Often showing up on lists of the “fittest American cities,” San Diego is the place to be if you like to keep in shape. Why? Because it provides endless opportunities to do so. First off, it’s one of the easiest places in the country to be outside. With temperatures often around 70 degrees all year, San Diego has a climate most would call perfect. There are miles of hiking trails, from the family-friendly Torrey Pines State Park to the uphill challenge of Cowles Mountain. San Diego also has the wide open spaces of Balboa Park, which is even larger than New York City’s Central Park. Diving is popular, especially in Mission Bay, while kayaking is another mainstay of fitness. With countless trails for biking and dog parks within walking distance all over town, San Diegans have many ways to exercise before even entering the gym. Yet training centers for all kinds of healthy lifestyles are everywhere to be found, and because of this, a San Diego fitness photographer plays a pivotal role in advertising them. The year-round sunshine also provides the perfect backdrop, as well as a reliable one, to document the many aspects of physical culture in this coastal Californian city.
At Wonderful Machine, we define fitness photography as anything relating to athletes, fitness, and exercise. This can be candid or controlled action shots. To capture one of the country’s most athletic city cultures, here are the 7 best San Diego fitness photographers.
Working professionally for over 15 years, Justin L’Heureux is a highly regarded photographer and director. Beginning with a background in fine arts, he earned a BFA in painting and printmaking. This gives his work a special quality that utilizes the space and environment around his subject to illustrate the emotions, challenges, and breakthroughs that come with a fitness lifestyle. The painter in him especially shines in showing the landscapes and cityscapes that people practice in. For example, in one image he will focus on showing the vastness of a boulder his subject is climbing to highlight the effort involved, and in another, he’ll highlight the shadows of towering buildings on a jogger as she works her way through a downtown area. Justin also has even more imagery capturing athletes up close in their practice. This is where his directorial work most influences his photography, as his images often have a cinematic quality. Photos involving multiple subjects will explore the camaraderie and encouragement of group fitness, while subjects working solo show a range of feelings from quiet determination to a playfulness that looks right at the camera. A dynamic innovator, Justin’s work shows the many ways activity can be captured and celebrated.
A lifelong lover of imagery, Gary Allard knew where his path was leading from the very beginning. Now a professional in both photography and visual communications with over 15 years of experience, he’s built a reputation on his friendliness and collaborative attitude towards his clients. Aside from his undeniable talent, a lot of this must come down to the enthusiasm he’s kept for what he does:
Through photography, I can walk those lovely lines between art and commerce, observation and intention, chance and necessity, and bring emotion to a moment without using words. That’s a pretty good feeling.
Often using bright colors while working outside with San Diego’s abundant natural light, his photography has a lifestyle edge to it, yet his subjects are not posing. In fact, Gary doesn’t present an idealized version of exercise but rather utilizes his own positive attitude to bring the best out of the people in his images. So while his fitness work keeps that lifestyle vibrance, making it great for sportswear and even tourism advertising, it also presents honest and authentic moments of physical activity. Also worth mentioning is not only has Gary earned the respect of his clients, but also his peers: he’s the current president of the San Diego chapter of the APA.
Andrew Reilly is an experienced photographer and producer who finds an interest in exploring the action involved in fitness as well as the emotions between it. Often he will present images in pairs, with one showing a subject performing a physical exercise and the other showing them in the moment directly before or after it. Andrew also works in black & white as often as color and will blend the two in his pairings, making for a dramatic effect that explores the humanity in his subjects. His experience in producing campaigns also informs the creativity in his work:
These skills and experiences have taught me invaluable lessons and provided me with the understanding of how to evaluate projects from a macro level and micro level which is necessary in the foundations of a successful project.
Working with a duality of the big picture and the small, singular moments within it, Andrew will pull back for a full shot of a busy gym or field to show the energy, hustle, and even chaos that athleticism forces people to confront and harness. Just as often, he will close in on the feeling this has evoked in the people he photographs as he brings a portraiture element into his work. The end result is very in tune with how youth culture and fashion-oriented magazines and websites present imagery, giving an inherent hipness to Andrew’s work.
Jeff Dojillo has worked for over a decade as a professional photographer focusing on sports and portraiture. Earning an MFA in Fine Art Photography from the Academy of Art in San Francisco, Jeff captures, edits, and produces his award-winning work. He also thrives in a fast-paced environment, and for a San Diego fitness photographer, this lends itself to photographing high-energy practices such as martial arts, kickboxing, and MMA. When looking through his profile, he manages to get very up-close shots of fighters sparring and honing their skills. This shows not only a level of courage on his part but also a rapport of comfort and trust with his subjects. He also shoots his subjects training throughout the city, often sporting fashionable workout gear, which both shows his connection to youth culture as well as his extensive indie magazine work. To prove the effectiveness of his craft, Jeff’s photography has been recognized and awarded for his documentation of the Muy Thai community.
Growing up in Southern California, Chris Straley began his life in photography early by getting shots of his friend’s surfing, skating, and living it up in the sunny climate. Embracing a professional life behind the camera not long after, his work capturing surfing earned him quick recognition and he was invited to join the legendary Transworld Surf Magazine as a staff photographer. This led to enduring relationships with athletic brands including Adidas and Nike. Chris’s work has since expanded to many specialties, yet the formative years he spent capturing his friends living their active lives have informed much of it, giving a lifestyle edge to his work as a top San Diego fitness photographer. This makes his work extremely compatible with advertising workout gear and clothing, as Chris often shows the journeys leading up to a fitness experience. Whether it’s a ride on the subway to the basketball court or a drive out to the coast, he takes viewers on the same path of mental preparation that we all share in approaching fitness. This doesn’t just bring athleticism into the world but also allows the world to be brought into athleticism.
As the head of the studio Lancaster Photographics, Jeff Lancaster has spent over 15 years building strong client relationships and providing top-level imagery. His approach? Teamwork:
We approach photography a little differently. With more collaboration, and less attitude. Maybe that’s because we’re based in San Diego, which is about as low-key a big city as you’ll find.
Providing art direction, design, production, and prepress work in addition to photography, Jeff and his team focus on bringing the visions of their clients to life. Jeff’s imagery is bright, vibrant, and very geared toward advertising. Bringing an influence of the lifestyle specialty into his fitness work, his subjects are always enjoying themselves, laughing with one another, and showing the fun side of keeping in shape. As a San Diego fitness photographer, this is especially good because it highlights the easy-going, positive attitude that the city itself radiates.
The head of a large and experienced creative team, Tim Tadder is a photographer, director, and creative consultant. Tim’s work can be futuristic, striking in its use of color, and often shows his subjects in some way defying gravity. It ranges from fashion to fine art to conceptual, yet a large part of his portfolio is also dedicated to athletes and fitness. The diversity in his approach to fitness imagery makes Tim’s portfolio fun to look through, as his subjects will be shown working out at home, in a gym, and yet also in a studio bathed in neon lights. As a San Diego fitness photographer, this opens his work to all kinds of markets, especially high-end retail and magazine advertisements as well as internet and tv ads with his film capabilities. With his team of creatives, all of whom demonstrate a knack for all things technical, Tim also is outstanding in capturing his subjects mid-air with striking clarity. Sometimes adding an edge of conceptual photography to his fitness, he also has many images that play with light and motion to bring out an air of the fantastical. While Tim and his team have reached the level of success that has them often working with global brands and celebrities, he also makes it a point to work with clients of all levels.
In a city that provides such a myriad of ways that one can stay active, it makes sense to see that same level of variety in each of these unique San Diego fitness photographers. What they share in common is a dedication to documenting and celebrating the activities that make San Diego such an exciting place to be and to grow.