This blog post came to be in a strange, roundabout sort of way.
I have decided, at the encouragement of some friends, to schedule a photo shoot this coming Spring; ideally, sometime right around my birthday in April.
A few people (namely Vince) have been trying to coerce me to enter a show—either fitness modeling or bodybuilding—but at the moment I think I’ll put off stepping on stage for another year or so. And that, of course, is assuming I ever it it at all.
In any event, I am truly excited to do a photo shoot, because I don’t have any professional photos that are more recent than those I’m going to share with you today.
I’m also really excited to tell you about all of this, because not only will it be good content for you, but, it will be a great form of public accountability for me.
And like any other person, I am about 9 million times more likely to accomplish a goal once I’ve said it publicly…but we’ve talked about accountability before, and that’s not really what this blog post is about.
Because I’m trying to get ready for a shoot, I’m getting back into my “model mindset.”
Which is a concise way of saying that I’m creating an environment around me and undertaking actions that will help me become motivated, stay accountable, and above all, achieve my goals.
I think it’s self-evident that a lot of achieving current or future goals is reviewing and recreating what was effective in achieving past ones. Thankfully, I know exactly what those effective things are, because I have them written down.
As you might imagine, I’m pretty thorough with most things (and completely disorganized in others), but in particular I am a painstakingly meticulous record keeper—and a good thing, too, as those records have served not only as the inspiration for the blog post, but also a good deal of the content.
Which is to say that, as the title implies, I would like to show you, in a fair amount of detail, exactly what my day looks like during, and in the hours leading up to a photo shoot.
What will follow below is my account from a shoot in February of 2009, drawn from my journal as well as from a thread I maintained about the shoot in a thread on the T-Nation forums.
My hope is that you will find it educational: at best, I do hope you’ll be able to recreate a lot of what I’ll share with you for your own pictures; at worst, I think you will find it interesting and enlightening.
Having said that, I want to just cover the basics first, in the event you try to recreate these.
Let’s Lay Some Ground Rules…
FIRST, YOU NEED TO GET INTO PHOTO READY SHAPE – There’s no point in taking pictures if you’re not ready for them. “Photo ready” can mean a lot of different things to different people. For a lot of people in Transformation Contests, as long as your AFTER pics look a helluva lot better than your BEFORE pictures, you’re in “photo ready” condition, right?
I certainly think so; however, one caveat is that unless you’re truly lean, most people’s after pictures will, in general, be impressive only when they are sitting next to before pictures—it’s the difference between the two that makes them so.
On the other hand, if you are looking to get into modeling, or want to have pictures that stand out as “impressive” without any before pictures, you should look to achieve a very respectable level of leanness. It doesn’t have to be “contest” shredded, but you should look damn good.
For me, that’s about 4%-6% (as measure by calipers) — mainly because that’s where I’ve been for shoots previously, and I see no reason to take pictures that look worse than previous ones.
Again, for others it might be 8% or even 10%. Basically, if you’re going to book a shoot, make sure you look better than you’ve ever looked, that way you can capture it on film
Here are some general recommendations:
- ABS – for guys, very visible six pack. For ladies, the outline of your abs should be visible.
- ARMS – for both men and women, there should be noticeable delineation between your shoulders and your arms.
- BACK – very well defined. You don’t need to be able to see your infraspinatus, but separation between superficial muscles like the traps should be obvious.
- LEGS – The should look at least a bit defined, but don’t need to have clear delineation between each head of the quadriceps.
How do you get there?
OMG if only there was a program specifically designed to help you lose the last 10-20 pounds and get into photo ready shape! Where could one find such a magical program!?
Oh, wait. There is one. I wrote it. It’s called Final Phase Fat Loss, and the IMPROVED version is being released in less than a month. Dang.
Okay, so you’ve done FPFL, you’ve got your abs showing, and you’re ready to take some shots.
Let’s look at the last few days before a shoot.
On Water Loading and Depletion – One of the ways to look your best and maximize how lean you are is to become as “dry” as possible. This means that you have to lose as much subcutaneous water as you can, so your skin “fits” tighter to your body, allowing your muscle to show through. Holding water can make you look loose.
Now, it’s important to say that you can’t just stop drinking water—at least not at first. You put your body into “flushing” mode by consuming tons of water. Up to 3 gallons per day.
Here’s the way it works: you drink tons of water, which will down-regulates a hormone called aldosterone; this hormone acts to conserve sodium and secret potassium. This is the “water load.”
Around 18 hours from when you are going to shoot, you CUT water intake. Because of the hormonal environment you have created with the load, your body will continue to excrete water.
In combination with a mild herbal diuretic (like dandelion root), this process will help you shed most of your subcutaneous water and look as sharp as you can.
ON GLYCOGEN DEPLETION WORKOUTS – A depletion workout, as the name implies, is a specific workout intended to completely deplete your glycogen stores. The reason for this is so that your muscles will be primed to soak up more glycogen when you begin your carb-up—this will make them look bigger, fuller, and allow you to pump to the extreme.
