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Tips & Tricks

Beauty & Fashion Photography | The Specifics That Divide The Great From The Mediocre

By Julia Kuzmenko on April 14th 2016

I have always been fascinated by the beauty of human faces and in how many different ways it exists. This fascination alone has been fueling my love for Beauty photography for years.

Beauty is a wonderful genre of photography that includes commercial and editorial imagery, as well as simple beauty portraits, so almost any professional or aspiring photographer who appreciates female beauty can find something in it for them.

While a hobbyist can enjoy taking beautiful portraits of their female friends and family members, there are more ways in which a professional Beauty photographer can grow: makeup, skincare, jewelry and accessory advertising, hairstyling and hair care products. And within those directions, one can aim to shoot for global high profile brands, or thrive on shooting for small local companies that are easier to approach and acquire as a client. As an additional avenue for growth, there is an abundance of big and small magazines that accept and publish beauty editorials.

There are many things that anyone who is interested in commercial and/or editorial Beauty photography needs to take into account when starting out, and I’d like to share with you a few points that I think are very important.

SPACE

The great part about Beauty photography that opens a door into it for many aspiring photographers is the possibility to shoot in the smallest places available. Unlike in Fashion photography, you don’t have to rent large studios with big light modifiers to shoot full body images. In Beauty you can build a strong portfolio literally in a corner of your living room.

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Model Tori Tracy and Makeup Artist Mikala Jean Vandenbroucke, shooting in my living room

All you need is a couple of strobes with a few different light modifiers. Over time, you can get yourself a background support system, start with a gray seamless backdrop and grow your collection from there. And even this part is simpler for a Beauty photographer: seamless paper rolls are typically available in two widths: 53” and 107”, and for Beauty the narrower backdrops are perfectly sufficient, so you don’t need to buy and store large backdrop rolls.

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Model: Carolina Urrea, Miss Santa Monica 2016, photographed in my living room

TEAM

In Beauty, just like in Fashion photography, the photographer must rely on a strong team of creative professionals to achieve top-quality results.

While it is possible to shoot beauty portraits for local individual clients without the help of a professional Makeup Artist, it is uncommon to attempt to produce a commercial beauty shoot without at least a Makeup Artist and a Hairstylist.

The larger the production the larger the team, but regardless of how big or small the creative team is, it is often the photographer who will receive most of the praise if the images turn out amazing, but equally all of the blame if, despite the collective effort, the images are mediocre.

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BTS, Model: Jenn of Osbrink Models, Los Angeles, makeup by Elizabeth Ulloa, hair by Gui, photo by Julia Kuzmenko

There’s a lot of responsibly that we photographers carry in each photoshoot, but it grows along with our personal and artistic development, so thankfully we do have a chance to get used to it and become comfortable leading and coordinating the team.

What’s important is to build a team that we can rely on. During the shoot, there are so many things to keep under control that it’s very important that your creative team members are not only on top of their game when prepping the model, but also can help you watching and fixing any potential problems for post-production. The collective goal is to create the images that will require an absolute minimum of post-production efforts and that will not only save you time but also ensure better, natural looking retouching results.

If you are just starting out in Beauty, you might often hear seasoned photographers advise to find beginner Makeup artists and Hairstylists like yourself and grow together. Yes, it is a way to do it, but it will take you years before you and your team will grow through practicing together. I believe it is best to try harder and find creative professionals who already have experience in producing the type of photography that you are interested in.

Do your research and find local talent to approach, study their portfolios and social media to see if what they do aligns with what you would love to create with them. If not – move on, if yes – approach them and invite them to collaborate with you. Often a well put together reference board for a shoot you are planning can convince a professional makeup artist to shoot with you, given they are interested in the concept and are available on the day of your upcoming shoot.

Rest assured that the more you shoot and share your new work, the sooner you will start getting approached by other creative professionals in the area. Instagram is a wonderful platform for sharing work and connecting with other creative professionals, so get on it if you haven’t yet.

After working with many Makeup Artists around the world I have learned to recognize great, hard working, professional Makeup Artists, and shared my observations in an article on my personal blog: How to Find Your Ideal Makeup Artist.

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BTS, Model Bridget of Osbrink Models, Los Angeles, and Makeup Artist Elizabeth Ulloa, photo by Julia Kuzmenko

MODELS

Casting is very important in Beauty and the key is to select not only good-looking faces that fit the concept of the shoot, but also experienced models in the type of photography you need them for, and those who look after themselves very well. The worst thing you can do for your post-production stage is to select a model whose skin is far from ideal for photography.

