Let me start by saying that being photographed does not come naturally to me, and if you're anything like me, the experience can be awkward, stressful, slightly embarrassing, and occasionally traumatizing. So why take yoga photos at all?
Photos of yoga asanas are everywhere these days — look up #yoga on Instagram and you'll find more than 18 million photos, and that's not including all the photos from other related hashtags.
If you follow me on Instagram, you'll see that I post approximately one yoga picture a week. I share these photos because it's a great way to take a snapshot of my practice from a single moment of my yoga journey, and not to mention it's also a fun way to blend some of my favorite things: yoga, travel, photography, and writing.
Just a few months ago, I was taking yoga selfies in the most no-frills way: resting my phone against the sofa or chair on the ground, setting a self-timer, and then racing back to the yoga mat to get into the pose. As you can imagine, this resulted in many ridiculous outtakes and hyperventilation.
This process then eventually evolved into using a cheap phone tripod and bluetooth clicker (still not 100% ideal), and now primarily involves me hassling my boyfriend and friends to take photos.
For yoga teachers, it's also an important visual tool to show your personality and share the nature of your practice with potential employers and students. I'm no seasoned expert by any means when it comes to yoga photography, but as I continue to build out a portfolio of yoga photos, here are some of the things that have worked well for me, and might be useful for you too!
1. Just Go With It
Yes, even if it's super awkward! There's no getting around it, especially if you're taking a #stopdropandyoga photo outdoors or during your travels. There may be a hundred people on the beach/around the landmark/walking along the street and yes, they're going to stop and wonder what the heck you're doing, but just go with it.
I still struggle with this, but I find that it helps to remember that a) it really doesn't matter in the greater scheme of things, and 2) I'm probably never going to see any of these people again.
The photo above was taken in Galle Fort in Sri Lanka, and took approximately 30 seconds — my boyfriend spotted this beautiful doorway, we hopped out of the car, I settled into the pose, *click click click*, and we were on our way.
Was it slightly embarrassing to have dozens of tuk tuk drivers, tourists, and randoms look on as this photo was taken? Yes. But it was only for 30 seconds, and now I have a photo that I love that reminds me of that day we spent in Sri Lanka.
2. Commit 120% to the Pose
I didn't understand this until recently, when my friend showed me the difference before, and after:
Take a look at this example — although the differences are subtle, the camera captures everything, so give the pose your all (without risking injury!) to really capture the full expression of what you're going for.
Notice where your gaze is, soften your face (smize!), elongate and extend the reach of every part of your body (if that's what the shape of the asana calls for), and just as you would in a yoga class, breathe into the pose.
3. Be True to Yourself
Safety, safety, safety. I can't emphasize this enough. Just as you would know (and respect) your limits during your asana practice, be true to yourself and don't risk an injury for an extreme yoga photo.
At this point in time, there's no way I'm going to catch my heels in a Standing Backbend, so what's the point of trying to force my body into that shape? I've found that some of my favorite photos are of those with poses that I enjoy practicing, and taking photos of the same pose over time also helps me to see the progress as I continue to develop my practice.
If you're going to attempt a deeper or more complicated pose like Hanumanasana or Urdhva Dhanurasana, I would also strongly recommend that you warm up your body in preparation for the asana.
4. Be on the Lookout for Interesting Backdrops
A white background is great for portfolio shots, but also keep your eyes peeled for backdrops that can add a different element to your photo.
Spice things up on the beach, in front of a brightly colored wall, in a beautiful doorway… you get the gist!
5. Consider Your Pose
The most "difficult" asana is not necessarily the best pose for a photo.
Consider what you want to convey through the photo, and how your asana will complement that sentiment as well as the backdrop. Depending on the backdrop, you may want to select a pose that is expansive and takes up space in the frame (like Lord of the Dance pose), or perhaps a seated pose like Padmasana is more fitting.
Some of my favorites are Wild Thing, Wheel, Compass, Bird of Paradise, Tiger, Intense Side Stretch, Tree, and Upward Facing Lotus.
6. Leverage the Lighting
If you are shooting outdoors, aim to shoot in diffuse sunlight (slightly overcast or foggy, but not grey and rainy!) so the lighting isn't as harsh, and be aware of where the shadows are hitting and whether you're standing in the shade.
That being said, sunrise and sunset provide some ridiculously beautiful backdrops as well. If you're shooting indoors and have access to some sort of light diffuser, the results can be pretty heavenly!
7. Go Easy on the Editing
If all goes well with the lighting, you shouldn't have to do too much to the photo. I don't have much experience with advanced photo editing tools like Photoshop, so I like to use Photoscape if I'm editing on my laptop (free download), and Afterlight if I'm editing on my phone.
When editing photos, I tend to 1) check if anything needs to be cropped out, 2) straighten the photo, and 3) bump up the brightness, contrast, saturation, and luminance levels very slightly.
Check out the difference below between an unedited photo and edited photo — I cropped out some of the excess space to better frame the pose, increased the brightness and contrast, and also slightly upped the luminance level.
8. Have Fun!
…and don't judge yourself too much. It's easy to be overly critical of yourself — "my leg should have been straighter," "my eyes were closed," "it looks like I have a third boob."
It's important to have fun and not be so hard on yourself when you're taking photos, otherwise why do it at all? Like I said before, the camera captures everything!
So there you have it! Grab your camera (or phone) and get snapping. What else has worked well (or not so well) for you when taking yoga portraits? Share your tips in the comments below!