Dynamic Fitness Portraits

Earlier this week, I did a photoshoot with Stepan. We wanted to create some dynamic portraits that showed off his transformation over recent months.

I’ve had quite a few photographers asking how I created the images, so I figured it would be a good opportunity to breakdown how I create dynamic sports portraits, something that I’ve become known over the past few years.

The location we had to work with was a small gym in town, that we pretty had much to ourselves, so we could work around finding the right backgrounds and angles to create the best images.

The first image I’ve going to go over is the one below:

1/125th sec, f7.1, ISO 100, 85mm

For this image, I threw a black backdrop up over a smiths machine to give me a plain background that I could build from. I knew when setting this image up that I wanted a Stepan isolated with nothing else in frame, just him and the lights. The quickest and easiest way for this is with a background like this.

To create that dynamic look, I always start with any shoot like with at 1/125th sec shutter speed, f7.1 (regardless of the lens I’m using) and ISO 100. This will nearly always give me a black image that I can then add light in to, creating the look above.

For this look, I had two speedlights behind his shoulders out of frame each with a coloured gel on them. I’ve always like the contrast between blue and red for portraits, so when Stepan told me they were his favourite colours, I knew they would be what I would use. The key with this is to make sure that they lights are behind the subject slightly rather than at 90 degrees. These lights had no modifiers on them, just the gels. Had I added modifiers, then it would of softened the light hitting him and actually for something like this you want a harsh light that creates shadows, so increasing his muscle definition.

Each speedlight was set to around 1/8th power so that I had an even amount of light from each side. In hindsight, if you look at the image closely, the red light is probably a bit too strong and could of come down a stop or maybe more but for what we were going for at the time it worked.

The second image, was one we shot right at the end of the session

1/100th sec, f5.6, ISO 100, 85mm

For this image we set Stepan up in front of the dumbbell rack and had him doing alternate bicep curls.

The main light for this shot is a Godox 300w Strobe through a 28in Parabolic Soft with a grid, off to Stepan right around 8-10ft away. This softbox is amazing and creates such soft light, it’s hard to get a bad image with it. I used the grid on it to keep the light moving forward and to minimise the spill around the gym. This means I can control the light better and have it where I want it.

The addition of a kicker light behind the dumbbells with a blue gel on it was simply to add some interest behind him and to try and catch the weights with a small amount of coloured light.

You’ll notice that my shutter speed was slight slower and my aperture slightly more open. This was to try and allow a little more ambient light from around the gym into the image so that you could make out more of his surroundings.

The important key with a shoot light this is the direction of light. Had I lit Stepan straight on, the light would have flatten out his muscle definition rendering what we were doing pointless. But by having light sources at different angles, I was able to use the nature shadows that directional, angled light creates to emphasis his muscles and create a much more striking portrait.

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