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Archive 2012 · Beauty Shoot attempt
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Beauty Shoot attempt

I've been an all ambient light type of guy for most of my photographic life. I've recently began attempting to use studio strobe. I'm just looking for tips/ critique on how to make my work better. Thanks for looking.


Apr 30, 2012 at 12:31 PM
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Beauty Shoot attempt


May 01, 2012 at 12:21 PM
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Beauty Shoot attempt


Being an historically 99% ambient shooter myself, I would defer much to others (and I feel you on this one @ learning curve of studio lighting) regarding studio work.

As an ambient shooter ... we are accustomed to things like Sunny 16/ (direct) vs. heavy overcast (giant softbox), but with studio it seems that the bar is raised due to the increase amount of control that is possible (more lights & modifier options). From that, it becomes an exercise in perpetual refinement ... at least that's what I've programmed myself to help understand the transition.

That being said, the shadows seem to say "one light", no fill, on axis. Looking at the BG, it looks like lighting placement / subject distance from BG is good such that we don't see shadows cast on the BG. But, we can't quite say the same for the subject.

The 3D eyebrows are casting shadows that create enough contrast to draw my eye to them, as does the shadow under her chin. The shadow under her nose seems much lighter than the others, so it doesn't draw as strong and seems reasonable. I'm thinking that because of the angle diff @ nose vs. chin (especially as chin is lowered by dramatic mouth), this could have been improved upon if she had tilted her head/neck back such that she was facing into the light a bit more.

Also, with the elongated face (dramatic mouth opening), and the placement of her arms, the subject has strong vertical lines, yet it is framed in landscape ... accentuating her broad shoulders. As such, part of the eye/mind wants to go vertical, yet gets pulled horizontally as well ... so there is a bit of a conflict, even though the lighting guides us vertically from its overhead placement. The crop across her forehead also doesn't seem to help much here. If it were a tight crop, but in portrait orientation ... it might work better.

Also, not sure @ color cast, but I'm on an uncalibrated monitor atm.

Again ... I defer to others @ studio, but that's how it "strikes" me. Hopefully others will chime in as well. Kudos @ stretching yourself to new stuff.


May 01, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Kaden K.
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Beauty Shoot attempt

Just one rule of thumb that has served me well when doing a shoot of this nature. Avoid having your models overly done with exaggerated make-up.

May 01, 2012 at 02:45 PM

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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Beauty Shoot attempt


That looks to be an admirable first go at some studio lighting. I feel like you may have benefitted from an extra light or two for this type of shot: one to maybe light the background to get a higher key image, and maybe a rim light or hair light on the shoulders to give the skin a bit of sheen. I also find the shadow under the chin a bit harsh and distracting which can be softened up with just a basic reflector or some sort.

May 01, 2012 at 02:54 PM

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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Beauty Shoot attempt


I think it would be helpful if you could provide us with a little more regarding what you were trying to achieve. The only thing we have to go on is your title, which implies your were going for a "beauty shot".

People argue over definitions but here on FM at least, I have come to understand a "beauty shot" as an image that:
- is focused on the beauty of the model (duh )
- more specifically, is focused on the "perfection" of the model's skin, facial structure, make-up, and hair.
- is primarily a "head shot"

Eyes are almost secondary for some beauty photographers and are often in partial shadow without catchlights, again to focus on skin, facial structure, make-up, and hair.

So with that in mind, here are my observations:
- Not lighting-related, but the models hands and mouth expression are a distraction from the definition of "beauty" that I outlined above.
- White backgrounds are seen in beauty shots but in your case, the light on the model and the light on the background are of similar intensity and character causing a lack of focus on the model's face.
- The light on her upper-chest is a little strong, again drawing focus from the face.
- The key light is probably a little too low and/or a little too soft to properly highlight the model's skin and facial structure although her mouth expression makes it a little hard to tell. What modifier did you use for the key - an umbrella maybe? I think many beauty photographers often use beauty lights. They are still soft but they provide a little more "bite" than an umbrella or softbox. You can also aim the dead-spot of the beauty light towards the model's head to dampen the reflection there, which you can see a bit in your example.
- The darkened, more-saturated color in her shoulders is also a little distracting.

FM member Chris Sorenson does some great beauty work, although he hasn't posted many beauty shots recently. Here is a link to one of his posts that I thought was pretty impressive:


Andre Schneider (Daschund Woof), another FMer who hasn't posted in a while also has some very good beauty work. Here is his web site:


There is certainly no problem posting here but for lighting-specific questions and critiques, I would recommend you consider the Lighting and Studio Techniques forum here on FM as well. It doesn't see as much action as it used to but there are still some good studio/lighting folks that check in there.

