Explore energy healing and alternative medicine as eight photographers share their tips on creating authentic images within this emerging niche market.
By 2026, the global alternative medicine and energy healing market is expected to bring in a revenue of $210.81 billion. From herbal supplements to Reiki treatments and acupuncture, alternative therapies are entering the mainstream, and more people are interested in exploring new avenues of health and wellness. According to research, the number of U.S. adults using yoga, meditation, and chiropractors all increased between 2012 and 2017.
“Alternative medicine is currently a strong worldwide trend, which makes the demand for images on this subject very high,” Colombia-based photographer Anamaria Mejia tells us. “The new wave of interest in nature, ecology, and a more balanced lifestyle has contributed to this movement, and it’s a topic that’s been continuously covered by the major networks, newspapers, media, etc.”
For commercial photographers, the rise of energy healing and alternative medicine opens up an array of fresh and unique subjects.
Tip #1: Research the Therapy You Are Photographing
For relevant, timely photos concerning alternative medicine, it’s important to do your research. Image by Anamaria Mejia. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF 100mm f2.8 Macro USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/80 sec; f4.0; ISO 320.
“It’s very important to do some research about all the different treatments currently available in the alternative medicine niche, as this information will help you to create relevant, timely photos,” Anamaria Mejia explains.
“Start by asking around, among your family and friends, to see if anyone has a professional contact within the field. I always try to talk about the various procedures with a professional, ask lots of questions, and take notes. These notes will be absolutely crucial when it comes to applying appropriate keywords to your photos and making them discoverable by buyers.”
Tip #2: Create a Mood Board to Imagine the Style You Want to Create
Before your shoot, it’s imperative to learn everything you can about the particular field you’re shooting. Image by Juri Pozzi. Gear: Sony a7rII camera, Sony 24-70 2.8 GM lens. Settings: Focal length 70mm; Exposure 1/125 sec; f2.8; ISO 640.
“The first thing I do when shooting a new subject, like alternative medicine, is to learn as much as possible before the shoot,” Florence-based photographer Juri Pozzi says. “I search anywhere and everywhere, from the internet to Pinterest to web magazines specializing in the field. From there, I create a brief with a collage of pictures and ideas, always thinking about what a client would buy.’
“I always shoot with professionals, and I ask them to work as usual. I find this makes the photos feel real and not staged. This particular photo is from one of many shoots I did during a trip to Japan. The model actually offered me the chance to shoot in an acupuncture and cupping clinic, so I’m very thankful to her. It was an unforgettable experience.”
Tip #3: Select Your Location Wisely
Whenever possible, shoot on location rather than staging the actual process. Image by Dragon Images. Gear: Nikon D800E camera, AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G lens. Settings: Exposure 1/40 sec; f2.8; ISO 640.
“To begin with, I would recommend browsing the web for alternative medicine visuals to get an idea of what popular photos in this niche look like,” the photographer behind the Vietnam-based team Dragon Images tells us. “Beyond that, my main tip is to be scrupulous about the selection of locations, props, and models. Authenticity is the key to high sales.’
“When planning a shoot like this, we use social media to find people familiar with the subject, to help us get prepared. They share insights into appropriate locations and relevant props, and we use their knowledge to create a realistic photo shoot.’
“This picture, for example, is completely authentic, right down to the interior, props, recipes, ingredients, and the outfit of the pharmacist. This is a traditional Vietnamese apothecary reconstructed and brought to life.”
Tip #4: Work with a Professional When Possible
To ensure authentic photos, work with a professional in the industry. Image by Dragon Images.
This was far and away the most-mentioned tip among the artists we interviewed: Collaborate with a professional in the industry. Not only will this produce more authentic photos, but they’ll also have some ideas and insights about trending topics to explore.
Tip #5: Conduct an Interview Before the Shoot
Interview the person you’re photographing before the shoot. Image by Matthew Wakem. Gear: Canon EOS 1DS camera, 50mm 1.2 L lens. Settings: Exposure 1/60 sec; f3.5; ISO 800.
“It helps to know as much as possible about the treatments you’ll be photographing and to interview the person you are shooting about what they do before you shoot,” California-based photographer Matthew Wakem explains. “From there, I like to approach shooting alternative medicine, like a journalist telling a story.’
“I set up a situation — like a massage treatment — and allow the practitioner to do their thing. I may ask them to repeat something or move in a certain way, but I mostly just dance around them with a camera and shoot from as many angles as I can fit in. I like the shoots to mainly be in silence or with some spa music, if they would play it for their clients.”
Tip #6: Make a Shot List Full of Variety
Discuss the doctor’s process prior to photographing so that he/she can interact naturally with the patients. Image by Andrey_Popov.
