A sports photo – you know the type, from climbing to ballet to weight lifting – there’s an elite athlete doing something that us mere humans will never be able to do.
They’re intimidating. Yet, at the same time, these figures, seemingly effortlessly crushing it, can offer motivation to us that struggle with some of the basics.
We need those images to visualize the passion that fuels their success as fuel toward ours. We also must understand these images are inherently lies. Oh sure, the athlete is real, and they can no doubt do amazing things. But like food photography what’s caught on film is not always a true representation of what’s really there. Sometimes the whipped cream is really shaving cream.
A closer look at a common gym photo reveals some relatively large authenticity issues.
First, there is never sweat, or if there is, it’s strategic to the look of the photo. People sweat. It’s totally, natural and largely not photogenic when it’s natural. That’s why deodorant is big business.
And then there’s the perfect hair. Thousands of squat lunges but not a single lock out of place?
It’s a safe bet that Mr. Universe, doesn’t hide a can of Aquanet in his gym bag (unless he’s on the way to dance, then it’d be two cans).
Lighting is key. Lighting is medium that paints photographs. Gyms and studios offer great lighting for the task at hand, but their lights are horrible for quality pictures. Evenly cast overhead fluorescents kill skin tones and create hollow eye shadows in even the most photogenic.
Lighting and more so shadows used creatively defines shape. Or in the case of sports photos accent shape. Those six-pack abs are a lot more subtle, I bet, in regular daylight at best and at worst, shadows can be added afterword.
When it comes to photos, the moment that is frozen in time could have been only for an instant. Those high, high kicks may have been too fleeting for all but the fastest shutter to capture or that effortless relive plie in second might have only lasted a second or two.
What I’ve learned from the stage and from my personal climbing pics is that things seldom feels like it looks. The drama in a photo is real in the sense of what it conveys, but don’t confuse what the image means with what it really is.