Search Articles

Browse Articles by:

Subscribe for latest articlesSubscribe for latest articles

Christopher Grey

Lighting for Direction: Portraits of an Athlete

By Christopher Grey
Published by Sekonic

Lighting expert Chris Grey demonstrates how to set up your lighting to contour and accent the well-defined body of an athlete.

Photographer Chris Grey is an expert on lighting. He's written seven books on the subject, teaches classes and workshops, and is a strong advocate for precise control in the studio. To see more of his work, or to find his books and DVDs, visit his Web site.




I have an ongoing project photographing images related to health and fitness. A lot of it is very straightforward, with relatively flat light on the subject and a slightly darker background that is also flatly lit. It’s a great project, even with the occasional creative constraint, because it permits me to work with a wide variety of subject matter, including people, food, locations, and even conceptual imagery.

For the assignment I'll show you here, I photographed a local athlete and personal trainer to illustrate just how buff someone can get through dedication and intelligent habits (I'm gonna get me some of those!). Aside from the light on the background, which was approximately 13 feet behind the model, I decided to use hard light for the subject. Instead of softboxes or umbrellas, I used only parabolics and grid spots to contour and accent her well-defined body. I also used a Canon 70-200mm zoom lens to further isolate my model from the background.

I realize that many photographers work in smaller spaces than my commercial studio. It's possible to create images just as strong as the ones below in smaller spaces, although the effects of foreground lights might become visible in the background. While the images you create in your own space may look different from mine, the lighting concepts I'm about to demonstrate will work nicely in almost any space with a ceiling at least 10 feet high. The height of lights is more important than the depth of the shooting space, and you can light the background as you wish, with the understanding that some lights may splash. This article will be concerned only with foreground lights.

My first setup was very simple but required some extra work. I set a single bare-tubed strobe on a boom arm almost directly over my model, and quite high. Bare-tubed light spreads out evenly in all directions. To keep it off the background, I clamped a piece of black foamcore to the boom arm, on the background side, and positioned it so the bottom of the foamcore shadow fell at the background's horizon. To keep the bare tube from flaring into the lens, I set another piece of black foamcore between the subject and the camera to throw a shadow over the lens. An additional piece of black was clamped to an Avenger accessory arm, at camera-right to the model, and raised to create the shadow on her face. Here's a diagram of the setup:

And the resulting image:

For the second set, I moved the subject forward until the effect of the shadow card was diminished and her face was just at the edge of proper exposure. I also added two strobes on short stands, just off the floor. The strobe at camera-left was fitted with a 10-degree grid spot aimed at her abdomen. I wanted to change the key position, so I powered this light 1/3 stop over the original key and changed the camera's aperture accordingly. With the camera-left strobe now the key light, the camera-right strobe was fitted with a 20-degree grid, aimed up her side and powered to +1/3 over the key. Here's a diagram of the adjusted setup:

The resulting cross light gives the kind of fluid definition to muscles that I've only seen on superheroes in comic books—and she wasn't even trying hard.

Going for something softer but still dynamic, I put the camera-right parabolic and grid onto a regular stand and moved the strobe head about 18 inches above her head. It was in the same position, relative to her, as when it was on the floor. I also removed the overhead, so she would be lit by only two lights, and powered the camera-right light down to -1/3 stop under the camera-left key.

Although the first setup does require a little extra work as far as gobos are concerned, none of these three scenarios requires a huge amount of equipment. They should all be easy to replicate in your space.

Text and images © Christopher Grey.

Category: How-To
Click for more articles of: Christopher Grey

Related Articles:
Metering at Night
Overcast Day
Photographing Celebrity and Publicity Portraits
Working with the Sun

Go Back to Articles

Connect with us blognewsletteryoutubeflickrtwitterfacebookshare
Learn about Radio Triggering