What It’s Like to Photograph Arnold Schwarzenegger

Dustin Snipes

Words and photos by Dustin Snipes: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Behind-the-scenes photos by Jess Clark

When I was asked a few months back by Muscle & Fitness if I wanted to photograph Arnold Schwarzenegger for their October 2013 cover, there was zero hesitation in saying yes.How could I resist? Arnold is a legend, and I love his movies. Also, he’s probably the guy they base the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World off of. (They both do smoke cigars!)

But there was only one problem: the date of the shoot was right around the same time that my wife and I were expecting our first child.

So fast forward to two days before the shoot and our son Calvin decides he’s ready to be born, so I had to call Muscle & Fitness photo editor Tony Nolan and tell him I might not be able to make it to the shoot. He, being the very understanding person that he is, kept me on as the photographer, and we waited it out for a few hours until we knew more. 


Luckily Calvin was born just in time on July 29th, close to midnight.

FUN FACT: Just one more hour and Calvin would have shared a birthday with Arnold. Weird.

I gave Muscle & Fitness the good news in the morning and the shoot was still on. I showed up to Iron Fitness in Santa Monica July 31st a little tired from not sleeping much the nights before but also very excited to be photographing Arnold Schwarzenegger in the gym for the first time in decades! The pressure was definitely on, but I had some great assistants and great direction from the editors.

When Arnold walked into the room for the first time it felt like everyone else started to move in slow motion. I heard weights crash to the ground and then heads all around the gym quickly started turning and muttering. (I’m guessing this isn’t where he usually works out.) 

Shawn picked me out of the crowd and quickly introduced me to Arnold before he was taken into his speedy five minutes of hair and make-up. 

My first reaction as I walked up to Arnold was, this man is the Terminator…also he’s very large. 

I was pretty starstruck but somehow I managed to get out of my mouth, “It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Schwarzenegger,” and if he hadn’t replied in the same way immediately following my introduction, the next words out of my mouth would have probably been “Get to the CHOPPA!” But luckily I was able to refrain. 

Arnold came back quickly, ready to go after changing into a plain black shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots for the shoot and lined up on his mark for our first shot. 

From the moment he started to pose and flex, everyone around seemed to be in awe that this guy just turned 66 the day before. His chest and arms were much bigger and more defined than photos of him from the past few years. As the cover of MF says, he was definitely “back.”


We started shooting away, not wasting any time except to stop after a few shots or so to evaluate how things were looking and to adjust light modifiers when needed. We changed up the poses slightly, focusing primarily on his arms so we could show the world that this guy’s still got it.


After a good 15 or so minutes of shooting on the 9-foot white background we had set up in the middle of the gym, we took a final look at the computer, and Arnold gave his seal of approval and we moved on.


We didn’t have much time total with him, so three assistants and I moved quickly to set up the next shot at the arm curl station near a large, open roll-up door with light streaming in. We initially started setting up four lights around the gym to light different aspects of him and the weights, but Arnold reminded Shawn and me of some of his favorite photos from his competition days; they were shot with all natural light. Unfortunately in this gym we needed a little more than natural light because even with the large, open door it was just too dark for what we needed. I added a fill light on very low power and a light aimed at the ceiling to give a natural ambient light look to the lighting.

After the last workout shot, Shawn and I wanted to do one more before Arnold had to go. I remembered there was a yoga/dance studio with a great brick wall we could use as a background. We got in the room and opened up a door in the corner just as Arnold came in. He immediately leaned into a pose against the brick wall and within a few minutes of snapping photos the shoot was over as Arnold exclaimed, “We did it again!”



It was a fantastic experience to photograph one of my cinema heroes, and the fact that he was also one of the nicest guys and even went so far as to give me advice on being a father was more than enough to put him on the top of my list of favorite people I have ever photographed.

Also, the whole time I kept thinking to myself, “Do I, or do I not want him to call me a girly man?”


Now on to the geeky stuff!


Camera for Cover:

  • Phase One IQ140
  • 80mm 2.8 Leaf Shutter lens
  • Custom SLR M-Plate
  • Broncolor Remote

Cover Light Set up:

  • 1 Broncolor Para 88 - main light (camera right)
  • 1 Broncolor 75 Octabank - fill light (camera left)
  • 2 MobiLED light heads with 1 Broncolor Move 1200 L pack
  • 1 Paul C Buff 86” PLM Umbrella - Overall fill (directly behind the camera)
  • einstein 640
  • 2 Large strip boxes with grids (over his right and left shoulders)
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  • 4 Silver Umbrellas (lighting the white background)
  • 4 einstein 640

Camera for other shots:

  • Nikon D800E
  • Custom SLR C-Loop with Glide Strap
  • Nikon 24-70 2.8
  • Nikon 85 1.4
  • Pocket Wizard

Tether Station

  • 15 inch Macbook Pro Retina
  • Aero Tether Table
  • Firewire 800



Arnold Schwarzenegger behind the scenes blog Custom SLR Dustin Snipes photographer Star

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