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Old 12-02-2008, 08:34 AM
alfresco's Avatar
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Physique Photography 101

I recently sent a PM to a well respected member of this board with some
of my unsolicited comments about physique photography. After doing so,
I got to thinking that with many people posting photographs of themselves
with the expectation that they will be used for critical comparison, I thought
it just might be beneficial to address this subject in what I hope to be a
meaningful fashion instead of just offering up criticism.

My intention here is to address the variables associated with the documentation
of your bodybuilding progress through still photography. This is not physique
photography in any artful or creative way. That is another subject altogether.
(By the way, good examples of progress photos are the ones taken of Alex
Azarian during his pre-contest preparation. They are exceptional in my opinion.)

And let me start by saying that I am not a physique photographer. Have never
been one and have zero intention of being one. But I believe I know a little
something about photography that might be worth sharing.

After spending tens of thousands of dollars on drugs, gym memberships,
supplements, huge quantities of food, travel, entry fees, etc, etc . . why
oh why do bodybuilders skimp when it comes to photography and to the
accurate documentation of their progress and eventual condition? I know
I neglected to photograph myself over the period of time when I was actually
producing meaningful results. And I never took any photographs of myself
when I was in what, many considered, my best condition. Though I was never
anywhere near the condition of most, if not all of the members of this board,
in retrospect, I now wish I had such photos. And I'll bet others wish they
had great quality photos of themselves as well.

So for Gods sake, hire or get a good photographer (not me) to capture you at
your best and while you are on the way to being your best. You deserve this after
all the hard work you but into your physique. Besides, if you don't, over the
passage of time, nobody will ever believe you when you tell them how good you
used to look. And you yourself will have forgotten and will fall prey to "the older I
get the better I was" syndrome, while having nothing to back your claims.

And please don't think it is all about the camera. Example . . . a few years ago I
sold a film camera that was a gift to me. This camera had been used to photograph
some of the best bodybuilders of all time and took, what is considered by many
to be, one of the greatest physique photographs of all time. But owning that camera
did not automatically make me a great photographer or even a better photographer.
So, it's not about camera, it is only a tool.

Photographing yourself in the bathroom, then at the beach, then by your swimming pool,
then in your backyard next to your thousand dollar barbeque, then in front of your garage
door and finally in the gym locker room after working out and expecting an accurate
evaluation of your progress, well . . . it just isn't going to happen in my book.

Physique photography, especially when you are in the documentation phase, is really
all about consistency, controlling the variables, and light. Pretty simple stuff, just
like bodybuilding. Use the same camera, the same film speed, the same lens aperture,
under the same light, the same distance from the camera at the same place at the same
time of day and it will go a long way in removing any doubt as to your progress or lack
thereof.

Here are ten basic points . . .

1. Camera. Almost anybody can afford a 35mm digital camera now-a-days or has
access to one of acceptable quality. (A cell phone camera is won't work for what we
are trying to accomplish here.) I don't want to start a mega pixel war here or digress
into a discussion of the merits of digital versus film, but anything from about 7 mega
pixels to the high end 21+ mega pixel 35mm format camera will do just fine. Obviously,
the more mega pixels (data) you can acquire the better, but something within the range
above should do just fine if you are only displaying the image on a monitor. High quality
prints will require more mega pixels than what is needed here.

And for quality reasons, use the lowest possible film speed the lighting conditions can
tolerate. Within reason and by trial and error, more, better light equals a lower film speed
which equals a better quality photograph.

2. Lens. A normal 50mm will work just fine. I prefer a longer lens, 80 - 200mm as this
tends to flatten the background and tends to display you physique in a more, undistorted
fashion. A shorter lens, i.e., < 35mm, used at a distance to depict your physique will, in
my opinion, distort your proportions too much.

3. Aperture. The lens aperture (opening) is also important. On a manual SLR camera
and on some of the higher end point and shoot cameras, you can adjust the lens aperture.
By doing so you can control the depth of field (what is in focus) which will separate you,
the subject, from the foreground and background. I would think something a stop or two
around f5.6. Anything lower, like f2.8, and run the potential of having in / out of focus
issues, anything larger, like f16, and everything is in focus and you become lost in the
shuffle, but this is ultimately environmentally dependent.

