Thu. May 23rd, 2024
bill dobbins

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By Bill Dobbins

I grew up seeing photos of bodybuilders posing outdoors in Southern California – on the beach and in many cases standing dramatically on top of rocks perched high on cliffs above the Pacific Ocean. Ever since I’ve had an association in my mind between dramatic, muscular physiques and dramatic natural settings. Fortunately, I live in Los Angeles where such landscapes are readily available – the beach, of course; and places like the Mojave Desert, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree National Monument.

Other types of landscapes rarely seem to be as suited as backdrops for some of the most dramatic and rugged physiques in the world. I am not much inspired by rolling green hills or piney woods – although I’m sure there are some photographers whose individual vision would allow them to make good use of this kind of scenery. And non-natural backdrops like oil rigs, warehouses, factories (and Hoover Dam, where I was once assigned to shoot for Weider) can make for spectacular photos as well.

But I am constantly amazed by the photos I see shot in great locations that simply don’t make good use of this kind of backdrop. I remember a series of nude female bodybuilder photos shot outside of Las Vegas that had nothing but a dirt wall in the background. What a waste of resources! Other photos make good use of locations but the models themselves are posed badly, the light is too harsh or too soft or the juxtaposition of the figure and the landscape simply don’t make for an effective photo.

To make this kind of picture work all the elements involved have to come together harmoniously. The right model, the best pose, good lighting and a view of the landscape that would look good on its own even if no body were involved. Photos are really shot with the mind – a camera is just a recording device – and for some reason I’ve always been able to visualize this type of figure-in-landscape photo fairly easily. But any photographer can learn to create this kind of image more effectively. Of course, to show a dramatic physique in a dramatic location you need access to both the model and the geography. You won’t get the same results putting the girl next door on a grassy hilltop – although you might still get a very good photo of a different sort.

But all too often photographer who do have access to the right kind of model and are able to take her out to the right kind of location simply don’t get very good results. Ansel Adams used to teach his students to pre-visualize their pictures – the framing, depth of field, lighting and contrast range – so that they knew what kind of result they would be getting the moment they pressed the shutter release.

I explain this a little differently. I advise photographers to look into the viewfinder and decide if what they see would make a really good picture or not. Take what you see and imagine the finished photo after you’ve shot it and processed it through Photoshop. If what you see seems like it will be a good photo, then shoot it. If not, change things around until it does. Don’t just keep snapping away hoping that one of the pictures will be a good one. You can give a monkey a motor drive but you probably won’t very many good photos as a result.

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