Fitness Shoot, from Conception to Completion

by gregkochphoto

All of my images begin as ideas with varying degrees of vagueness. Whether the genesis is a product of the client’s vision or my own, I always try to see the image in my mind before the day of the shoot. Story boarding helps a lot.  Even with substandard art skills.


In the case of this shoot, I was working on a personal fitness project (thus, no client) in which I’d be shooting trainers working out. I ran through several ideas of what I wanted to focus on.


(Something having to do with a rope, no doubt.)


(Uhhh…I don’t know.  I think those are supposed to be arms, but I might have been doodling too late into the night on this one.)

Having worked with one of the trainers, Creig, in the past, I knew that I could pretty much ask for anything I liked. That’s a pretty cool—and fairly unusual—freedom to have.  It’s also why I love personal shoots so much.

With the sky as the limit, I knew I wanted to show athletes in training, as opposed to standing around with their arms crossed. I wanted dynamic visuals that not only would say something about the subjects but that would also showcase the type of work I really enjoy. I also knew I wanted a very dramatic lighting that highlighted the energy and appeal of these fitness professionals.

While the trainers were getting suitably warmed up and sweaty, my awesome assistant Ken and I rigged an 8’ Profoto Deep Umbrella with a silver lining.


Here’s Ken on an early lighting test.  (Sorry, dude–I had to do it!)


I already knew I wanted to avoid diffusion; my goal was a hard light with a bit of specularity that would show the trainers in their edgy environment. We also placed two lights with standard reflectors on either side of our subjects and slightly behind them, giving them a nice rim light. The last light was an overhead Profoto Softlight Reflector with a 20 degree grid that would act as a hair light. Halfway through the shoot I swapped it out for a larger 1×6 gridded strip as I changed out the 8’ umbrella for the beauty dish.


I generally step into a session slowly, and this one was no exception. I like to give the subjects time to warm up to me and vice versa. The initial back-and-forth serves not only to break the ice but also to solidify our vision.  Since every shoot is a collaboration, I asked the trainers what they were interested in doing. Because they know their own strengths and weaknesses better than I, their ideas were incredibly valuable, and they helped rein in my otherwise extravagant wishes. That said, I knew Creig had at least one special move in his pocket—he could do a backflip. After getting the lighting tests out of the way, we went for it.


A high shutter speed speed (1/1600th) coupled with a short flash duration allowed us to capture the shot with no motion blur. This was key. I wanted a precise look to each image, as if it were cut with a knife.

Following that amazing display of antigravity, Creig showed me something called the “Bulgarian bag”.  I still don’t know much about what it is, but I know it’s heavy and it looks cool!


Of course, no fitness shoot would be complete without cold iron.  So, we grabbed the barbells and got to work.  Rocco started with a dead lift, then moved into a clean-and-jerk.  Here’s a Before and After comparison.  Initially, I’d seen this image as a squat, but Rocco’s personal touch led us elsewhere.


We finished it off, naturally, with some good old fashioned curls.  Another Before and After.  (…I think I really need to work on my drawing skills.)


At one point, I adjusted the key light and in the process turned it off. I neglected to turn it back on while Rocco was doing some shoulder presses and…well, let’s just call it a happy accident.


My next victim–I mean “subject”–was Cheri.  She was a lot of fun to shoot because she was so genuinely excited to be working out. You could see it on her face.  Here she is just jumping rope with all the giddiness you’d expect of a schoolgirl.  She couldn’t stop laughing as she did this.  I really enjoy meeting folks who love what they do!


Here, Cheri is explaining to me how she can handle any weights I can throw at her.


When I asked her what she wanted to do next, her eyes lit up and she answered with two words: “The sled!” I had no idea what this meant, of course, but soon enough she was stacking plates on this big metal beast and shoving it around the floor, grinning from ear to ear.  There were several points where I couldn’t get the shot because I had to stop to laugh (laughing is permitted during personal projects).  As you can see, we applied liberal amounts of chalk to the scene, with Ken and Creig standing just out of frame and throwing it over her head.


Hard work has never been so much fun.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t lie down on the job every now and then.  Thanks to Ken for the unflattering photo–I guess we’re even now, huh, dude?


Next up was Zack, who had the unusual ability of balancing on a ball while throwing ropes. Can you say “core strength”?  Unfortunately, a lot of dynamic moves don’t naturally look good in a photograph because they’re movement-based.  But, with a little work and some more flying chalk, I think we came away with something pretty cool.


Last up was Creig’s encore performance. I’d had this idea of people jumping in the air while throwing around a medicine ball. Why?  It was just one of those strange visions that popped into my head. Creig was willing to play along with my odd requests, though, so we stacked some crash pads while Ken threw the ball over and over…and over.  (How’s that shoulder, buddy?)  In the end, though, it was all worth it.


Here’s a behind-the-scenes shot that, of course, dispels all the magic.


My thanks to Creig, Rocco, Cheri, Zack, and Ken.  A shout out as well to ClubSport Fremont for providing the venue and the personnel.