They litter the Aesthetics world and sadly yes I use the word litter with purpose.
- No lighting
- Poor lighting,
- Inconsistent lighting
- Colour cast from different light sources
- Too much contrast
- Poor posing of subject matter
- Destructive perspective
- Same image retouched
- Low resolution
- No reference point
- Distracting surroundings
The list goes on
There are many, many reasons why before and after photos not only look dodgy, they can also leave the viewer asking what is the difference? And worse still – feeling manipulated. This can only lead to a sense of distrust.
I would like to just add that there are some very good examples of before and after shots on the internet however, they are few and far between.
I have also seen examples where a few practitioners have tried to overcome the issue not by having before and after shots – instead simply showing consistently good, well lit images of the same model highlighting what treatments will do – what the outcome will be. Great idea in principle unfortunately all of the photos have been photoshopped to demonstrate lifts, tucks and reductions. This serves only to prove that images can be manipulated very well. To a trained eye, a designer and or photographer, or simply the keen eye from a prospective client will if thy look spot the retouching unless done by a very competent image retoucher.
Before and after photographs do have a place however, with the rise of smartphones replacing the traditional camera, the things that to a photographer make perfect sense become overlooked. The smart phone offers speed and in the moment photography.
A photographer if shooting these shots would have a controlled environment and would be able to ensure the set up is the same time after time so that before and after photos really are compatible and demonstrate what the practitioner would want people to see, rather than how bad the image are.
Very often I see images where the only light source is that of the light that is lighting the room. I refer to this as “No Lighting” because it is not specific for the photography job at hand. Overhead lights in this situation cannot be repositioned to ensure the best and most consistent set up for lighting the subject. Many environments like this tend to be dull. Our eyes adjust , the same adjustment in a camera will cause the aperture (the hole that lets in the light) to open wider reducing the depth of field, the effects of which are less parts of the image being in focus. Cameras can also compensate for bad lighting with a longer shutter speed – this is the amount of time the shutter stays open to let in light. If the shutter needs to let in more light the resulting increase in the amount of time it does so means the resulting image can capture movement of the subject or camera shake. Both resulting in blurry images.
This is a step up from simply relying upon an overhead cave light or halogen ceiling bulb. It may be the use of an angle poised lamp, the use of a flash or even having a position next to a window where light streams in. These examples are typical but allow limited control and be difficult to manoeuvre into place – indeed a window will not move at all and a typical desk lamp will not give off much more light than 100watts max. Not enough for shots that are aimed to show your work at its best. If you are using a 35mm SLR or digital SLR, you can buy very fast lenses for low light. This may prove to be a solution.
There are essentially two forms of lighting; Natural (day/sunlight) and Artificial (bulbs/flash).
Both Natural and artificial light can be hard or soft in nature.
Hard lighting is great for detail however can create hard shadows and may destroy form. The positioning of hard light relevant to the subject is key – side lighting, overhead, front on etc will all make a difference. Soft lighting will help describe and enhance form with a more even spread of light. If you are shooting a weight-loss image for example then soft lighting will capture form of the figure. If shooting wrinkles – harder lighting will capture the detail. It is important however to use the same lighting set up for the before and after shots. If the images are likely to be taken weeks apart, do not rely upon natural lighting, this will change. Time of day, cloud cover, time of year will all have an effect on the position and type of natural light available. Controlled studio lighting will provide the means to accurate comparable results.
This is recognising that different light sources will offer a different and unique colour cast. Below are some examples
Early Morning – Warm orange cast
Morning – Noon – afternoon – Cooler blue cast
Dusk – Noon – Warm yellow/orange/pink cast
Early Morning – Diffused warm cast
Morning – Noon – afternoon – Diffused grey/blue cast
Dusk – Noon – Dull blue cast
Artificial lighting can provide blue light, white light coloured lights. The choice is endless. Reflective devices can bounce light back at the subject This could be in the form of a white sheet of paper or coloured. A golden reflector will add warmth into a photo. A blue sheet of paper would cool the image with a blue cast.
Too much or too little contrast
Contrast describes the difference between the dark areas of the image and the light areas of the image. A greater degree of difference – the higher the contrast. The smaller the difference – the lower the contrast.
High contrast on images especially the face can add drama and intensity. for images documenting procedures this is not the correct choice of lighting.
If an image has deep shadows a reflector can be used to bounce light back into the darker areas. As mentioned in with colour cast this can be a piece of card, a bought reflector, a mirror. It fills the dark areas and evens the contrast.
The closer a reflector the greater the amount of light. If you are intending to have a bespoke area for photography – additional lighting can do the job also.
