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Beauty Photography – Everything You Need to Know

8 min read

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Beauty Photography in a Studio by David Victory.

What is Beauty Photography?

We all know photography; let’s talk about beauty. It is a feminine attribute for our topic of discussion, and we can all relate to that. You don’t hear: “a beautiful dude”. And it is also the opposite of ugly. Now in today’s society, we are conditioned to accept anything to be construed as anything else, which is a legal talk for lying.

Listen, “Tall” means you can’t play in NBA because you are 5 feet tall, doesn’t mean you are bad.

Notice I didn’t say beautiful: good, ugly: bad.

That is my honest opinion, so there you have it. Beauty is an absolute, should have an element number in the periodic table, and no amount of “good” ugliness can replace beauty. Therefore we should be on the right page now.

beauty shot of a model.

Tips & Insights to Shoot Beauty Portraits

Here I will highlight some obvious beauty photography keywords and inject my experiences. I’ve had the opportunity to shoot beauty portraits and images for various clients, from brands to aspiring models.

There are different types of beauty photography, from commercial images to fashion and just artistic shots for gallery sales. You can create a specific style for your portfolio or offer a range of beauty shots to show your versatility as a beauty photographer for bidding on projects.

If you’re an aspiring photographer, my biggest tip is to practice, practice, practice! Find models to shoot with and experiment with different lighting setups and camera settings. Take the time to study other beauty photographers’ work to learn from them while you find your style.

For private clients, I focus on creating beauty portraits that capture the essence of the model’s unique beauty. Beauty photography is about creating stunning images by exaggerating the positives and diminishing the negatives. Hence, the net result is in your favor, that is the value added by you to showcase the model’s best features.

beauty portrait.

Beauty Team & MUA

First things first, is it team first or model first? I say team first because usually they are the known part of the equation whom you have worked with before, and it’s the team’s portfolio that you pitch to the agency and model, so they get on board your project.

Let’s talk about the team you need to create great beauty photos. No matter who the model is, a professional makeup artist is an essential part of the creative team for any beauty shoot. They will work with the model’s skin tone and facial features to create a flawless look that will make your photography look great for the client.

Working with makeup artists specializing in beauty photography can make a significant difference in the final images. Professional makeup artists know how to accentuate the model’s features and use products that work well under different lighting setups.

Working with a professional makeup artist is a game-changer in beauty photography. Professional makeup artists know how to enhance a model’s natural beauty, hide blemishes, and work with a specific type of lighting.

They can also recommend skincare products for models with acne problems, ensuring that their skin looks flawless in the final images.

Model Casting

As a beauty photographer in Los Angeles, I have learned the high importance of model casting since she is the canvas, and I am the painter of light and shadow! Yes, select the right model for a specific type of beauty shoot.

I have had near disasters when a model walks on the set who just did heavy botox on their lips and can’t even talk properly, so don’t ever book a model for a beauty shoot without an in-person audition or at least a zoom call.

I often work with agencies to find the right models for my beauty shoot when the budget allows. However, if you’re a beginner beauty photographer, there are other options, such as posting casting calls on social media or working with models directly through model mayhem and model management, which I have used successfully in the past decade.

Ignore the horror stories, post your casting on these two platforms, and you will often find non-exclusive agency models responding to jobs at half their rates and less, provided you have a good portfolio, reviews, the right mood board, and a team assembled.

Posing

posing for beauty images.

When shooting beauty photos, posing is equally critical. You want to make sure that the model is in a position that shows off their positive features and showcases the beauty products they are modeling, and reduces their “negative” feature.

This is directly related to mood boards to communicate your vision with your creative team, including the art director, stylist, model, MUA, and hairstylist; more on that later. Review the model’s posing from her past shoots and portfolio to see where she stands.

Mood Board

You want to have a clear idea of the type of beauty images you want to create. Do you want to shoot beauty portraits and beauty shots that showcase hair and makeup? Knowing your goal is the first step in creating a successful beauty shoot.

In beauty photography, the final images are everything, and a mood board is an excellent tool for communicating your ideas to the rest of the team, and it can save you time during the shoot.

I often consult the mood board on my phone and laptop during the photoshoot to avoid missing anything! It’s a specific set of images that are key to the type of beauty photography you want to create and helps remind everyone, including the hairstyling, makeup, and model.

Lighting Setup for Beauty Photography

female model wearing lingerie.

Shooting beauty portraits is a fascinating art form that requires creativity, patience, and skill. Whether you are an aspiring photographer or a professional, learning about the different types of beauty photography and how to use various light modifiers can help you create beauty images that are the exception.

