The Monterey coastline is one of the most beautiful locations in California for photography. I was excited to collaborate on a content shoot with fitness instructor and model Megan Masters of Masters Bolt.
This was a great opportunity to shoot in an area we don’t work very often and create content that looks fresh for our audience. I’ll take you through how to shoot fitness photography on the beach from planning to shooting and some of the tools I use to do it.
At the concept meeting with Megan, we dug deep into exactly what she was looking for. A great planning tool to get the creative juices going is Pinterest. I highly recommend making an account to help you get organized for your fitness photography planning.
We chose to plan the fitness shoot around the words natural and loving life. Everything from the lighting to the hair and makeup was styled to reflect accordingly for the fitness photoshoot.
You have a ton of tools at your disposal to remotely scout a photography location like Google Maps. Choose a beach location, click on the icon, and see hundreds of crowdsourced photos and videos, parking information, website, entrance fees, and the busiest hours graph if crowds are a consideration; this could give you an idea of when you can avoid them.
Social media is another great photography tool. Platforms like Instagram have a location search built in where you can scour thousands of crowd sourced images for your scouting needs.
Along with beautiful rock formations and incredible aqua blue water you have the potential for a marine layer creating a drab, gray, and cloudy scene. Apps like Accuweather help mitigate some of the unknown. You’ll know what the weather will be like with the 10 day forecast and hour by hour information including cloud cover, temperature, or precipitation.
Tips to consider: include the weather information in your fitness photoshoot brief to your team. They can better prepare and bring weather appropriate clothing. In chilly conditions, have the model throw on a jacket or blanket during longer down time. The little things matter. Always take care of the team!
Searching online for web cameras of the area can show you the local weather conditions. I found several live-streams of the coastline and saw what the weather looks like early in the morning. Local or state park websites, city traffic cameras, social media, or private venues might have something posted for online access. Think out of the box for solutions; you’ll be surprised what you can find!
Tips to consider: you’ll want to use the app “The Photographer’s Ephemeris” (TPE). It shows sunrise and sunset times and in-app augmented reality to visualize the sun path. This helps to plan your shots on site and visualize where the sun will be. There are a ton of other features; check it out and see if it fits your photography workflow.
The Waze app is awesome for planning the drive by using crowd sourced data to calculate drive times. This gave me a window of how long it’ll take to get on site and allowed me to choose a day of the week/arrival time. Factor this into your schedule for your fitness photoshoot with a buffer and you’ll be set.
Keep your eyes open for other innovative photography tools and apps!
I used reverse planning to build out the initial schedule. Work backwards from sunset; blocking out enough time for breaks, travel time, and set-up. I built alternatives in case the weather was overcast. We could swap different parts of the schedule while we waited for the weather to improve.
Flexibility is key to make the most out of your time and to make all the pieces work together. Even during our lunch break, we built in about 30 min to capture some fitness lifestyle content while we were walking around downtown Carmel.
Make a template checklist of your photography gear and decide what and how you want to shoot. Seeing the list in front of you helps make sure you don’t forget anything. Charge your batteries, clean your lenses, clear your memory cards, and prep anything else you think you might need to bring.
This might be an opportunity to organize your camera bag and make sure things are easy to find. We all know what it’s like to need something out of the bag during a shoot and can’t find it. Save yourself some stress by thoughtfully placing things so you can find them in a pinch.
For this fitness photoshoot, I used my Sony A7RIV and my Sony A7RIII for my camera bodies. I needed a diversity of shots from tight to wide and decided on the Sony 85 mm 1.4 GM and the Sony 24-70 mm 2.8 GM.
I mitigated the risk of sand in my gear by using both camera bodies and keeping the two lenses fixed on them throughout. From the weather report and web cameras, I wasn’t sure if we’d get the morning sun coming through the marine layer. I prepped my Profoto B10’s as well as two different sized 5 in 1 reflectors to give me some options for lighting.
