As mentioned in the previous tip, you should be in constant communication with your subject leading up to the shoot, not only about the poses but also about the outfit.

Practice runs

The second thing I have to mention regarding the poses is to do a few practice runs before photographing.

Have the subject perform the motion 1-2 times before you even lift your camera. This will allow your subject to warm up to the activity and allows both of you to nail the pose down before capturing it.

And a pro tip, make sure you tell your subject to keep a neutral face without too much strain:

Woman kicking heavy bag.
Keeping neutral face

You don’t want to have your subject perform an activity with perfect form but have a strained, grimacing face. This one is up to your subject. That's why it’s good to practice the motion a couple of times before actually shooting so they can practice and keep these things in mind before you start clicking away.

And if this involves having your subject lift a weight, make sure it’s a weight that is light to them. They shouldn’t be going for a personal record during the shoot.

And if it’s a physical activity like holding a yoga pose or kicking in the air, then make sure you have all your camera settings and light settings dialed in so you’re ready to go. Don’t have your subject strike the pose; then, you must wait for yourself.

Have everything ready, and then give your subject a brief countdown to hit the pose. Then, capture the shot.

4. Moisturizing spray

The fourth tip for fitness photography is to use some type of moisturizing spray.

When you’re engaged in a type of fitness activity, most of the time, you are sweating. The moisturizing spray helps give your skin that shiny, moisturized look without having actually to get sweaty.

Having your subject add this spray to their skin adds that cherry on top to ensure the theme and aesthetic of the shoot come together. Especially with everything we’ve already discussed, such as the pose, the outfit, etc.

There are many good moisturizing sprays out there, such as Aquaphor. Just do a quick search online, and you’ll find plenty.

Luckily, Svetlana had a moisturizing spray called REVLON Rose Glow Mist that also had a light tanner in it as well to add some orange and color to her skin, so that was perfect:

Moisturizing spray Revlon Glow Mist.
Moisturizing spray for fitness photography

5. Light setup

The fifth and final fitness photography tip I have is regarding the light setup.

In my opinion, this is the secret ingredient that will make your fitness photography look high-grade.

So, the light setup I usually use for fitness photoshoots is a two-light setup with a studio light softbox as my key light and a speedlight that acts as a rim light. I place the lights opposite of each other:

Graphic of a light setup for fitness photography shots.
My light setup for fitness photography shots

This means that the key light will provide the main light on your subject, and the rim light will contour your subject’s muscles and body.

I used to shoot fitness portraits with just a key light, but it wasn’t until I added in the rim light that I noticed it really made a difference. The rim light creates a better outline and highlights my subject, adding separation between them and the background, and more depth:

Highlights on model face due to rim light.
Example #1 of highlights created from rim light
Highlights on model with boxing gloves face due to rim light.
Example #2 of highlights created from rim light
Highlights on model with boxing wraps face due to rim light.
Example #3 of highlights created from rim light

If you don’t have two lights, try using a window or light coming in through glass as your key light and your one light as the rim light.

But I would recommend that if you have a fitness portrait shoot coming up, you invest in the lights because you can also use them for other portrait shoots outside of fitness photography, like I do.

For example, I use the Godox TT600 as my speedlight that acts as my rim light:

Godox TT600 being used as a speedlight for fitness photography
Using the Godox TT600 as speedlight for fitness photography

I use the Godox SL60W as my main key light with a softbox:

Godox TT600 being used as a key light for fitness photography
Using the Godox TT600 as key light for fitness photography

So, the speedlight is definitely on the lower end in terms of pricing, and the studio light is a little more expensive, but I’d say they’re well worth the investment, especially compared to the price of new lenses or cameras.

If anything, I always recommend upgrading your lighting equipment first, then lenses, then cameras. You can still shoot great images with a budget lens and camera with good lighting. I mean, heck, you can even shoot great phone photos with a proper lighting setup.

So, those are my five fitness photography tips. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.

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