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The Alchemy Of Yoga Photography

"The poses are sincere moments, little prayers"

You might have seen Robert Sturman lying on the sidewalk with a camera, aiming his lens at a young woman in a red chiffon dress in forearm stance over a subway grate, or shooting a white-haired man in a suit performing side crow in the middle of an intersection, or read about him in the New York Times and other arts publications.

This is because the spontaneous alchemy of art erupts when Sturman goes off to take yoga pictures. And right now his work is rising in the public consciousness like a colorful hot air balloon fueled by humility, talent, and the joy of interacting with people.

But today, the yoga practitioner/photographer is sharing his knowledge in a workshop at Sacred Sounds Yoga where a group of people has gathered to learn how to capture the beauty of wonderful yogic moments.

“The best way to learn is to just grab your camera (or iPhone) and go do it," says Sturman, a tanned, bearded, surfer looking dude. What sounds like laid-back advice from this former Californian, ends up being a rallying cry to break rules and follow our intuition. Luckily he includes practical pointers for capturing the moment that best expresses the pose.

Sturman PhotographSharon Watts.jpg

I look around the studio space and take in the gamut of modern photography equipment accessorizing the yoga practitioners who have signed up. Nikons and Canons and smartphones--all digital, of course. Modern technology is being paired up with an ancient practice, and I might be the only person in the room who recalls the days of 35 millimeter.

Bellies are far more important than tripods and f-stops and focal points, as Sturman constantly tells us to “get low.” There are several reasons for wriggling around in variations of cobra pose-with-camera in order to get the perfect shot. Having as much sky or background surrounding the body, and as low a horizon line as possible not only depicts the nuance and difficulty of the pose, but also serves to elevate the subject, giving a larger than life effect. We alternately click and pose for each other: some of us shy and wanting direction, others theatrically claiming the spotlight with ease. Sturman enthuses about each and every pose, as we hit the ground snapping.

“Like what you’re seeing. Trust your intuition.”

Peppered into the general go-with-the-flow coaching are practical directives to be aware of negative space and body architecture. Try not to block the face. Shift to change composition. Don’t tire out the model; it only takes one click to make a pose seem suspended forever. There are no set rules of which angle to use for which pose, so experiment! Last but not least, it doesn’t matter what kind of camera you use, or how technically proficient you are.

One woman in a long flowing skirt chooses pigeon pose. Sturman resumes his mantra of giving the model permission to be herself while adjusting the hem so that the crossed foot is exposed. “Enjoy the pose,” he says.

In a symmetrical pose such as lotus, he points out the need to see both feet. In warrior one, where the face might be blocked, he encourages a bit of leeway with the technical aspects of the pose, so that the beauty of the face is visible. The best photographs document the sincerity, be it bliss or struggle.

WorkshopDana Roche pic.jpg

In Sturman’s own portfolio, it is evident that his artistic passion fully extends to the model, coaxing personal poetic expression more than perfect form. From the Barbie-doll beaches of Malibu to the prisons of San Quentin, from Kenya to the canyons of Wall Street, Sturman is a yoga ambassador, finding ways to honor his subjects and celebrate their practice, no matter who they are.

“The poses are sincere moments--like little prayers.”

Next we exit the studio onto Bleecker Street. “Which way is Washington Square?” he asks us, then becomes our Pied Piper as we approach the fountain teeming with locals on a sizzling-hot day. Two of us are brave enough to wade in and assume an extended mountain pose, while the rest of us click away, emboldened by our new knowledge as well as by the brazen NYC plein air surroundings. Which reinforces another tenet of Robert Sturman’s wise philosophy: “Real art is getting along, making people feel comfortable expressing themselves.”The yoga of photography is that when it just feels right, it will be a masterpiece.

Photos Take By: Top: Ariane Hunter; Middle: Sharon Watts; Bottom:Dana Roche. To see more photos from the workshop, click here

--Sharon Watts, to see more of Sharon's work, click here.

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