Monday Myths

The Shocking Truth About “Before and After” Transformation Photos

Progress photos aren’t always what they seem.

Progress photos aren’t always what they seem. Find out the truth behind them and how ShapeScale offers a true body image you can trust. 

“Before and after” body transformation photos are an incredibly powerful marketing tool. We’ve all come across adverts showing miraculous body changes, all due to this new supplement or a workout programme.  A gloomy “before” photo shows a pale man with a flabby stomach and “I hate my life” stamped across his forehead. The “after” photo is barely recognizable. The same person now looks happy. He has a rippling six pack and a tanning oil spread over his now hairless body. All this within just “30 days or less!”.


These “before and after” pictures are very convincing and cause people to ignore their reason and make emotional decisions.  Be careful though. We live in a world of manipulation, full of unscrupulous marketers who often make false promises and exaggerated claims.

These progress pictures aren’t always what they seem. In fact, many of such photos are in fact optical illusions. One fitness Instagrammer highlighted this point in a progress photo she posted on her site. Jessica Pack posted what she looks like “before and after” and revealed the two photos were taken only 30 seconds apart. She simply altered her posture and sucked in her gut. She also tweaked the lighting and adjusted her bikini bottoms. The difference between the two images is striking and goes to show how easy it is to attain a before-and-after shot in mere seconds.

Body Transformation
Source: @plankingforpizza

Jessica is not the only one. Many other women on social media are sharing their “transformation” to shine light on this issue and warn other how deceptive online photos can be.

Source: @seaofstorm
Before and after
Source: @kayla_itsines

“Left image – bad posture, sticking stomach out, pushing legs together. Right image – standing up straight, flexing stomach, pushing thighs apart. We create our own visual identity. We decide what to project to the rest of the world.”


You do not even need Photoshop to achieve such impressive progress photos. Good light plays a major role in photos, especially when defining muscles. The closer the light gets to the subject, the more it highlights a single area of the body. Positioning the light to create more shadows further enhances the definition by darkening the areas between the muscle groups.

A subject’s pose has a big impact on the angle of light hitting the subject. Even slight movements can make big changes.

Simply paying attention to your posture when taking a picture can make you look slimmer. Standing up and with your back straight will work to elongate your figure. Slightly twisting your body to the side and putting your hand on your hip is another trick to slenderize your body.

Fitness model Anna Victoria’s pre-wedding selfie exposes the power of a good angle. On her Instagram, she posted a photo of herself sitting down, in which she appears to have stomach rolls.

Progress photo
Source: @annavictoria

Another photo trick involves a tan. Muscle definition is much harder to see on white, pale, skin. Having a tan automatically makes the curves of your body more noticeable because of slight shadow effect. Further, applying a light coating of oil creates a sheen and creates highlights that emphasize the curvature of the muscles.

The focal length of a camera lens also plays a role. It can significantly affect the shape of your face and your apparent weight. A photographer, Dan Vojtech, shot a series of portraits using lenses of different focal length, demonstrating how the camera can make you 10 lbs fatter.

Why Camera Makes You 10 Lbs Fatter


We decided to do our own “before and after” photo to demonstrate how easy it is for anyone to get abs within a couple of seconds. This goes to show the power that images have and our ability to filter what we show to the public. Martin, the COO of ShapeScale, turns from a depressed-looking man with a flabby stomach to one with well-defined muscles that so many of us strive for. These two shots are taken on the very same day.

Before and After
Martin’s “Before and After” photo

                                                                                                                           20160729 – Martin1 by away on Sketchfab


Finally, you cannot ignore the tricks your own mind plays on you. It is impossible to evaluate oneself from photos objectively. Your brain modifies the visual signals you receive, deletes and distorts the data and sends you altered images that might differ from reality. We don’t see things the way they are. Instead, we interpret what we see based on our belief system.  So if you think that you are fat, you can actually see yourself as fat even if in reality you were slim.

Further, humans like to focus on things they do not like. Once your brain focuses on a particular object, it starts to appear bigger and more important than it is in reality. In other words, if you dislike a particular part of your body, then you are very likely to see the “flaw” bigger than it actually is.

Lastly, human perception is not constant and changes according to many factors, including your mood. When our emotions change, different chemicals are released and force us to see the world through a different lens. So if you look at yourself when you are down, then you will most probably see yourself as less attractive.


That is not all. Marketers sometimes go to extremes and use a completely different person in the “after” shot. Many people report on their shock when they find websites that steal their photos without consent to advertise their weight loss products. A woman who lost ten stone in weight over a year after a gastric band operation was horrified after she spotted her “before and after” photo was stolen to promote diet capsules she did not use or endorse.

Of course, not all transformation photos are scams, but it’s important to maintain a critical eye to avoid frustration when you don’t experience the results that have been guaranteed by the “before and after” photos.


Although “before and after” photos are often used to trick people into buying products that promise quick results, they can also be a great motivator, helping people achieve their goals.

Weight loss and muscle gain is a slow and incremental process. It’s also common for people’s weight to fluctuate, especially when they begin weight training for the first time. The human eye often cannot see the small changes that happen day-to-day. People get very frustrated with a perceived lack of results and decide to give up. However, there is progress the scale and numbers will not show and that is where progress photos can act as highly motivational fitness trackers.

Weight is just a cold number. What most of us want is to look good naked and progress photos are a great way to capture your health and fitness development. These photos can serve as a visual confirmation that all your hard work is paying off. It is very gratifying to see your progress and the difference you will see can be the best motivator to help you move forward.



What’s more, research has shown that sharing your successes publicly can motivate you to accomplish your goals. A weight loss research study conducted by Ray Wu who created a social media platform for people to talk about their fitness journey showed that people who posted progress photos lost 1.2 lbs per week, compared to 0.27 lbs lost when they did not use the sharing platform. Another study, published in Translational Behavioural Medicine, showed that participants who published their weight loss progress on Twitter lost more weight than those who kept their progress to themselves.

Sharing your progress and goals publicly often results in praise from others. Such positive reinforcement can further motivate you to achieve your goals.


Shape Scale

ShapeScale will help people see themselves in a way they never have before. When you look in the mirror or a photo you have one shot of the body which has one perspective. ShapeScale produces a 3-dimensional body scan that can give you an angle and allow an accurate representation of your body.  ShapeScale captures a photo-realistic 3D model that creates more realistic and accurate results.

Multiple measurements with ShapeScale allow for a realistic fitness journey. Daily body scans together with a time-lapse video of how your body shape changes over time will make cheating incredibly hard. Data obtained from ShapeScale will provide objective information of your body’s measurements, eliminating any personal bias, mind tricks and mood effects. Essentially, ShapeScale reveals your TRUE body. It presents a body image you can trust.


So what’s the takeaway? There is no such thing as an overnight transformation. Do not be fooled by “before and after” scams. This article shows how easy it is to fake an incredible transformation. You can easily show your best angles and hide your flaws in a photo. But real, long-lasting results take years of hard work and dedication. While most of us are always looking for a quick-fix, nothing beats a good diet, consistent training, and the patience to understand that progress takes time.

Fitness and health is not a fix. It’s not a destination. It’s a lifestyle.

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Wiktoria Banda

Wiktoria is a content writer and illustrator at Shape.
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