PhotoConcierge’s Featured Photographer Tony Felgueiras For International Yoga Day

The world has turned itself to Yoga; but not many have understood its real purpose. Yoga is not just about doing various asanas (or poses as they referred to) but to connect to oneself in a very efficient way and that requires a lot of practice and time! Many do not possess the patience for such kind of waiting period, but those who have embraced the reality and lifelong learning process of leading a Yogi Life continue to thrive and celebrate the unity of body and mind. Yes, Yoga needs your time and here is Tony Felgueiras, a true Yogi and a highly talented photographer. His imagery captures the life and expression of Yoga and enables viewers to immediately feel connected. PhotoConcierge is proud to feature this incredible Yogi for International Yoga Day, which we are celebrating the entire month!
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Photo Credits : Tony Felgueiras

Can you please tell our readers something about you?

My name is Tony Felgueiras and I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I am a part time fitness and yoga teacher and part time photographer, specialising in photographing people, specifically doing yoga poses (also known as yoga “asana”). My experience as a yoga teacher is incredibly valuable when photographing yoga because I’m able to cue my models into proper alignment. I know what to look for, am keen on subtle details, and am able to offer suggestions and cues that non-yogi photographers would be unaware of.

What is yoga according to you and how did it make it’s way into your life?

To me, yoga is living a mindful and healthy lifestyle, both in body and mind. It is defined as “unity.” The physical poses you see in photographs and magazine are only a small aspect of yoga; they are physical exercises to make your body healthy so you can operate optimally in the world. However, the mindfulness aspect of yoga is often overlooked in North American culture. The meditation, mindful eating, self-study and inquiry, etc. are all equally as important. In our culture yoga is being seen as a “workout” but it’s so much more. Yoga doesn’t just transform your body, it transforms your mind and your entire life if you’re open to it. Yoga has certainly become more and more popular over the years and I feel that the majority of people begin a yoga practice for the physical aspect, but as they practice, learn, and grow, they discover the deeper impact yoga can have off the mat in everyday life. That has been my experience – I began yoga as a 30-day challenge, seeking the physical benefits. I’ve since gained so much more knowledge and appreciation for who I am as a human, what I offer the world, how I am of service, and have gained an abundance of friendships and connections.

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Photo Credits : Tony Felgueiras

So, Yoga Photography happened organically?

When I started practicing yoga at a local yoga studio in Toronto called ‘Power Yoga Canada’, many of my friends who were yoga teachers were launching their websites and began asking me to photograph them for their websites. At that time I was only shooting concerts and media events, but the venture into yoga was exciting for me because it perfectly blended my joy for yoga and photography together. Now I travel internationally photographing yogis and yoga festivals several weeks out of the year.

What has the journey of transformation been like for you? How has your life changed since you became a “yogi”

Yoga has helped me become more aware of my decisions in everyday life and how I react to the world around me. I am more patient and present in the moment instead of always hustling and stressing about what is next. This includes keeping calm in stressful deadlines or on locations with photo shoots when unexpected things come up. I am a better communicator and listener, and yoga has strengthened my connections and relationships with everyone in my life. I have a deeper gratitude for what my physical body can do (and can’t do.) Physically, yoga has made me more flexible and strong, and I always feel energised and aware when I’m consistent with my physical yoga practice instead of tired or sluggish when I miss my practice for a few days. As a photographer I often find myself squatting, leaning, or holding my body in awkward situations to get a unique angle or shot, so the breathing, balance, core stability and patience developed through yoga helps me be a better photographer in that aspect.

What is your approach to photographing Yoga poses?

I start by asking my model what type of practice they have; strong alignment based, playful flowing practice, advanced inversions or flexibility focused, calm and restorative, etc. From there I’m able to gauge what poses work best for the model I’m working with so that the images reflect who they are and are most useful for them in their marketing and social media efforts. Once I have an idea of what poses work best with my specific model, we look for locations that best suit their style and energy. From there I have my model move into the posture (after a brief warm-up at the beginning of the shoot to warm up their body and muscles) and I move around the scene to find the best angle for the pose that showcases the lines of the pose, shows where all the limbs and body parts are, and keeps the face visible. Lastly (and most importantly) once all the elements are in place, I work with my model on finding the EXPRESSION of the pose, allowing the model to FEEL and be in the moment with their posture. The most striking yoga photos are when the model is expressing themselves through the posture instead of just “posing” and as a viewer you can really feel the different, especially in the facial expression. I feel this is where my skills as a yoga teacher comes in handy with yoga photography; I pride myself in helping my models feel amazing in the moment to capture the authentic expression of their yoga practice.

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Photo Credits : Tony Felgueiras

Your location choices for yoga photography are incredible. How do you even manage this?

Location, setting, and background are like another character for me with my photography style. I love looking for interesting lines or colours that compliment the lines of the yoga poses or the outfit the yogi is wearing. I approach each shot like an art piece and often start with a background, then figure out what pose would look best, at what angle, focal length, etc. placing the model in the scene almost like a puzzle piece. The yoga community is extremely welcoming and creative and because of outlets like Instagram and Facebook, I have yogi friends all over the Country, so I am lucky to get to travel often to see and collaborate with friends from all over, so, I always have fresh and cool locations to work with. I’d say half of the time the models I work with suggest locations, the other half of the time I look up popular landmarks or trendy/artistic parts of town of wherever I am. However, some of the best shoots I’ve done have been spontaneous photo walks where my model and I walk around to find places to shoot over a 2-3 hours near parks, along beaches, shorelines, etc. Beaches, rock formations, nature, and interesting architecture often frequent the content of my yoga photography. Studio shoots are great but don’t excite me creatively as much as location shooting does.