You can probably get the fitness photos you need with just the photographer and model, but having a couple extra hands with you can be a huge help. A lot is going on and being able to focus on shooting while your assistants look out for changes in light, wardrobe, hair, and anything else can be a huge help.
My photography assistant, Michael McDaniel, watched for changes in light, other shooting opportunities and angles, and captured some awesome bts shots. Hair and make up artist Amy Lingenfelter was a huge help in her craft and also assisted with lighting. Both were able to jump in and take initiative to keep the flow going perfectly.
When you arrive on site, take a few moments for bathroom breaks, go over your plan with the team, and start the hair and makeup for the model. While that is being done, head down to the beach and go to work!
Walk the site and take a mental inventory of the location. Tips to consider: You don’t want to get distracted with your camera here. As photographers, we sometimes automatically break out the camera and put it to our face without taking everything in. Take your time and look around at what you have to work with.
During the walkthrough, I opened up the TPE app and took note of the sun’s path. After you have an idea of where you’re shooting, figure out if you need to move your vehicle. If it makes sense, take the opportunity to move your car as close as possible to save you some walking.
At this point, your fitness model is done with hair and makeup and you’ve taken all your gear down to the location.
Tips to consider: warm up the team with a few frames as you’re doing your lighting test.
I think it’s also important to use a color checker like the ColorChecker Passport. This gives you a solid white balance to reference during post processing. Don’t forget to start taking some behind the scenes video and photos for social media!
Pay attention to how the light is falling on your subject like you’d place your strobes in-studio. Because we’re on the west coast, the sun comes up at our backs as we’re facing the ocean.
I had Megan face toward the shore, ocean at her back, and positioned her accordingly as the light from the sun fell on her. Fortunately, the sun made an appearance as we began shooting and allowed us to go with a minimal setup with a silver reflector.
The sun created flattering and even light on Megan. We added an extra pop of light with a silver reflector, making her a little brighter than the background. Keep an eye on light changes if the sun is moving in and out of cloud cover. I used a faster shutter speed ( 1/1250 +) with a wider aperture (f 1.4 - f 4) with an ISO of 100.
Look out for mismetering because of the light reflecting off the sand. Tips to consider: Mitigate your underexposed meter reading by referencing your histogram or set your exposure compensation dial up until you have your preferred balance. Don’t forget to reset your exposure compensation settings when you move to a new location and reset it as needed.
The sun and reflector can be pretty intense for your fitness model. Some tips I learned from Dixie Dixon’s PRO EDU swimwear photography tutorial is to have your model close their eyes. Cue them to open when you’re ready to take the photo to mitigate the squinty eye look and protect them from being blinded by the light.
Below are a few lighting scenarios you might run into on your fitness photoshoot.
Depending on the angle of the sun, position the fitness model to emphasize their physique or your preferred lighting pattern. Remember, having the model at a slight angle to the light source will create that “fitness” look on the physique. Also consider moving around the model and observe different lighting opportunities.
If you don’t want deep shadows in the eyes, tilt the model’s chin up if the sun is a bit higher in the sky. With the sun higher in the sky, it will create defined shadows on the cheekbones.
Position your fitness model with their back to the sun and expose for the background as needed, then add a reflector to light your subject. Remember, bringing the reflector closer will intensify the amount of additional light. Use a silver reflector to add more contrast and more light intensity. Don’t forget to feather the reflector as needed.
Find an area that is completely covered from the sun for soft flattering light. This can be especially helpful at times of day where open sun is too harsh and unflattering.
Put as much time as you can into the planning part of your fitness photoshoot as you do with the photography. You don’t want to be surprised by the easy things! Working out all the details and having a mitigation plan for areas that could go wrong will save you a lot of stress.
Having a capable team that works well together makes all the difference in the world during your shoot and will show in the final images. Remember to keep it simple, take your time, and don’t forget the lighting fundamentals!
Make sure you check out the awesome photography and editing tutorials available from PRO EDU! Hands down- those tutorials had a huge impact on my photography development. There is a ton of information to take your work from RAW to a polished professional image.
Reach out with any comments or questions and go out and create some bad ass images!
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