Body Shots

female body builder
Connie Owens - © Copyright 2010 by William Beem

I attended another workshop presented by my friends John & Susan of Catchlight Studios, this time concentrating on body builder & fitness photography. It's an interesting challenge that I've only tried once before, so I was eager to give it another shot.  This workshop was one of the best yet because there was no whining – not from me or any of the other participants. We had great subjects, not only because of their physique, but also because they were just friendly people who worked very well with us.

When I first heard of this body builder workshop, the thought crossed my mind that they wanted me to model. You may not know this, but my body is 200 pounds of lean mass. My muscles ripple like stretched tiger meat over a sprung steel cage. If that excellent physique wasn't hiding under 75 pounds of fat, I'd be whipping out the Speedos and oiling up my pecs. Of course, the camera adds ten pounds, so we had to get a stand-in for the male model.

Meet Arno

Male bodybuilder
Arno Nasshan - © Copyright 2010 by William Beem

As you can see, Arno looks like your typical photographer, except that his muscles are so huge they barely fit inside the frame. He and our other subject, Connie, are both a week away from competition. We caught them at a great time to shoot, as long as we didn't enter the gym with a Snickers bar or anything tempting. Arno told us that he's limited to very few carbs right now – about 4 oz of oatmeal and a little bit of sweet potatoes. Getting ready for one of these competitions places a lot of stress and demands on the participants, and on the families that support them. A model I shot last year just completed a competition last night (placing 2nd) and celebrated with a well-deserved food binge.

The workshop divided into two groups. I started with Arno using small flash. John had a couple of strip lights from Creative Light that I really enjoyed. I wasn't familiar with this brand, but they provided excellent quality of light for the SB-800 flashes we used on Arno. Fitted with an egg-crate grid, you can see the results on the images of Arno. They made it easy to get some of the silhouette-edge lighting that I've been wanting to try,

male bodybuilder silhouette
Arno Nasshan - © Copyright 2010 by William Beem

Our subjects have dramatic bodies and they've worked hard to achieve their results. I wanted to use dramatic lighting to illustrate their bodies. For someone like Arno, that meant hard side-lighting to create contrast with shadows.

male bodybuilder lifting weights
Arno Nasshan - © Copyright 2010 by William Beem

The gym itself was small, narrow, and filled with mirrors. That definitely provided a challenge for composition. Sometimes you just couldn't get far enough back to include everything you wanted in the shot (like feet). It also meant watching out for reflections of light or other people in the mirrors. I have a number of shots that I really love, until I see someone in the mirror that breaks the mood. That's the sort of thing you try to catch while you're on the scene. I've never understood why some photographers complain about chimping. I'd rather review my shots to see if I got the results I intended while I'm there and have the opportunity to shoot again than to find out back at home that I blew it, with no opportunity for recovery.

male bodybuilder lifting weights
Arno Nasshan - © Copyright 2010 by William Beem

On the shot above, John placed another SB0-700 behind Arno with a blue gel, giving us a bit more dramatic lighting.  Once in post, I also experimented with different development techniques. The first shot is pretty much out of camera, with a slight amount of sharpening. I debated whether or not to turn the second one into Black & White. The color version was very much the same, due to so much of his body being hidden in shadow, but there was an interesting warmth of skin tones to the parts that showed. As you can tell, I obviously opted for the B&W. I decided to go a bit stronger in the third image, creating another layer using the Bleach Bypass filter in Nik's Color Efex and reducing opacity to about 35% to get that look.  The final image played with some curves and use of Nik's Viveza 2 to capture that look.

Stupid Photographer Mistakes

Hafway through the workshop, we switched things up a bit and I want to shoot Connie under Susan's direction using studio lights. About this time, I realized that I'd fallen victim to stupid photographer mistake #27.

#27: When transitioning from HDR brackets to portraiture, be sure to turn off bracketing on your camera.

That's right.  I shot the entire series with Arno while I had my camera set to 5-exposure bracketing. I'd look at my results and wonder why I missed a shot because it was dark, so I blamed it on not giving enough recycle time for the flashes. Then I'd look down and see my shutter speed was set at 1/1000th of  second, figuring that I'd accidentally moved the setting. Then I was confused how I could keep making the same mistake over and over again.  It just didn't make sense, until I finally saw the indicator telling me I was shooting in bracketing mode.  WHIMS doesn't cover that, so I need a new acronym.

Meet Connie

During the first couple of poses, we were shooting with a ring light mounted on a stand. The usual challenges with composition to get just the right angle without either reflection of the light or other participants also applied here.  Perhaps even more so, since the recycle time was much faster and people were snapping off shots with enthusiasm.

female bodybuilder lifting weights
Connie Owens - © Copyright 2010 by William Beem

A few things became very apparent to me right away. First, the ring light creates beautiful light fall-off and very flat results. Connie has ripped abs and tone that I wanted to show, but I also didn't want to make her skin look the same as I did with Arno. Call me sexist. That meant the ring light was great for her skin, but not as good to illustrate her physique.  We played around with the position of the light and I found angles for side-lighting that seemed to work for my desired result.

Of course, that didn't stop me from wanting to get some edgy-lighting on her. Susan switched out the ring light and put on a the same kind of strip light and crate box that we used with Arno to get this look.

female bodybuilder lifting weights
Connie Owens - © Copyright 2010 by William Beem

The downside of going to a workshop and shooting with new gear is that it makes me want to buy this stuff. I have no doubt that some strip lights and egg crates are in my future. The fact that I can use them with either my Nikon SB-800's or Elinchrom studio lights seems like it should be a bit cost effective, but I think they get you on the speed rings.

After three hours of shooting hard bodies in the gym, we spent a little time outdoors to shoot.  Sadly, the door closing on the electrical cord powering the studio lights seemed to keep causing short-circuits, so I didn't quite get all of the shots I wanted there.  It was a bit hectic with everyone firing at once. I tried moving to the side again, looking for an angle where the light contrasted against the muscles.

female bodybuilder in competition swimwear
Connie Owens - © Copyright 2010 by William Beem

When developing the shots of Connie, I took a different approach than I did with Arno. Using Bleach Bypass was definitely not going to work, as it made her skin very harsh and that wasn't what I saw while we were shooting. For the first and last shots, I experimented with a bit of skin smoothing using Tonal Contrast in Color Efex – moving the sliders down to eliminate contrast rather than rough it up.  The second and third images used curves and Viveza 2 in order to shape the light and contrast.

Wrapping it Up

As I mentioned, this was one of my favorite workshops.  Everyone around the shoot was nice, we took turns and hopefully didn't step into each other's shots too many times. Our subjects were fun and personable. John and Susan did their usual great job of showing us possibilities, letting the participants explore ways to use light and change things up if something wasn't working as anticipated. That exploration of possibilities and learning new techniques is what I enjoy most about workshops. Nobody brought any attitude or drama with them, making this a perfect weekend shoot.

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