In addition to landscapes, I've been shooting figure figure athletes since starting my photography endeavors after making the Shawshank Redemption-like break from forensics a few years ago. Each segment of the market has its challenges, both from the technical point of view, and from the aspect of dealing with varying personalities effectively to get the best result.
My approach to photographing figure athletes is predicated on the three foundations of a successful endeavor:
1. Service: I make it a point to speak with the client or communicate via e-mails, to determine what they want from the shoot. A client will often have a general idea of some of the photos they want to come away with, but you really need to ask refining questions, explore what they want and provide them with a service that fulfills their wants and needs. To accomplish this, I will always write out a shooting schedule, which is a document that outlines where and when the shoot will take place, terms, approximate timelines for specific venues, and general orientation. I will e-mail this to the client, and discuss any changes they wish to make until the schedule is agreed upon. Prior communications will have established the general clothing and wardrobe aspects, so that I can plan out backgrounds and screens to compliment the clothing choices.
2. Convenience: Its important that the service not only meets the needs of the client, but that the client can walk into the shoot and everything is ready to go. Since my studio is portable, I can shoot outdoors, at a client's residence or at a mutually-agreed upon venue. The client arrives, and we go through the series of venues that were drawn up in the shooting schedule. Once done, there is nothing for the client to do but wait for the finished product (which is usually an archival-grade DVD of the shoot's images after post production in Photo Shop). I will mail the DVD to the recipient, so again, they don't need to drive somewhere to pick up their photos.
3. Building Loyalty: Its important to treat people the way you want to be treated. I make a point of answering questions, calls and e-mails in the quickest fashion possible. If I can't answer a question, I will research it until I do have an answer. If someone expresses an interest in having a session done, I make all the information they need available to them, then I let them be; I don't hound someone who's unsure if they're ready for a session, I don't post images of clients unless I have their permission to do so, and I offer incentives to returning customers.
Key aspects when photographing figure athletes:
- Have a copy of the shoot schedule with you at the session. It keeps the event on track, and ensures that you don't miss out on any of the specific shots or poses that the client wanted;
- Bring multiple colored background screens; there are varying levels of skin tone before, during and after physique competitions owing to spray tans, which are employed by all competitors. A light colored screen may work for one person, but you may need something else for the next person;
- In addition to a hair light, soft-boxes and diffusers, its important--especially for the closer head shot photos--to have a reflective umbrella to create the catch-lights in the eyes. I will often use a hair light on a boom over the top of the screen, with a soft-box at 45 degrees on the side that shows more of the back, and a reflective umbrella and flash on the side where the face is more exposed when taking overall physique shots;
- Wireless transmitters and receivers make life so much easier. All my flash guns are set on wireless systems to avoid tripping over wires;
- A nice idea is to bring the laptop to the shoot, if practicable to do so. This way, between sessions, you can dump the photos onto the laptop and see if everything is as it should be. I do use a Hoodman loupe to look at each and every shot I take on the playback screen, but seeing the photo on my 17" laptop screen really lets me know if the focus is pinpoint;
- Be careful of overdoing the wide aperture thing. I know the unfocused background is important to separate your model from the background, but at the ultra-wide open aperture settings, you can have a nose in focus and eyes now in soft focus, where the depth of field is just too shallow. Which is why checking your shots on the laptop is so helpful;
- Have the model wear loose clothing to the shoot; tight clothing will leave unsightly marks on the skin that take at least 30 minutes to dissipate. And no, you can't always "Photo Shop" out flaws and problems. You have to shoot the very best image possible to begin with, then make the minor adjustments to exposure, saturation, etc that Photo Shop offers;
- Finally, some models are surprised by how long a shoot is. That is to say, posing for a shot takes physical and mental concentration, is fatiguing (I'll have you tensing up for each shot and holding) and wears you out. If I take about 275-325 shots more or less in a session, imagine standing still and tensing yourself up, holding a pose for a few seconds, then relax. And do that 300 times.......So, bring some water, food, whatever you might bring to the gym on a hard workout day.
So, until the next shoot, stay safe and keep shooting. You'll never get that perfect shot with your camera tucked away in its case.