Keeping active: Health, fitness, and exercise in commercial photography

Photo Stories

From the rise of “Zoom yoga” to the boom in sales of home exercise equipment, the coronavirus pandemic and related lockdowns have transformed the fitness industry. In many parts of the world, gyms have been closed for months, but brands and individuals have adapted in surprising ways.

The week of March 11-15, for example, saw a 55% increase in online orders for fitness equipment when compared with the previous year. That same month, downloads of the Peloton app rose by 500% from February. Even as gyms begin to reopen, many are rolling out new policies, including mandatory distances between machines, plexiglass partitions, and reservation systems to decrease the flow of traffic.

Health and fitness are evergreen genres in commercial photography in the sense that they never go out of style, but what these photos look like can shift, especially during periods of transition. As gyms, sports companies, equipment manufacturers, and lifestyle brands evolve to suit our needs, relevant and timely fitness photos will remain in high demand.

Read on for six tips for creating health and wellness photos that stand out to customers.


Young sporty woman runner with smartphone stretching on the beach outside. by Jozef Polc on 500px.com

Go virtual

From free Facebook live streams by Planet Fitness to no-equipment-needed YouTube boxing videos by Fight Camp, industry leaders have rolled out creative online initiatives to engage people at home. In April, searches for “virtual yoga” and “virtual workout” appeared on Getty Images for the first time, signaling the dawn of a new trend.

On March 23, the Mindbody app reported a 230% increase in virtual class attendance over the previous week—and the most popular location for exercise among users was the living room. 70% used pre-recorded workout videos, and 75% tried live streams. What’s more, 48% said they planned to keep up their virtual fitness routines after the pandemic.

You no longer need access to a gym to capture marketable fitness images for your Licensing portfolio; all you need is a clean room with nice light and a device like a phone or tablet (make sure your electronics don’t have any logos or brand identifiers, though, as these are copyrighted). Check-in with a friend to see if they’d sign a release and model remotely as part of your shoot.


Autumn family cycling by Jozef Polc on 500px.com

Plank. by Pablo Reinsch on 500px.com

Head outside

In March, bike sales in the United States almost doubled when compared to last year. The spike in sales—and resulting bicycle shortage—is due in part to anxiety over public transportation, but there’s another explanation as well: as the weather warms, there’s no reason to limit ourselves to indoor workout routines, as long as we practice safe social distancing.

Major cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York are opening up roads to cyclists and pedestrians, while closing them to cars, and bike repair stores have been named as essential businesses in many states. Even before the pandemic, a survey from the American College of Sports Medicine revealed that organized outdoor activities like cycling, kayaking, and paddleboarding were rising in popularity.

Before your shoot, find a beautiful (public) outdoor location, preferably one that’s out of the way to avoid crowds. Set up an adventure with a friend, draw up a shot list, and spend the day taking photos. “Families on bike rides, jogging, or hiking together through the outdoors is a growing trend,” the 500px Content Team explains. “Individuals keeping active outdoors is also on the rise as the summer months come.”


Beautiful girl training in her apartment by Cristian Negroni on 500px.com

Remember medicine and mental health

Fitness also encompasses broader subjects like medicine and mental health, and access to healthcare is changing. A new survey from Sage Growth Partners and Black Book Market Research reveals that, while only a quarter of US consumers have used telehealth in the past, 59% are interested in using it going forward.

As doctors’ appointments and therapy sessions move online, this trend will continue to inform commercial lifestyle photography; on Getty Images, customer searches for “telemedicine” went up by 727% in the month of April.

With anxiety and social isolation levels on the rise, Getty Images also reports that brands are keen to connect with customers emotionally, so images promoting mental health and self-care remain crucial during this time. Searches for “online therapy” experienced a 1130% boost. When exploring themes related to mental health, it’s important to be authentic and accurate; avoid stereotypes, and include people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and abilities.


Girl getting ready for  training by Oleksandr Boiko on 500px.com

Get creative

COVID-19 hasn’t eliminated our need for exercise; in fact, a Gallup poll for the week of March 23-29 revealed that, for most people (48%), the amount of exercise they get has not changed due to the coronavirus situation. Instead, it’s forced many of us to adapt, step outside our comfort zones, and try new things.

When it comes to fitness during the pandemic, creative photoshoot ideas abound. From using outdoor props like trees and park benches as part of “the tree workout,” named by ELLE Magazine as one of their top fitness trends of 2020, to tuning into online pilates, spinning, and barre/cardio fusion sessions, there are countless ways to capitalize on this genre and produce timely images. You can focus on a one-on-one virtual activity with a trainer or highlight how families are exercising together under one roof.

Similarly, mental health and wellness can be depicted in any number of ways, through photos of quality time with loved ones as well as meditation and mindfulness rituals. You can also touch on these themes with photos of people practicing yoga, which continues to be 36th most-searched-for term on Getty Images (out of a million!).


Active senior woman with bicycle outdoors in nature, resting. by Jozef Polc on 500px.com

Keep it real

Relatable photos of real people are always in demand, so it’s important to be inclusive in your images. Earlier this year, Getty Images named ‘Women in Sport’ as one of their top trends; with one Neilson report indicating that 84% of general sports fans have an interest in women’s sports, our visual culture has moved away from stereotypical portrayals of female athletes and towards authentic, empowering photography.

“Brands are looking to feature authentic and often overlooked demographics in their advertising campaigns,” the 500px Content Team tells us. That includes seniors, who have been a driving demographic behind the wellness movement.

According to research from Getty Images, “Boomers are 40% more likely than Gen Z to say they are mindful and intentional in their choices.” A trend report published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal similarly cited a growing interest in fitness programs for older adults, including yoga and tai chi.

Today’s stock photography eschews clichés in favor of honesty and realness. Seniors in wellness and fitness, like women in sports and strength training, reflect real life, so remember to represent that in your commercial portfolios. Take a look at what kinds of fitness photos are popular on 500px and Getty Images, and see if you notice any patterns. Are there any individuals or groups that have been overlooked? If so, take that as your cue to fill the gap.


DSC_4578.jpg by Cristian Negroni on 500px.com

Get trendy

The health industry is rapidly evolving, so it’s worth following fitness, wellness, and sports blogs and magazines to keep track of emerging trends. For example, this year, Facebook IQ included “fitness is fun” in their 2020 Topics and Trends Report, citing the rise of boutique fitness centers in the UK.

From disco boot camps and dance classes under neon lights to “sweat crawls” and trail running festivals, the future of exercise seems limitless. By immersing yourself in the world of fitness, and following how local gyms and chains are adapting to our current situation, you’ll give yourself the tools you need to create outstanding images that appeal to Licensing clients—now and far into the future.

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