May 01, 2012 at 03:09 PM
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Beauty Shoot attempt

Thanks so much everyone for your responses. It really helps me. I'm sorry for not including more information before but I wanted to avoid trying to explain the image too much as I wanted the most honest (first thought) critique I could get.

This was shot with an AB 800 with a white beauty dish. I only used the one light as I've read/heard that when you are first starting studio lighting, that you should master one light, then add another, then another, etc. So that is what i was attempting here. I'm sure I did have a reflector on set this day but I can't say for sure if it was used on this particular shot. I'm guessing not as we should have been able to see it in her eyes.

As far as the make up and all of that goes, I shot this with my Make-up artist friend. We've done tons of (natural lit) beauty kind of stuff and I wanted her to let go a bit. We've been doing all kinds of crazy looks. I kind of just let her do whatever she wants and I try different lighting set ups and what not.

I've seen people define "Beauty photography" in many different ways. To me, it just means head and shoulders. It can sell, make-up, hair care products, or other skin care products. Just my opinion of what it is.

I remember Chris Sorenson from a long time ago. His stuff really is great. Thanks for reminding me of him!

Oh I did have other lights at my disposal so I did shoot some with the background lit using two more Alien Bee's shot into 2 nine foot v-flats. Here you can clearly see the catch light from the bottom reflector. I'm not sure why I didn't have it on that other look?

But thanks again EVERYONE for taking time out to respond!


May 01, 2012 at 03:55 PM
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Beauty Shoot attempt

One thing I think you could consider when the arms are up and next to the face. She has makeup on her face, which darkens it, but there's no makeup on the arms, therefore they appear lighter. The easiest way to fix this with your lighting strategy is to apply makeup on the arms.

Both are fun photos and really show nice use of the beauty dish. I presume the second photo also uses a reflector for under fill. You might consider removing the lower catchlights.

May 01, 2012 at 04:06 PM

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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Beauty Shoot attempt

Really good catch by dmacmillan about the skin tone in the hands looking different, I'd noticed it in the first image, but hadn't picked up on the fact that it was due to lack of makeup.

I think starting with one light and passive fill is definitely the way to go before building more complex setups. Take notes and make lighting diagrams as you experiment so you can repeat what works and what doesn't. I'm not a fan of the beauty dish in general and even less so as a one light set up. I found an umbrella or softbox was a much better place to start.

The second shot looks a bit 'hot' overall, to me. It looks like you're getting light bouncing off the background and spilling onto the back of the model which is reducing the overall contrast. I think if you pulled the model a bit more away from the background and worked the angle of the beauty dish to highlight some of the structure in the face (ie the cheekbones) it would work to create some more interest. Remember that a beaty dish doesn't necessarily need to be dead on overhead - that just happens to be a common setup.

May 01, 2012 at 08:55 PM
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Beauty Shoot attempt

In the first shot with regard to pose and composition and lighting you have set up a symmetrical pose with symmetrical centered-on-nose lighting pattern but then you moved off center with the camera to take it from a "tweener" facial angle, not quite full face. The second shot where everything is centered including the camera works better.

The lighting pattern is working well for key light placement, not so well with the fill in the first shot (better in the second). With all due respect to those who say learning with one light is better, I think its a bit like learning to play the piano with only one hand; you'll be able to pick out the melody but it will not flow together harmoniously.

Forget the technical stuff for a moment and think about goals. What do you want to be the stars of the show in the portrait? For me it the eyes and mouth. How do you make the dark eyes and dark lips contrast and draw attention to the exclusion of everything else in the photo? Make everything lighter. What makes things lighter in the shadows? The fill! What is the most critical thing for eliminating dark distracting shadows on the face? Attention to fill placement.

Below I took your photo and removed all the distracting dark shadows and enhanced the highlights. The bottom is your original, the middle what I did with cloning in lighten mode and the top an enhancement of the modeling of the face with a screen adjustment layer...


It's difficult to go wrong using that centered pattern with a naturally slim and symmetrical model's face because the pattern complements the symmetry of the camera angle (when you point the camera straight at the nose). A "butterfly" pattern might be named after the shape of the nose shadow, but ask yourself in the first photo is a shadow hanging off the nose really flattering? I think not, so what I tried to do on the top version is make the nose blend into the cheeks and become invisible to the point it's not really noticed. That in turn makes the eyes and mouth contrast more.

I cloned out the nose shadow and the nostrils making it closer to what the camera would have captured had the POV of the camera been higher than the face looking down at the top side of the nostrils. If you can see up the nose the camera is too low, for the simple reason the top side if the nose is far more attractive and those two dark nose holes look like a the eyes of the rat sitting on the upper lip. Let that metaphor sink in and you'll remember to raise the camera higher next time. I'm 6' tall and usually shoot standing on a two-step stool looking down at the subject looking up. That's how you avoid shadows under the chin and make the neck look thinner and more graceful.