4. Light. Available, indoor, outdoor, it does not matter. It just needs to be consistent and
flattering, and used to display your physique to it's advantage. Try to replicate stage
lighting if you can and have a mirror to check your position and how you look. You can get
a flood light fairly inexpensively at any hardware store. Once you have gone to the trouble to
set-up the light, leave it there, do not move it if at all possible. Artificial light is easier to use
and to control than sunlight. As much as I love natural light, sunlight is very difficult to get
exactly the same over the course of time.

Try to avoid using a on-camera strobe / flash. It will wash out the definition when pointed at
your body. And if you do choose to use one, position the strobe to the side or down from
the top and then draw top view a diagram of the of you, the camera, and the strobe so you
can duplicate the set up.

5. Distance. You will probably need a tripod here. And a tape measure. Having these will
allow you measure and set distances more accurately. The distances I am referring to here
are the distance from the subject to the front of the lens, the distance from the centerline
of the camera lens to the ground, and the distance to and your relative position to your source
of light. Know what these measurements are and use them for every photograph. I think a
camera height set about waist level to your subject will give you the desired results. Distance
from the camera is lens length dependent. Generally speaking, being further away is better
then being too close.

6. Location. Indoor or outdoor? I don't think it matters as long as you can duplicate the lighting.
I would lean towards a flat monochromatic background devoid of any patterns, stripes, or back-
ground information. While scenic, outdoor backgrounds and environments are nice and can
be very beautiful, I think they tend to distract from the subject, and that is not the goal here.

7. Time. I would avoid taking photos after working out. The degree of muscular pump is
subject to change and does not accurately depict your "normal" condition and is too hard
to control. Your muscles are at their largest when you wake up in the morning, after your blood
has time to pool into your exterminates thereby increasing your size and vascularity, but that
time is not always practical. What is important though, is to take your photos at the same time
of day as your muscle size and vascularity continually change throughout the day as a function
of your activity and diet.

8. Composition. Three words; fill the frame. And shoot vertical frames. Do the same poses
the same way if at all possible. Burn a few prints and have those handy when shooting. It
will help guide you in your posing and has the added benefit of making you a better poser.

9. Color or black and white? Black and white images in my opinion are better for judging progress
as it removes another subjective barrier, which is color, which can be a distraction. Plus, I just
like they way they look. But ultimately, this is a personal decision.

10. Image size. Like muscles, bigger is better. It is helpful if you desire quality feedback to transmit
the largest possible image at 72 dpi to the your target audience. (Anything over 72 dpi is wasted
data when displayed on a computer monitor) Your host site, if posting to a internet board, typically
has size constraints. Go big or go home. And please don't send a postage stamp size image and
expect a accurate evaluation of your physique.

This is quick and dirty outline. I hope you find this informative useful and gets you thinking in a
logical direction.

Let me conclude with a word to the wise. If you hire somebody to take your photographs, make
sure that you retain all rights to your photographs. If you are paying somebody, you can and
should stipulate this. If they do not agree, then fire them and get somebody else. Protect yourself.

If anybody has any comments, questions, concerns, or suggestions, please chime in. I'm all
ear's (and eyes). This is not about me. With all your help, and cutting out my BS, perhaps, if the
mod's agree, we can make this a sticky in the article's forum.
econ mba and HGHkits like this.
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  #2 (permalink)  
Old 12-03-2008, 12:06 AM
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Thumbs up

Awesome!

This is very imformative. This should be a sticky.
Christine John likes this.
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Old 12-03-2008, 12:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hellraiser27 View Post
Awesome!

This is very imformative. This should be a sticky.
+1
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  #4 (permalink)  
Old 12-03-2008, 06:35 AM
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Are there any features that you would say are a minimum for a camera? How about features we probably will never need for taking portrait type pictures?

