Tips & Tricks

Top 10 Before & After Tips

This article was originally written for and published by Liz Campbell over at Makeup Media Marketing. - Master Wordsmith, Editor, and Author of the book 'WOW:  Words on the Web'...  Enjoy!

Top Ten Tips for Maximum Credibility and Impact with Before and After Photos.

You may have noticed images out there in the world of fitness, health/ wellbeing, hair/ make up…  Anything where there has been some sort of transformation.

They are the obligatory ‘Before and After’ images meant to make us cringe and then feel instant relief that our problems as a consumer can be solved through the techniques, potions and methods applied by the professionals.

You may have also noticed that these Before and After images are rarely an honest representation of the actual results which may vary*.

Why is that?  Well maybe the product or process on offer doesn’t actually live up to it’s promises…  But maybe it’s just a case of sloppy Before/ After photo techniques which inadvertently diminishes the impact of the staggering results your product or process provides.

Take back the power of the Before and After images and put them to work for you instead against you with these top 10 tips and tricks from a professional portrait photographer.  No confusing jargon.  No technical training needed.  Just simple to use advice from a pro.


1.  Make sure the lighting is the exact same for both images.  This is probably the least understood and most critical factor.

The best light is always window light.  But only when the sun isn’t shining directly in through the window.  As long as a person isn’t standing in a beam of sunlight, find the absolute biggest window you can and position them as close to it as possible.

Exactly how you position them depends on a few things.  

Are you trying to show specific texture like skin or muscle tone?  You will want the light to come from the side so position the subject perpendicular to the window (or facing along the glass from one side to the other.

If you are trying to show more general qualities, it’s better to position the subject facing directly towards the window.  This means the photographer will have their back to the window, so be careful not to block the beautiful window light and cast a shadow on the subject.  This is generally the more flattering light for any age and gender.


2.  Make sure you use the same camera for both images.  The more you keep uniform, the more credibility your images have.

If you shoot one with a phone, do them all on the same phone.  Even the difference between an iPhone 4 and 6 is drastically different; not to mention across brands…

3.  Keep the camera at the exact same height.  The relative position of the camera to the subject will accentuate or diminish certain features.  We don’t need to go into the specifics here.  Use something like a tripod and if you don’t have one, even propping it on the back of the same chair/ counter, etc… every time.

4.  Use the same lens/ zoom (or no zoom) every time.  This also has accentuating and diminishing effects on a subject.  On a phone I recommend no zoom which gives you better quality.  On an SLR, use the exact same lens and the exact same zoom.

5.  Be careful with filters.  If you’re using a phone or camera with built in filters, make sure you at least use the same on every time.  I recommend no filter.  It gives the images more credibility because they look more raw and real.

6.  Background.  You guessed it.  Use the same background for both images.  Ideally, you can find a blank or clutter free background with no distractions.


7.  To smile or not to smile?  This one can be tricky…  A smile evokes a certain feeling in the viewer.  Showing the Before with no smile and the After with a smile seems a bit manipulative.  Again, I would recommend doing the same thing each time.  And personally, I say no smile!  Let your results speak for themselves if they are truly remarkable.

8.  Posing is the same.  For example… slumpy, rounded shoulders in the Before and powerful attitude in the After can seem misleading.


9.  Cropping.  This is another very strong factor that influences our perception.  Keep it exactly the same for both and you don’t need to worry about losing credibility.

10.  GIF.  This is the single most powerful tool to use in your Before and After tool kit.  

Since you have meticulously followed all of the above directions you are ready to move onto the big time.

Side by side comparison for our little monkey brains are super challenging to see any subtle differences.  But the way to overcome this is to use a GIF.  It is a single frame which animates or “flips” from one to the other and back again.  For our purposes, showing Before and After, over and over, allows customers and clients to compare the difference without making them work for it.

Try something like or similar free services.

There you go!  You’re ready to go forth and dominate your industry with amazing Before and After examples of the wonders your product or process delivers.

Just keep everything exactly the same for each and the results of your images will be beyond reproach, maintaining maximum credibility and giving you a powerful tool to advertise your work.

Voting with Photos...

I just became an Australian citizen on 26th January and at the ceremony.  I had thought I wouldn't make the cut to vote this time around.  So I (foolishly) hadn't bothered to learn anything about the candidates here in Queensland.  

It turns out I was registered to vote right there at the citizenship ceremony and told I'm expected to show up!  Oops.  Ok.  Better start cramming!

The ABC has a very interesting little tool to help you discover where you are in the political scheme of things.  It's called Vote Compass and it asks you all kinds of questions about various topics important to everyone - just as I had expected - which I dutifully answered.

Then, a very surprising section popped up...  

You are asked to rate the candidates for trustworthy-ness and competence using their photos!  

I often hear people say that a good online profile photo isn't very important...  That it's such a small image and people can't possibly make any decisions based on such limited information...

