RULE is a 4-letter word. Remember that as you read this series of articles.
Too many textbooks, tutorials and instructional videos detail step-by step guidelines that you MUST follow to achieve great photographic results. Forget the textbooks. Let's explore how to get creative with another 4-letter word as our motto. KISS. That's right... Keep It Simple Stupid.
Think about it. How often do people ask you what kind of lighting you used to take an image? How often have you been asked if you were thinking about the rule of thirds when you composed a shot or if you intentionally went with shallow depth of field to drive attention to the eyes of your subject? You probably don't hear these questions unless you are talking to a fellow photographer. Photography is a visual endeavor and you are judged upon your results – not your process.
When it comes to shooting beauty the goal is to create an image that is captivating. We are talking about images of beautiful women that we want to cause people to stop and examine and hopefully gasp an excited "WOW" in response. Nowhere does it say that this has to be a difficult process.
The most important pieces to my KISS IT formula...
- 1. Begin with a great subject – You can only get out of the image what you put in front of the camera. (Otherwise known as "You can't shine sh_t.")
- 2. Work with a great makeup artist/hair stylist. Every one of my images is the result of collaboration between at least three people: a makeup artist, the model and myself.
- 3. Pay attention to details.
- 4. Learn to see light – remember the egg!
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Generally when I am shooting beauty shots, which are also similar in composition to portraits and headshots, I will use either a 85mm or a 70mm – 200mm zoom. (The shots you see here were done with a Nikon D700, which has a full frame sensor) I find that short to medium length telephoto lenses are ideal for this type of studio work. I shoot hand held for most of my sessions but there is no shame in using a tripod. Do what is most comfortable for you. I prefer to be able to make subtle movements and compositional changes without having to adjust a tripod.
For this first article we are going to work with one light, an inexpensive modifier and some Walmart reflectors. (You read that right... it say's Walmart)
As you can see in the images below, I chose to do this set of shots on a simple dark gray background. (Savage Thunder Gray). The spill from my single light source is the only light hitting the background. I am able to change the look of the background by placing my subject closer to the background if I want it to appear as dark gray or moving my subject further from the background if I want it to appear black.
My light source for these images is 1 Paul C. Buff AlienBee 800WS. ($279.95) I decided to leave my Profotos and Photogenics on the shelf (something I find myself doing more and more) to show you that you don't need to spend a ton of money on equipment.
The modifier is a Paul C. Buff 22" High-Output White Beauty Dish Reflector. ($79.95 – if you are doing the math we are at $360.00 for some really cool light) I will occasionally use a honeycomb grid accessory to focus the light from the beauty dish and sometimes I will use a sock to diffuse the light for a softer effect.
Now some of my more snobbish colleagues will argue that the Profotos and Photogenics have faster recycle times or in the case of the Profotos a "purer" light quality. They are correct in their arguments, but I will point out that a Profoto monolight will cost you over a thousand dollars per head and a Photogenic Powerlight will start at $499.00 not to mention MUCH higher repair costs than the AlienBees. I will also remind you that most prosumer and ALL professional DSLR's on the market today allow for custom white balance. It takes seconds to create a custom profile based on the flash you are using and at that point – they all look the same. BTW... the recycle times on the AlienBee are 1 second at full power and much less at the lower power settings you will usually be using in a setting like this.
The Walmart reflectors are actually 20" x 30" pieces of white foam board (Elmer's brand name) that sell for $3.88 a piece. While I own some very nice (and expensive) Wescott and Photoflex reflector sets, I also have a bad habit of laying reflectors down and then stepping on them, so I tend to only use them on occasions when I have a client in the studio that I need to impress.
So let's put all of this information to work and take a look at a few examples:
The first two shots that you see here are done within 5 minutes of each other. The lighting, exposure, background, outfit and makeup are all the same. The only things that changed were the models pose, her hair and the camera angle/composition.
