• Russell Clark

A rare shoot with Ian Duckett

Updated: Dec 6, 2019

Creating iconic images for a legend bodybuilder.

I take my time - giving the same attention to each image, during a shoot and also in post-processing and respecting the dedication that goes in to achieving an amazing physique, so the end result justifies the means.

“Every journey begins with a single step."

It was January in 2013, when I first picked up a camera, to learn the skill of photography. It was also the year I returned to the bodybuilding stage after six years away, and the year I touched base with Ian Duckett for advice and guidence.

Fast forward six years, to November 2019. With many hours of learning and practicing photography, with many more competitions and trophies under my belt, and a friendship that had grown, I was honored to be asked by Ian if I could take some shots of him.

Ian Duckett

With over thirty years of experience in training, this 'natural for life' athlete has had competition success, winning the British, European, and World Championships. #ianduckett

He has also worked in the fitness industry for over 30 years, helping others achieve their goals, managing gyms and as the owner of his small gym and business, 'Body in Design.'

He is also an established author of several books, including 'Old But Strong', which sold worldwide, and he was filmed for a documentary-style DVD, 'Old School - back to basics'.

Although now retired he still trains and plays an active part in the natural bodybuilding scene, being a competition judge for the Natural Physique Association (NPA).

He is also a talented artist, creating drawings of legend bodybuilders, which he donates to the NPA #naturalphysiqeassociation to be used as awards, which are presented to both male and female competitors during shows who are considered 'best presentation'.

Ian, now in his early 50s has, in my opinion, has built the best physique of his life and I was privileged and honoured to capture the achievement with my camera.

The Shoot

“It's one thing to TAKE A PICTURE showing what a person looks like, it's another thing to MAKE A PORTRAIT of who they really are.” Russell Clark

On the 17th of November 2019, Ian and his partner, Joanne, came through to our studio. The studio, where I have my office and run Studio97 Photography, is part of the Excel Fitness Centre, that I also manage part-time. So Ian and Joanne were able to work out in the facilities, before the shoot. I arranged a time when there would be no classes running, so Ian and Jo' could train and I could shoot, without interruption.

My set up is straight forward. A Sony A7 Mkii, 85mm prime lens, Lasterlite pole on which I have a Pixapro CITI 600 extension head which is connected to the main unit in a bag which is carried over the shoulder. I go for two soft-boxes. A 25" Pixapro Octa with double defusion and a 47" Octa, swapping them around to suit the shots I am doing.

I shoot in manual. No auto for anything, other than focusing. So I assessed the ambient light in the building first and set the ISO, then decided the correct shutter speed to suit the needs I had for the amount of ambient light and movement of the subject. For this shoot, I decided I also wanted a shallow depth of field (f/2.8) and a relative fast shutter speed, so after juggling with the settings I settled for a higher ISO to allow more ambient light in.

I don't shoot with flash using TTL (through the lens, where the flash takes the exposure from the camera) - I do it all manual (The CITI 600 hasn't got this option anyway). So I got my partner, Karen, to hold the CITI600 and Octabox #pixapro about 6 feet from Ian whilst I metered the exposure. I then asked her to maintain that distance as we moved around taking shots. I was happy that if the image was slightly under or overexposed I could recover it in post'. The main concern for me was getting the lighting into the right position quickly, so I could capture the shot l was looking for, without the worry of ruining the shots with incorrect exposure.

When I first started photography I did wedding shoots. It was the thing to do - what everyone was doing. I soon found that this was not what I enjoyed but it did give me the experience and skills to work on the move, think 'outside the box' and think on my feet. The skills that stand me in good sted on shoots when time is of the essence.

As Ian and Jo' started training, I got some shots of them. The shot seen above was captured using a reflective surface, to add interest to the image, showing Ian in his trade-mark checked shirt.

Time to get Inspired

After about 20 mins we were getting some decent images but then Ian took his shirt off and I was blown away with his condition. OMG! Ian is definitely in a league of his own. Now it was time to get to work - this was my time to show what I could do and I needed to get it right.

I called out to Karen, who quickly moved the lighting to 45 degrees top 'camera' right and 'BANG' - nailed it! The first shot of Ian's condition, just as he looked up at me. No posing here, just natural and authentic. This was a split-second shot, captured when Ian looked at the camera but before he became aware that I taking a shot.

It was then full steam ahead. I always get a sweat on when I am doing a shoot. I am moving around looking for angles and my mind is working overtime. I don't leave any stone unturned and I try different things. So many times in the past have I left a shoot wishing I had done more or done something different. I don't do that any more. Even if they don't work out, it is always worth a try. But when they do, it is priceless.

The next image is one of my favourites, from an artistic point of view. I went right against conventional photography, shooting straight into the light. Karen just couldn't get around quick enough so I stopped her right where she was and got her to lift the light high and lean it down.

This was partly luck and partly down to experience. I had only one chance to capture the shot. It would never be this good if we had to go again. The lighting just spilt over on to Ian's right side to chisel out his massive arms, veins and definition. Shooting at f/2.8 Karen and the background was blurred enough so not to distract from the main subject - Ian. Love it!

Shooting with a wide-open aperture is not for the faint-hearted, but this is why I only have one lens. No zoom lenses, I use my legs to zoom in and out. The 85mm prime lens is all I need. It is a fast lens, and it needs to be, to nail focus when I am capturing split-second shots. And I move fast, so it needs to keep up with me.

I am always looking for that interesting angle. It is the creative part of me, wanting to get something unique and different. Here is a shot of Ian watching Jo', intensely, as she performs a set of hammer curls.

After Ian and Jo' finished training it was a more controlled shoot. I set up my grey backdrop and positioned my lighting for my trade-mark portrait shots. The 47" Octa and strip light to the rear, camera left, for separation. The camera was set at ISO 100, 1/125s and f8. I put the camera on a tripod so the images would be consistent in distance, angle and composition.

I shoot in RAW and take all my images into Capture One. For the first five years I was using Lightroom but over the last year or so I have been using Capture One. It is a superior tool, in my opinion, giving me more control over my images.

After I have graded the images and put those I have chosen to edit into the select folder I take them to Photoshop and edit them, one by one. The first image I create is build up gradually. My workflow is generally the same but it is dependent on the subject and lighting used, so it can vary slightly.

Once I am happy with the first image I save the workflow and all the layers, for reference. Then I bring in each image and do the same, referencing my initial workflow, until all the images are done and I have total consistency in colour, contrast, sharpness, skin tone, background etc.

There were eight images, of this style. But from the whole shoot I edited 41 images and converted them all to black and white to make a total of 92 images.

And as a bonus I changed the lettering on Ian's vest, in Photoshop, to his name.


After about an hour shooting and the best part of the following two weeks editing the images, I hope that I have created images that are a credit to Ian's hard work and dedication.

For me, it is not just about getting the images but it is about the experience I can give to the client. And we all get to enjoy the process too.

So I would just like to thank Ian for trusting us and believing in us. I will say it again, it was an honour and a privilege to capture the moment in timeless images that we will all treasure forever.

I am not a photographer - I am an artist who uses a camera to capture images that I then use to create artistic portraiture.

And remember:

“It's one thing to TAKE A PICTURE showing what a person looks like, it's another thing to MAKE A PORTRAIT of who they really are.” Russell Clark

It has to be done after every shoot - the group shot. From left to right, Karen, Joanne, Ian and Me.

Thanks to Ian for having belief in us.

Russell Clark


© 2013 - 2020 Russell Clark.

Doncaster, South Yorkshire, England, UK
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