Saturday, April 26, 2014

Better Before / After Photographs

Looking to showcase a big project or a total transformation? Read on to find out how to take better before and after photographs to really highlight what you have accomplished!

Better "Before" Photographs:
Plan for great light and plan your composition

The trick to getting great before and after photographs is to really nail the "before" part of the series. You will have unlimited time to work on tweaking your "after" shots, but once you have started the project, your chances for before shots are gone.

Do not follow the lead of beauty product before and after shots and take poorly lit or poorly composed before shots just so that your after shot looks "even more amazing." Your audience is smarter than that. Plan instead for great light and a well-composed before shot, so that the comparison with your after shot is all about the changes and transformation and not about manipulating your photography skills.

For interior shots, great lighting is often a combination of a sunny or brightly cloudy day combined with interior lights. Lit lamps give a photograph a feeling of warmth and makes it inviting. Avoid direct sunlight (like harsh shadows coming through a window) and opt for indirect sunlight instead. Consider closing sheer curtains or blinds to give a warm glow, while still lighting up the interior. For furniture or smaller product shots, use even lighting, like lamps or windows off to each side or a light tent for small pieces.

If shooting furniture or larger pieces, choose a composition that shows off the piece well. If you are doing a head-on shot (like, of a dresser or end table), crouch down to place your camera about mid-height and shoot straight on. If you shoot from above, looking down, your vertical lines will bow out toward the bottom, and if you shoot from too low, looking up, your vertical lines will spread out towards the top. A head-on shoot should be shot head-on to avoid these types of distortion. (Read more in Photographing Architecture: watch your lines.)

Standing in a corner / doorway will give you the widest view of the room.

If you are shooting an individual room, use a wide angle lens (like 18 mm or your point-and-shoot without zooming in) to capture as much of the room as possible, and pick an easily-repeatable place to stand. The goal would be to take your "after" shot from the exact same location and with the exact same lens and focal length as your original shot, in order from them to match up easily. For rooms, this often means finding the farthest corner or largest doorway to shoot from. (If you know that you will be placing a large piece of furniture in that location for the after, then find a different place to stand for the before.)

Finally, take a minute before your photograph to survey your final composition. Aim for simplicity and take a moment to de-clutter, even for your "before" shots. Once you know where you will be standing and what your view of the scene will be, it is a simple task to hide clutter out of the camera's view. (On the opposite side of couches is a great place to temporarily stash things like stacks of mail, tissue boxes, and other less-attractive but everyday accessories.) Take a series of "before" photographs and play with different angles and compositions, so that you have multiple options to choose from when it comes time to shoot your "after" shots.

Better "After" Photographs: repeatability is key

After your project or transformation is completed, you need to spend a little more time with your "before" photographs before jumping into shooting your "after" shots. Narrow down your shots into a few compositions that will best show off the differences that have taken place.

Once you have your best candidates selected, consider printing off copies of each before shot or having a phone or tablet with the shots on them with you. You want to be able to directly examine your "before" shots as you are working to line up and capture your "after" moments. Taking that extra moment to move yourself into the exact right position to re-shoot the shot will make a big impact when you display the two images together. Watch the edges of your composition, in particular, and try to get as close as possible to the original layout. When in doubt, shoot a slightly wider shot for your "after," so that you can crop it down to match your "before" shot exactly.

Lived-in "after" (Had I been really picky, I could have tried better to hide the computer cords.)

For the actual process of shooting your "after" shots, be sure to follow the same advice as above regarding lighting, composition, and clutter. Consider "staging" your shot by tastefully arranging accessories to better show off your final product. An updated end table will look even better shown in-place with a vase of flowers and a few small knickknacks than just as "hey, here's an end table" against a concrete wall, for example. Small touches can make a big difference in the overall look and feel of your final photograph.

Putting It All Together

The final step, of course, is putting your before and after shots together into a finished collage or at least displaying them next to each other. There are many apps and software programs that allow you to create a collage, so use one that you know and are comfortable with. (PicMonkey is a popular web-based program that has many free collage functions.)

For maximum impact, you want your before and after photographs to mimic each other as much as possible. Once you have selected which shots to pair together, take a little time to try and match them as closely as you can. If one photograph has a slightly wider composition than the other, try cropping it down to match the other. If there is something you do not like about both compositions, consider cropping both shots down to just the view that you want.

If you are making a collage (rather than just posting two individual shots), consider using one that has either a white or black border. Borders make it visually-easier to distinguish the two different shots and make the differences between the two even more obvious. Keep your border simple, like a solid color, so that it does not distract from the overall comparison.

Do you shoot and display before and after photographs? Share a link before or any tips and advice I might have missed!

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