I am a photographer who specializes in the health and fitness industry. I currently work for 35 publications worldwide and have created countless advertising campaigns and commercials for sports supplement companies. I've also produced and directed 4 DVDs for bodybuildingflix.com.
I was born in Rome and at age 3 our family left some hard times in Italy and moved to Wollongong a small town near Sydney, Australia.
In 1975 we all moved back to Rome and that's when I started working out at home.
After seeing a few American bodybuilding magazines I was literally hooked. I was extremely skinny at the time weighing 55 kg at age 12 or so and bodybuilding all of a sudden was the answer to all my problems. Although I was extremely thin my muscles responded quickly to any kind of stimulus. I was a boy obsessed! I would lift weights at home in the morning before going to school, as soon as I got back from school and then right before going to bed at night.
I placed dead last in my first few local competitions in Rome but by the time I was 17 I had won the Teenage Mr. Italy title and started landing magazine covers, interviews, TV show appearances and lost of seminars and guest posing. At 19 I won Junior Mr. Europe in Lille France. That was a great milestone in my life. Flavio Baccianini won the short class, Brian Buchanan the tall and Ed Kawak won the Pros. Peter Celik was judging and he said, "Alex, you need to go to California!" So I went home and started working on that.
After more than 2 mandatory years in the Italian army and Military Police force I was finally free to leave Italy and move to America. I went back and forth a few times and then after winning the Pro Mr. Italy in 1986 I decided to make Los Angeles my permanent home. Not everything was as it seemed in the muscle magazines though and I went through a series of odd jobs here and there. I realized I didn't have the potential to become a mass monster and my style of aesthetic physique wasn't in vogue at the time. I just wasn't big enough. I just new I wasn't going to be Mr. Olympia. Ever.
Giving up a dream I had as a pre-teenager was a hard thing to swallow and I went through some very depressing years. What brought me back were a few jobs working on Hollywood movie sets. I fell in love with the movie business in Hollywood. I walked into an agency and they signed me on the spot. Soon after I was booking a lot of commercials that paid very well and sitcoms like Married With Children, In Living Color, speaking roles on soap operas General Hospital, Days Of Our Lives and a continuous stream of small bit parts on shows like Melrose Place and Baywatch.
At that same time I bought a decent camera and started taking headshots of up and coming actors and models. One model took some of my shots to her agency and they started sending me several of their actors and models to get portfolios. The money I was making shooting fashion portfolios was often more than what I would make on smaller acting roles and I fell in love with fashion photography. After shooting my first bodybuilder as a favor to a friend I sent the shots in to Muscle Mag and got a call from Bob Kennedy. That really changed things for me because Bob was so positive and inspirational and he really pushed me to continue in the craft because he thought there was "something different and special" about my images. I finally felt I found my true calling.
Tremendously! First of all I knew that a bodybuilder can't possibly look his best for 10 hours of shooting and that's how most magazines were shooting bodybuilders. Who can hold a pump for 10 hours? I like to shoot in less time and have everything planned out so there is little downtime. Also giving breaks to eat and relax a bit can help a lot if the shot list for the day is very long.
It usually takes me a few seconds to realize what the best angles are for a male athlete. Often time athletes don't even know their best angles because they don't practice posing enough. For women it's usually a matter of finding the right balance between what makes her body look good and getting the right angle and expression on her face. Very different types of photography and very different approaches and preparation. I like that diversity in my photography.
Practice, practice, practice and then practice some more. Shoot as much as possible and as many different people as possible. Create your own style but don't always limit yourself to that. Diversify and try to master several different looks and genres because that will probably give you more longevity and a wider client base.
You should learn as much as you can about the technical aspects of still photography but remember that your artistic vision and creativity are what will separate you from the rest of the pack. Thousands of people around the world own expensive digital cameras, shoot bodybuilders and models... yet the top bodybuilding magazines keep dipping from a pool of less than 20 great physique photographers. It's your vision and talent that will set you apart.
You need to do your homework. A professional fitness model will prepare for a photo shoot like he's preparing for a competition. Pay attention to all the details. Make sure your conditioning is spot on and that you are as dry as possible because most magazines these days want extreme definition especially in the midsection. Everyone on the set has probably prepared for the shoot and you need to be even more prepared by delivering a finished and valuable product to the project.
Show up on time and be courteous to everyone on the set. The assistant getting you water in between takes may very well be running his own company in a few years or he could be the one shooting you in the near future so personal relationships are important. Everyone remembers professional and easygoing models and everyone remembers the divas also.
It's another thing that I have had a passion for since the very beginning of my career. I've always been fascinated about how you can alter the foods you eat and take specific supplements to maximize your efforts in the gym. I used to create my own supplements back in the day in Italy by buying the raw materials and concocting my own formulas. In 1980 we already knew about and were taking creatine. Our pharmacist would give it to us in liquid vials, which is probably the worst way to store it to actually do anything in your system. Sports supplementation is light-years ahead now and especially in the last 10 years we have seen some major changes in the way sports supplements are formulated and delivered to the consumer.
