How do I photograph my yoga teacher?

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Q. My yoga teacher asked whether I could take some pictures of her for her website. But when I did she didn’t like the way some of her poses looked. I have offered to take some more but am scared she’s not going to like these either. Please help! – E.J., Brighton UK

A. It’s very different shooting people who want specific things, because you can’t just do it your way – there are certain things you need to do, in order that the subject will love them.

I learnt early on that you have to make sure that every detail is correct in these kinds of shoots. For instance when you photograph someone on a horse, you can’t just concentrate on the person – you need to make sure the horse’s legs are in the right position and that their ears are standing up. People who have horses are usually very particular about this! They can reject great shots of themselves just because the horse’s ears aren’t straight, because it will annoy them when they look at the picture. (Tip: Get someone to put up an umbrella at the right moment – the horse’s ears will shoot up perfectly!)

In the early days of my career I photographed an architect’s child – he didn’t like any of the shots which I took on an angle, because it annoyed him when the lines weren’t straight! So now if I shoot an architect’s family, I always check if angled pictures bother them. When I photographed the child of a dermatologist on very grainy black and white film – she said it looked like her child had a skin disease! You live and learn! 99% of the time it’s fine, but for some people it really matters, because of their profession and what they are used to seeing every day.

It’s the same with yoga teachers – it is understandably vital to them that their poses look perfect, and therefore each shot has to be set up carefully and checked. You may have taken the most beautifully artistic, perfectly lit, gorgeous photograph – but if something is wrong with their position, they won’t be able to see past that.

So how do you solve this?

Rebecca is a yoga teacher so capturing her positions perfectly was very important to her. The way I work in this situation is to place her within the background I want to use, get rid of anything I don’t want in the picture, make sure the light is flattering, check her clothes look good and then ask her to get into position – I then take a shot, and then we stop and look at it together on the back of the camera, so she can explain to me that her leg needs to be straighter, or her body more aligned, etc. Once you’ve done this a few times, you learn to see things differently. You have to look at every element of the shape and ask questionslike, “Should your fingers be separate or together? One hand looks lower than the other – is that correct?”, etc.

It’s not a problem to keep repeating the shots, because they are used to standing in these positions for ages, so you have time to look at every detail and adjust things before you press the shutter!

If you can find a shape in the background - it can really work well with the "shape" of the yoga positions, adding balance to the picture. It does not have to be a palm tree - a beach hut or large piece of driftwood would work just as well!

If you can find a shape in the background – it can really work well with the “shape” of the yoga positions, adding balance to the picture. It does not have to be a palm tree – a beach hut or large piece of driftwood would work just as well!

It also helps if you go through a book of yoga positions with your teacher first, so you have an idea of what each position should look like. Because you are not trying to get big smiles out of someone or different expressions in this kind of shoot, you can concentrate on the technical aspects of their craft – as you are basically setting up positions and pressing the shutter – you do not need to keep the shoot flowing, as in a normal portrait shoot.

Backgrounds

It really helps if you think about your background for these types of shots. Try and find something neutral so the position stands out – a beach is ideal! It also creates a sense of peacefulness and serenity which adds to the point of the pictures.

Clothes

Make sure you look at clothes together to select the best ones for the shots. Try and use 2 or 3 different outfits to create variety in the shoot, and make sure the subject is happy with the way her body looks in the clothes. When I was doing this shoot, I chose a top for its bright colours, and Rebecca rejected it because it looked too baggy around her middle – normally this would be great in a photo shoot – but when you have a perfectly toned stomach, you want to show it off!

Ideas

It’s very important to get all the positions she wants (making a list helps!) – but once you’ve done this, try doing some detail shots. I was shooting pictures for Rebecca to go on her website too, and if I had only shot full positions it would not have had as much impact as using details of her hands for example – you need both types of picture – the full shots to show the actual positions, and the closer shots to show the detail and how it “feels” to do yoga.

Pictures like this work particularly well in black and white, and it makes them look artier. Leaving a lot of space around the subject, or using F2.8 to knock the background more out of focus, allows for text to be written on top of the image too.

Pictures like this work particularly well in black and white, and it makes them look artier. Leaving a lot of space around the subject, or using F2.8 to knock the background more out of focus, allows for text to be written on top of the image too.

At the end of the shoot, try doing some fun shots which show energy and vibrancy – she will really appreciate it, and again it shows how yoga makes you feel.

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I hope this helps, and gives you plenty of ideas!

Annabel x