Tony Felgueiras is a yoga photographer, yoga instructor, and a teacher of many high intensity fitness formats. He is the lead photographer for Yoga Journal LIVE events and has had the privilege of photographing some incredible yogis. In our interview, Tony shared some of his top yoga photography tips, his favourite yogis to work with, and — luckily for us — a few of his favourite shots.
What makes yoga photography unique from shooting other subjects?
To me, photographing yoga is unique compared to headshots, lifestyle, and other photography because I feel there’s something special about sharing one’s personality and expression through asana. As a photographer working with all kinds of people, it’s a special experience because I’m exposed to so many different body types, skill levels, expressions, and postures. From a simple child’s pose to an arm balance with a leg behind the head, every person conveys something about themselves and shares some degree of vulnerability when participating in a “Yoga Photoshoot.”
What are your top 3 tips for photographing yogis (that you’re willing to share, of course)?
Get low. Low angles tend to work best with most photographs. This gives a sense of power and with a wide angle lens, gives a vastness or “epic” feel.
Be OK with imperfections. With Instagram and various media, it’s easy to both be inspired and discouraged by a ton of beautiful imagery of the perfect pose during a sunset on a beach. If you can’t nail a certain arm balance, or don’t have the flexibility for a certain pose, don’t worry! Don’t try to duplicate what others are doing, but rather use it as inspiration instead. Express who you are in the moment, because that is what sharing images of your practice is all about. Plus, these images are great to look back on to appreciate the journey and progress you make over time. So celebrate the journey! This doesn’t mean that alignment goes out the window, though. Be mindful of alignment and safety, always!
Warm up. Always give your yogis time to warm up with at least 5-10 minutes of self practice before shooting. This allows the yogi to mentally land in the moment, start to feel what postures will be accessible, and most of all, warm up the body to safely pose for photographs. Asking a yogi to express a wheel, bird of paradise, or advanced asana without properly warming up can be both difficult and unsafe in some cases.
And a mandatory bonus tip: HAVE FUN! This is probably most important of all!
You are the lead photographer for Yoga Journal LIVE events — that sounds amazing! How did the opportunity for this come up?
As with many opportunities in media related industries, it began with volunteering to build my portfolio, then my shot with Yoga Journal was a result of who I knew. I started photographing friends and local yoga teachers to build my body of work. I then Volunteered to photograph Hanuman Festival in Colorado as an opportunity to photograph a yoga event, earn some travel experience, and network and photograph world renowned Yoga Teachers. With this experience under my belt I grew my confidence and continued to reach for higher goals. Shortly after Hanuman Festival, when my full time job working as a Video Producer and Photographer for a Men’s Lifestyle Website ended, I was doing my 200hr Yoga Teacher Training. The facilitators Pauline and Kinndli invited me to photograph a Baptiste Immersion Event, which was sponsored by Yoga Journal. That was my “in” making contacts with Yoga Journal, but unfortunately that year a flood occurred at the venue about a week before the event so it was cancelled. Determined and driven, I kept in touch with contacts at Yoga Journal and worked my way into a volunteer shooter opportunity a few months later at Yoga Journal Live in Florida. I did my best work possible and got along with everyone extremely well, and next thing I know, I’m the lead photographer for all Yoga Journal Events going on three years now! It’s the most rewarding opportunity and yogi photographer could dream of! I travel 5-6 times per year to photograph these events and hang out with the world’s greatest minds in Yoga.
Who has been your favourite model to work with?
Wow, that is like asking a parent which child is their favourite! Haha. I’d have to narrow it down to three choices, each for different reasons:
Besides the fact that she’s one of the most well known authorities in the Yoga World and online, Kino is an incredibly kind person and inspiring to be around and talk to. On the occasions I’ve been able to photograph her it’s an absolute treat to watch her move into such incredible postures with such strength, control and ease.
Jennifer Dwyer is a local teacher at Power Yoga Canada Oakville, owner of Power Yoga Canada Muskoka, and good friend. She was my very first Yoga Photoshoot and a big supporter of me and my work in the early days of my career. After shooting photos for her website, we continued working together for her Lululemon Ambassador photographs along with other projects which helped me grow my profile and career quickly. Plus, Jenn is an absolutely wonderful person with a beautiful practice. It’s almost impossible to take a bad photo of Jenn.