What are the toughest yoga poses to photograph and why?

Squats and handstands/headstands are the toughest to photograph mostly because they are difficult to integrate into a scene in a visually pleasing way. Since hand/headstands are just a vertical line, the model can get lost in a scene unless their outfit stands out, or if I shoot with shallow depth of field to separate them from the surroundings. If the model has a strong inversion practice, I often get them to play with bending their knees, trying splits, etc. to experiment with different shapes to make things more visually appealing. With squats, it can often look awkward, and the body makes a small shape that can sometimes get lost in a scene, too, so I typically avoid squatting postures.

Sometimes the geometry that is getting formed during such poses is just beautiful but sometimes it could also look quite weird or funny. How do you decide which pose could turn out to be a stunning image?

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Photo Credits : Tony Felgueiras

It really depends on the flexibility and physical capability of the model. Every body is different and a certain pose can look different in different people’s bodies depending on how their joints are formed, mobility of the spine, etc. Often, the angle a pose is captured from can make a pose look awkward or stunning. The most awkward angles are when the crotch or rear is facing the camera. The same pose captured from a side angle instead could end up looking really cool. I also find that the most striking images a viewer can connect with are when you can see the face clearly. If a limb is blocking the models face it can be harder to connect to the expressions. If a limb is hidden behind the body and appears to be missing it can seem awkward. Finding the right angle for the pose for each person’s particular physical ability is a big part of the collaborative and creative part of yoga photography, in my opinion. I often shoot each pose from a couple different angles to explore possibilities.

What challenges you face in this genre of photography

I’d say that the biggest challenge with yoga photography is working with some models to refrain from comparing their postures or practice to what they see online or in the media. Everyone’s body and practice is unique, and sometimes people want to take a photo that looks like a certain image they’ve seen; however it might not be possible in their body, either because of their limited range of motion or strictly because their physical anatomy won’t allow it. So, it’s important to work with yogis to develop a deep sense of compassion and acknowledge what the poses look like in their unique individual body.

The other challenge is often finding the best angle to make the posture look it’s best with proper alignment. There’s nothing worse as a yoga teacher than to have a photo taken and posted where the alignment is wrong or off. As an authority in the yoga world, it’s important to represent proper alignment and information, so as a photographer, do your research and work with your model to be aware of what the postural alignment should be. If you’re unsure, as your model and show them the shots on the back of the camera before moving on to make sure they are happy with it.
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Photo Credits : Tony Felgueiras

Three Tips on yoga photography

Get low – low angles usually work best to give a photo a timeless, empowering, or “epic” feel especially if you can see sky and clouds.

Face/Expression – capturing the feeling of the pose often comes through the model’s facial expression, so work with them on feeling and expressing the posture instead of just holding the pose like a mannequin

Warm up – Make sure you start the shoot by allowing your model to warm up and move their body for at least 5-minutes so their muscles are warm and their body is safe. Moving into extreme/advanced posture without proper warm-ups can be uncomfortable or even lead to injury if pushed too hard. By warming up you’ll get better results out of your model. Most of all, a few minutes of movement will help your model get more present to their body, how they feel, and mentally prepare them for the shoot as well.

Bonus: Have fun!

Your camera gear

Canon 5D Mark3

Canon 6D (backup secondary body)

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 USM II

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 USM II

Canon 85mm f/1.8

Peak Design Carry Bag

Have you travelled to India? If yes, do you believe that there is a lot of difference between the way Yoga is done here and in the West?

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Photo Credits : Tony Felgueiras

I have never traveled to India (but would love to one day) but attending dozens of yoga festival around the Country and working with some of the world’s top minds in yoga, the BIGGEST thing I feel that is misunderstood with yoga in North America is that yoga is just a workout. We are exposed mainly to Power Yoga, Restorative, Vinyasa, or Hatha, but there are so many more lineages and styles of yoga! Kundalini, Pranayama (breath work), Bhakti, and Jivamukti are only a few other styles of yoga that exist. I encourage first time yogis to try multiple classes at various studios to find what type of practice works for them. It’s often disappointing to hear about someone trying one class and never going to yoga again because they feel yoga isn’t for them because the one class they tried didn’t fit what they need – perhaps there was chanting, the class moved too fast/slow, incorporated Sanskrit, etc. I like to imagine yoga like a giant tree, and every leaf on the tree is a different lineage or style. Explore and research the various types of yoga and dive into whichever resonates most with you. Also note, that as you evolve, so too will your yoga practice, that’s the beauty of a life long yoga practice.

Your advice to common people and photographers on yoga and yoga photography respectively, considering International Yoga day is coming up.

Everybody (and every BODY) is different, so celebrate what each person is capable of and don’t worry about what postures aren’t accessible. It’s easy to compare oneself to magazines or social media with all the crazy bent-like-a-pretzel type photos we see, but there is beauty in simplicity as well. In my opinion there is no such thing as “being good at yoga.” Yoga is a living practice and being able to hold a handstand doesn’t make someone a better person than everyone else, it’s just a byproduct of conditioning the body to certain balance or flexibility possibility.

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Photo Credits : Tony Felgueiras

As a yogi, commit to your physical practice, but also dive into the other aspects like meditation and philosophy.

As a yoga photographer, get to know what type of yogi/teacher your subject is so you can work with them in postures that they can feel most expressive in.

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