Before & After with Justin Lee

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Most of us, when scrolling past this image in our news feed, did a serious double-take. Then it drew us in with its surrealistic, almost-embryonic qualities – the very definition of compelling. So, yeah, we reached out to Justin to get all the behind-the-scenes goodness on this überclever stitch. 

Justin. You. Go!


I live in Portland with my beautiful wife and 2 cats.  I am a medical sales rep by day and photographer by night.  I love both of my jobs and if I were independently wealthy I would do them both without pay!  I met my wife when I sold her a cell phone when I was in between jobs several years ago and consider it to be my biggest sales achievement to date.  I could probably write a book that people would actually read about how this unlucky and undeserving pauper got the girl of his dreams.  I am a hopeless romantic.  I feel ridiculously blessed to have found my passion in photography.  While I have been a passionate person for most of my life, I was never a perfectionist until I discovered my love for photography.  Before my career began, I learned by forcing myself to shoot in manual with an old Rebel DSLR just 4 years ago.  I started to practice shooting any opportunity I had as if it were as important as someone’s wedding.  After lots of coaxing and convincing 3 years ago, my wife bought me my first full frame camera which I had dreamed about for almost a year.  Similarly, I recently acquired a real tilt shift lens that I’ve been dreaming about for at least the past year and it’s easily my favorite lens now.


By what artists/creatives are you influenced? What inspires you?


I was first inspired by my own wedding photographer, Ely Roberts.  To this day, I can’t be more grateful for the beautiful photos he took.  I was then inspired further by Dennis Berti, who shot my best friend’s wedding in Cabo, Mexico.  I found out he was considered to be one of the world’s top 50 wedding photographers.  I then discovered Junebug Weddings as well as Jeff Newsom, who I consider to be the most creative person in the universe!  Around this same time I discovered Sam Hurd, who of course needs no introduction and is a huge inspiration to me.  I am inspired by the love that two individuals find for each other and vow to have and hold for the rest of their lives.  Weddings are such awesome events in which family and friends gather to witness and support this commitment.  The thought that my photos will be shared to kids, grandkids, and future generations is quite humbling and inspiring to me.  I thank God for this ability and privilege.


Do you have a vision in mind before going out and shooting? Tell us about about your workflow and how the vision comes to life before shooting and in post.


I always have a vision in mind before any shoot.  There are only 3 settings that you can give to the camera, but what really makes the difference is the direction you give to your subjects and perspectives you choose.  I typically choose the aperture first to get the depth of field I want to achieve.  I then choose the ISO that’s as low as possible that will allow me to shoot with a high enough shutter speed to get a sharp shot even if my subject moves.  One other important factor of course is the lens and focal length.  I tend to use mostly primes since I am forced to compose a shot before I put the camera up to my eye.  In fact, I currently own these prime lenses and each has its own useful perspective:  20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 45mm, 50mm, 55mm, and 85mm.  I plan on purchasing a 14mm and 135mm lens in the near future.  In the distant future, I will shoot for the 200mm!  For convenience and maximum compression, I like to use a 70-200mm and zoom in as close to 200mm as often as possible.  My editing workflow consists of individual editing of RAW files in Lightroom from white balance, contrast, tone curve, individual color, sharpening, noise reduction, and both auto and manual lens profile corrections.  I sometimes use Alien Skin Exposure and Photoshop in addition to LR.  When shooting in manual mode and manual white balance, I have found it easier to batch process photos since a given scene should not change much in regards to exposure or white balance.  


Now walk us through, step-by-step, how you created this killer image.

There is a story behind this image that demonstrates the importance of networking and always being prepared for the unexpected!  It all started when I befriended Nikk Wong, inventor of the successful Kickstarter product, Fractal Filters (  His product has been endorsed by famous photographer Benjamin Von Wong (no relation) and he’s working on a collaboration with probably the most well-known vodka company which I probably should absolutely not name.  It turned out that Nikk was also a wedding photographer while he had lived in Seattle, so we hit it right off from the start.  He is now an app developer and entrepreneur in San Francisco and I have had the chance to hang out with him on my many trips to SF.  This particular night we were just hanging out on the rooftop of his office building where there was a gym and jacuzzi.  We thought it’d be fun to take pictures of his break dancer friend doing a handstand on the rails of the jacuzzi.  Nikk wanted to try it for himself and after a couple attempts his hands slipped and he crashed into the jacuzzi!!!  It was LIT-ER-ALLY the funniest thing I’ve ever witnessed.  Since he was completely wet, he decided to be a sport and posed for me at the bottom of the jacuzzi.  I used a 20mm lens to take the shot and stood at the edge.  As you can see, the original image has a lot of distortion as one would expect with a wide lens at an angle.  The corrections were made manually in Lightroom to straighten out the edges of the pool.  The image that has 4 photos flipped and rotated was made in Photoshop.  

Bonus pics!

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Blogged by LOOKSLIKEFILM Contributing Editor, Seth Langner · Jacksonville, FL and Seattle, WA wedding and portrait photographer –>