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Fitness Model Photography – It Takes More Than Just A Great Body!

For a variety of reasons, photographing Fitness Models is a big part of our business at Mandarich Models. Since Tony Mandarich, a former NFL player, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, fitness models just seems to gravitate towards us. We still spend a lot of time at the gym as well, and we’re in constant contact with people in the fitness profession (as well as with fitness models). Therefore, fitness model photography has grown to be a significant division of Mandarich Media Group.

Often, fitness photography involves clients that aren’t professional models, so extra time and attention must be spent preparing these clients for the shoot. When shooting with a client who is experienced in fitness competitions but not in modeling, it is important to discuss the differences between being on stage in a competition, versus being in front of a camera. During a fitness or figure competition, models are often spray-tanned, slathered in baby oil, dehydrated and caked in overly-dramatic makeup. In front of the camera, the same person needs to have a nice natural tan, professional hair and makeup (not overdone!), and be well-hydrated so as to be able to spend 2-4 hours in front of the camera. Women should have a manicure and pedicure, and men should pay attention to their hands and feet as well. Since fitness photography often focuses on specific body parts, attention to the small details can be more helpful to a fitness model than it is to many other types of models.

Another important part of planning a fitness model shoot is the theme and wardrobe. Often such a client has a stage wardrobe that they use for their competitions, which may or may not be effective in front of the camera. I suggest having the client bring several outfits that we can go over together, and decide which is going to work best considering the type of final product we are seeking. Loud colors and bright patterns should generally be avoided, as well as any other clothing or accessories that detract from the fit body being photographed. Unless you’re shooting a fashion client, the motto for wardrobe and background should be K.I.S.S (keep it simple, stupid!).

If you’re not shooting in studio, a fitness client may want shots that emphasize their level of activity. Be prepared to hike, bicycle, or swim to get the shot for a fitness model. If you have access to a gym before or after hours, they will often be interested in letting you use the gym as a set if you’re willing to provide finished images in trade. Be prepared, though, to show your liability insurance! If you don’t have access to a gym, consider having an assistant drive you as you shoot out of a moving vehicle as the model runs, cycles, or rollerblades not many photographers are willing to literally go the extra mile, and your fitness client will be thrilled that you understand what is important to them.

When shooting in studio, we like to use dramatic lighting with fitness models. One strobe, positioned at a dramatic angle, can really make the muscles on a fitness client pop. One of my favorite shots that I’ve ever taken was with a male fitness client, using only one strobe, positioned slightly in front and above the model. The definition in his abdominal muscles was highlighted by the deep shadows created by the direction of the light. This image also adheres to the K.I.S.S. philosophy; simple background, simple wardrobe, one light and an amazing finished image!

For more insight into our shooting style and philosophy, visit our blog at

Submitted by:

Tony Mandarich

Char & Tony Mandarich know that Fitness Model Photography is a big part of Mandarich Models and they push the limit to get the best images for each client.