It started innocently enough. But a quick email to an editor of a fitness site put me on a 4-week collision course to alter my diet, rethink my training and had me taking my shirt off for half a million fitness enthusiasts.
If you’ve ever considered doing a photoshoot for a magazine feature, your own promotional materials or to diversify your income with fitness modeling, I’ll save you some pain and share what I learned from my adventure.
After emailing the editor with a bunch of topics I wanted to write about, she asked if I would be willing to share my journey of finding a passion for fitness and how it changed my life. Read all about it here
The Cliff’s Notes
I used to be a fat guy who worked in advertising. Now I’m a fit guy who heads training operations at one of the top 10 gyms in the US. I was very passionate in the piece and it got a lot of attention – so much so that my editor at Men’s Fitness got a hold of it and immediately asked if I would do something similar for him. The only difference? They were going to accompany the story with a photoshoot.
I’d no idea when the photoshoot would be and, more importantly, what state of undress I’d have to be in. But once I knew my abs were on the line, I decided I was going to be in the best shape of my life. How many opportunities do you have for a pro photographer to come into your facility and take pictures?
Then the best/worst idea I’ve ever had hit me. Since I had an inkling that they’d have to get the photos done within the month to make the press date and I was already working on my website, why not book another photoshoot with a fitness photographer that same week? I’d bang out the website and magazine photos all at once.
Never mind that I’ve never really ‘peaked’ for anything before. Or that I was six weeks out from my 40th birthday. Or that it was one week before my wife’s due date.
No guts, no glory.
Well, I’m thrilled that both photoshoots turned out great (evidence below!). Though I haven’t seen the finished product from the Men’s Fitness shoot yet, it’ll be out in August.
Now allow me to share the most important things I’ve learned along the way. You never know when the next email you send puts you on the business end of a photographer’s camera.
Give yourself time, but not too much
Do I wish I had an extra week to lean out a bit more, and learn more about peak week nutrition? Sure. But having the deadline on the calendar motivated me to get my ass in gear. But be realistic yet aggressive. You might want to give yourself a bit more time if you’re at 20% body fat and want to show up ripped.
If you’re interested in getting your photos done for promotional purposes, set a reasonable goal date. It’ll force you to get moving.
Find a pro
Aunt Agnes did a great job taking photos of her vacation to Yellowstone, but that doesn’t mean she knows how to take photos of you in a sports bra or spandex shorts. Great fitness photos require excellent lighting and a understanding of what poses and angles will work best.
Do yourself a favor: invest a bit of money and hire a pro.
You can never be too tan or too lean
A colleague who’s also a fitness model gave me this tip. It’s not “tough guy approved” but if you’re in front of the lens, you don’t want to be pale.
A deep tan makes you look healthier and gives you more definition. If you are opposed to the tanning bed or the sunshine, self-tanners and spray tans can work just as well (or so I am told).
My photographer also gave me some sage advice. He said, “I can always make you look big, but I can’t make you look lean”. When I prepped, I geared my training towards being as lean as possible.
After seeing the photos, I completely understood what he meant. Looking like a monster is much easier than looking like you’ve got a defined serratus anterior. Heed the warning and get lean.
Carb-Deplete and Carb-Up
Bodybuilder tricks rarely work when you’re natural and above 6% body fat. However carb-depleting and subsequent reloading helps you lose fat while keeping your muscles full and increasing vascularity. Everyone reacts differently to carb depletion but my recommendation is to start eliminating carbs two weeks before shoot day and reintroduce them 24-36 hours before the shoot.
Also, don’t make the carb-up too clean. I realized that after I looked my absolute best 36 hours after my post-shoot celebration meal of pizza and ice cream. After two weeks of depletion your body is ready to handle the extra sugars. Don’t be afraid to load up.
Water, water and more water
Ramp up your water intake each day, starting around 8 days out from the photoshoot. Shoot for getting up to 7-8 liters per day by the time you have two days left to the shoot. Then, with 24 hours to go, shut water intake down to just very small sips. This hyperhydration followed by dehydration will pull your skin closer to your muscles, giving you that “I’m a human anatomy chart” look.
The most important tip of all. While I am a big believer in expanding your boundaries, don’t misrepresent yourself. If you’re a powerlifter who walks around at a higher body fat percentage, don’t diet down for photos just to balloon back up. The quickest way to appear non-trustworthy and uncomfortable with who you are is to try to be something you’re not.
It’s great to be the best version of yourself for photographs, but it shouldn’t look like you pasted your head on someone else’s body either. People should recognize you in person after seeing your photos.
A Few Last Words
Alright, Diesel. You’re now armed and ready with a little bit of knowledge and a whole bunch of inspiration should a photoshoot be in your future. Now find the biggest water jug you can, buy that monthly membership to the tanning salon and hop on that stationary bike. You’ve got work to do.