I often receive compliments on my “mad retouching skills”, but the truth is that it is everything that my Makeup Artist and I do before the capture that ensures great results with minimal retouching efforts.

Of course, it’s absolutely normal and logical to begin by shooting with aspiring models and non-models while you are still practicing your lighting, framing and directing your models. Obviously, those images are not expected to be used in advertising or in magazines. But as you become better and build your portfolio a little, try approaching local modeling agencies. Don’t worry if you don’t think you have a strong enough portfolio yet – let the agency decide; and don’t get discouraged if they don’t get back to you – try again after you add more new work. You might be surprised to know that some great modeling agencies are very open to allowing their models to shoot (test) with beginner photographers too. Check out my article Testing With Represented Models & Working With Modeling Agencies where I interviewed the owner of Osbrink Models, a boutique agency in Los Angeles that I have been working with for quite some time now.

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Model and actress Oralia Cortes, makeup & hair by Lupe Moreno, from our one-on-one Beauty Photography & Retouching training with Jennifer McIntyre, photography & post by Julia Kuzmenko

LIGHTING & FRAMING

This is the area where I see a lot of beginner Beauty photographers make most common mistakes, which can be easily avoided.

If your goal is to shoot Beauty portraits, you must understand that your clients simply desire to look beautiful in the resulting images. You may know a lot of various dramatic lighting setups from your other interests in photography, but when it comes to Beauty one of the main goals is to avoid creating unflattering shadows that either expose the subject’s uneven skin texture (acne problems, fine line or wrinkles) or visually age them.

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Model: Hollywood actress Fernanda Romero, makeup by Lupe Moreno, hair by Victor Mendoza, photography & post by Julia Kuzmenko

For that, your choice of light modifiers and the main light placement must be well thought through. Hard light and side lighting are never a good idea for Beauty portraits. A large softbox, placed in front of your subject or slightly off to the side of the camera, will create soft light that will fill in most of the unflattering shadows and make it easier for you to touch up these images.

On the other hand, If you are interested in commercial or editorial beauty, a harder light on a carefully selected model with flawless skin will be more appropriate. But of course it will depend on the concept of the shoot.

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Model: Tassia of NOUS Models, makeup by Beth Follert, hair by Giovanna, photography & post-production Julia Kuzmenko

When it comes to framing, I often see aspiring Beauty photographers attempt to shoot editorial makeup while framing their images as if they are shooting portraits – including head and shoulders.

[REWIND: FREQUENCY SEPARATION PITFALLS TO AVOID]

My advice is if you plan to shoot a specific type of Beauty – editorial makeup, cosmetics or jewelry ads, or hairstyling images – do your research and pay special attention to the common framing in the type of photography you are interested in. You will find that each of these Beauty photography types has a specific set of common frames and many various types of posing and cropping within those sets. Pinterest is a great platform for this kind of research, check out, for example, my collection of closeup and editorial makeup photography.

When you are just at the beginning of your journey in Beauty photography, try emulating framing and lighting from the images that inspire you the most, and as you get comfortable in these, begin to experiment and work on developing your own style.

I hope you found these notes were helpful, happy shooting!

Los Angeles-based internationally published professional Beauty, Fashion & Portrait photographer, digital artist and retoucher. An International College of Professional Photography (Melbourne, Australia) graduate.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Louis Joseph

    Great post, Julia!!  I totally agree that sometimes the difference between a fashion or beauty shot that looks “right” versus “wrong” boils down to the crop, not the camera or lens or lighting, etc.  And, I also love your suggestion to check out sample photos before setting out and doing this type of shoot and emulating what others have done.  Excellent tips!

    Louis Joseph

    NYC fashion and beauty editorial photographer

    http://www.louisjosephphotography.com/nyc-fashion-photographer-in-nyc-manhattan-brooklyn-for-fashion-beauty.html

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  2. Lee G

    Great tips

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  3. Eric Mazzone

    Based on the ring shaped catchlights, these look shot with a ring light, but the light fall off on their faces doesn’t support that sort of light. Am I correct then that the catchlights of a beauty dish also gives ring shaped catchlights?

    I haven’t yet used a beauty dish, thus the question.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Good eye Eric. A beauty dish can absolutely give you that look. I”m not precisely sure what Julia used here but I know she is fond them.

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