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Fitness Photoshoot: A complete guide

Most people don’t realize the monumental difference of how their body will look when captured during a fitness photoshoot vs a poorly lit gym selfie.

The truth of the matter is that without proper lighting, you can’t accurately assess all the details of your body. As Rembrandt once said, “a painting is complete when it has the shadows of a god.”

What Rembrandt teaches us today is that, poorly lit gym selfies with bad posing make it hard to both appreciate exactly how much progress you’ve made in the gym. It also makes it very challenging to discover where we can improve.

Although it’s possible to measure your fitness progress by crushing your training goals, the best way to visually see your results is to have a professional fitness photographer capture your body progress at regular intervals under good lighting and expert direction.

This allows you to both document your fitness journey and also appreciate your gains via portraiture. That said, there’s much more to getting great fitness photos than just a good diet and going to the gym.

Getting the highest quality images requires planning and forethought. In this post I’ll cover everything you can do to get the best fitness photos possible from your session.

Who Can Benefit from a Fitness Photoshoot?

Fitness instructors, professional fitness models and anyone else who just wants to document their physical gains are all great examples of people who can benefit from a fitness shoot.

For a personal trainer, it’s a natural fit to use your own body as your resume for attracting new clients. People will naturally want to hire you and you’ll be able to charge more for your services if you can inspire them to seek a healthier lifestyle with your images.

The same is obviously true for models or professional athletes that need fitness pictures for self promotion.

studio style fine art B&W portrait of a man's back on black background

Even if you’re not looking to build a career in fitness though, it’s still incredibly helpful to have high quality images of your body sculpted in good light.

When I do this for myself, I find that I appreciate my strength gains more, and get a clearer idea of where I can improve.

Fitness photoshoots are a wonderful way to showcase your progress, motivate yourself for future fitness goals, and celebrate your gains.

Fitness photography is for anyone who is currently exercising 3 or more hours a week and has a nutrition plan to support their training.

How to choose a photographer to capture your fitness photos

Step One: Hire a fitness photographer who knows human anatomy

When having your fitness photography captured, it’s important to work with a professional photographer who has extensive knowledge of human anatomy and how it moves. Photographers that have extensive experience with nude subjects can be especially helpful as they generally have the best understanding of how to pose and light all parts of the body.

 

Body scape fitness portrait of a dancer

Knowledge of all the muscle groups is important because without it, your photographer will have a harder time directing you towards fitness poses that showcase specific muscle groups, let alone your best angles overall.

Step Two: Hire a photographer who also exercises

black and white fitness selfie

If your photographer doesn’t practice fitness for themselves, they will generally have a harder time articulating faults in your mind muscle connections to showcase your muscle groups at their peak.

It’s for this reason, I believe it’s best to hire a fitness photographer who also has an interest in fitness. Hiring a fellow athlete usually provides better posing feedback because they are familiar with making mind muscle connections during their training.

The photo to the left (above on mobile) is a fitness selfie of yours truly circa January 2021.

Fitness Photoshoot Preparation: How to prepare your appearance

In addition to getting your body in condition via training and eating well, It’s also very important to prepare for your fitness photoshoot by scheduling all of your personal care appointments at the proper times leading up to your photo shoot.

To get the best fitness photos possible, you should decide weather or not to do the following leading up to your photo shoot:

  • A hair cut/color
  • Manicure / Pedicure
  • Lash Extensions
  • Teeth Whitening
  • Shop for Outfits

Remember that there is NOT any one thing you can do make your fitness photos better. Getting high quality photos is about being prepared and doing a bunch of little things leading up to your session. These easy little preparations collectively contribute to better photos.

BODY HAIR

In addition to the above appointments both male and female fitness models generally look better in their final photos without body hair. There’s a good reason for this even if it’s not something you normally do.

Having too much (or any, in some cases) body hair, can hide muscle definition and make you appear less defined. Body hair basically blurs the lines in your body. When you remove the hair it sharpens the cuts in your musculature that you’d never see if you kept everything au natural.

high contrast profile portrait by fitness photographer Jason Guy

Removing body hair is not mandatory, but having your skin well groomed should be something both men and women consider to exaggerate their physiques.

Grooming tips for men

For men, getting a haircut and trimming your ear hair, nose hair and facial hair can help you look significantly better in your final images. Ask your girlfriend, she’ll tell you I’m right.

A good wax or shave of your body hair is especially important for us guys since we have a lot more body hair that can obscure our muscles and thus hide the cuts in our musculature.

If you’re averse to total removal of your body hair, using electric trimmers at a #1 height will greatly enhance the appearance of your musculature over not grooming anything.

