October 2014 | Issue no. 7 | by mark shaiken

Welcome to do :: or :: diso, a monthly sports photography ezine. do :: or :: diso will address issues particular to sports photography in a format that is to the point and easy to understand. This month, something we all have and admire: muscles.

A Philosophical Diversion

We admire athletes and their bodies.  We dream of putting in the hard work to have an athlete’s physique.  We wish we had the genes, drive, and discipline to achieve an athlete’s lean, muscled look (Vanessa Cobb, fitness model).

Vanessa Cobb, fitness model
Nikon D800 | ISO 160 | 85mm lens | f / 5.0 | 1/160 second

Enter Photography

The human form makes for wonderful photographic art, whether it is the sinewy developed physique of a basketball player, a boxer’s body sculpted to withstand blows to the midsection, both chiseled in preparation for the match or game, or a fitness model or a bodybuilder who trains for competitions where they pose and display their physique (Susan Hudson, bodybuilding champion).

Susan Hudson, bodybuilding champion
Nikon D800 | ISO 200 | 24-70mm lens at 48mm | f / 5.0 | 1/100 second

In each case, an athlete’s chiseled body offers the photographer an opportunity to make an image that depicts the hours of passionate toiling, modern science, diet, and ritual that inches the mortal’s form ever closer to a Greek god physique.   And the opportunity is the subject of this month’s coverage in do :: or :: diso.

Contrast and shadow

Capturing muscles in an image is simply the application of directional light.  Light that rakes across creates contrast between the peak and valley of a muscle. When light streaks across an ab, the peak of the ab will take on a bit of a glow and highlight and the valley between the abs will take on a contrasty deep tone. The resulting tonal range between the highlight and the contrast is muscle definition. Conversely, if a muscle is hit with straight-on light, the muscle peaks and valleys will have diminished tonal range, less contrast, and will appear flat and undefined.  Just like chiseled muscles are not flat, so too the lighting on muscles should not create the illusion of flatness.

To achieve contrast and definition,  the technique is quite simple: shoot light across the muscles, not right at them. This can be achieved with a single light source high above the subject, a light source lower down shooting across the muscles, two light sources both shooting across the muscles, and a combination of a high above light and one shooting across the muscles.

In all of these lighting methods, the light hits the side and top of the muscle, and lights the muscle as well as creates a shadow on the other side of the muscle adding depth and definition in the shadow the muscle casts (Vanessa Cobb, training for her first competition).

Vanessa Cobb, training for her first competition
SB900, camera left even with shoulder and above | Nikon D800 | ISO 200 | 24-70mm lens at 62mm | f / 4.0 | 1/200 second

In an environmental shoot, light the subject with your lights to create the same raking effect — in other words control the light, do not just use the available light, such as in the cover shot and the following shot of Sonja Tanner, WBFF Pro.

Sonja Tanner, WBFF Pro
Two SB900s, camera left and right, each even with shoulders and high above | Nikon D4 | ISO 250 | 24-70mm lens at 38mm | f / 9.0 | 1/250 second

Then Play With It

It is not at all a complicated lighting technique. And, once you get the hang of it, play around to add some mood, all the while concentrating on the physique.

Mystery  (Vanessa Cobb):

Vanessa Cobb
single flash, camera right and high above | Nikon D800 | ISO 80 | 85mm lens | f / 5.6 | 1/160 second

Toiling Late into the Night (AJ Ellison, WBFF pro champion):

AJ Ellison, WBFF pro champion
Two SB900s, camera left and right and slightly behind each  shoulder | Nikon D800 | ISO 160 | 24-70mm lens at 34mm | f / 3.5 | 1/160 second

Shoot From Below, Light From Above (Susan Hudson):

Susan Hudson
SB900, camera center right and above | Nikon D800 | ISO 125 | 24-70mm lens at 32mm | f / 3.2 | 1/250 second

The Basketball Player (Sir):

Basketball Player
Two SB900s, camera right even with shoulder and SB900 above subject | Nikon D800 | ISO 200 | 24-70mm lens at 26mm | f / 11 | 1/200 second

MMA Training (Vanessa Cobb)

Vanessa Cobb MMA Training
SB900 camera right even with shoulder | Nikon D800 | ISO 160 | 24-70mm lens at 56mm | f / 5.0 | 1/250 second

Next Month

The Challenges of shooting collegiate volleyball at do :: or :: diso.

The Challenges of shooting collegiate volleyball


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mark shaiken :: photography
contact me at: mark@markshaiken.com
or by calling 913.530.6539