The reverse can be done for highly saturated parts of the subject – make the light less direct, less intense.
Always use the same light source, natural or artificial
The more light available, the more detail you will record
Low light will result in blurring
Use a tripod to avoid camera shake, model blur
Model posing must be consistent. This is the only way that two images can be compared. If time has been taken to ensure that lighting, set up is ideal for the shots to be taken, it’s imperative that the positioning of the model is replicated. Failure to do so refers the before and after useless as they do not provide accurate reference points. There are many ways to ensure the position of the pose gives a truly meaningful shot that describes the changes that either have or have not taken place. Chin rests can be used for profile shots, removable background grids can be used to reposition subject. Floor markers for tripod and chairs can be used. A smartphone can also be used to record positioning of chairs and stands to ensure that the set-up is replicated.
Ensure that the model is relaxed, no tension, neutral in expression and posture – this will ensure exaggerated results are not recorded.
Destructive perspective occurs when lenses distort the image. You can test this with an iPhone or similar:
With the camera set so that you are recording a “selfie”. Hold the camera at arms length viewing your own face. Your face will appear showing full features. Slowly move the camera toward you. As you move the camera features will distort, depending upon the lens your ears may disappear from view altogether and your nose and mouth will appear larger and out of proportion.
This destructive perspective can be off-putting and it can exaggerate some features and reduce the impact of what you wish the viewer to see.
Ideally use a longer lens for portraits/headshots. On a 35mm camera an 80-90mm lens approximately 1m from the subject will reduce the distortion and the results will appear more natural.
Images need to be of a high enough resolution for the viewer to fully understand what they are looking at. Both before and after images need to be the same size. A typical file size for web would be approximately 350kb per coJpeg compressed image. Compression set to high quality image at 266pixels per inch measuring 200mm wide. Uncompressed the image will be approximately 13-14mb. Unless you are prepared to have images that are of a decent enough resolution to communicate what you want the viewer to see – do not bother. Jpeg images are images that replace detail with interpolation which is a fancy way of saying detail is lost and cannot be regained. A high compression rate for a smaller file is a poor compromise.
No reference point
Quite simply put – some images to a prospective client do not appear substantial enough to get a real understanding of what they are looking at. Although you may think it counter intuitive to tell the onlooker what the differences are do remember its not a spot the difference competition. Explain the procedure in a way the layman will understand and explain what the difference it – even annotate the image if you wish – but do not leave the viewer guessing.
As great as they may be – certificates, machines and reflective clinic decor make for very distracting backgrounds. Invest in a neutral backdrop. These can be either on a roll, a pull-up screen, or a material drape – but keep it plain and non reflective. A coloured backdrop will give a colour cast to the image so bare this in mind when selecting any colour. Your brand colour may be cool but it may prove to be a lousy photography backdrop. If a background of your working environment is unavoidable – keep it tidy and clutter free. This sends out a very poor signal to any potential visitors to your clinic.
Filters (recommended for Black and White images only)
Lens filters have long been used in photography. They can on a few occasions be used for before and after shots. A good example may be when you wish to highlight red or blotchy skin tones, this however would be ideal for black and white photography. A red filter will reduce red parts of the face so to enhance red sores for example use a green filter.
As a rule of thumb – filters makes everything of the same colour appear lighter.
A perfect set up would be to have standard before and after shots in colour together with the filtered black and white before shots. Remember the purpose is to demonstrate improvement, If the viewer cannot see the difference the reason for having the before and after shots have been lost.
It’s also important to describe what the patient was looking for as the viewer of the images may have a completely different opinion on what looks good or not. There needs to be an understanding of what the patient wanted so that if that difference of opinion does exist it is understood and clear to see if the desired effects were achieved.
Same image retouched
Surprisingly I have seen this done quite a lot and done quite badly. In short do not bother. To do this properly and let’s face it you are trying to fool people if you do – takes as much time and effort as having a good photographer or photographic equipment. And if caught out it could very well cost you your reputation, and ultimately your career. Do not even be tempted.
Legal rights to the image
Lastly. If a patient agrees to having before and after photos taken – be clear for what purpose they are to serve. Whether images are to be used for marketing purposes or simply for the patients point of reference you should ideally have a model release form signed by the patient which details the exact usage. I would recommend having this drawn up by a solicitor. A patient may agree to something verbally – unfortunately in six months time if they see their face plastered all over a website they may feel differently. Whilst you may own the image, due care and attention must be given when it comes to reproducing images of patients.
If you would like to see photography added into one of our workshops or would like to discuss ways to improve your photography simply fill out your details on our contact page and we will call you back to discuss course options.