It seems there is a huge price difference with these SLR cameras ($400-$10,000+). I'd like to get something that would keep me happy for a while and push my limits but I don't have lots of money to blow. I also don't want to buy something and need to rebuy it in 2 years.

Any help is appreciated.
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  #5 (permalink)  
Old 12-18-2008, 09:28 PM
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example

I just ran across this back comparison
shot and thought it would be worth post-
ing, a great example of how it should be
done; controlling as many of the variables
as possible. And I like the captions.
(This is not a photograph of me)

Photo courtesy Inge Cook.
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  #6 (permalink)  
Old 12-19-2008, 12:20 AM
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Alfresco,
Just wanted to say this is really good info. A buddy of mine has a 900 dollar camera including his lens, but doesn't have much experience with it (one of those things he bought thinking he might get into photography one day, but hasn't). He's been begging me to let him take some pics of my physique, I'll send him these tips.

Thanks for typing this all out for us Alfresco!
Halflife
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  #7 (permalink)  
Old 12-19-2008, 03:50 AM
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For the average person, 95% of their needs will be met with a standard point and shoot costing no more than $300.

If I listed the amount of photography gear I possess it would read like an ad for Ritz or B+H Photo. For certain situations like paid travel assignments, sports, or nightclub photography, I rely on DSLR simply because of the type of lens I may be using, not because of the camera itself. But the rest of time when I am just hanging out, on vacation (non paid), taking the family to Disney World, holidays, etc.. it is the Canon point and shoot.

Ideally if you are not going to be blowing up prints over 11x14 inches, you won't need more than 5mp's on the camera.
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Old 03-17-2010, 10:19 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PoptartPsycho View Post
For the average person, 95% of their needs will be met with a standard point and shoot costing no more than $300. . .

Ideally if you are not going to be blowing up prints over 11x14 inches, you won't need more than 5mp's on the camera.
I agree, for what most people use the camera for,
you don't need to spend very much. And the good
news is that the quality is going up and the price
is dropping.

I just wish people would stop using their cell phone
to take the fotos they post here, asking for a critique,
soliciting meaningful comments on their progress.
Most images are terrible distorted (most think in
their favor which helps explain why they like doing it),
are poorly lit, and are worse then worthless, they are
misleading. That is not to say a cell phone can't
take a accurate foto, they can, but not in their hands
from what I have seen so far.

Your last comment, 11 x 14 inch prints from a 5mp
camera? Well . . . it depends on your standards of
quality. I think I'll pass on that one.

Good comments though. Thank you.
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Old 03-18-2010, 06:36 AM
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Thanks

I thought it was interesting about the lens size- I will start using my 80-300 again for this.

I also appreciated the point about distance- these two points will help alot, thanks Al!
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  #10 (permalink)  
Old 06-05-2010, 01:27 AM
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GOOD SIZE



Quote:
Originally Posted by alfresco View Post
I just ran across this back comparison
shot and thought it would be worth post-
ing, a great example of how it should be
done; controlling as many of the variables
as possible. And I like the captions.
(This is not a photograph of me)

Photo courtesy Inge Cook.
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  #11 (permalink)  
Old 09-12-2010, 05:29 PM
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Cool....
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  #12 (permalink)  
Old 09-12-2010, 10:30 PM
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my wife is a photographer and i am her second shooter. we have about 20k in gear,she has begged me to take photos but im never ready. I keep saying soon guess it keeps me on my toes.
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Old 01-20-2011, 02:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alfresco View Post
I just ran across this back comparison
shot and thought it would be worth post-
ing, a great example of how it should be
done; controlling as many of the variables
as possible. And I like the captions.
(This is not a photograph of me)

Photo courtesy Inge Cook.
you can really tell a big difference in the second pic nice work.
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  #14 (permalink)  
Old 01-20-2011, 02:52 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tkav1980 View Post
+1
+2
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Old 03-25-2011, 07:53 AM
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Alfresco;
if you can give me some tips, it would be great. The mandetories shots i did in a bedroom with a single halogen light source on the ceiling (150 watts) the bathroom shots have multiple light sources, but i cant get far enough back to get a full body, unless I go fish eye. Since i am going to be prepping for a contest in a few months i'd like to be able to have some consistent shots that might be helpful to me and my coach.

