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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Photographs have power, especially when it comes to our perception of beauty. But what we see is the result of a thousand tiny edits and a lot of money that most of us don’t have.

So, FOX4 did a little experiment. Producer Emily Burggraf stepped in front of the camera to find out some of the tricks photographers use to create a magazine-worthy photo. 

There’s a common misconception that modeling is easy, but as we’re learning this week, looks can be deceiving. When scrolling Instagram or shopping online, you may not notice it at first, but scroll long enough and you’ll notice a common theme.  

There’s a method to modeling. 

“First put your weight on your front foot and then on your back.” 

“It just helps like- something about it helps you stand up straight.” 

“Ok- take off your shoes!” 

Lauren Pusateri is a professional product photographer in Kansas City. With 15 years of experience, she knew all the right poses to make Emily look her best and put her at ease.

“And you’re gonna roll your shoulders back, maybe both hands… ahh, super casual, there you go,” Pusateri directed.  

Super casual, maybe, but not the most comfortable. It’s hard to act natural when the situation is anything but. The concept of “staged candids” is to capture real emotions.  

But knowing how to position yourself can be a challenge. Somewhere between the “slow fake clap” and the “strut and smile” we found something authentic.  

But the pose is just one piece of the puzzle. Any professional photographer will tell you: lighting is crucial!  Pusateri showed the difference between natural light and professional lighting. 

“We’ve got our natural light over here. This is just using window light with a little bit of a bounce to fill out over on this side,” she said, showing photos side-by-side. 

“These are both straight out of the camera, but already- skin just looks cleaner when you put light on it.” 

While natural light is free, Pusateri says it limits what her team is able to edit in post-production. That’s why she’s spent thousands of dollars on lighting equipment and gear, including light stands, light modifiers, radio transmitters and computer software.  

Because even the most experienced models in the world need that perfect exposure.  

“You can be Gisselle and stand in bad light that’s going to bring out every little bump on your skin.” 

Our experiment took a few emails to plan, and a couple of hours to shoot. But when you get money involved, it’s another story. Pusateri says commercial shoots take at least four weeks of planning and can be a full-day commitment. 

“On these shoots, advertisers are spending, on really huge productions, hundreds of thousands of dollars to make everything look the way it does,” Pusateri said.  

And of course, there’s also the “glam squad.”  

“Usually, your hair and makeup person is just out of frame and coming back in and moving hair off shoulders, and things like that,” Pusateri described.  

Pusateri’s final trick is something money can’t buy. 

“All people can do at the heart of it is just be yourself. Because being yourself is beautiful,” she said.  

The photo shoot, with all of its steps, is just one part of the process. In this story, we’re talking about something as old as cameras themselves: photo editing.