In this video, we’re going to show you a simple three-point lighting setup that you can use to create dramatic fitness photography and athletic portraiture. Come behind the scenes on this celebrity fitness photo shoot with Tarek El Moussa.

What makes this fun and approachable is that you can do this technique anywhere and we’ll show you how to do it with the gear you already have.

Thank you to Profoto for sponsoring this video.

Gear You’ll Need For Fitness Portraiture

  • Camera Body: any full-frame camera body on the market, for this video we used a Canon 5DM3 (now discontinued, linking a Mark 4 instead).
  • Lens: you’ll want a lens with a longer focal length to give you some depth and compression. We used a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 II.
  • Lighting: This can vary depending on whether you are shooting indoors vs. outdoors. The minimum watts/second you’ll need for an indoor shot is somewhere around 50w/s for your main light. To create this look we used 3 Profoto B1s (now discontinued). Here are some other light options:
  • Light Modifiers: in order to transform and shape your light, you’ll need certain modifiers. We used a beauty dish with a grid for our main light and 2 strip boxes as our side lights. Here are some other options:


Lighting Diagram

You can use any of the gear we listed above as substitutes to replicate the look of this image, but let’s talk about our lighting setup. We are using a Profoto B1 with a Beauty Dish Reflector as our main light, placed just overhead directly in front of the subject. For an image like this, you’ll only need around 50w/s of power which means you can use anything from a simple pocket flash to a smaller strobe. Then to camera right and left, we have two 1 x 6 ft. strip boxes with grids with Profoto B1s. These two lights are at lower power and require roughly 25w/s of power giving you the same options as before. These power settings only apply when working indoors, when you have brighter ambient light outdoors you’ll need more light.

Camera Settings

Our final image was shot at 1/100th of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 200. We were shooting in a basketball court and wanted to make it appear as though we were in a studio so we opted to black out most of our ambient background and light to get the final result.

[REWIND: 3 Tips For Dramatic Fitness And Athletic Portraiture]

Tip #1: Reveal Definition With Shadows & Highlights

Dramatic fitness/athletic portraiture is really all about the shadows and the highlights. We need the shadows and the highlights to reveal and show definition in the body and muscle structure.

Tip #2: Work the Angle of the Body

Once your lights are set up and you have your settings dialed in, you don’t need to shift around your lights anymore. Create the shadow and definition that you need by changing the angle of your subject’s body in relation to the camera. We had Tarek angle is back towards the strip box on camera right.

Tip #3: Uniquely Pose Your Subject To Emphasize Muscle Groups

You’ll notice that these poses are not things that one would typically do but they do a great job in showcasing flexed muscle groups and really showing off the definition in the body.

Bonus Tip

If you want more of a shiny or a specular look on the body mix water and glycerin together and put it in a spray bottle to spritz on your subject. We didn’t use it on the images here with Tarek but you can see some more examples below where we did.

Editing Fitness Photos

With fitness portraits we want the Midtone Contrast to be boosted. Once we pull the RAW file into Lightroom, all we’re really doing is reducing the Vibrance to give the skin tones a more neutral look and then we increase in Clarity (around +60). What this does is it pulls apart the Midtone Contrast giving us better shadows and highlights, almost finishing the image for us.

Here are some other images we created using the exact same lighting setup.

For more videos using the Profoto lighting system be sure to check out our Ordinary to Extraordinary YouTube playlist. What other behind the scenes videos would you like to see? Let us know in the comments down below!