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Edgy Lighting for Athletes

There are three lights here, in this easy setup. The two lights behind him have 1x3’ strip bank softboxes (pretty inexpensive at around $150 each), with an egg crate fabric grid Velcroed over the front to focus the beam of light, so it’s more direct and doesn’t spill over much. Turn off all your lights and then turn on one of the strip banks and aim it at an angle toward your subject. Since there are no lights on in front, it should look like a bright rim light outlining his body. Turn on the second strip bank, and it should look the same, but lighting the other side. Try getting both sides looking even in height and power output. Lastly, turn on the front light. Here, it’s a beauty dish with a metal grid, but a small softbox will do, too. Put it right in front of your subject, up high and aiming back at him at a 45° angle. Want the background solid white? Aim another light at the background with a metal reflector on it (here, there’s one on each side, behind the backlights) and turn the power up until the background looks solid white. I’m using flash, so I’m in manual mode on my camera. I’m using the 70–200mm f/2.8 at 70mm, I’m at f/11, 100 ISO, and 1/125 of a second. I’m not really big on black-and-white images, but I knew I was going to create one when I made this image, because I love how things like muscles and tattoos look in black and white, especially when it’s really contrasty. TIP: If you have a very muscular subject, have them apply some body oil to help add a shine to their skin that really looks great (have some on hand before they arrive). Applying body oil is pretty common for body builders, especially in competition, so they won’t be shocked if you ask. Even if I plan to create a B&W, I always shoot in color and then use a plug-in to convert to B&W. I use Silver Efex Pro from Google’s Nik Collection. Just open your image into it (it works with Lightroom, Photoshop, and Elements), and click on the preset you like. I also add a lot of sharpening in Photoshop to give the image a really sharp, crisp look (Unsharp Mask setting: Amount 90, Radius 1.5, Threshold 0. If it’s too much, try: Amount 120, Radius 1.0, Threshold 3).

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