The Alpha Pro Nutrition line came about from the collaboration between myself and some talented biochemists and researchers. It was a very long process of trying and retrying different compounds in order to get the right effect that we were looking for. The two flag-ship products, our pre-workout powder UPLOAD and thermogenic fat burner ALPHA CUTS were especially challenging. We would settle on a formula and then have to test it in the real world. I gave the test batches to pro bodybuilders, pro rugby players, Olympic swimmers, cyclists and some average people who took their fitness regimen seriously. I needed to get feedback across the board from various slices of the community. We have some female models on board that follow strict diets and train 1 and 1/2 hours a day between cardio and weights. We took their feedback into account also because once the product is on the shelf anyone can but it and we want everyone to obtain good results. In the end though the elite athlete's opinion weighed in the most and I went with the most. We've developed the most effective formulas and used only the very best ingredients.
Take UPLOAD for example. In my opinion Creapure creatine from Germany is by far the best in the world as far as absorption and digestibility. I would never put in a cheap and unrefined form of creatine in a pre-workout product. Who wants to feel discomfort in their stomach while they are lifting? I could have increased my profit margins substantially by using a less pure form but I set out to make the most effective pre-workout supplement available and having creatine available in your system is crucial while you are in the gym in my opinion. I also wanted a whopping 5g of creatine per serving not just a sprinkle so UPLOAD can also be used as a creatine product.
UPLOAD contains a massive 3 grams of pure L-Arginine. As far as this amino acid is concerned here too we went with the best in the world: Aginomoto L-Arginine. We also developed a unique blend of amino acids supported by L-Ornithine and L-Histidine that convert to Arginine for an optimized Nitric Oxide response. This comes out to 4 grams of L-Arginine in your bloodstream while training! The results we've been getting on bodybuilders and athletes with UPLOAD is amazing and I use it every workout. Sometimes on non-workout days I take it for it's nootropic effects and healthy testosterone levels. UPLOAD is certainly not just another overdosed caffeine product.
The formulas took me and the researchers
over 3 years to develop and fine tune.
I talked about UPLOAD but ALPHA CUTS is also a truly amazing product! You actually feel a thermogenic effect around your core after you take it and your mental alertness increases dramatically.
It contains specific forms of Diiodo-L-Thyronine, Yohimbine and Geranium that can enhance lipolysis dramatically. I wanted a fat burner that was also good for your health and metabolism and not just a stimulant and that's why there are elements like Alpha Lipoic Acid, Chromium Picolynate, Green Tea, Oolong Tea and Cinnamon Bark. Many have antioxidant properties and I am a big believer in Alpha Lipoic Acid taken year round whether you are adding mass, cutting up or both at the same time like I am doing right now.
Our BCAA 5:1:1 capsules are also one of a kind in the world. Most companies make BCAAs in tablet form. They do that because it's less expensive. For someone like me who likes to take 4 or 5 g of BCAAs right before working out or doing cardio I can't imagine taking those little bricks that sit in your stomach before being digested and absorbed. We made a capsule that releases approximately 50% of the BCAAs within minutes of hitting the stomach and the remainder is released at a slightly slower rate so as to last for the duration of an hour workout or a little more. In addition to that feature we added key elements that help the assimilation and utilization of the amino acids. L-Leucine has been recently discovered to be a much more important amino acid for actual muscle tissue repair and hypertrophy than what was believed in the past. Our balance is an optimal 5 parts L-Leucine 1 part L-Iso Leucine and 1 part L-Valine. Most pros take 5 capsules before their training and 5 immediately after.
We've recently added an ALPHA CUTS formula designed for women who may have water retention issues called ALPHA CUTS FEMME. This is a favorite among many competitors and female fitness models because it helps them eliminate excess water under the skin and abdomen due to the natural diuretics it contains. We know some male athletes like taking it also before a contest even though they would never admit taking a FEMME formula to their buddies in the gym. I guess we should make a label for this formula that is not pink!
There are so many variables and elements that come into play when creating a great image. What I do personally is making sure I am clear on what the image needs to communicate. This needs to come directly from the client I am shooting for or from the art director who has his or her own clear vision for the shoot. Everyone involved needs to be on the same page or it can get messy on the set.
Is the photographer shooting a beautiful model that will be viewed by a male target audience? If so I need to emphasize the sensuality of the model with her expressions, poses, attitude, wardrobe etc. How far do we push the envelope without it becoming "soft porn" so to speak? How sexy is too sexy?
On the other hand if I am shooting a beautiful model that is selling a female product that is targeting a female demographic... then everything changes. My approach is completely different. An overtly sexy shot will most probably be a deterrent to female consumers. All of a sudden you have an image that turns women off and pushes them away from the product instead of attracting them to the product and brand in general. So again, the photographer needs to make the choice and be clear on what the utilization of the image is. This is key in photography and marketing in general.