And that can be true...  If it's a crap photo.  And these photos of the Queensland politicians are all equally very weak photos.  But take a look.  One looks a bit like a super-villain.  One looks like a prison mugshot.  One looks like he has no idea where he is.  One really comes across as more genuine and trustworthy...

Politics aside (if that's possible), you really can and do make decisions based on visual cues.  I mean who the hell buys a different bottle of wine based on what the back label says?  You look at price, name and then you judge the "book" by its cover.

Now I'm certainly not saying that this is the way forward for political discourse.  Far from it.  But it is very fascinating to see this method used.

How did I fare with this step you may wonder?  I skipped it.  Visually, I'm super biased and didn't want that to influence my results at all.

But just in case any politicians or aspiring politicians out there are reading this...  Look into a truly exceptional headshot that actually communicates your values and intention.

Who knows how many votes you'll get with a freakin' amazing photo...


...Not Good at Everything...

Just a quickie...

I got a very cool write up in a blog post...

Chris helps develop the early careers of singer/ songwriters and this one is about not trying to do everything yourself.  Sticking to what you're best at doing and finding others to bring their best to the party...

It's a great reminder to anyone out there creating something for themselves... and a crucial realisation for the people out there trying to create something exceptional by themselves.

The Opposite of Beauty...

Somebody said that "Beauty is the Opposite of Perfection - It's about Confidence, Charisma and Character..."

I don't know who said that, but I totally agree.


The word 'Photogenic' is thrown around a lot in my world.  It's not a word I personally like - or even use - because socio-culturally, it's a very loaded word that skews our self image, striking varying degrees of fear into the hearts of otherwise strong, confident people.

By now, you're probably used to my mantra that 'nobody is photogenic'.  Because that's not the goal.  

Wishing you were 'photogenic' is about striving for perfection which is that unrealistic and completely unhelpful.

There's an amazing Chinese word that describes what I mean perfectly.   It's a very small word with huge implications.  

That word is "Li".

Li refers to the imperfect perfection everywhere in the natural world... The markings in Jade, the grain in Wood... 

These things are beautiful BECAUSE of their imperfection.  Not despite it.  Perfect symmetry and rigid order is not our nature either.  It's Li that makes us special... beautiful.  And it's the Li we strive to see and capture through the camera.

When we truly embrace our own Li, then the important things like Confidence, Charisma and Character are free to come through.  And that is when we connect.

The Plague of 'Personal Branding'

As lifetime consumers of media, our tastes are constantly refining. 

These days, if it feels like you’re trying to tell me something, it makes me feel like you’re trying to sell me something.  And I immediately begin to detach.

I first noticed when I was dabbling with video that people would “present” to the camera.  I’d stop them and ask them to tell me what they were about to say and it would happen in the most natural tone… a conversation…  rather than presentation (effectively advertisement). 

Well I don’t go near video anymore, but my point is the same.  The second we approach portraits from a place where you’re trying to tell me something you’ve lost my respect as a viewer of that image. 

This is why I believe ‘personal branding’ is a disconnected plague of insincerity.

Your ‘branding’ is a fabricated extension of you and what your business represents.  It’s important, of course, because it helps us define your product.  But at best it’s a very rough approximation.  

You, however, are a complete person with a unique story.  And you are much deeper with far more context and relevance than ‘personal branding’ could ever hope to convey.

‘Personal branding’ generally presents itself as a smiling head facing a camera.  Is this the degree of depth we are willing to expect from a portrait or headshot? 

Looking at portraits, I want to be presented with a message from the very core.  A message that resonates with me as a complex person, full of preferences and conflict and experiences.  That is what we should expect from head shots and portraits… not a fraction less.  

And it’s possible.  For real people.  Every time.

When I get the feeling from a portrait that you have something to say you get my attention and that is the biggest commodity of all.  That’s what all businesses are reaching for.  

Our brains are evolved to look for a challenge.  Something unique… unexpected.  We know very well that the familiar and obvious fades into the background very quickly.  It is precisely one of the things our brain does best.  Unfortunately, familiar and obvious is what most photographers deliver.

If the most important thing in business is to approach your audience (your potential clients) with them in mind, then most photographers are really missing the point.  But when it’s done well, we frame the story the viewers tell themselves about who they see.

You see, a photo is not a one way street.  That’s the real magic of photography (and the aspect most photographers ignore).  It is not a passive experience to the viewer.  We can’t avoid putting the face in front of us through the matrix of human, emotional interpretation.  

The same applies when you’re in a room with someone.  You are either building rapport based on some sort of familiar recognition… or you’re not.  There’s rarely anything in between.

If you’re telling me something - like telling me ‘smiling’ - I am left with no way to engage with the image.  If it requires no interpretation it will not demand the viewers’ attention.  

