Beauty Photography: Beyond the Camera

I work with aspiring and experienced models to help them build their portfolios. One common theme I hear is their frustration with poor photography. Once a shot is set up, clicking the shutter requires an instinct to capture a split second of time; but good photography is and always has been more than point and shoot. Darkroom skills, whether traditional or digital, ultimately separate the hobbyist from the true photographer. This is especially true when it comes to beauty photography. What the public sees in magazines, catalogs, and on billboards is anything other than straight from the camera. It is a process that begins with a visualized concept brought to life on the set with the help of several creatives and finished in the digital darkroom.

Beauty is conceptual. It is something we see and recognize but there is no formula for it. Some people have features that are decisively more “attractive” than others but everyone young and old has beauty that can be captured and presented glamorously. Part of beauty comes from within, part comes from physical features, and part comes from the eye of a photographer. Once a model or “subject” is selected, the skills of a makeup artist and hairstylist are key to defining a look that is alluring. Not only is the cosmetic application important in a beauty shot but the makeup artist and hairstylist are key in building the confidence of the model. Models spend hours with these creatives preparing for the shoot. Professional photographers expect makeup artists and hair stylists to pump up a model’s confidence before she walks onto the set. The wardrobe stylist is also key to defining a look of beauty with fashion that makes a statement. The model, once she is on the set, must internalize the look, engage the photographer, and project her internal beauty. The photographer’s style plays a big part in evoking the moods and emotions needed for the shoot.

Photography conveys moods and emotion with light. The photographer must decide how the images will be post processed, how to create the desired mood, and how the images will be organized into a visual story. The photographer must light the subject so the wardrobe, makeup, and hair all make a statement of beauty. The lighting setup is critical to achieving images that can be digitally processed in a specific way. Lighting may be bright and crisp (high key), it may be contrasty with deep shadows (low key), it may be soft and romantic, or hard and stark. Every photography assignment has a specific objective and an intended audience. Advertising campaigns may entail a single image or a series of related images to be used in a cohesive campaign. Fashion editorials convey a story of fashion and beauty in a contextual framework. The photographer is at the center of the creative team and must communicate the objectives of the shoot to the other contributors.

Click to display full size images.

The concept for this beauty shot for a hair salon was to portray an independent, self assured woman dressed for an evening on the town. A wardrobe stylist selected the attire, jewelry and accessories. The hairstylist applied a rich red color to contrast and compliment the model’s fair skin tones. The makeup artist provided a very smooth foundation for the face and emphasized the model’s full lips with a color to match the hair pigments. Dark eyeliner and subtle eyeshadow brought attention to the natural green eyes.

As photographer, I lit this scene with two large softboxes for even light on the face and a beauty dish to add specular highlights. The lighting was clean and even to further fill in the texture of the model’s skin but it was shot in camera raw with low contrast (left image) to provide detail in the highlights and shadows. In Adobe Lightroom, I sharpened the image, adjusted the color temperature to add warmth to the image and increased the brightness and contrast to the fullest range possible without loosing detail (middle image). At this level of contrast some skin imperfections start to pop so I edited the image in Adobe Photoshop to soften the skin texture and further bumped the contrast and saturation to give the skin an almost porcelain look with rich color. Detail retouching removed small blemishes and fly away hair. The final image is again sharpened with a two stage sharpening process. The result is an image of classic beauty – one imagined in the eye of the photographer and brought to life in the digital darkroom.

As an upstart model, next time you decide to invest your time with a photographer to develop your portfolio, look at his portfolio to see if he knows how to light a set and post process the image. You’ll get a better portfolio and that will help you get you the better paying jobs.

Model: Leslie Sale
Hair: Andrea Hess – Salon Verde of Roswell
Makeup: Kat Flynt
Wardrobe: Carmen Cruz of Capricious
Photographer: Sam Dobrow, samdobrow photography

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