Deanna is a great friend with an absolutely incredible practice. With her dance background and dedicated practice, I was lucky to capture some extremely stunning photographs with Deanna in the early stages of my career that helped me catapult my body of work leaps and bounds ahead of most when just starting out. Working with Deanna in my early stages was like an independent filmmaker working with an A-list celebrity on their first short film. Some of my most eye-catching images in my portfolio and on my website are of Deanna. We worked together several times and through much of that experience I learned a lot of tips and tricks for photographing yoga that have helped me define my style as a yoga photographer.
When you photograph yoga portraits, how do you decide on a setting and which poses to shoot?
I usually have a discussion with my yogi ahead of time and discuss their style, what they teach, what they’re looking to express with the images, and how they could be used (website, flyers, social media, marketing, etc). I always set out a game plan so that the images we create best communicate their personality, and the images become tools they can use to express themselves, their message, and personal image. We discuss possible postures together ahead of time, but during the shoot the process it’s very collaborative and we usually find more possibilities and expressions while in the moment together.
For example, if I’m working with a Hatha teacher, we’ll likely capture more subtle poses and avoid crazy arm balances. We’d also consider settings that are calmer with softer colours to convey a more relaxing vibe. Whereas a Vinyasa teacher or someone with an outgoing personality, we might shoot outside against coloured graffiti doing handstands or inversions if it’s part of their practice. Ultimately, the setting and postures is defined by the yogi’s personality to best express who they are as a teacher or practitioner. I stress a lot of time in the planning stages so that we really capture powerful imagery true to who they are.
Does being a yoga practitioner and teacher help you photograph other yogis?
Absolutely. I feel it gives me a slight edge over photographers who don’t practice or teach yoga because I have a greater awareness around proper alignment, and with my teaching experience I have the confidence and language to cue and instruct my subjects into proper alignment for great looking images. I sometimes have clients book me specifically because they had photos done with their friends just starting in photography, or photographers specializing in other disciplines, but their alignment was incorrect in the final image and not cued or noticed by the photographer (since they don’t knew the details to look for) so they feel they can’t use or post those images. If the person being photographed is a teacher it’s even more important for alignment to be correct so that when they put themselves “out there” as an authority and trusted source of learning, students know they can depend on proper information and knowledge.
Can you share your favourite photo with us?
Another challenging question! With my yoga portraits I’m lucky to work with such incredible personalities with a variety of beautiful expressions of Asana, and with my work photographing events like Hanuman, Yoga Journal Live, Northwest Yoga Conference and Wanderlust, I walk away with hundreds of photos of inspiration from giant rooms of hundreds of yogis expressing a peak pose, to intimate moments of detail and expression. So, I’ll narrow down to two images:
This is probably one of my favourite Asana photographs because of how all the elements come together; the shapes of the bodies, the impressive pose, the setting, lighting, and colour. The best part is that I only met these yogis that day via social media. I sent out an invite to collaborate and met local yogis during a free day in San Francisco. Meeting with this group of Acro Yogis proved to be a rewarding and fun experience wherein we create some stunning imagery! If you live in the downtown area, you can find this image blown up 44×66 inches on display for the month of November at Downtown Camera as the winner of their latest #44for2015 photography contest!
I captured this image during Hanuman Festival in Colorado this year during Sianna Sherman’s class. The drapery made for a special feeling and visually tied the image together with Sianna Sherman leading a chant backed by a Kirtan band with a room full of yogis with their arms up fully expressing themselves. It’s only at festivals and events like Hanuman and Yoga Journal where you experience such a large body of people for a yoga class, and the energy and sounds of chanting and breathing is a very special experience to be a part of.
Your career includes a lot of passion projects. Besides photography, what else do you get to call your “job”?
Besides photography I also create videos. I actually graduated film school and worked in the media industry creating videos for several years as my primary career before eventually launching my Freelance Photography business in late 2012. Though I focus on Yoga Photography and events I also shoot select media events like red carpets, parties, as well as weddings and private client sessions.
Outside of photography I teach Yoga, INSANITY Live, P90X Live, and various group fitness formats and hybrids with my favourite being HIIT CardiYoga at Studio Blue Yoga in Toronto. It’s a blend of HIIT training, yoga, cardio, strength training, and it’s a ton of fun. Additionally, I’m an independent Beachbody Coach wherein I help people achieve their health and fitness goals online through accountability, support, home workout programs, and nutrition. Next Spring I’m planning to complete my personal training certification to continue to help people with their fitness goals.
Follow Tony on the go on Instagram.
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