A look back at my history with the world’s most iconic bodybuilding competition.
Mr Olympia is the world’s most prestigious bodybuilding competition. It’s catapulted the careers of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronnie Coleman, and the world’s top athletes who’ve followed in their footsteps – and this year’s event is set to be bigger and better than ever.
Mr Olympia 2020 is full of changes. There’s a new venue (Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino on the Vegas Strip), new date (the pandemic means it’s been moved to December 17-20), new classes for iconic athletes (Flex Lewis is moving up a class from 212 to Open), and new travel and quarantine restrictions.
The latter means I (probably) won’t be able to make it to what would have been my seventh Mr Olympia, but it remains one of my favourite events in the calendar.
Here’s how followed in the footsteps of Chris Lund and Kevin Horton to become the only current British photographer shooting Mr Olympia, what it means for my career, and what I love best about this iconic competition.
How I ended up shooting Mr Olympia
Seven years ago, I was shooting all British fitness content for Muscle and Fitness and Flex magazines in the UK. We had a few British athletes competing in Mr Olympia that year, so I flew out to cover their performances. It was my first taste of Olympia, and it resulted in some of the most successful double-page spreads for those magazines.
Who I’ve worked with
I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with almost all of the top athletes. These include 2018 Mr Olympia People’s Champion Roelly Winklaar, two-time Mr Olympia Steve Cook, Ryan Terry, Andre ‘Lucky Libra’ Ferguson, Luke Sandoe and two-time Miss Olympia Angelica Teixeira. I’ve loved every shoot, but there’s still a few athletes that I’d like to work with.
What makes it different
It’s no secret that Olympia is the biggest bodybuilding competition in the world. Not only do you get the world’ best athletes on one stage, but you also get the highest budget, the best lighting and the best production.
It also attracts a lot of celebrities. When you see people like Arnold [Schwarzenegger], Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Mark Wahlberg, Shaq O’Neal, Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather in the crowd, you really see how high-profile the event is.
The social media impact
Before social media existed, nobody saw what anyone looked like ahead of the event. They called Dorian Yates ‘The Shadow’ because he never went out in public, or ever took his shirt off pre-Olympia. He kept his head down, trained hard and showed up on that stage and just blew everyone away.
These days, social media means we all know how everyone’s training, and what everybody’s looking like day in day out. But that said, it can change on the day, so it does keep that anticipation and excitement for the event itself.
Being able to shoot the top athletes from around the world is an incredible opportunity. I sometimes shoot on behalf of a sponsor or a magazine, but I also reach out to athletes I particularly want to work with. Those images are really beneficial for me as it means I can share top-level content across my social media channels.It also helps me stay ahead of the curve in terms of what’s happening in the industry while keeping my name up there with the best.
Another thing I love about the Olympia weekend is the networking. Seeing friends, photographers, athletes and brands from around the world in one place is incredible. It feel more like a holiday than work, and I would probably still go even if I wasn’t shooting.
There’s a lot of photographers at Olympia – and they come from all around the world to shoot the event. They’re all there to get the best shots, but it all comes down to timing, experience, knowing when someone’s going to hit a pose – even when you’ve never seen their routine before – and capturing the atmosphere of the event. You’d think everyone would end up with the same photos, but the results vary dramatically.
Inspired by Mr Olympia? Click here to find out more about my physique photo shoots – and how they can help you raise your profile.