Male Fitness Photography with Chris Harper FBIPP

One of the things I’ve realised over the years is this: no matter how much we achieve as photographers, there will always be that feeling that we’re scratching the surface of our craft. This can be an intra or extra-genre phenomenon – for example a portrait photographer may want to expand their offerings into the different subsets of portraiture such as environmental portraiture, boudoir, fine art nudes, newborn photography, wedding photography …. Just as easily we may feel jaded if we’re not pushing the boundaries into entirely new genres such as food photography, macro photography, product photography. We’re all different, but I know my own character and speaking personally I’m constantly seeking to expand and develop both my skillset and the breadth of services I can offer to my clients. For example, I’m a portrait photographer but in the last few years I’ve developed a very popular pet and animal photography branch of the business which has given me so much variety and satisfaction. But I also seek variety within my day-to-day workload and this is why I have never specialised in just one portraiture niche. I have a fairly low boredom threshold and I know that if I only ever photographed one age group or gender I would soon be ready to scream.

I’m pleased that nowadays more men are approaching professional photographers for high-quality imagery which will help them to develop their businesses or personal projects. I think men are wonderful to photograph, they’ve not been subjected to the level of societal pressures which women have always faced when it comes to their looks, their imperfections or the state of their figure. Because of this men of all ages seem to have a natural confidence and are usually very relaxed in front of the lens. There are many photographers who specialise in photographing women, but there seem to be relatively few photographers (at least in my experience) who have adopted a specialism in male figure studies. With that in mind I was delighted when I recently found out that Chris Harper FBIPP had planned an inspirational and fascinating workshop within driving distance of my home, with emphasis on the techniques and requirements of male fitness photography. None of these photographs are created in a studio environment, instead environmental portraits use found locations, which can be anywhere. We used doorways, walls, indeed anything which gave us a pleasing background and the kind of light we needed.

Which brings me on to a very important point – workshops and seminars are not the province of beginners – they are (or should be) a key part of any successful or ambitious photographer’s ongoing personal development programme. In that regard some of the seminars I’ve been to have read like a who’s who of the industry – with an audience consisting of established experts and some of the most decorated photographers one can hope to meet. Even though I’m a Fellow of the BIPP and of The Societies (Fellowship is the highest accreditation a photographer can attain, with only a handful of photographers holding this position worldwide) there are still endless new paths to explore – and what better way to do that than to place yourself before an acknowledged expert in their field. Chris Harper is also the Chief Executive of the the British Institute of Professional Photography, but far from settling into an administrative role Chris has made a point of continuing to be a working photographer.

And so a small and very lucky group of us made our way to the beautiful village of Ticehurst on the Sussex/Kent border, coming together in the stunning boutique surroundings of The Bell inn. In order to demonstrate the manner in which he works, Chris supplied us with a dazzling subject in the form of Daniel Shoneye. Daniel is a personal trainer and fitness model and it was no surprise when partway through our shoot we became aware of a group of ladies on the other side of the street, quietly admiring our model!

Days like this are based around inspiration and experimentation – moving beyond our normal comfort zones. People learn by doing – so after a discussion and demonstration on the specific techniques necessary to light and enhanced the male human form, each photographer was expected to work with the model independently in order to experience first-hand how small movements and small changes in the direction and quality of the light can make a profound difference to the resulting image.

As many of you know, my days of carrying heavy equipment are long gone and I’m happily (and very successfully) utilising my Micro 4/3 cameras and the excellent lenses which go with them. ┬áThe photographs below were taken using my workhorse lens, the Pana 35-100 f2.8.

I came away from Ticehurst feeling motivated and invigorated. This is of course the other benefit of high quality gatherings such as this – as photographers we seem to live in a bubble, much of our life is spent in an office behind a computer screen – there can be few opportunities for human interaction beyond the relatively small parcels of time we spend with our clients. By interacting with other like-minded photographers we’re reminded that our own feelings, challenges, and needs are invariably similar to everybody else’s – sometimes it just takes a boost like this to get us moving towards new challenges. In that regard membership of one or more of the leading photographic bodies can be golden. You can learn more about joining the BIPP here: British Institute of Professional Photography.

I want to say a huge thank you to Chris for sharing his ethos, methodology and techniques with us. Incidentally, this was a day of two halves – the afternoon was spent with Bella West FBIPP, a renowned authority in natural final art children’s portraiture. I’ll post a separate blog about Bella later this week.

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