The model was placed just two feet in front of the Thunder Gray background. The beauty dish is placed above the subject and about a foot in front of her. It is also slightly to the left of the camera lens axis. If you look closely in the iris of the eye in Example #1 you can see the 20" x 30" Walmart reflector that is sitting about 10 – 12 inches below the models chin and angled up slightly towards her face. The reflector was left in place for Example #2 but has much less impact since the models head is raised.
Example #3 shows the same model with more dramatic makeup and a headpiece made from black vinyl found at a fabric store. The setup and exposure are basically the same as in Examples #1 and #2 with the main difference being that the beauty dish was moved more to camera left so that the models head could be turned in that direction. The intent was to turn her face towards the dish to eliminate any harsh shadows but to allow the light intensity to fall off on the camera right side of her face and shoulders.
Example #4 once again shows the same model with just the beauty dish and no reflectors. Once again the model is approximately two feet in front of the Thunder Gray background and the beauty dish is to the left of the camera and at a lower angle than the previous examples. If you look close you will notice a slight reflection/highlight along the models jawline. This reflector in this case was the yellow material that is draped around her neck.
Example #5 is also shot against the Thunder Gray backdrop. The slight red glow was added in postproduction. The beauty dish is to the left and slightly above the height of the camera. A Walmart reflector is placed to the right and slightly behind the subject to provide a small amount of fill light on the models hand so that it didn't fade completely to black. Again the models face is turned almost directly to the light to create a smooth even light on her face with some falloff on camera right to add some modeling and dimension to the face.
Example #6 has the beauty dish placed directly above and slightly in front of the subject. This time I am shooting from a high camera angle looking down on the subject. The subject is placed about 2 feet from the Thunder Gray background and the 20" x 30" foam board reflector is providing enough fill to insure that the shadow under the models neck is not harsh and well defined. The limited depth of field in this shot was created in postproduction using Alien Skin's Bokeh 2
Example #7 is included to assure you that this style of lighting will work on colors other than dark gray. The model is placed about 2 feet in front of a white wall. The beauty dish is placed only slightly above her and hard to camera left. A fan is placed low and to the right of the model to blow the hair back across her face. The power of the AlienBee was kept to a minimum to allow me to limit depth of field naturally.
I hope that you have found this article and examples helpful. In future articles I will show you more simple lighting set-ups and techniques to make your shots pop. In the meanwhile, feel free to check out my website at http://www.joeedelman.com and for more articles and behind the scenes videos be sure to subscribe to my blog at http://www.joeedelman.com/blog/
Declaration: I am NOT sponsored by Paul C. Buff and do not receive any special consideration from him for the mention or use of his products. I have spent quite a bit of money as a user of the AlienBee products so if anyone reading this happens to know Paul personally, please feel free to pass this article along to him.
Paul, if you do happen to read this – Feel free to send me ANY products that you would like me to try out and write about.
© Joe Edelman
About the author: "Joe Edelman Shoots People!"
Joe Edelman is an award winning editorial, corporate, and advertising photographer. His primary target - People!
Joe's career has spanned three decades, from his start as a newspaper photojournalist to his work today photographing all types of people for clients such as magazines, colleges, corporations and advertising agencies.
He is best known for his exquisite photographs of beautiful women; his work has appeared in magazines like Maxim, Cosmopolitan and Shape to name but a few. He has completed assignments for both the New York Times and The Los Angeles Times.
In addition to his role as photographer, Joe advises serious models about how to market themselves.
He is recognized as an innovator in shaping models portfolios and comp cards that get noticed, along with other aspects of developing models' careers, such as finding and landing the right agency and is often used as a source for television stories as well as newspaper and magazine articles on the subject.
Author: JE Bright references Joe in his book: America's Next Top Model: Fierce Guide to Life: The Ultimate Source of Beauty, Fashion, and Model Behavior .
His success has made him a popular instructor in beauty, glamour, and fine art nude workshops across the United States.
Joe is based in Allentown, PA and in his spare time he authors the popular photography blog: I Shoot People – The Blog http://www.joeedelman.com/blog/