Opportunity lost.  And how many opportunities can anyone afford to lose, really?

This is all fleeting.  The reactions we have to images are instantaneous.  Forget seven seconds!  We process way faster than that because we are forced to.  I’m not sure where this whole seven seconds thing even comes from, but if you think you have someone’s attention for SEVEN WHOLE SECONDS in order to make an impression, you are completely deluded.  

Go ahead.  Do it right now.  It even feels absurd to suggest…  Look at anything in the room and count… 1-1000, 2-1000, 3-1000…  It’s a freaking eternity.

Often, our images get a glance at best.  But that’s all we need.  These days we are wired to accept or reject in a moment.  So we need a headshot or portrait that delivers instantaneous impact.

The only way ‘telling smiling’ is going to have any impact is if the viewer happens to be smiling in the moment they encounter your image.  I’m not willing to gamble on those odds.  Are you?

Go try that little experiment.  I dare you.  

Go and sit in a room full of strangers with a big fake smile plastered to your face and see if it resonates.  It might if someone else is sitting there smiling too because one of the ways we build rapport is mirroring each other.  

Otherwise, you are ‘that’ person on the train or in the waiting room that people move away from… often clutching their bags - or their children - just a little bit closer.

And what is your Portrait or Headshot?  It is you when you can’t be in the room.  It works the same way.  Who do you choose to put in the room?

Your portrait is an opportunity for deeper interaction with you and your story.  And according to the finest business minds out there, that is how we build business these days.

How much more vital to share something deeper?  

This is not merely facial recognition.  Computers can do that.  I’m talking about a true recognition of values and intention… something fundamental.  One of those aspects that only we - the incredibly refined, blunt objects called ‘humans’ - are capable of recognising in each another.

We don’t need to see your face or your ‘personal branding’We need to see you.  All of you… with all the sincerity, power, experience and intention that makes you, you

Sounds daunting?  I know.  But a great portrait photographer will help you get there with proper coaching in front of the camera.  And the closer you get, the more inspired you are to push further… Ultimately creating images of yourself you never thought possible.  

Not the fabricated mask that is the ‘person’.  And not even simply who you are…  When done well, you begin to uncover - visually - who you know your best self to be… and who you hope to become.

That is the magic possible in every portrait session. 

...And anything less is a crime.


7 minutes on 'How to Be in Front of the Camera'

Yesterday I shared a few tips on how I prepare everyone that steps in front of my camera.  

It was a great lunch, presenting to just over 40 women at the Your Corporate Lifestyle event held at the new Gambaro Hotel.

Essentially, there are 3 things that must be present in a portrait if it is going to be meaningful.

Power  |  Connection  |  Intension

And then I discuss a few basic techniques that help to achieve those outcomes in an image.

You can listen to the recording here.  **When people are laughing and you don't hear my voice, it's because I'm demonstrating faces we put on for the camera...**

It's just 3MB, but sometimes on slower internet (cough*-australia!*-cough*) the audio window below takes a moment to load...

The funniest thing is that I had only just found out about the event the day before...  AND 45 minutes before I stepped on stage, I had just had my first (ever) tooth filling.  So half my face was numb as I stepped up on stage.  

...Nothing like a good challenge to make you lift your game...

Lean in!

New Fun with Outcast Performing Arts

It's been a while, so I figured I'd take a chance to share some of the fun stuff I've been working on...

This was a great project I shot a couple of months ago for Outcast Performing Arts.

I was given a handful of insanely talented dancers, singers and musicians...  A half day in the QUT film studio... and complete creative freedom.

Since there were no expectations for the outcome I decided to make something a little different for them.

Normally, the Outcast 'look' is very dark and menacing.   But with the Creative Director's blessing I went in the complete opposite direction.  I wanted ghostly and ethereal.  So I decided to try something I've never attempted.


Crazy, fast motion is normally something you try to freeze and capture in all its detailed glory.  But these are 2 second exposures!  Pretty cool, huh?  The combination of ambient, shutter speed, motion and flash gave me all the sweet details as well as all the blur in the same shot.

It's always a blast working with this crew which I've written about here.

The top composite is my own interpretation of what we captured, but the pieces they used were made a bit darker for the website which you can see here.

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 2.30.45 PM.jpg

I think the most important point to make is that this didn't spring from my mind when I showed up for the shoot.  Yes, it was an untested experiment (which is a bit crazy) but 2 things worked in my favor.

1. Outcast is super experimental, always trying to push the boundaries of what we expect from live performance – so it fit their ethos.

2. I had spent hours considering the concept and technical details.

Of course, I had a back up plan ready to go if the hybrid didn’t work out.  But good planning and conceptualizing is the real reason this worked.

Behind the Scenes...

I was asked by Rotary Club to shoot a big fundraiser for Project Now (establishing a much-needed women's residential addiction treatment / recovery facility).  Normally, I don't shoot events...  But they said the magic word - portraits.