The idea behind using a full face pose with low ratio nose at camera strategy is to MAKE THE NOSE DISAPPEAR. Not literally, but to make it blend into the cheeks to the point it isn't noticed and the darker eyes and mouth contrast the most. So after setting the lights you need to look very critically and spot all the dark shadows and underfilled / unfilled areas and try to eliminate them with a combination of key light placement and fill placement.

Fill is necessary because the sensor can't handle the contrast of a highlighted cheek and a shaded mouth or smile line. The only way you'll get fill into the mouth and on the teeth, which will be shaded by the lips with the centered overhead pattern is to keep it centered about chin level. Many avoid centered fill because it creates a second catchlight in the eye, but if the fill is centered and eye/chin level the fill catchlight be dead center in the black pupil and easy to remove if you use a small fill source (I use my 22" dish or a SB with a 20" circle mask. A big diffuser isn't really needed on the fill because there's no shadows it creates seen by the camera.

One of the reasons the centered lighting / full face combination is used with glamor and fashion shots is because it gives the MUA a blank canvas to work on. Make-up and lighting do the same thing in a 2D photo: create the illusion of 3D shape on the face. With both it can either accentuate the natural shape of the model's face or exaggerate it. If the face is not symmetrical or the nose is large the way it is highlighted and shaded with both make-up and lighting can help hide that defect. So obvious you want to the lighting and make-up to complement each other. In that regard both your shots work well. The lighting isn't getting in the way of the make-up and where the lighting isn't defining the shape of the face the make-up is. However the line down the nose in the second shot is a bit crooked

Next time you have a opportunity to shoot a model like this try taking a baseline test shot after the MUA has applied the even foundation. That way you can see how the light is modeling the face without the highlighting and shading of the make-up. The MUA may also find that helpful to see what additional highlighting and shading is needed with the make-up for balance and enhance the 3D shape, what I tried to show in the top edit with the screen layer.

Models get to be models in part because the have naturally slim and symmetrical faces. One of the interesting things you can do with a centered pattern is change the appearance of the face with the inverse-square fall off of the light. Putting the key light very close to the face makes it fall off very quickly highlighting the front and making the sides dark which works to slim the face. I have a tutorial the explains this and other variables: http://photo.nova.org/Butterfly/

The downside of the centered lighting, nose at camera pose strategy is that if any feature of the face isn't symmetrical it becomes very obvious, like the fact in the second shot her ears don't appear to be exactly matching. What do you do if the ears don't match? Cover them with the hair or hands. You were more clever than you know in that first shot. In the second they look different mostly because you didn't notice they are illuminated differently, one on left with more fill that the other on the right. If you are going for a symmetrical look you want to look for details like that which create right / left asymmetry.

By comparison with this centered symmetrical combination a full face view with key light to the side looks lopsided because the highlighted side attracts more attention. But when required to shoot ordinary people non models with crooked faces you can use that perceptual illusion to straighten the face. If you look at a face full and see it's not symmetrical putting the key light on the narrower side will make is seem bigger and the face more balanced in the full face view. FIll becomes an important variable in sideways patterns because for any pattern on any face as you make the shadows darker (the highlights stay the same) the balance of the face changes. The darker the shadow the more lopsided it will look.

When I light a face I don't worry about ration or matching a pattern I look at the balance the facial angle and lighting are creating in the photographic rendering of the face in 2D, which is often different that what I see under the lights with may adaptable stereo vision. So in that regard the instant playback and shooting with a tethered PC display for more critical evaluation is very valuable. Good key light placement on the top side of the curves of the face and shadows beneath create natural 3D modeling. Good fill light placement will make the shadows even with front>back gradients that draw more attention to the eyes than the ears. Poor fill placement will result in dark unfilled shadows..


Which can be prevented with a centered, chin level fill source. Try turning out all the lights except the fill to start then position it so from the camera you see no distracting shadow. Adjust it's power until you get the darkest part of the subject, like her Groucho eye brows and black hair with detail you can see in the image. Then turn on the key light which will overlap. Raise it until a white object held next to the face is clipping then back off the key light until it is about 1/3 below clipping. You'll have a perfect exposure with a full range of detail.

At capture you'll want to slightly over-fill the shadow and underexpose the RAW file because if you don't at the end of the workflow when you make the small 8-bit sRGB JPGs for the web they will have clipped highlights and red channels in skin and loss of shadow detail. Exposure is perfect in the first shot JPG but in the second the skin is clipping in the red channel indicating too much exposure at capture or overprocessing in editing it.

May 01, 2012 at 11:54 PM

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