Fitness Photography in a Gym with Speedlights

Athletic and fitness photo shoots are some of my favorite, probably because I’m a hardcore exercise addict myself. Getting to photograph athletes in their element is up on my favorite photo shoots. And directing these shoots is always a feat of endurance and awkward positions myself that gently remind me that I’m getting a little older, and maybe should consider stretching before shoots. Especially when I alternate between running around with lights, throwing myself on the ground to catch expansive heroic shots, and lifting that hefty 70-200mm lens.

I’ve had the pleasure and delight of working with The Mighty Fitness brand recently for multiple shoots and am sharing the apex of it all.

Great models, Check!

An amazing boss-babe CEO, Check!

Access to the San Benito Crossfit Gym with it’s glorious skylights and spacious interior; Check!

Me and all my gear, Check!

Pre-workout stretch for the photographer; Fail!

Magic, fun, and lots of sweat; Check!

Lights, camera, action – but wait, you know it’s more complicated than that. If you’re itching to learn about the lighting, you’ve come to the right place.

To get that high-contrast, powerful and dramatic light, that one that shows off your athlete’s hard work requires some gear and a little light creation on your part dear photographer.

For the basic formula in these power shots, you’ll need at least 2 off-camera lights, and up to 4 if you want to really go nuts. Light modifiers like soft boxes and umbrellas are helpful to shape and sculpt your light.

Follow this diagram for a general setup of gear. You are using the main soft box as a fill light and by setting it up just a bit more in front of your subject and more across your model, you can create more “spillover” feathered light. Experiment with this, the farther you move your light, the harder the shadows get. The reflective umbrella serves to create a accented side and works well just a bit behind your subject but you can move it more forward to create less contrasty light. You can swap out an umbrella for a softbox if you’d like. Umbrellas are way cheaper and easy to start with, but a softbox will be easier to direct light than an umbrella. Both these lights should be above the height of your subject and angled down a bit. The third and optional light is one behind. It can be pointed at your subject or off camera to help create rim light and pop your subject away from the background. A final light can be light from the area of your camera or front of the model to help brighten the shadows. Go minimal here so you don’t flatten out your image. Experiment with all these lights and see what recipe works well for you.

And, if you don’t have a wireless transmitter, now is the time to get one. It will allow you to control each light from the transmitter sitting on your camera’s hotshoe. As a Nikon gal myself, I have worked through a line of different lighting situations and ultimately ended up shooting with Goddox for their quality and less expensive price point.

My Goddox gear:

Goddox V1 Speedlight

Goddox Accessory Kit (Light modifiers for V1)

(3) Goddox V860 Speedlights

Goddox X2T-N

As for the camera and the lens, for this shoot I mostly stuck with my Nikon 70-200mm 2.8 for the beautiful compression (feeling of depth) and the ability to remain socially distant. I shot with the aperture between 2.8 and 3.5 at an ISO ranging from 125-200. I keep the shutter speed down to around 1/250th for most shots. I controlled the lights from the wireless transmitter and have each light labeled a group, so A, B, and C. I kept the A and B front softbox and umbrella powered at 1/2 to 1/1 (full power) throughout the shoot and the rear light when used at 1/8th-ish power. I found I had to alter the light power quite often as I had to move the lights to different areas of the gym for different setups. Don’t be afraid to mess up, that’s beauty of digital!

That’s a quick and dirty guide to a simple, relatively inexpensive setup for consistent gym fitness photographs with speed lights. If you have nitty gritty questions, let me know in the comments.

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