A common mistake is not having more options when it comes to lighting. Having different lighting setups gives you more creative options and allows you to create a diverse range of images.

Speaking of lighting, you can use a few different lighting setups for beauty photography. One of my favorites is the beauty dish, which provides a soft light that highlights facial features without creating harsh shadows.

I use a variety of light modifiers, such as a beauty dish and a large softbox, to create a soft light that flatters the model’s features.

The lighting placement will depend on the specific set and mood board, but generally, I place the main light in front of the model and use side lighting to create shadows and depth.

Lighting Placement

photoshoot in studio lighting.

When setting up your lighting, it’s important to pay attention to main light placement and the placement of any additional light sources. One common setup is placing the main light source directly in front of the model at a slightly higher angle. This helps to minimize shadows and highlight facial features.

There are many different options available, and each can create a specific set of moods and effects, a popular option is the large softbox or a large umbrella which I like and creates a similar soft light effect but provides more control over the direction of the light, side lighting can be used to create more dramatic shadows.

One common mistake made by beginner beauty photographers is failing to communicate the lighting look with their creative team properly. It’s important to give clear direction to your models, especially if they are inexperienced or not used to shooting beauty portraits. Does she face the key light? Does she look up at the key light? Does she know which light is the key light?

Cameras and Lenses

Camera settings are another crucial element in capturing great beauty photos. Typically pros use a long macro lens such as my favorite super sharp Canon 100mm f2.8L to capture fine details and create a shallow depth of field that emphasizes the model’s facial features when needed.

When shooting portraits, it’s important to focus on the model’s eyes, which are the focal point of most beauty shots, obviously always shoot in RAW format, as this gives you the full deck for post-processing.

Camera Position

During the shoot, it’s important to take your time and control the set. Don’t rush anything, and take your time to make sure you capture the shot you want. When shooting portraits, study her features, and make small adjustments to the pose and lighting until you achieve the oomph.

Camera Settings

As for camera settings, I often shoot with a focal length of 85-135mm and a wide aperture of around f/2.8-11, depending on how far or close I am to the model. The closer you are, the higher the F stop needs to be so you can control detail. As an example for hair products, everything from models nose tip to the back of her hair must stay sharp. This is not the case for a private client’s beauty portrait.

When shooting beauty portraits, paying attention to the model’s specific facial features and finding ways to highlight them is important. For example, if the model’s eyes are the focal point, you can use a wider aperture to blur the background and draw the viewer’s attention to their eyes.

During the shoot, make sure you’re clicking plenty of shots. This will give you more options to choose from in post-production when shooting portraits don’t stay in one spot! Move everything after you feel safe about capturing the essence of the mood board. Move the model, lights, camera, and everything to capture that surprise shot. Surprise yourself!

Props for Beauty Photo Shoots

props for beauty photography.

Let’s discuss using set props and hand props that the models carry during the shoot.

Set props and hand props are essential in creating stunning beauty images that capture the essence of the model and the specific type of beauty photography you’re shooting. These props help set the mood and tell a story while adding depth and interest to the final images.

You have all seen that apple box or stool or the cove chair. Anything can be a prop of interest; even the portable speedlight units can be held by the model as a prop.

Let’s not forget hats, bags, and animals!

Retouching Beauty Photographs

Once the shoot is complete, post-processing and retouching skills come into play. It’s important not to overdo it and make common mistakes such as removing too many shadows or over-smoothing the skin.

The goal is to enhance the model’s natural beauty without raising eyebrows. In France, mentioning when a photo has been retouched is mandatory, and we have come full circle with too much of a good thing.

Your Career as a Beauty Photographer

As an aspiring photographer, it’s also important to remember that post-processing and retouching skills are essential to the process and your business, and sometimes you should go avant-garde.

I do more retouching for my exterior lifestyle shoots than any of the studio shoots, and you must know why. And look, we now have fantastic AI plugins which make previous heavy photoshop tasks look childish, so use them with caution.  

Finally, start a beauty section in your portfolio. These shots can be used to pitch commercial and personal projects. With the right team, lighting, and post-processing techniques, you can make a name for yourself and earn money shooting what you love.

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David Victory is an American fashion photographer based in Los Angeles. He got his first camera, a plastic lens 120 roll film Diana at age 5, and printed his first black and white at 8. So far, David has traveled/shot in 75 cities worldwide and counting. He is known for complex and expensive projects.
David Victory is an American fashion photographer based in Los Angeles. He got his first camera, a plastic lens 120 roll film Diana at age 5, and printed his first black and white at 8. So far, David has traveled/shot in 75 cities worldwide and counting. He is known for complex and expensive projects.
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