Because of that, I think I’ve learned a few things about using lighting and more to capture (what I believe are) the most important elements of glamour photography.
Those elements all revolve around “selling” a model’s personal allure – her sensuality, beauty, and more.
Selling a model’s allure often incorporates easy-to-digest doses of fantasy coupled with various amounts of hyper-reality. Hyper-reality refers to visual components which transcend day-to-day reality. Fantasy is what glamour shooters hope to create in the viewers’ minds.
One of the best and most effective visual components for creating fantasy and transcending reality is your lighting. Sure, things like fantasy and hyper-reality can also be products of other things: makeup, styling, composition, pose, expression, the shooting environment, post-processing, and more. But all those elements often depend on lighting to accentuate or underscore them. That’s why, for many photo genres like glamour, fashion, and beauty, lighting is so important. Critically important. The lighting you, as a photographer, either create or exploit or both, goes way beyond merely providing enough of it for acceptable exposure. It often defines the image. It can also define you, as a photographer. Lighting is often the first thing viewers notice when looking at a photo. Not so much the detail or technique revealed by the lighting, at least not at first, but it’s overall and immediate impact on viewers of the image.
Creating fantasy and hyper-reality with your lighting doesn’t mean your lighting needs to be uber dramatic. It can be that way, of course, but it can also be subtle. Bottom line: Glamour lighting, whether it’s quite obvious or less conspicuous, communicates something special to viewers much the way pose and expression also communicates with viewers. Those communications are key components of the story in each photo. A photo’s “story,” by the way, isn’t necessarily a “story” in the traditional definition of the word. Emotions and attitudes, for instance, tell stories; leastwise, from the perspective of still photography. And so does your lighting.
When shooting glamour, one of the most important things I want to do with my lighting, if not the most important, is this: I want the model to stand out in the image. That’s because it’s the model who “sells” the image. If glamour is about a model’s allure, generally her sensual allure, she needs to be so much more than a prop or simply another element of a photo’s overall content. And it’s the lighting, usually above all else, that accomplishes that.
The lighting you employ should tell viewers, right up front, right from the moment they first lay eyes on the picture, that it’s a glamour portrait. As important as all the other elements of a good glamour photo can be, lighting immediately conveys “story” and invites viewers to pause and look closer, to discover those other elements. Lighting, you see, draws them in. It’s the magic wand for creating fantasy, transcending reality, and drawing attention to your work.
“Selling” The Model – From a Lighting Point of View
How do you use lighting as a magic wand? There’s isn’t one single way to do so. It can be quite different from one photographer to the next. It’s often the key element that defines a shooter’s personal style. But it’s also designed to accomplish something common to most all glamour portraits: Creating fantasy and that sense of hyper-reality in order to “sell” the model, and the photo, to viewers.
For me, “selling” the model (from a lighting point of view) is most often about highlights produced with back and side lighting. That’s my style. The main light, a light that is mostly set in front of a model and provides the main illumination for the image, is also called a “key light.” For me, my back and side lights are key lights. In other words, they are lights which are important keys to producing images reflecting my personal style when I’m shooting glamour.
For other photographers, selling a model (and the image) might revolve around carefully crafted shadows – shadows that create a mystery and a sense of mystique. Without light, there are no shadows. Shadows are created by light. The shadows themselves might be considered the absence of light but to create them in a photo, light is required.
Either way a photographer chooses to employ his or her glamour lighting, it’s all intended to accomplish the same thing: accentuating and underscoring a model’s personal allure and helping the photos shine. (Pun Intended.)
Ignite Flames: Identify Your Lighting Style
Learning how to call attention to a model’s allure is one of the reasons I believe it’s so important for photographers to learn as much about lighting as they can, to practice it often, and to develop a personal lighting style.
Anyone can follow the herd which often changes directions as various lighting styles and techniques trend in and out of popularity. By identifying a lighting style that resonates best with you, i.e., with your personal sense of photographic aesthetics, you will become more and more adept at displaying that particular style through practice and repetition. It will eventually become nearly automatic as it has for me. In so doing, you will become freer and freer to better focus on those other elements I mentioned earlier in this article. Elements like composition, pose, expression, attitude, the “story,” and more.
Effective lighting encourages viewers, in big ways, to take the time to further examine and appreciate your work after you’ve initially grabbed their attention with that lighting. Yes, other elements – elements like the models themselves, composition, shooting environment, image processing and more – are also contributing factors to grabbing a viewer’s attention. But it’s your lighting that initially and best creates the wand’s magical powers, drawing viewers in by producing an immediately perceived sense of fantasy and hyper-reality.
You may have heard the old adage, “Like a moth drawn to the flame.” Your lighting, probably more than anything else, is the flame that draws viewers in.
Thanks for reading!