Tips for Taking Good Progress Photos

High-quality photos will help you monitor your visual progress over time

Progress photos can be very helpful for evaluating your progress over time. As you try to lose fat or build muscle, visual changes occur quite gradually. Even if you’re experiencing very rapid body composition changes in a general sense, you’ll still look basically the same day to day, so it can be difficult to notice and appreciate the progress you’re making. However, when you compare a contemporary photo of yourself with a photo taken a couple months ago, you’ll be able to readily see changes that you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Furthermore, if you have goals related to aesthetic outcomes, a visual indicator of progress provides you with the most direct feedback you could hope for.

Since progress photos can be such a powerful tool, here are some tips for getting the most out of them:

1) Take progress photos about once per month most of the time.

Progress photos help you notice and appreciate visual changes, so you need to have enough time between progress photos to allow for noticeable visual changes to occur. Most of the time, weekly progress photos have the same issue as just seeing yourself in the mirror every day: your appearance simply won’t change that much week-to-week. When progress photos are taken too frequently, it can be easy to get discouraged, since you’ll be less likely to see noticeable changes between consecutive photos.

Conversely, if progress photos are too spaced out, they won’t provide timely feedback on your progress. For instance, you may be gaining more fat than you’d like when gaining weight, or losing more muscle than you’d like when losing weight. Those changes would likely be noticeable with monthly progress photos. So, if you only took progress photos every three months, you might wind up pursuing an unproductive path for two months longer than you otherwise would have.

There are some exceptions to this recommendation.

First, we’d recommend taking progress photos at the start and end of each new weight gain or weight loss goal, so that you can fully evaluate the visual impact of each goal you pursue. So, if you took progress photos on the first day of a month, and you achieved a weight loss goal and set a new weight gain goal on the fifth day of the month, we’d recommend still taking progress photos when you switch goals. You’re not going to see meaningful visual changes between the sets of progress photos taken four days apart, but it’s still nice to have progress photos on the start and end date of each goal you accomplish.

Second, we’d recommend taking more frequent progress photos if you’re pursuing extreme levels of leanness. Remember, the recommendation to take monthly progress photos is based on the fact that it generally takes about a month to see noticeable changes in your physique. However, as you’re going from “very lean” to “extremely lean,” it becomes easier to see visual changes on a weekly or biweekly timescale.

2) Make sure the photos are consistent.

To provide you with reliable visual feedback on how your body is changing, your progress photos should be as similar as possible from photo to photo. Here are some factors to consider:

Time of day: Hydration levels and intestinal contents can significantly alter the appearance of your body. So, for consistent photos, we'd recommend taking progress photos at a time when those factors are predictable. Most of the time, it's most convenient to take progress photos first thing in the morning before you've had anything to eat or drink, so you won't be bloated from a recent meal, and you'll be at a consistent level of (de)hydration for all of your progress photos. However, if there's another time of day where you're confident you'll be at a predictable level of fullness and hydration for all of your progress photos, feel free to take your pictures then instead.

Location: the backdrop of your photos can affect how you perceive yourself in pictures (similar to the way that dark clothing and clothing with vertical stripes are considered to be "slimming"). So, pick out a consistent location for all of your progress photos. Any room in your home with a bare wall will generally do the trick.  

Attire: It helps to take consecutive progress photos in a similar state of dress, so each pair of photos will be directly comparable. Most people tend to take progress photos in either their undergarments, or in shorts and a t-shirt or tank top.

Lighting: Lighting can dramatically affect how your body looks. However, if you're taking your progress photos in the same location, at a consistent time of day (to roughly control for differing levels of natural light, if you're taking your progress photos in a room with windows), you should be covered. Just make sure you're consistent about whether you use the flash on your camera.

Camera distance: This should go without saying, but you look larger when you're standing closer to the camera, and smaller when you're further away from the camera. However, you can control for camera distance after you take your photos via cropping. Take your photos from far enough away that when you crop it, your head will be at the very top of the frame, and your feet will be at the very bottom of the frame (of course, it's totally fine to crop your head and/or feet out if you prefer – just make sure the crop is consistent).

Body positioning: For fair comparisons between photos, make sure you present your body in the same way each time you take progress photos. This includes posture, and whether you flex your muscles or not.

If you like taking two separate sets of progress photos with your muscles flexed in one set and relaxed in the other, we'd recommend adding them to MacroFactor on consecutive days (since you can only upload one front, one side, and one back photo per day). So, if you take progress photos on the first day of the month, you might add your relaxed photos on the first day of the month, and your flexed photos on the second day of the month.

3) Only do what you’re comfortable with.

Your personal comfort trumps any generalized recommendation. While progress photos are the best way to evaluate visual changes to your body over the course of a weight gain or weight loss attempt, don't feel like you need to take progress photos if you're uncomfortable doing so, or if taking progress photos causes or exacerbates body image issues.

4) Evaluate objectively but compassionately.

Many people have a tendency to fixate on parts of their body that they're dissatisfied with. But, when comparing progress photos, we'd strongly recommend looking for the positives. Don't beat yourself up about the changes you'd like to see; celebrate the changes you ARE seeing.

At the same time, many people apply a bit of wishful thinking when evaluating their progress (anecdotally, this seems to be especially true for young males gaining weight pretty quickly in an attempt to maximize their muscle growth). So, make sure you’re looking at what the pictures actually show, rather than just seeing what you want to see.

5) Look further back sometimes.

When comparing progress photos, you’re generally going to be comparing your newest progress photos to your next most recent set of photos. After all, you’ll immediately want to evaluate the progress you’ve made over the past month.

However, if progress slows down when pursuing a goal, comparing recent progress photos might become a bit disappointing. When you’re evaluating your progress for the past month, it may be tough to acknowledge that you haven’t actually made much progress in that time.

In this situation, it can be helpful to look back at older progress photos. Maybe the past month was rough, but you can still see plenty of improvements when comparing your newest progress photos with photos you took several months ago. Most goals take multiple months to achieve, and many MacroFactor users have lofty long-term goals that they’ll be pursuing for years. When you feel like you’re not approaching your destination as quickly as you like, it can still be motivating to look back at how far you’ve already come.

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