How Good (Yoga) Pictures Are Made

Light, Camera, External Rotation!

I had my first yoga photo session today with my friend Ben Schiendelman, a budding photographer. It was an interesting experiment of me telling him to check that my neck, and arms, and legs, and gaze, and so on, and of course Ben had enough to worry about: the lighting, the angle, the exposure…

I realized that we each cared about very different things that ultimately would make a great photo, but we had to realize that and work together. There are lessons to be learned everywhere 🙂

Taking yoga pictures is harder than it looks. I would hold the pose in its full integrity as long as I could, and sometimes it was still not long enough. A photographer’s “hold it” can seem like eternity sometimes. I realized I was going over everything with much, *much* more scrutiny than I would be if I were in class or doing a home practice. 

My teachers’ voices and my own filled my head: inner edge of the foot parallel to the mat, line the knee with the ankles, externally rotate the thigh, separate the arm pit from the chest pit, mula bandha, and so on and so on… And then there was Ben’s voice: come this way, move back, hold it, smile… No wonder why those Yoga Journal cover models need a production team.

Yoga in the Seattle sun

We walked to Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill for some outdoors shot, because it was a nice sunny Seattle day, something a bit of a rare treasure around here. Doing yoga outdoors has its own challenges, as does photography. While I was preoccupied with how level the ground was, and how to look up at my hand when the sun was shining directly in my eyes, Ben was trying to figure out the lighting issue. 

Then, as we wandered around, the fountain in the park went off, filling the man-made ponds with water, and we took our shoes off, jumped in, and squealed with joy and delight! Ben had the brilliant idea of me doing yoga in the pond, and all of the sudden, my worry about everything being perfect was diffused with the water beneath me, and it was this moment of lila – or play in Sanskrit.


Squaring off my hips for Virabadrasana 1

Squaring off my hips for Virabadrasana 1



Claudia Schiffer does not look like Claudia Schiffer waking up in the morning

My friends often say that they don’t do yoga because they can never look like that, whatever that means. I think they are referring to the Yoga Journal cover models, or the yoga ads they see. Little do they know that it takes a big effort to look like that. For example, I had to wake up extra early to do all sorts of warming up, hip openers, shoulder openers, and stretching everything, just to get in maybe 20 seconds of Padmasana – Lotus pose. 

I remember reading that Claudia Schiffer, or someone famous and beautiful like her, saying that she doesn’t look like what you see when she wakes up in the morning, and that it takes a team of stylists and makeup artists and photographers to make her look like how she does in the public eye. That’s somewhat true for yogis too. While our hair and makeup don’t have to be impeccable, our yoga poses do, and we don’t just roll out of bed doing them like what you see.

“You can’t always get what you want”, but you can usually find what you need

After our shoot, Ben and I looked at the pictures together, and he saw a picture and immediately deleted it, and I was throwing my hands up, saying no as many times as I could. The picture was overexposed, and to him, it was a throwaway. To me, it was the best shot because my neck was straight and in line with my spine.  We both have trained eyes for different things, and in a perfect world, we’d have everything, but in this case, I was happy with what I got. 

So, like photography–and most other things in life–a “perfect” yoga pose is a combination of a lot of practice and preparation, a lot of patience,  and as much as possible, the joy of doing it. Thanks for a fun day, Ben!


Nikki Chau in Padmasana

Getting in Padmasana - wondering how long I can hold it 🙂

For more pictures from the photoshoot, check out my gallery.