I know you’re thinking, “deplete just to refill? That doesn’t make sense.” Well, you’re right. Sort of. The goal is to deplete and then refill in the right way, which will allow for supercompensation—basically, your muscles will be over-full for a bit. It just works and you’ll look better.
Any higher rep protocol will do for a depletion workout, but I have found that lactic acid based workouts work particularly well. Cycle through a 10 exercise circuit, with each exercise done lactic acid style until you’re depleted.
How do you know you’re depleted? You just KNOW. Much like being drunk, you become aware very suddenly. You’ll have some decent physical indicators. For example, rep number 9 on an overhead press goes smoothly, and rep number 10 completely buries you. You’re depleted.
ON CARBING UP – The purpose of the carb up is two-fold. Firstly as I mentioned, you’re re-filling glycogen stores and allowing for super compensation. Secondly, taking in carbs works synergistically with your water depletion to help you look your best.
According to most bodybuilding and contest prep experts, a gram of carbohydrate pulls 2.7g water into your muscle; and since you’re not taking in any water, the water you are still storing subcutaneously will be pulled into the muscle, helping you achieve a higher level of dryness and a more ripped look.
How much of an effect do water depletion, carb depletion, and then carbing up have?
Consider these two photos of my back.
The photo on the LEFT was taken about 72 hours before the picture on the RIGHT.
In the photo on the LEFT, careful observers will notice that my arms look fuller; in fact, the look considerably larger. Why? Because in the photo on the RIGHT, I was completely carb depleted—the glycogen in muscles had been used in previous workouts. The photo on the RIGHT was taken at about 6AM on the morning of the shoot—so I still had 7 hours to carb up.
In the picture on the RIGHT, you’ll notice that my upper back looks consider more shredded—the my lats look more separated from the rest of my muscles, the striations of my traps are a lot more visible. The “Christmas tree” that is formed by my erector spinae group becomes more obvious.
Did I really lose enough fat over 72 hours to account for these changes? Not likely.
The visual difference occurs because I am holding less water.
So, all of that covers the depletion of both glycogen and water—I look leaner but not as big. The goal, of course, is to have the best of both worlds. And THAT is what the carb up does.
I wish I had a third picture to illustrate just HOW much of a difference the carb up makes, and how much better I looked; alas, these are from 2009 and I didn’t realize at the time I’d be blogging about them. (Or blogging at all).
I’ll offer a concession statement here and say that I realize the to many of you, these differences are slight; so small, perhaps, as to even render them negligible in your eyes. I can only say that such is not the case. I’ve been through the photo process man times, some with a deplete/load and some without. And let me tell you from experience, the camera notices and every little bit helps.
Now that we’ve covered all of all of the terminology that might trip some people up, let’s move on.
Let me take you back in time to February of 2009…
The shoot was on a Friday, scheduled for 1PM. And so, preparations begin on Thursday.
- 1PM – Bodyweight workout, just high reps to get some blood flowing.
- 2PM – 20 minutes in the tanning booth.
- 3PM – Trained a client and stretched.
- 4PM – Now the fun begins; a triple dose of dandelion root to start the dehydration process
- 5PM – Cut water completely and took another triple dose of dandelion root.
- 505PM – 6:30PM – Depletion workout – as mentioned, lactic acid session.
- 7PM – Layered up with sweats and walked for about 45 min to sweat (helps dehydrate).
- 8PM – The carb up begins (just a little). Dry carbs. Just crackers and jam.
- 9PM – More dandelion root; just a double dose this time. By now, I’m peeing every 30 minutes.
- 9:05 – Epsom salt bath. Not so bad. Also teeth whitening strips. The Epsom salt bath, taken in water so hot that it’s unfcomfortable, helps to facilitate sweating of subcutaneous water.
- 10PM – As many push-ups and pull-ups as possible. This is just to test how depleted I am. If I can only do 40 or so push-ups, I know I’m depleted. I was able to get 33 consecutive push-ups and 13 pull-ups. (At this time, I had a pull-up bar in my house).
- 10:30 – BED!
Friday, day of
- 5AM – Wake up, test push-ups. 29 push-ups, 9 pull-ups.
- 530AM – Epsom salt bath, along with another triple dose of dandelion root.
- 6AM – Gym to take pictures (as above).
- 630AM – Trained a client
- 715AM – Tanning booth for 20 minutes. Mostly just to sweat.
- 8AM – The carb up begins in earnest now. I had a snickers bar, some peanut butter and crackers, and a few handfuls of dry cereal.
- 805AM – Back in the Epsom salt bath. Final dose of dandelion root.
- 830AM – Full shower, and full body shave.
- 930AM – Back to the gym for a client.
