Shooting Beauty Imagery By Professional Photographer Steve Thornton
Most fashion photographers will also shoot beauty. Beauty is usually shot with attractive to stunning female models that have good to great skin, with make-up & hair being important elements. Wardrobe may or may not be a factor in a beauty image.
A lot of photographers think that if they could photograph top models it will propel them to being a leading fashion and beauty photographer. It will not hurt you to shoot only top talent but that will not, by itself, make you a great fashion and beauty photographer. You first must learn about light, make up, hair, locations, props and… model direction. Now you do not need to know how to put on make-up or know how to style hair, but you better know what you do or do not like for your style.
This brings us to a few points. Casting of the model is the most important part of shooting a great beauty image.
Point #1) When looking for a model to shoot with, look at her skin. Look for bumps, discoloration, scars, wrinkles, frown lines etc. A few pimples or lines are OK, a face full of pimples is not. In other words, really look at the quality of the skin.
Point #2) Look at the eyes, are they the same height, same size, spaced equally from the nose? Are they too close together? Too far apart? Does she have a “Lazy” eye?
Point #3) If the hair is short, are the ears the same size and same height? Do they stick out?
Point #4) Is the mouth small, very thin lips, crooked, one part of the mouth higher than the other side? Is the mouth misshapen or strange looking? Does the mouth turn down?
Point #5) Look at the jaw line, is it even left to right? Does the jaw protrude forward?
Point #6) Look at the distance from the bottom of the chin to the mouth. Is this too narrow or too wide?
Point #7) Look at the hair. Is it 2 or 3 different colors? Is it bleached to the point it is dead? Does it have 10 different layers? If the model has a high forehead, does she have have hair long enough to hide it? Or does she have bangs? Is the hair thick and have body or is it really thin and limp? Does the hair have a good cut or is it just “there”?
Point #8) If you are shooting a body image, as this one is, you may also want to see the model in a skimpy bathing suit or lingerie to make sure you are OK with any tattoo, scar, burn, discoloration etc. you may not be OK with.
Point #9) While looking at her to see if you want to shoot with her, talk to the model. See if this is someone you really want to be around for a few hours. Personality will not make me decide to shoot with a model, but a lack of one may make me decide to shoot with someone else. But if the face & skin are just stunning, I will shoot sans personality.
Just because you are attracted to a model does not mean she is worth shooting with for your book. One of the hardest things to learn is to look at what is really there. A model with a great personality that has a lot of “problems” as a beauty model (See 1-8 above) is just that, a visual problem who is fun to be around. If you find a way to have her personality show in the photograph well enough to erase problems 1-7, you are better than I am. I have tried more than once and what I learned is, personality can’t make up for a lack of looks.
Is this mean? Cold? Heartless? Some people think so. The reality is if you are a fashion & beauty photographer you are largely in a superficial business where looks are more important than brains or personality. This may be sad, but true. Now, if the woman is stunning, very smart & has personality then great. One exception now if in the fashion editorial business, there they will sometimes go out of their way to pick models that are unusual looking. There is nothing wrong with this, it is a trend. How long is anyone’s guess.
OK so now you have discovered the model you want to shoot. If you are new to this I would suggest you start simple. One trick: When shooting in close, women need “dead soft” light coming from underneath their chin. This can be from a soft box with the power turned down or a “soft” reflector (think white & not silver) on her lap angled just right.
By starting simple you make it easy to learn what works vs. what does not. Simple means in every respect. Set the light, use one lens, move the one light or location as little as you can and work the model. You move your POV (Point Of View) by shooting up, down, level, angled etc. Don’t change hair, make up or wardrobe. Just one look shot several ways. To many variables/changes makes it very hard to learn because you will not remember what you did wrong… or right. It will help if you back up & shoot a couple of frames of the entire scene, to remind you what was where.
Shooting digital is a blessing, you can shoot a lot, you can see instantly if it is lit well and if you like it. After the shoot download the cards & this is “Very Important”: Look at every shot critically and be brutally honest with yourself. If the shot sucks, admit it. The beauty police will not shoot you if you goof.
Also, Very Important: If the shot does suck, analyze why it sucks and learn to not do “that” (Whatever “That” is) again. We all learn faster from our mistakes than our successes, so do not lose sleep over a shot that sucks, it happens and in reality, it is a good thing.
Look… I started out from the beginning just like all of you did. I made all of the lame mistakes that most of you have done or will do, I justified a suck photo in my mind for ego purposes. Only after I realized I was hurting my career by the lie did I start to get better. Be brutally honest with you.
During the photography session with the model, direct the model. Have her turn her head, raise the chin, lower the chin, tilt the head etc. Make the movements part of your analysis process. Did she turn to far? Did she tilt her head too much? Make this part of what you are looking for when shooting with all of your models. It is equally important to know what does not work as is to know what does work. Learning this very important part will make you a better director of talent and will allow you to get a higher percentage of good shots in a shorter period of time.
One of the world’s leading international image makers, Atlanta, Georgia native Steve Thornton began his career as a self-taught 12-yearold shutterbug with a keen interest in photography. As a professional, he has photographed numerous national and international ad campaigns, along with feature editorials for magazines in the United States and Europe. Steve & his crew travel on average 175+ days a year, in the USA, Europe, the Middle East as well as the Orient. Prime client list for stills and/or motion: UPS, Invesco, American Express, General Motors, Hallmark, Citizens, Hyatt, Trane and Ferguson.