I also included a full frame so you can see what I cropped. maybe the camera is too far away? too wide angle? the shadows also bother me.

Thanks!
Attached Images
File Type: jpg mandatories.jpg (284.8 KB, 1158 views)
File Type: jpg side-by-side.jpg (95.9 KB, 1639 views)
File Type: jpg P1010816.jpg (278.5 KB, 1043 views)

Last edited by leanbody; 03-25-2011 at 07:55 AM.
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Old 03-25-2011, 09:04 AM
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From any of the shots, it does not look like you are using too wide a lens.
I would have shot them vertically though. But you may have to move in to fill
the frame, which my add some distortion, but itís hard to tell unless you try.
If undue distortion arises, stand back and use a longer lens. And yes, include
your feet like you did the first batch of fotos.

The camera height looks fine. Yes, the lighting does suck (color and contrast)
that is why I convert many to black and white if I canít correct it and if the color
is not ďrightĒ distracts from the physique in my opinion; itís all about shape and
form.

Like I said in my PM, a flash / strobe from the front will wash you out usually.
You need something from above or some soft window light from the side is not
bad; skylights are great also (lighting is a whole other story, everything really).
A single or dual source lighting from the right angle would be ideal in my
opinion.

Just pick the best spot that gives you the best results. But be consistent with it,
that is the key if you are using these for comparison purposes. That goes for the
lenses and your set-up as well. You are looking or changes in your physique, not
location or lighting; then they become meaningless and misleading . . .like cell
phone fotos in the bathroom or locker room, or fotos of you with your shirt off in
your car window . . . Hell, even I can look half way decent there.

Please, just play around and have some fun, donít be afraid to experiment and
make mistakes. Search for the ďrightĒ light that is reproducible at will. My avatar,
I shot in my hallway, at night, under a canned ceiling light. I put at X on floor,
used a tripod, set the focus, and used a self-timer. Pretty simple.

Hope this helps.
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Old 03-25-2011, 02:20 PM
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yup that helps a lot. i think i might invest in a tripod because I like the idea of flipping the camera sideways and right now I am balancing it on boxes, etc. to get the height right. Its really hard to do any serious comparison if all the shots look different and that's what I have from the last 5 years - oh well - i'll only improve in the next 5! Thanks bro!
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Old 03-26-2011, 12:16 AM
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my opinion . . .

Quote:
Originally Posted by leanbody View Post
yup that helps a lot. i think i might invest in a tripod because I like the idea of flipping the camera sideways and right now I am balancing it on boxes, etc. to get the height right. Its really hard to do any serious comparison if all the shots look different and that's what I have from the last 5 years - oh well - i'll only improve in the next 5! Thanks bro!
If you shoot vertically, and fill the frame (most people stand back too far) you
eliminate much cropping. And a tripod will only make your images sharper.

You look just fine by the way. But from what you said, not as good as you want.
You will improve with time but donít look for any miracles. It gets tougher past
50 (Iím 54 in my avatar, 56 now). Just be reasonable with your expectations and
donít do anything stupid which you might regret or not be able to undue.
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Old 03-26-2011, 03:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alfresco View Post
If you shoot vertically, and fill the frame (most people stand back too far) you
eliminate much cropping. And a tripod will only make your images sharper.

You look just fine by the way. But from what you said, not as good as you want.
You will improve with time but donít look for any miracles. It gets tougher past
50 (Iím 54 in my avatar, 56 now). Just be reasonable with your expectations and
donít do anything stupid which you might regret or not be able to undue.
Good advice, Alfresco. I'm in this for the long haul - My dad lived to 96 and i have 2 teens so I want to be healthy (and buff) for a long time. So far only thing I cant undo is the tattoo - But i still like it and it's almost 2 years old.... LOL
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Old 01-24-2012, 08:04 AM
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Good read. I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who can relate.
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