How to Tell If Those Fitness Instagrams Are Real

Fitness photographer Lucie Wicker tells us the tricks often used to manipulate progress pics.

While food porn may still reign supreme on Instagram, it’s rivaled by its polar opposite: fit-stagrams, from artsy snaps of your friend’s running sneakers to shots of Gisele being Gisele.

Some fitness pictures, however, have been under fire lately, with many people decrying the tricks used to make shots look falsely impressive. The #30SecondTransformation trend—users post two photos, taken 30 seconds apart, to show how easily shots can be manipulated—is gaining steam, and social media star Essena O’Neill made headlines by exposing the techniques she used to make her pictures look perfect.

“I can see how it would be motivating [for people] to see the ‘after’ and see what they could potentially look like,” says Boston-area fitness photographer Lucie Wicker. “That being said, it could also go the other way and be really discouraging or really damaging, especially if the person did not get to that ‘after’ point in a healthy way.”

But how can you tell if the photos in your feed are aspirational, or too good to be true? We asked Wicker for some tell-tale signs.

1. Check the lighting. A classic trick, Wicker says, is taking “before” shots in terrible lighting, and “after” pictures in gorgeous light. “If people are going for any type of honesty on Instagram, they should also be taking their ‘after’ pictures in at least similar lighting to their ‘before’ pictures,” she says.

2. Watch out for angles. “You can take the same picture from a variety of different angles and lose 10 pounds, easily,” Wicker says. Local fitness figure Sarah Dussault exposed that reality when posting pictures of her post-baby body, below.

3. Filters make a difference. As anyone who’s ever posted an Instagram knows, filters can turn a drab photo into a masterpiece. The same goes for fitness shots, Wicker says, so don’t let Valencia fool you.

4. Think about the lens. Something as simple as the width of a lens could totally change how a photo looks, Wicker says. “The wider the lens [like on a phone camera], the more distorted it is,” she explains. “Usually, professional portraits are done with lenses that are more proportionally true.” In other words, a selfie is going to look different than a camera shot.

5. Look for posture differences. Something as simple as slouching in a ‘before’ picture and standing up straight in the ‘after’ version could make a contrast look vast. “Talk about 30-second transformation,” Wicker says.

Wicker emphasizes that fit-stagrams can be good, and that most people who post them are simply looking to highlight achievements and motivate others—it’s just important to remember that not everything on social media is as it seems.

“People feel like there’s body shaming in posting these progress photos, but I don’t think that’s ever really the intention of the person posting them,” she says of her fitness clients. “They’re really hoping to inspire as opposed to discourage.”

A photo posted by Sarah Dussault (@sarahfit) on

A photo posted by Sarah Dussault (@sarahfit) on