'Regular' People Become Fitness Models Without Photoshop

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Benjamin Von Wong

You've seen the sports clothing and equipment ads: Muscled striving people showing determination, even some pain, but always winning. If not besting others, leaving their own limitations behind.

These are professional athletes and fitness models for whom working out and defining physiques are job requirements. Ordinary people could never look like that, right? At least not with a healthy dose of Photoshop magic.

Don't be so sure.

Photographer Benjamin Von Wong was doing a photo shoot for photo website hosting business Smugmug. The company wanted to fill the walls of its gym with athletic portraits of their own employees. That meant the people couldn't be digitally pumped up past reality.

Von Wong took the challenge knowing that the true power of photography is not in twisting pixels on the computer, but in photographers employing lighting, composition, props, and sets to create memorable images. A black backdrop and $20 homemade rain machine -- PVC pipe and garden hoses -- along with effective lighting helped create that Nike look, as the mini-documentary video below shows.



"When people saw the photos, it was a lot of shock and awe," said Front Office Executive Stephanie Drazic. "People didn't realize that that's what they looked like. You look at them and you go, 'How did he even capture that image?' I didn't even think I looked like that."

"I'm a 62-year-old grandma," said Toni MacAskill, who has the title countess of cash. "Ben is used to shooting beautiful young models. And still, somehow, he manages to make me look great."

Some of the people started off ripped. Others, not so much. But hard directional lighting helped develop the shadows that show muscle contours. And then Von Wong worked with the subjects to prompt them through different movements, exercises, and even emotions to convey something more than a static pose.

Benjamin Von Wong


There was some post-production work done in Photoshop, like toning down the raindrops when they became too distracting. But the main ingredients were the people themselves and the eye of a good photographer.

If the story behind the shoot caught your interest, Von Wong has a number of them on his site, including an elaborate underwater shoot, in case the rain machine wasn't wet enough for you.

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Photography by Benjamin Von Wong
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