When Photoshop is in the news, it's usually because some graphic designer has misused it terribly, a celebrity's arm has been accidentally chopped off on a magazine cover, or a model is rendered even slimmer than she really is (to the point of ridiculousness). At the same time, I think many of us kinda wish we could have a good Photoshop session for our Facebook shots and random selfies. But the pictures below prove that we don't need a computer program. A really good photographer can make a huge difference. 

Photographer Benjamin Von Wong proves that point in his photo series of regular people who were styled, encouraged and photographed so well that they could be mistaken for fitness models. The head honchos at SmugMug gave Wong the assignment: "I’d like some black-and-white portraits of our employees doing something sporty." And he did this: 

Alex Zilenski, smugmug employee transformation weight lifter

How did this happen? Wong and a handy SmugMug employee built a rain "machine" for $10 and he used some slightly fancy lighting techniques (mostly just shooting rain backgrounded with light, so the droplets show), but other than that (and the aforementioned Photoshop), you can see that how he successfully transformed this subject, employee Alex Zilenski, into a fitness champ. And he did the same for several people, whose sessions you can scan below to compare the final images to the "normal-people" photos.

Of course, it wasn't just about manipulating lights and objects; this required effort from all involved.

smugmug employee transformation baseball player

Wong said of the creative shoot: "This wasn’t a professional athlete photoshoot. The true magic of the shots comes from people doing something they had never imagined they would before. And that wasn’t achieved just by taking a single shot. It was achieved with this very persistent pushing of people and getting them to try different things until they were comfortable in front of the camera. Pushing people to get the best out of them. That’s where most of the work happened. If you look at the video, you see me trying to encourage people, pushing them, making them feel good about themselves."

smugmug employee transformation barbell over the head

The company is going to use the images in the gym of the SmugMug building — a pretty fun, creative idea. (In fact, once the employees who didn't participate saw how great their coworkers (who volunteered) looked in the giant-sized photographs, they were sorry they hadn't gotten the Wong treatment.)

You really get a sense of the energy needed for this photo shoot in the YouTube video above. And you can also get a good idea of what the photographed employees look like in real life, too. 

smugmug employee fitness transformation guy weightlifter

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

Regular folks transformed into fitness models
Watch how these regular folks are transformed with great photography — and some smart styling.