 

black and white fitness portrait of an attractive man

If you experience itchiness, that means your skin is dry. Apply lotion as necessary. Just avoid using lotions or moisturizers right before your photo shoot because they can sometimes cause unwanted shimmery highlights.

If you want to color the hair on your head the best time to do it is about 3 days before your photo shoot so the hair dye has enough time to fade away from your scalp leading up to your photo shoot.

Grooming tips for Women

Women should have their hair cut and or colored 3-5 days before their photo shoot. This will allow time for the hair dyes to fade from the scalp if you choose to have it colored.

As for areas of the body like armpits, legs and the bikini line, It’s best to be clean shaved the night before your photo shoot.

If you prefer waxing, this should be done no less than 3-5 days before your session to allow time for your skin to heal. For more information about best practices for hair removal in your intimate areas, this post will tell you everything you need to know.

fitness photo of a woman in her underwear.

If you’re not into body hair removal, that’s totally fine! Just know you will look less defined in any areas you choose not to groom.

To learn more about what you should do with the hair on your head in anticipation for your photo shoot you can check out this post for more info.

How to train for a fitness photoshoot

If you’re just starting your fitness journey and want to use fitness photo sessions as a way to document your progress or appreciate your gains, the following should be strictly followed:

  • Practice a healthy living lifestyle consisting of exercise, good nutrition, protecting yourself from the sun, and abstention from drugs, alcohol or other things known to accelerate aging.
  • Focus on the number you lift rather than the number on the scale. Almost all fitness models focus on getting stronger with resistance training at least 3 hours a week. The physical results you want will usually happen naturally if you focus on getting stronger rather than loosing mass (dieting).
  • Hire a fitness coach to help program workouts specifically for your goals. You can find out what I learned about exercise from photographing people with exceptional bodies in this post.
  • Have a nutritionist help you create a meal plan to fuel your body so your efforts exercising aren’t wasted. In short, you are what you eat and it’s impossible out exercise a bad diet!

Getting fitness photoshoot ready: Long term exercises you should devote most of your energy towards

Woman doing dumb bell row exercise and losing weight for wedding

Long term, it’s really important that you stay consistent with strength conditioning to look your best in pictures. That said you should also include some HIIT workouts once or twice a week to build your v02 max. Conditioning in both conventions will contribute to better health and thus a more attractive body.

Strength Training

Strength training is how you develop muscle tone and size. Strength training can either be done using machines, free weights or body weight exercises, TRX, Pilates, CrossFit, etc.

Heavier weight lifted one rep shy of fialure in the 1-5 rep range will build a strong Herculean Greek god looking physique. Maximum muscle hypertrophy happens when you lift 1 rep shy of failure in the 8-12 rep range. Lighter weight lifted to failure in the 12-20 rep range will build leaner, more striated (defined) muscle.

Everyone interested fitness photography should include the following 6 movements as the core of their exercise program.

  1. Overhead press
  2. Pull Up /Chin Up
  3. Bench Press
  4. Row
  5. Squats
  6. Dead lift
Woman Losing Weight For Wedding by doing heavy deadlifts

These 6 movements will work every muscle in the body. From these core movements, you can then further enhance areas of your body with additional angles and isolation exercises as needed. For further reading, Jailhouse Strong is a good place to start for dudes, and Glute Lab is great for the ladies that want to emphasize lower body hypertrophy.

HIIT Cardio Workouts

HIIT workouts are intense cardio sessions that burn more fat than traditional steady state cardio like jogging or walking. HIIT workouts are different from traditional cardio in that they are meant to be done at near maximum capacity for short periods of time with short rests in between sets.

Most experts recommend about a minute of maximum effort followed by 30 seconds of rest in a cycled fashion.

You can do this at a local track by sprinting the straights and walking the curves. You can also do Juarez Valley pushups pretty much anywhere.

Examples of things you can do for HIIT exercises:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Jump rope 
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Sprints
  • Jump lunges
  • Jump squats
  • Box jumps
  • Spin classes
  • Rowing
  • Hiking Uphill

What do fitness models eat before a photoshoot?

Professional bodybuilders, fitness models and cover models are specialists in body transformation. They are quite adept at controlling their physique both in the short and long term.

In the simplest terms, to build your body you’ll need a diet plan tailored to your body and your goals. Macro calculators are very helpful here if you need some direction on where to start. The main idea is that there are 3 macro nutrients you should focus on while building your body.

  1. Proteins
  2. Carbs
  3. Fats

While building your body, it’s important to follow a nutrition plan based on these macro nutrients and your goals. These values will change depending on wheather you’re trying to gain weight in a surplus or cut with a caloric deficit. The part that doesn’t change is your protein intake, which should be kept within range to consistently build your lean mass while training.