Once you are on the right track creatively is when the fun part begins. You can emphasize the model's unique attributes. Maybe it's a key element of her body or face that projects the image you are going for. I would say it always boils down to lighting as being the most important element. There is no such thing as "bad lighting" in my opinion. There is "inappropriate" lighting certainly. Shooting an athlete with incredible definition for a fat burner ad campaign by using soft, flat light will not get a shot that has impact. People will not stop flipping pages to look at the ad because it's "un-eventful" or "bland” so to speak. I see that all the time. Companies don't plan their shoots correctly or try to save a few hundred dollars by hiring mediocre people and they end up with a mediocre ad and their product doesn't stand out among the clutter. Especially now in the digital age people have less attention span and view thousands of images a day. It's now more important than ever to stand out with good photography.
So to recap I would say lighting is crucial. The composition of the shot is also extremely important and the photographer needs to figure out what the best angles are for that certain pose or action. I like to get at least 2 or 3 angles on each pose and change lenses multiple times in order to get variety. A good variety of shots always makes the clients happy.
Of course you need to have the technical capabilities and professional equipment to capture the image you are going for if you want to compete with the best physique photographers in the biz. Photography can be very expensive if done correctly but don't let that be a big deterrent. For example I purposely went back to my "old school" way of shooting I did out of necessity in the beginning of my photography career in this shot (below) I wanted something different that no other company is doing now.
I can't tell you how many people love this image for it's simplicity and sensuality and I receive positive feedback on it daily. It has a certain fashion look to it more than the usual fitness model shots we see all the time. I shot this with one 1,000 watt Tungsten light and nothing else. A Canon 7D body, 1600 iso with a 200 mm 2.8 Canon lens. Sometimes less is more.
I wouldn't say I have favorites because I think that would be unprofessional of me. I know there are some bodybuilders that are very easy to shoot in the sense that they show up prepared, know their angles and poses and are there to take direction to get the best images possible. They leave their egos at the door and have faith in your choices. They follow direction and actually welcome it.
Jay Cutler stands out as being a consummate professional. So is Lee Labrada, Jorge Betancourt, Sagi Kalev, Stan McQuay, Constantinos Demetriou, Dexter Jackson... I know there are more and I apologize for leaving out some great bodybuilders that are a pleasure to work with. Milos Sarcev, Kevin Levrone and Ronnie Coleman were great to work with especially on a series of shoots we did for Muscle & Fitness in Rome a few years ago.
I shot a male fitness model recently and it was his first professional shoot. The guy complained the whole time about everything! He didn't like the exercises the magazine needed for the article, the color of the shorts the stylist had for him, the length of the shoot etc etc. My crew was getting more frustrated with him than I was. I've learned to roll with the punches and have tunnel vision during a shoot. My goal is to get the best photography possible for the client and I do what it takes to achieve that.
Needles to say I never used the guy again and I never suggest him when companies call me for recommendations. Even though he has a great look and great physique I will never give him a job. It's just not worth being miserable the whole day when there are so many up and coming models who appreciate the work and will go the extra mile for you.
I always like shooting the Alpha Pro models of course. Everyone is a team player. Heather Green is our star athlete having won several international fitness titles. Jessica Jordan looks great, has a degree in kinesiology and is in high demand for her personal coaching. We also have other models that appeal to a larger mainstream audience like Vivian Kindle, Tiffany Selby, Christina Halkiopoulos. We will be adding Natasha Yi and Tiffany Toth this year and have lots of photo shoots and video projects lined up. We are currently seeking male bodybuilders and male fitness models for our advertising and promos.
Believe it or not the location of the shoot is of utmost importance to me. I get turned on by new and creative locations or gyms that have a certain "flavor" instead of generic and dull places.
Lighting again is always crucial but it's such a pleasure to work in a spot that is already interesting and inspires you just the way it is. Deserts have never inspired me for example and I hate rocks... yet the beautiful colors of a beach at sunset never tire me even after 21 years of photography. I love grungy old dirty warehouses also. I guess I like contrasts and extremes.
My brother in law is finishing up the script for my first feature film that I will be directing this Summer (2012). It's such an interesting story with lots of twists and colorful characters. It's about a talented young boxer who starts throwing fights just to make ends meet and out of necessity one night agrees to be the driver for a heist along with some criminal elements from his gym. Needless to say what seemed to be a very simple gig turns out for the worst and he finds himself in a series of predicaments he needs to get out of quickly.
It's a low budget feature film but it will be done through Screen Actor's Guild contracts and we have some distribution already. It shoots in L.A. and we will be hitting the film festival circuit with it in 2013. The low budget does not bother me one bit. I know I can make it look great and I'm confident I can get great performances out of my actors. We will begin casting soon and I have a great cinematographer behind me and two great producers that inspire me to the max. I've been preparing for this moment for years and I can't wait to get on the set to shoot it!
SPECIAL NOTE: I'd like to announce that Alpha Pro Nutrition is looking for male athletes and bodybuilders for upcoming commercials and photo shoots. Interested readers can send some pictures to alpha@alphapronutrition and mention cutandjacked.com interview. I am always looking for male and female models that have magazine cover potential. Thanks!
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