The Governor of Queensland, Her Excellency Ms Penelope Wensley, was in attendance and they needed some decent group shots of the Governor with the heads of the organizations collaborating on this epic project.

The portrait location had been decided without me...  But when I entered the space, I was very pleased with what had been chosen by the planning committee.

Plaza Gallery - Brisbane Exhibition Center

They chose the Plaza Gallery at the Brisbane Convention Center.  The beautiful wood floor... big, fantastic works of aboriginal art lining the walls... proper gallery lighting... Yum!

I especially loved the tungsten warmth running the length down to the cool pool of blue light in the gallery's entrance.  Basically, a perfect space for a group portrait.

With groups, you need to be careful to light everyone evenly.  This one was only 11 people, but you still can't get too creative with light placement.  Plus I needed a set up that would serve for smaller groups of 2 and 3...

So I went pretty flat with the light.  But I was relying on the depth of the space and that little pool of blue to give the overall light 'shape'...

The trickiest part was producing a big enough light source without bleeding all over the walls and lifting the ambient to where I lost the gallery lighting.  So I placed the softboxes pointing down at an angle that normally would have made unfortunate shadows under eyelids etc...

Using a small ladder got me two things:

1. They were now looking up-ish into the light source, eliminating those shadows

2. I got to maximise the beautiful wood floor (and avoid the ceiling which was doing nothing for the composition, anyway).

Plus, I only had 10 minutes to get the 5 groups shots I needed, so it was fun working under a strict time frame.

I'm definitely pleased with the results.  It's certainly nothing to put in the portfolio, but I really enjoyed the small complexities to successfully pull it off.

Best Photographic Models... Ever.

There's a certain subtlety required when you stand in front of  camera.  This is one of the primary reasons I rarely find myself in front of the lens.  But this week I stumbled on a little gem... Equestrian Students.

Since meeting my partner Trish I have slowly gotten to know some of the equestrian community around the world.  This is a fascinating subset of people who you have probably never encountered if no one close to you rides, trains or competes.

But there is an amazing body awareness and physical subtlety required to train a horse (and train yourself).

I'm talking movements in millimeters.  Literally.  The slightest, imperceivable (to me) movements on a horse communicate dozens of commands that make a well-trained horse respond.   The rider's attention and awareness of his or her body translates beautifully when being directed by a the guy behind the camera.

While training, they spend hours per day being told how to sit, where to move their wrists, ankles, eyes... even ears!  With the camera,  'Chin up a bit'...  'Half step to the left'...  'Nose follows my finger'...  Brilliant!

This is Giovanni.  He has returned to train at Morgado Lusitano in Alverca, Portugal for the week and was an absolute pleasure to photograph.  Obviously, the classic Italian riding clothes topped off by the Sherlock pipe helped take the image to another level.

Some details...


Thanks Giovanni!

Creative Portrait Lighting...

Some jobs don't instantly inspire too much creativity... But often if you take a second and try to think outside the box you'll find there are opportunities to capture really different perspectives when you're shooting portraits...

There's a little something I try to my composition whenever I get the chance...  I like to try to get unusual light sources into the frame.  Above was shot last night through a curtain of fairy lights...

This one is from last year through wet glass...

I lit this group with studio lights and gave them all speedlights to make a boring group shot way more dynamic...  And a lot more fun!

And this is from Woodford Festival last year.  This is actually a puddle in the mud.  I had a clear view of the guy on stage in the still water and around that was mud picking up the purple side lighting...

This isn't really a tip for photographers.  It's for anyone who wants to see the world a little differently.  Play with light!  You won't be disappointed.

The Death of Pink...

No, not the pop star... I was leaving the pool this afternoon behind a birthday party that was wrapping up...  There were 2 adult males and a very young boy discussing the color of a balloon.  The little boy said 'I like that balloon' and one adult male said 'You like that, do you?  You know that's pink?  That's a girl's color.'  And the other adult male chimed in with 'Oh yeah.  You like that?  Are you a little girl?'...  Forcing the audibly conflicted reply, 'No, I'm a boy!'

That was a very disturbing interchange I overheard and it got me thinking about what we are conditioned to think and believe.  Chances are the kid won't remember that episode but all those things really add up and shape a person.

I started to wonder how I am affected by color...  Which ones influence subconscious reactions in my work...  Which am I naturally drawn to or avoid...  Does it matter...

There is, of course, loads of research out there surrounding the psychology of color.  So I won't presume to tackle that.  But I have noticed that I am more influenced by color than I thought.  This little tidbit presented itself when I kind of accidentally set my LCD on the back of my camera to Black and White.  I almost always shoot RAW so it doesn't matter to the recorded files, but now I see it in Color and B&W.

It's a great little trick that's helped me pay equal attention to Line and Form as well as Color.

What do you think?