“All the doctors in my pictures are real doctors,” Anamaria Mejia continues. “I just ask them to do exactly what they usually do when they interact with their patients. During the planning stage, I ask them to create a list of the different procedures and treatments they normally perform with their patients. Together, we then create a shot list we will follow during the session.”
Tip #7: Swap Time for Photos
Clients needing images for their business may be willing to share production cost for stock photography. Image by PK Studio.
Pablo Hidalgo, the artist behind the Ecuador-based team Fotos593, has some advice for gaining access to a professional setting. “Usually, I partner up with someone from the field in need of pictures,” he tells us.
“Professionals in these businesses need high-quality visuals to show their technique. Since I work as a commercial photographer, some of my clients are willing to partner up, or share the costs of production, to get a better deal, and permit me to upload and sell the images as stock photography.”
Tip #8: Scout Talent on Social Media
Collaborating with your client can be advantageous both creatively and monetarity. Image by Manu Padilla. Gear: Sony a7III camera, Zeiss Batis 40mm f2 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f2.8; ISO 640.
“I contract all my sessions through social networks,” Almería-based photographer Manu Padilla tells us. “It is a great way to find interesting people. I explain that I’m there to take photographs without intervening in their work, as this results in more natural images.’
“This specific photograph is one of my top sellers. I took it about two years ago, in the clinic of a friend who practices acupuncture. He took a course in traditional Chinese medicine and needed images to promote his business, so we agreed on a collaboration.”
Tip #9: Think Outside the Box
To catch natural, real world images, have the client go about their daily routine in a normal fashion. Image by David Fuentes. Gear: Canon EOS R camera, Canon 24-105mm F:4 IS L USM lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; Exposure 1/30 sec; f4; ISO 800.
“I’m usually invited into one of these facilities by the owner or manager, and I always ask to photograph the professionals as they go about their work,” Madrid-based photographer David Fuentes tells us. “I try to look for unusual or unique details that differentiate the setting and the environment from other places.’
“In the case of this photo, a dog was receiving care from a physical therapist. Animals, like humans, are entitled to a good massage! In the future, I plan to do a photo shoot at an animal shelter that sometimes uses alternative therapies to help their residents. I think that when it comes to all images — and particularly these kinds of images — you have to innovate and get creative.”
Tip #10: Lighting Is Important — Take Notice
Use natural lighting to portray a potentially uncomfortable procedure in a beautiful light. Image by Studio 72. Gear: Canon 6D Mark II, Canon 550D, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 cameras with the Sigma 18-35 1.8 and Sigma 50-100 lenses. Settings: Exposure 1/200 sec; f2.8; ISO 400.
“In photographing any type of medicine, it is very important to convey a sense of safety and well-being,” Konstantin Shishkin, the photographer behind the Russian-based team Studio 72, tells us. “Nice locations, relatable models, and natural lighting all help to capture this feeling of well-being.’
“In alternative medicine, all sorts of tools are used, and some of them are unfamiliar to the average viewer: needles, vacuums, and even leeches, etc. It is important to showcase these procedures in a way that feels beautiful and pleasant, rather than unusual or strange. Clean, natural-looking lighting is often the key to creating these kinds of photos.”
Tip #11: Take Tons of Photos
Take as many photos as possible, then choose the most relevant and sharpest. Image by Fotos 593. Gear: Pentax k1 camera, 100mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/125 sec with strobes; ISO 100.
Access to wellness facilities can be rare, so take advantage of the opportunity and capture as many photos as you can. “When I did this shoot with a model and a physiotherapist, I really wanted to demonstrate all the techniques, so we took many, many shots,” Pablo Hidalgo explains. “We took about 500 shots that day, and in the end, we only uploaded the sharpest ones with the best lighting.”
Tip #12: Aim for Variety
Variety involves photographing from various perspectives, as well as exploring new topics. Image by Matthew Wakem.
“I shoot a full range of wide, mid-range, and close-up details, if the subject calls for it,” Matthew Wakem continues. “Also, look at the materials the person is using. There is usually a still life in there somewhere. Shoot portraits, interiors, exteriors, etc. Create images that give a sense of place.”
Variety doesn’t only come in photographing subjects from different perspectives, it also comes with expanding your repertoire and searching for new topics to explore. “My research is pretty straightforward and consists of looking up places online, in countries I want to travel to,” Wakem says.
“I then try to diversify (as much as possible), so I am not repeating myself. I especially like traditional treatments that are exclusive to the country, such as Ayurveda in India or Thai massage/medicine in Thailand. I would also suggest looking at what the schools are teaching for unique photos.”
Cover image by Dragon Images.
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