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Bodybuilding photo shoot tips

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Posted by Bill Lowenburg, Documentary/Fine Art Photography.

One thing which seems to be very important to many bodybuilders is to have a good set of photos from their "peak times." Many also like to take photos on an ongoing basis, to document their progress. In the article which follows I will try to give some not-too-technical tips on producing the type of images you will enjoy and be proud to show others.

First, it is not necessary to use a professional camera. Pocket cameras, especially those in the $150.00 and-up-range, have pretty decent lenses. Avoid those using film sizes smaller than 35mm. Their negatives are just too tiny to produce prints with a lot of detail. Using 35mm, if you choose the appropriate film to use in the right light conditions, your results can be surprisingly good. More about film and lighting in a moment. If you have access to an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera, I recommend using at least a 90mm lens. You can probably get acceptable results with a standard (50mm) lens, but definitely avoid anything shorter than a 50. If using a longer lens, and especially with anything over 200mm, I definitely recommend the use of a tripod, to reduce camera shake and blurry images.

Choice of film is not difficult: all of the name brands, and many of the off-brands are excellent, however they do have characteristic qualities, which you may want to take into account. Fuji color film, for example, is known as being very "punchy," meaning that the colors really jump out at you. Some people love this effect, while it's definitely not to the taste of others. Kodak Gold, Ektar, and Vericolor, each have a distinctive look, which you will have to try to find out what you like best. In terms of film speed, the lower the number, the finer the grain. For outdoor shooting, you should try 100 or 200, and possibly even ISO 25 if you have a tripod. But don't necessarily shy away from 400 speed film, either, as it's made so well these days that it too produces images of very fine grain, and can easily be used for 8 x 10 or even larger prints. In other words, experiment until you find what works best for you.

Black-and-white photography, my specialty, is not recommended for amateurs for several reasons. Number one, you have to be able to print your own work to get really good-looking results. Commercial labs will be glad to print for you, at a hefty price for custom work, and the results may still be less-than-satisfying. If you are really interested in getting good black-and white-work done, hire a local pro to shoot you. It's worth the extra expense. (No,this is not an ad. I don't do commercial work!)

In terms of setting up your shots,and some other things to try, I will offer the following list of suggestions. Though by no means a complete list, it should help you to begin to get some satisfying results.

1. Take your pictures outdoors in open shade. Direct sunlight creates harsh shadows.

2. Be sure to scope out the background FIRST. You'de be amazed at all the unwanted visual debris that will appear in your photos if you aren't careful about the background! Simple and direct shots are best for beginners. Avoid clutter, which will take away attention from your subject.

3. Get close! Fill up the viewfinder with your subject.

4. To get a more natural expression from the subject, tell them it is not necessary to flex their hardest. A moderate flex will often give more flattering expressions. Of course, if you really want to bring out the animal in your subjects, do your best to get them all worked up!

5. Shoot a LOT of film! Film is the cheapest part of photography. Edit out the pictures you don't like. Even the pro's will tell you (if you can get them to admit it) that you're lucky to have only a few "keepers" on a each roll.

6. Don't expect professional-looking results the first time. Keep the prints that didn't work out--in a separate place of course-- and study them to figure out how they could be improved.

7. Start an album. By keeping your pictures in one place you can keep track of your progress in both bodybuilding and photography.

8. Find a good color lab in your area, and take your film to them to get processed instead of the drugstore. Drugstore pictures are often fine, but sometimes quality control is inconsistent at the big labs they send their work to.

9. Public libraries and bookstores carry a good line of basic instructional books on photography. It's worth the investment to take a basic course at a local community college if you're serious about improving your skills.

10. Like bodybuilding, you have to look at photography as a long-term process. Improve your skills little by little, and remember, it's the photographer, not the camera that counts. Spend your money on film, processing, and education, rather than the latest hi-tech cameras. There will be a better one on the market next year anyway...

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