- 1030AM – Home to get ready I looked in the mirror and DAMN. I was shredded, and pretty dry. Was hoping for a little more dehydrating
- 10:45 – The carb up continues: more dry cereal, some toast with peanut butter, and half a protein bar.
- 11:15 – Last minute prep, head to the shoot
The Shoot Itself…
I arrived at the shoot about 15 minutes early, and the photographer was about 15 minutes late.
Of course I had a mini-freak out where I spent at least 5 minutes internally arguing with myself about whether I’d been stood up.
While he got set up, I pumped by doing fast paced
pull-ups, dips, and light-weight incline benches.
The shoot itself was pretty good. The club we shot at was gorgeous (H-Club in Jersey City) and the staff was great. People didn’t seem too put off by me walking around half naked most of the day.
To be honest, this is really unsurprising. I did not know this at the time, but living in the City has enlightened me. A lot of the higher-end clubs in both NY and NJ actually love when these magazines come and shoot at their locations, a it gives them some free publicity.
Makes sense, and I should have realized it at the time.
Anyway, we shot from 1-4. I did two complete exercise routines – one for back, and one for calves (obviously). Both of these, by the way, made it into issues of magazines.
Here is a shot of one of the calf exercises:
NOTE – Sadly, I lost digital images when my computer crashed last May. What you’re seeing is a photo of the magazine taken with my iPhone.
I also did a lot of “pick-up” shots. This is just random stuff you do around the gym that the photographer assumes the magazine will need at some point. It’s nice to have on hand because if they use it, I get paid. Could be next week or next year. But it gets more work into your portfolio while you’re in peak shape and prevents you having to go through it again.
For pick-ups we did some Swiss ball, some abs, and then some random “shredded guy leaning on equipment” stuff.
Here is an example of a pick-up shot. What you see here is a supplement ad from a magazine, published in 2010. The picture was taken in 2007.
We also shot a few “Abercrombie” style pictures.
You know, the ones were I’m just on some stairs in jeans and no shirt for no reason other then this: While conventional wisdom implies that the rule is no shirt, no service, the reality is different. Empirical evidence suggest that once you are 3% bodyfat, shirts are fully optional; and that not only do you get service without one, that service is younger and hotter.
At least, that is the message I think the photographer was asking me to try to get across.
It should be mentioned, of course, that such shots often come out the best. For example this one, which is by far my most well-known capture.
The picture to the immediate left, taken by Eric Jaconson (check out Impact Photography), was shot in between a number of wardrobe changes.
It wasn’t really meant to be part of a series, and wound up happening quite by accident.
Obviously, there would never be a time where I’d be wearing wrist wraps and ripped jeans. Unless I was a character in Street Fighter 2.
My point is, contrary to “those shots” being kind of stupid when you plan them, they do occasionally produce some great images.
After that, back to the studio.
Studio work is…well, interesting, for lack of a better word.
You wind up taking hundreds of shots knowing most of them won’t come out right.
I can’t really explain what it is, but there seems to be no real way to tell what is going to be a great fitness capture, and what will come out too “beefcake-y” until you do it and see. Some pictures, like the one on the right, wind up walking the line.
As a general rule for studio work, I like to use the rule of 100–that is, usually for every 100 shots you’ll get 1 decent one. At this particular shoot, we Today we did about 300 studio shots, and I got about 3 that I felt are “usable” if you count the pic to the right.
Along the way, we ran into a big problem: water retention. I looked awesome at the gym, and for the beginning of the shoot, but by about 5:30 I was just looking flat and not great, and no amount of carbing-up or pumping was helping. So we tried to finish out the best we could.
I put on some sweats, and mostly because I was sore and needed to stretch, I decided on a whim to go through a series of poses. He photographed some of this and we wound up taking some shots of poses.
While I had no use for these, they came out pretty nice, and after playing around in Photoshop for a bit, I created one or two that I like, if only for their artistic appeal. The photo on the left, in it’s original form, would have been pretty useless to me.
While it’s not going to win any art shoes or sell me to any agencies, it’s at least kinda cool and I think it’s good for something like a blog. Again, the original photo wouldn’t have been useful here–only making it “artistic” value.
Overall I pretty pleased with the shoot. Between the to exercise routines, the pick-ups, and some random studio stuff, he said he probably did at least 10 shots that I could use for my portfolio, assuming I ever want to get back into modeling. Time will tell.
And of course, as either a model or a writer, it’s always nice to get published.
In any event, I’m glad I put as much work in as I did. I looked great and I think I really couldn’t have peaked better, especially for the beginning part of the shoot.
Back to the Future…
So! I’ve done about 20 or so professional shoots, and the above represents a pretty reasonable description of most of the fitness related ones. Shoots for a fitness product or for clothing are typically faster and a bit more directed.
Reading this again, I’m looking forward to getting into to top shape and taking new pics to completely blow the above away. Which, as I mentioned at the start of the post, was really the whole point anyway!
So, did you enjoy this post? I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this!