I recently did a photo shoot with two very unique people. The gym owner (pictured here) is in amazing physical condition, especially given that he's in his late 40's. He doesn't just look fit; he is fit. He cycles competitively in the summer, and after starting his day at six in the morning, opening the gym, getting his training in, running the gym, training clients, managing the facility and giving spinning classes, he'll take an afternoon crunch on his bike through the Gatineau Hills, and come back to the gym for more personal training for clients. I'm a bit younger than he, and get out of breath if a sentence goes on too long. Its hard to believe we're even the same species.
Anyways, shooting in gyms poses several problems:
1. Wall mirrors are everywhere. You have to position yourself and your lighting equipment out of the way, so as to avoid having the kit in the shot but while still providing suitable exposure. I use prime lenses to make the most of low light, and often shoot with an 85 mm lens to frame my shots without catching myself or my equipment in the mirror's reflection. Lights must also be carefully aimed to avoid flash burn reflection in the wall mirrors, which seem to be everywhere.
2. Weight equipment. Sometimes it adds to the industrial feel of the composition, but often its just clutter. Take time to move benches and so forth to create the shot you're after. Using wide aperture settings not only makes the most of low light conditions, but the wide apertures create excellent bokeh, blurring your backgrounds out nicely.
3. The model needs to arrive ready to shoot; this means no tight clothing, since a shoot likely involves several clothing changes, and tight clothing leaves marks that, contrary to popular belief, cannot be simply "Photo Shopped" out. If the model is in condition, has suitable clothing and an idea of the types of poses they want to do, the shoot rolls along more smoothly and the results are much better. I always talk to the model before the shoot, and e-mail the model/client a shooting schedule thay outlines what we intend to accomplish, so there's no confused wandering around the gym.
4. Gyms are generally lighted with ceiling mounted fluorescent lights. This type of light casts a nasty yellow tone in the shots. I try to shut off as many of the fluorescent lights as I can and do as much lighting with my wireless flashguns, usually a combination of two soft boxes and one reflected umbrella at a minimum. I will also use a reflector to create a concentration of light on the model, and will also use gel filters on the flashguns to create a mood or to correct a poor lighting situation.
5. Setting up background screens usually requires an aerobics room, or a yoga room, somewhere you can set up your frames and screens for black, white or dappled backgrounds. Dappled is easiest to set up since it doesn't show wrinkles, but black and white--which show wrinkles--give the best results, no question. When shooting the subject against a white screen, I find I have to tweak the flashguns (slaved units on manual mode) a fair amount at first to find the sweet spot where you don't have a shadow on the screen (too little or unbalanced light), nor do you wash out the model with too much light.
Once I get all of these issues under control, while maintaining an energy with the model and keeping the pace moving, the shoot goes well. Fitness enthusiasts who want to have a record of their physique, and the progress made in time, are very willing to do what it takes to get the right shot, even though they may be shattered-tired from the event. Its an interesting, unique type of portraiture, which I very much enjoy doing.
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All the best,
Chris Kiez, a hardcore photographer since the 80's, learned to take a picture before the age of selfies and cell phone photography, training on mechanical cameras and film. After years of taking photos of all manner of subjects and people, he did over a 10 year stint as a crime scene photographer on two continents. Now, he does portrait and landscape photos, and is currently distressing the world with his relentlessly, excruciatingly boring blogging. To buy what you see on this site, click here!