In my experience, yoga and photography work beautifully together. Yoga is that perfect combination of power and grace, and with the right tools and strategies, capturing someone’s yoga practice can be pure magic. Yogis are some of the most low maintenance and mellow people I have ever encountered, likely due to a consistent meditation practice among other things. That being said, yoga photography can be a challenge, especially if you are used to something a bit more traditional, like family or portrait photography. So, here are 7 tips and tricks (one for each chakra) for amazing yoga photos every time!
1. Set an intention.
Something I try to do at the start of every yoga photography session is help the subject set their intention, or point of focus during the shoot. First we sit down, close our eyes, and take a couple long breaths in and out. Next, I give a few options for their intention, usually something along the lines of a state of calm, non-attachment, and non-judgment. If we are on an outdoor shoot, I remind them that people will inevitably walk by, but you will likely never see them again (so relax!). Finally, I ask that they commit themselves to their practice here in the same way they would in a class or personal practice. This does two things: the slow breathing and pause before starting gives the subject a chance to get any last nerves out. This leads to more natural expressions and deeper poses. Setting an intention also helps create an open and relaxed atmosphere, and a familiar vibe (if you’ve taken a yoga class, you know intention setting is kind of a big deal).
2. Know your poses
A bit of yoga knowledge can go a long way. Understanding a few of the more photogenic poses (like Virabhadrasana II or III, Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, and Rajakapotasana just to name a few) can be the difference between a good shoot and a great one. Don’t’ just learn the names: get educated on the details of the poses. For example, Virabhadrasana II or Warrior 2, has a couple of things that have to be there for the photo to be an accurate depiction of the pose. The front leg needs to be at a 90 degree angle, back leg must be straight with the back foot perpendicular to the front foot. Arms stretch in opposite directions, parallel to the ground. Focused gaze (or drishti for bonus points) is directed out ahead of the front arm. This level of yoga knowledge is vital to a successful photo session.
3. Angles, Angles, Angles!
Depending on the angle you are shooting at, yoga poses can either look appealing or very unflattering. There’s a reason you never see photos of standing bow from behind. Knowing what works and what doesn’t can have a huge impact on the quality of the photos you put out. If you are unsure what the ideal angle would be for any given pose, there are two solutions. One is to do some research. Google, Instagram, and Pinterest are all great sources for easily looking at photos based on keywords. Over time you will begin to see patterns in where certain poses are shot from. The other solution is trial and error. Have your subject get into a pose, and then take multiple shots while circling around. Once you’re back in the edit room, it should be easy to see which angles are keepers.
4. Don’t Forget the Details
I have found that close ups can provide an intimate feeling of warmth when done right. Mala beads on a wrist or hands to heart chakra are just a couple of things that make for great detail shots. The great thing about including detail photos in your spread that you deliver is that these are the types of photos that they could never get on their own. No amount of self-timers or propped up iPhones are going to compete with a great lens and a good eye.
5. Timing is important
By now, most people have heard of the golden hour, a stretch of time where the sun is less harsh and ideal for photography. Sunrises and sunsets are perfect for capturing beautifully lit backgrounds and stunning, sharp subjects. The golden hour can also provide more creative shots using silhouettes or atmospheric photos that encompass more of the environment with a wide angle lens. If you are shooting on a beach location, it is vital to know when high tide and low tide is for the day of your shoot. These stats fluctuate throughout the month and year, so looking at weekly and monthly forecasts can help get you more space on those sandy beaches, and less chances for a drenching from a large wave.
6. Off Camera Flash
Especially if shooting outdoors around sunset, off camera flashes are crucial tools for capturing vibrant and crisp photos. While you can do a lot with natural lighting, off camera flash provides that little bump needed to brighten subjects with an amazing level of control. In particularly dark scenes, flashes can be used to “paint” cliffsides or other backgrounds in light. The benefits of off camera flash go well beyond the scope of this article; if you don’t already use it in your sessions, I highly recommend you start. High end flashes like the Canon 600EX-RT can be expensive ($500 new), but there are plenty of affordable and reliable flashes on the market. One of my favorite ones to use in a pinch are my Yongnuo Speedlite YN600EX-RT flashes ($100 new), which can sync up together for even more power on set!
7. Take a Yoga Class
Often times I will take some yoga the day before a yoga shoot. Not only does it get me into the mindset required for yoga photography, taking class before a shoot can inspire ideas for poses, modifications, and advancements. It has been most effective when I get to class early and place my mat down in the center of the room. This allows me to see how the poses look from nearly all angles, based on all the other students taking class. Taking class also helped me devise a “flow” for yoga photoshoots. I begin with intention setting, then warm up with gentle poses, followed by slightly more difficult ones. Halfway through the shoot, once the yogi is warmed up, I move on to peak postures (the tough stuff). Around the 50 minute mark we switch to cool down postures (half pigeon is a fun one to shoot). This method has proven to be both effective at capturing the maximum amount of photos and it helps the subjects get deeper into their poses.