Do you ever scroll through Instagram, see a transformation photo, and immediately call BS? You work hard, eat well, and make healthy decisions, yet your efforts don't return the same chiseled abs you're seeing on your daily scroll. It's disheartening, and can leave you questioning your resolve. We hear you.
As a general rule when internetting, don't believe everything you see.
That's not to say all 'before and afters' are staged. There certainly are some incredible transformations, worthy of praise and their place among the pages of Men's Health (like this one, and this one, and this one.... and this one). And by no means are we trying to detract from the efforts of these inspirational men. However it's important to remember the production value that goes into some of the images you see on your social feeds. Changes in body composition and appearance can be instantaneous, and very deliberate.
As part of my role at Men's Health, I'm constantly bombarded by mates who have all but given up on their health. "I'll never look like that," is the defeated statement I'm all too often confronted with. Well as cliche as it seems, yes... you can. And that's what lead to this experiment, to show how tricky photography can make a body look both a lot sloppier than it actually is, and a lot better than it is too. The power of image.
A late night binge on your favourite Mexican take-away to sleep bloated, yet you wake up slim and gas-free. You can have the muscle and abs of an Olympic athlete, yet a glass of water can hide your abs for the space of an hour. Our bodies are incredibly intuitive, reacting almost instantaneously to how we train them, and what fuel we feed them with.
The aim of our experiment was to highlight the extremes in aesthetics, and how they can shape perception of strength and fitness in an individual. Aesthetics are not the be-all and end-all of a healthy lifestyle, and this is important to remember when drawing inspiration (or losing it) from the media you're exposed to.
I enlisted the help of our own Deputy Art Director, Jason Lee, to get some tips on how some of these shots are staged. We wanted to really bring out the worst and best of my body, with only 5 minutes (and 40 push ups) separating the shots. Here's how we did it.
ACCENTUATE THE CHUBBY
- Jason set up a fish-eye wide angle lens (with a focal length of under 28mm for you photography buffs) which makes the body wider. Without any other alterations, this will add a few kilos on instantly.
- Set up 'flat' lighting, flooding your shot with light. You don't want any shadows to highlight your definition. Go bright.
- Slouch your shoulders, tilt your hips posteriorly, breath in... and frown. Because this is the 'unhappy' start of your journey remember.
- Take the photo straight on, so there is no flexing or tension running through your body.
GET RIPPED... INSTANTLY
- For this shot, you want to have 'directional' lighting, hitting the body at 45°, so that your definition creates shadows. Add a second light in to highlight the edges of your muscles.
- Use a long lens when taking this shot, or open 'Portrait Mode' on an iPhone.
- Do some push ups before your shot. I did 2 sets of 20, with 10 chair dips in between the sets.
- Breathe out, flex your abs, tense your arms, shoulders back, and pump you chest out... it's actually a lot to remember, as you can see by the intense focus/discomfort on my face.
- Position yourself at a slight angle to the camera, so that when you turn to face, there's a slight twist through your torso. Most athletes have a more defined arm, that is slightly larger or more vascular than the other. Position that arm towards the camera.
- When doing shoots, Jason suggests not drinking water before. Whilst I didn't eat knowing this experiment was coming up, I did drink water. Apparently, this is the wrong way around, and if anything you should eat instead of drinking. I'll know for next time.
- After the shots are taken, Jason didn't edit the shape of the body, however he did apply some serious filtering. Add contrast, sharpen the image, and increase the 'blacks' to bring out the shadows.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
Neither the 'before' or 'after' shots from my transformation experiment are a true representation of my physical appearance, fitness level, or health. In fact, neither of them really look like me at all. The shots serve as a great reminder that next time I see an unflattering image of myself, or end up comparing myself to the fitness legends I follow on Instagram, it doesn't mean I'm on the wrong track if I don't look like them. Don't get discouraged if your results aren't immediately visible or obvious (because they can be with the right lighting). Train, eat and live towards being healthier, stronger, and smarter, because a filter can help in those aspects of your life.
Oh... and good lighting, great posture, and a few pushups go a long way.