Photo courtesy Inge Cook.
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May 21, 2018
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.
I just ran across this back comparison shot and thought it would be worth posting, 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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