Pro Photo Daily | On Assignment: Turning a Police Officer Into a Fitness Icon

By: David Schonauer
Publish Date: May 18, 2017, 12:30 p.m.

This article originally appeared here.

Washington DC photographer Ryan Smith  was initially contacted by Henry Watson, the photo editor at Men’s Fitness  magazine. He found Ryan through one of his Google Adwords campaigns which targeted Pittsburgh. Men’s Fitness wanted to photograph police officer Rob Capezio near Pittsburgh for the Jan./Feb. issue of the magazine. They wanted to place Rob in their “Success Story” section to tell his story and talk about his dedication to transforming the fitness facility in his police station into a modern gym.

Rob has also been instrumental in developing a fitness program for his fellow officers. Ryan was tasked with getting shots of Rob with a few fellow officers in the gym space working out, solo shots of Rob exercising in and outdoors, as well as one or two portraits.

Pre-production was pretty simple for Ryan. Henry sent him examples of past stories published in the “Success Story” section plus some images from Ryan's website that Henry liked. The pictures he sent from Ryan’s site were actually from a self-assigned portfolio fitness shoot he did last winter, so it was nice for him to see that project pay off. Once the two negotiated an appropriate fee, Henry connected Ryan with Rob to schedule with directly. Finally, he hired an assistant in Pittsburgh that he occasionally works with, David Albanese.

Ryan thought his biggest challenge would be timing. He needed multiple setups and only had so much time with the on-duty officers, so he planned for a fast and furious shoot. However, to Ryan's surprise, all the officers he was photographing were off-duty and happy to hang out in the gym.

Ryan and David met early in the morning at an outdoor location Ryan had identified on Google Maps while scouting for running shots. Initially, Ryan was told that he would need to shoot the group of officers first, but the light and weather was so perfect at the location that Ryan was able to adjust the shooting schedule to accommodate the running portion first.

I’m always pretty good at meeting resistance with optimism and a clear explanation of why I want to shoot a certain way. Once I talked with the officers, they understood and were perfectly fine with waiting a little longer.

Another challenge was that Ryan was not working with a stylist. Because of this, he relied on the talent to bring suitable clothing. A company named Performance Inspired supplied the department gym with nutritional supplements and gear.

Ryan had initially planned to get shots of Rob shirtless for a few takes to emphasize his fitness level, but his Chief made it clear that he was in no way allowed to go shirtless for the shoot. He was concerned about how that would reflect on the department. So, he compromised by cutting the sleeves off of a few of Rob’s t-shirts so that he could at least show the tone of his arms.

Men’s Fitness was thrilled with the final images Ryan supplied them, and Rob also loved them! Since Ryan has added them to his portfolio, he has received compliments on the images at multiple recent meetings.

Ryan’s favorite part was photographing the individual shots of Rob. He loves sports and fitness and is always excited to see someone who has dedicated so much effort to their practice.

That dedication not only shows in his body tone, but in his attitude and willingness to work towards a great photograph. Having the opportunity to discuss possible exercises to photograph and then having the time to light them the way I wanted was a blast.

This project will continue to live in Ryan’s portfolio online and in print for now. He will continue to shoot this kind of work both personally and professionally and sees himself moving more and more in the direction of fitness and sports photography.

See more of Ryan at