How To Take Before and After Photos That Don’t Look Like They Belong on MySpace

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We all know (or should know) that basing your progress off weight alone is pretty stupid.  Yes, stupid.  There are so many fluctuations that occur on a day to day basis, that by using the scale weight to determine how “good” you are doing leaves us with an incomplete picture, pun intended I suppose.

When you begin to heal your metabolism from the inside out, there is a lot that goes on in the body that we cannot see like re-building muscle, replenishing your glycogen stores, repairing tissue, and re-building bone mass.  And guess what…they all weigh something.  Meaning, there is a chance that you may not lose a lot of weight at first, or you may even (gasp!) gain weight.  However, this is all part of the healing process and just the first step in your journey.

Aside from weight, circumference measurements and body fat percentage (yes, I do use weight and will continue to use this as only 1 small part of the assessment process), I also use photos as a way to track progress.  Since I have all of my clients take photos,  I have some seen some pretty interesting interprations of “before” pictures.

Now, you don’t have to have the latest SLR or any fancy lighting equipment to take good pictures.  However, there are some things that we can do to make sure that we have quality photos so that you can see your progress clearly.  By taking the time to get set up, we can avoid photos that look like they belong on MySpace.

But first here are 2 of the biggest things to avoid when taking your photos:

  1. Do not stand in front of the mirror, lifting your shirt and take a picture through the reflection in the mirror.  That’s cheesy and makes for really crappy photos.  Just don’t do it.
  2. Even if you have the latest iPhone, do not take pictures on your camera phone.  Quality is just so much better with an actual digital camera.

Great abs, but she should probably be focused on watching the kids. We'll talk about them later in this post.

Ok, now you know what not to do lets move on to how to take quality before photos  For starters, here is what you will need for equipment:

  1.  A decent digital camera.  As I mentioned you do not need to  have a fancy schmancy camera.  The pictures you’ll see later in the post were taken with the very first digital camera I bought back in 2007.
  2. A tripod.  This will allow you to take leveled pictures.  I highly recommend a tripod because you can easily adjust the height to make sure you get most of your body in the picture.  Plus a tripod is a lot steadier than a hand…clearly.
  3. A bikini for girls, or short swimtrunks for guys.  You really want to show some skin for this.  That is the whole purpose.  Even though we will be mostly tracking how your body composition changes, we’ll also  be able to see changes in skin conditions (acne, rosacea, psoriasis, etc) as well as postural changes.  The more skin the better.  Heck, if you want to take photos in the nude, go right ahead…but you may want to keep those to yourself.  You also want to wear the exact same thing for every progress photo.  This is muy importante. If you change clothing, it can affect the way your body looks like if a swimsuit is tighter around the waist, it will give you more muffin top than what may actually be there.  So, be sure to wear the same thing so we can see how the clothing fits on you as your body changes.

This is why you'll want to get a tripod.

For your environment, you’ll need this:

  1.  A blank wall free of any major distractions like pictures, furniture, a window, your dog, your boyfriend, or your pile of dirty laundry in the corner.  Seriously, clear some space and stand in front of a blank wall.  The less distraction the better.  (Remember those kids playing in the bathtub?  Cute, but they don’t belong in your progress photos!)
  2. Good lighting.  You want to make sure that you are in an area that has light shining directly on you, and not coming from behind.  I don’t know much about photography, but I do know that you do not want the light source to be going in to the camera, you want the light source to come from behind the camera.
  3. Even surface area.  This is where having a tripod comes in handy.  Make sure that you are standing on even ground so that your pictures don’t look like a drunkard took them.
  4. I will also recommend that you take your photos at the exact same time of day to make sure that the lightining is the same.
  5. Also, it’s a good idea to mark the ground with tape to make sure that your feet are placed the same distance apart.

Ok, now this is how you actually take the pictures:

  1. Set up your tripod so that you can see the whole body at least down to your knees, ideally all the way down to your feet.  Again, we can also look at skin and postrual changes along with how your body is changing shape.
  2. Make sure your hair is tied back and off or your neck.
  3. Put on your bikini and swim suit.
  4. If you are taking your photos alone, then use the timer button on your camera to take your pictures automatically.  If you have someone with you, I still recommend to use a tripod so that we minimize any shaking.
  5. Take multiple photos of each side during each session so you have a few choices to pick from.  You’d be surprised how often one eye will look smaller than the other, or how lighting can change.  I recommend to take 2-3 in each position. Then when you upload your photos to your computer or laptop, you can pick the one that looks the best.
  6. You want to take 3 sets of photos:

a. Front – stand hip width distance apart with your arms straight to your side with your hands facing your hips. Don’t worry about sucking in, or trying to stand, just let your body take position.

b. Right side – Same as front, hip width distance, palms facing in.

c. Back – ditto.

Other tips to make them even better:

  1. Take your pictures at the same time of day during the same day each week.  I suggest to take your pictures during the middle of the week like on a Wednesday morning.  Typically, most of us are going to go out to dinner or to a party on the weekend, so taking your photos on a Sunday morning may not give you an accurate view.  However, if you took your before photos after a night out, your afters will just look that much better, hee-hee.
  2. For women, I recommend to take your photos immediately following your cycle, between days 7-10.  Since rises in estrogen can cause bloating, its best to take the photos when estrogen is on the lower point, which is during menstruation and right beforehand.  However, I find that most clients are bloated right before and during menstruation, so doing it immediately after seems to work best.

Here are some photos to give you an idea:

My latest progress photos from January 17th, 2012

A note about uploading photos:

If you noticed here, I have cropped the photos and placed them side by side.  This really gives us a better view when it comes to looking at the body.  Instead of e-mailing 3 different jpegs, put them all in one Word document so that you just upload one file.  This will make it easier for us to organize and track your photos.

And to help make it even easier for you, I’ve created a Word Document that you can literally plug-in your photos, crop them to fit, and send them off to me.  Yay for efficiency!

If you are planning on participating in the next Lean Body Challenge, or if you have progress photos to send me for our private coaching, please use this template.

—–> > > > Progress Photos Tracking Template < < < < —–

Now that we’ve taken care of the progress photos, I’ll post a blog about how to take accurate measurements.  If you’re a trainer or coach, please feel free to download the template and use for yourself as well.

7 Responses

  1. I’m going to email you the photos i took this week with out seeing this information. I will be away over the weekend and can’t probably take more photos, but i will try. They are not in one word document. i’l send you three. I can fix this later if you need me to.


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