Cutting water weight and body fat for your photo shoot

If you want to shed your water layer and or lean down to make your muscles pop in the weeks leading up to your photo shoot, this is the Cliff’s Notes for the pre-contestant physique competitor’s diet.

To be clear, this is not a lifestyle diet; it’s a guide for body builders about to step on stage, using pre-contest strategies from the world’s top bikini, fitness model and figure competitors.

It’s very hard on your body and I’m not personally a fan of it, but this is the basic blueprint if you want to get extra lean and veiney for your photo shoot.

The secret is to get a good pump right before you’re photographed

Fit young female athlete lifting heavy weights and Losing Weight For Wedding

Even though eating healthily and working out can help you get to the body that looks amazing in photos, It’s also important to know how to show off that great body immediately before the shoot begins!

Pumping up your muscles will have a striking effect on your final photos. The following are some strategies to pump up for the camera before your fitness photoshoot.

1: Do your photo shoot at the gym

If you’ve got the okay to do a photo shoot in your gym, you can use the equipment there to pump up before your shoot. The great thing about doing this is that you can get environmental shots while you pump up your muscles and do studio photos after you pump up.

2: Pump up with body weight and explosive movements

If you don’t have access to weights or a gym at your location, you can do body weight exercises (like jump squats, push ups etc.) to stimulate your muscles for any area you want to feature. These types of movements are effective and can literally be done anywhere.

3: Don’t Overdo it!

However you choose to pump up, It’s important to keep the weights light and conserve your energy for posing. Posing is harder work than most people think it will be if you haven’t done much of it before.

Pumping up is the secret actors use right before they do a shirtless scene in your favorite action movie. You’ll notice huge changes in your physique just by including this simple step immediately before your photos are captured.

Where Should I Take My Fitness photos?

All of my fitness photoshoots happen on location. That said, there are two different styles I can create depending on the photography style you want, and what you have access to.

Environmental portraits are usually captured where you train. Studio portraits can sometimes be captured where you train and sometimes at clients homes. You can learn more about on location studio portraits here.

Environmental Fitness Photography

Environmental fitness photography is basically portraits that are created wherever your sport or exercise happens. An obvious example of this would be a personal trainer that coaches people for strength out of a gym. In this case an environmental portrait would be something like you curling a dumb bell in the gym.

By including the environment or the accessories of your sport, these portraits draw attention away from you and put more of the focus on the activity.

These portraits work really well to get people excited about your sport and helps them visualize themselves taking part in it.

Studio Fitness Photography

The other option is studio style portraits  or full sun portraits. These portraits isolate you on a black or white backdrop and really hone in on the details of your body by excluding the background.

This approach is best to evaluate your progress visually and generally allows finer control over the light. This is important since lighting is the main mechanism for highlighting your muscle groups.

These portraits are the best for evaluating your progress visually, or showing the viewer how their body could be transformed if they participated in your sport.

Full sun portrait of muscular man on white background

What Should I Bring to A Fitness Photoshoot?

It’s a good idea to bring the things you need to do your exercises. Bring your actual fitness equipment (weights, jump ropes, medicine balls, running shoes) if you can. These items can be used during your fitness photoshoot to give your photos context.

If you’re doing your session on location at your gym, or other place where all your workout accessories are, you’ll likely only need to bring yourself.

What do you wear to a fitness photo shoot?

You should bring whatever you normally wear to work out or compete in.

It’s a good idea to wear more revealing outfits for at least a few shots so you can document your progress. That said, promotional images should try to reveal less skin, to create more conservative images for a wider audience.

Appealing to a wider audience can be useful if you plan to use the images in any online advertising like Facebook Ads.

Overly revealing images may get flagged by the artificial intelligence of online advertising platforms for showing too much skin. It’s dumb and I hate it, but it’s something you should think about when capturing images to promote yourself.

Fitness Portrait of martial artist Josh Boyes

Fitness Photographer San Francisco Bay Area

If you found this post helpful and are looking for a fitness photographer in the northern San Francisco Bay Area, you can reach out here after reviewing my price menu and I’d be happy to set up a time to discuss your intended session with you!

If you’re not quite ready for a fitness photoshoot but would still like to get occasional updates from me, you can subscribe to email updates here.

Comment below if you think I missed something. My goal is to make this post as helpful as possible for anyone looking to document their fitness journey or promote themselves!

Jason Guy

I am a portrait photographer based out of Sonoma, California. I create portraits for people of all ages with the goal of making images that are timeless. Portraits you will look back on decades from now, and still love them just as much then as you do today. While flattering lighting and pose are important, capturing how others see you is what I ultimately strive for.

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