Beauty Lighting Photography
Beauty Lighting Photography
Monday, August 16th, 2010 at 7:43 pm
Beauty photography is one of my favorite kinds of photography, both to view and to shoot. Now, the term “beauty photography” can mean a lot of different things to different people, especially to different photographers! So I’ll lay out what I think of when I say beauty photography. Up front I’ll say that there are exceptions to every rule listed below… There are many examples that won’t fall into these neat little categories. See Photo 01
Generally, I think of beauty photography as being close-up on the face. Sometimes a bit of the shoulders and chest are in the frame as well. If you walk through a department store makeup section, you’ll notice that 75% or more of the shots you see are close-ups, precisely because they want to show you how wonderful their product makes a face look up close! (We’ll just ignore the hours of Photoshop they put in to achieve that effect for now!)
Flattering Lighting and Good Makeup
Beauty photography in my definition deals with images of idealized beauty. To that end, the lighting is designed to make skin seem perfectly smooth, balance the symmetry of the face in a pleasing manner, and generally flatter the subject. If your lighting is unflattering, even Photoshop can’t help you.
Makeup is crucial to a good beauty shot. Unless you’re looking for a specific effect from the makeup (think MAC Cosmetic Ads), you want the makeup to be as natural as possible and not call attention to itself. At the same time, you also want enough makeup to make the skin appear as smooth as it can be. This saves you lots of time retouching later!
Female and Male Beauty
“Beauty” sounds very feminine, doesn’t it? While this is generally the case, I’ll be including some male beauty shots as examples as well. See Photo 02
Let’s begin with a discussion about our lighting, arguably the most important element in creating a beauty shot. We can start by deciding whether we would like a high-key shot or low-key shot. High-key shots are bright, evenly lit with bright backgrounds, and low-key shots have more contrast in the lighting, as well as more contrast between the subject and the background.
We’ll start with a high-key setup, as it’s easier to reduce imperfections with soft lighting. A softbox is a good choice, an umbrella can also work nicely for this. In terms of placement, we want to find an angle that will reduce the appearance of texture on the face, and this is why “butterfly” or “Paramount” lighting is a very typical key light placement for beauty photography.
The term “butterfly” lighting refers to the shape of the shadow created underneath the nose. The light is placed directly above, and a bit in front of, the subject to create this shadow. How far above and in front of the subject you place your beauty light is crucial. Too high above the model and you’ll start to create shadows under the eyes and in the pores of the skin, calling attention to blemishes and imperfections. Too low over the camera and you risk it looking flat (and/or like you just used an on-camera flash!). Again, a large, soft source like a softbox is more “forgiving” in terms of placement. Move the light around (both varying its height and distance from the subject) until you find a position that is pleasing. Usually, this will create a very subtle and small nose shadow. See Photo 03
Fill and Feather
Now that we’ve placed our key, we can talk about filling the light. Since our light is above the model, we risk creating dark circles under the eyes. A simple way of correcting this is to place a reflector underneath the subject’s face. Since the source above is relatively soft (a 3×4 softbox is just about perfect for this), a silver reflector will give you more fill than white. It’s up to your personal taste as to how much fill you want. You can also adjust the amount of fill by moving the reflector closer to, or further away from, the subject’s face. See Photo 04
See Photo 05
At this point, I’d like to share with you a light positioning technique that can seem counter-intuitive at first: feathering. Feathering a light means turning it so that the center of the light is not directly focused at the subject. Generally, there is a spot of intense light in the center of a light source and then it gradates out toward the edges. Using the light from the edges (referred to as the “penumbra”) rather than that center hot spot gives a look that makes the light on the subject look a bit more natural.
There are two additional advantages to feathering the softbox in this setup (in this case down, pointing the center of the softbox below the subject’s face). The first is that, because of the inverse square law (light “falls off” or decreases in intensity as it travels), we can correct for the hot spot in the center of the softbox. The subject’s chest is further away from the source, so the light in the center decreases in intensity, and the evenness of the light is more balanced from the top of the head to the chest. The second reason to feather the softbox downward in this setup is that we want to use our reflector efficiently. If we point the softbox directly at the subject’s face, less of the light will be bouncing off the reflector and up into the face. See Photo 06
As I said earlier, this clamshell setup is very easy, effective and creates a beautiful effect. You can optionally place a background light on the background as well.
Moving on to low key photography, I’ll show you the opposite end of the spectrum. In the following photos I used a relatively hard source and no fill. I used a Profoto White Softlight (aka beauty dish) with a honeycomb grid installed. The honeycomb grid allowed me to focus the light in a very narrow area, allowing me to create a great deal of contrast with the background. This is the same setup as the first photo at the top of this article. This setup works equally well for a man, as the hardness of the light can define strong facial features. See Photo 7
Because we’re using a hard source in this case, placement of the key light is even more critical than in the softbox setup described above. The light must be placed in such a way that minimizes facial imperfections, so generally we’ll want this light to be less high than in our softbox setup. In addition, because the light is so concentrated in one place (and that’s really the point of using the Softlight with a honeycomb grid), feathering is not an option here. I generally like to set up my Softlight and then have the model move toward and away from it until the light looks pleasing. Usually, the light is very close to the subject, between 2 and 4 feet. See Photo 08
This setup is very simple, but requires a great deal of experimentation and tweaking. If you’ve never tried this before, definitely practice it until you get it just right! If you like, you can also add another light below the subject to fill in the shadows, creating a modified clamshell setup like the one above. Again, because the beam of light is so narrow, it might be difficult to catch the light using a reflector, but if you have the luxury of some time to experiment, I’d highly recommend trying out all options!
Users who found this page were searching for:
- softbox beauty lighting
- high end beauty lighting
- lighting placement for high key photography
- studio light setup "dark circles"
- light placement in wedding portrait photography
- portrait photo shows chest
- beauty photography lighting
- beauty and makeup lighting
- wedding photo lighting setup
- beauty shot softbox setting