With beauty shots, there are often limiting factors one has to work with, including constrained composition, precision lighting, and minimal background elements. Pro Showcase photographer Laura Tillinghast is quite mindful of these and other limitations, yet she chooses to get creative with them. And in the process, she truly elevates the quality of her work.
In this lesson with bonus video, Laura generously offers up valuable tips and techniques that will help you bring your beauty shots to the next level!
The key to nailing this look is choosing the right backdrop and making sure you light it properly. I have tried a number of things to achieve this style and this time around I chose to use the “Mermaid” backdrop from Drop it Modern*. The silver pieces are very reflective and great for creating a sparkling effect behind your subject. If your budget does not allow for a backdrop like this, you can substitute any silver and reflective material. I have used a hanging tinsel door that you can get from any party store and this also works great.
*Note that due to high demand, the "Mermaid" backdrop has recently sold out. However, Drop It Modern will be debuting a new silver backdrop at the end of the month, and when they do, we will update this lesson and add a link to it.
It's also important to use a longer lens with some compression so that you can easily throw the background out of focus without having to distance yourself too far from the backdrop or open your aperture up too wide. I am a Canon shooter so I love to use the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for this.
For beauty shots, choosing the right model is paramount. Since beauty photography focuses on the face, you want to make sure that you find a model who can give you interesting expressions and keep some emotion in their eyes. It is very difficult to make a beauty shot dynamic if your model looks like a deer in headlights or a piece of wood. I always look for existing beauty images in a model’s portfolio so that I can get an idea of their range. I was very lucky to find Haley and Bianca, both of whom have experience with this type of shoot.
Another important element in beauty photography is your hair, make-up and styling combination. For every beauty look I do, I always work with a professional hair and makeup artist. Even though I do have proficiency in this area, I find it's better to have a professional be in charge of hair and makeup so that I can concentrate on the lighting. As for styling, I usually try to work with a wardrobe stylist, but this is not always possible. I often end up styling a lot of my portfolio work so I try to keep up on trends by reading fashion magazines and following the bigger fashion Blogs.
Lighting Set Up
The beauty of the TritonFlash Battery Powered Strobes, at least for me, is how easy they are to work with. Lightweight and compact, these heads are a cinch to use in studio and a pleasure to set up on location.
For this shot, I used a TritonFlash with a small OctoDome soft box as the main key light. I chose the OctoDome for its soft and wide-reaching effect. This broad and even light modifier is very flattering to skin tones and creates soft shadows beneath a model’s chin and cheekbones.
Normally I like to shoot beauty images with an aperture setting between f/8 and f/11, but for this shot I needed a shallower depth of field. To make sure that our background of silver sparkles was out of focus, rendering the bokeh effect, I set up the key light to expose at f/5.6. I also put a backlight with the included 7" metal reflector, also to expose well at f/5.6, on the backdrop to make sure it was fully lit. You can experiment with more or less light on the backdrop to intensify or downplay the sparkling effect.
Keeping shallow depth of field in mind, make sure you have the backdrop placed back far enough from the model to create a bit of distance. This will make the bokeh effect easier to achieve.
The last lighting component was the white side of a 42-inch 5in1 MultiDisc reflector. I placed this in front of the model, lying flat, just beneath the rib cage. This bounced a bit of light into the model’s eyes, adding a nice catch-light and softened shadows.
With beauty shots, your composition is typically limited, since you are working with such a tight crop. One thing I like to do is add a bit of wind to give some lift and movement to the model’s hair. A little movement can really breathe some energy into your shots if you are worried that the posing or angles are getting a bit stale or repetitive as you shoot.
One thing I love about this backdrop is how versatile it is. If you don't want to use a backlight, then you can shoot using just a key light. As long as some of the key light falls on the background, you'll get a sparkling effect, but with more contrast and shadows.
Additional Equipment Used
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this lesson shoot!...
Written and photographed by Laura Tillinghast.
To see more of Laura's work, visit her Pro Showcase page