When photographing bodybuilders, the focus is on making detail stand out with lighting and contrast. The client wants to see the definition of the muscles and how they work with the overall physique. Unlike other types of portraiture, the focus isn't on even lighting and facial expression. When lighting a bodybuilder, focus on his or her no. 1 asset--the body.
Under controlled lighting conditions in a studio, photographers can control many aspects of the final visual. Select a backdrop that is solid, and highly contrasts the skin tone of the bodybuilder. For greater contrast, use back lights on light-colored backdrops.
If bodybuilders are dark skinned, choose white, light gray or cream. If they are lighter-skinned, choose a black backdrop. Position the main light several feet in front and to the left or right of them, at least two feet above their head, so the light is aimed down at the muscles. Use a soft box to create a natural look on the skin. This will create a shadow on the underside of the muscles, creating a deeper definition of the contours. This style of side lighting is used to emphasize certain parts of the body. Aim the main light at which ever muscle group is being featured. Use a fill light when the bodybuilder is being photographed full length.
Photographing a bodybuilder during an outdoor competition can be tricky, since the lighting cannot be controlled. Hope for a gray overcast day, or seek out a shaded area on the stage, so there will be evening lighting. Set the exposure compensation to over expose by 1/2 a stop to add contrast. Look for a plain background, such as sky, and use a telephoto lens to compress the depth of field.
If the bodybuilder is being photographed before or after the event, set up a canopy with a makeshift on-location studio. Or, look for a plain-colored tent or screen at the location, and use an off camera flash to make the muscles shine.
Catching the Light
Create more visual interest by having bodybuilders prepare themselves as if they were in a competition. Have them oil their bodies, which will catch the light and make their skin glisten against a plain backdrop. Avoid including awards in the photograph if they are metallic and will reflect light. This will draw attention away from the body.