Beauty photography focuses on sparkling purity.
To be clear: Related to an absolute lighting setup there is no such thing as ‘beauty light’.
A beauty light may be both soft and glowing or dramatic and dark. This all totally depends on the beauty image you actually visualize in your mind.
So, whenever I getting ready for a beauty shooting session, I prepare by asking myself the following questions:
- What are my goals?
- Which mood should be images reflect?
- Where do I want the focus to be in my photos?
- And finally, which tools do I need that will help me to achieve my goals?
General Assumption and “Direction”
When thinking of beauty, mainly soft round light, no harsh shadows, balanced lighting, set accents and a beautiful catch light cross our mind.
Based on these general assumptions, I will explain to you how I personally set up a typical beauty light.
Using lights to soften the skin of a subject is a well-practiced technique applied by many professionals. Getting the lighting right is not a complicated task and can subsequently save you precious time by eliminating the need for some common retouching practices.
Good beauty lighting can be achieved using many combinations of studio lights and light formers, so chances are you probably already have what you need.
Beauty: It Starts in the Eyes!
Eyes are the essence and life of beauty and portrait shots. Every shot you take needs to sparkle with a well-defined catch light at the eye’s pupil.
For a round shaped reflection use an Octobox or umbrella as light modifier.
How Many Flash Heads & What Type of Light Formers?
In most cases 3 heads are sufficient for a common setup. But in order to nicely illuminate the background with white color as well, 4 flashes are just perfect. Sounds like a lot of effort but it is not complicated at all.
To create light that is soft and appealing to the skin and shape of your model, you can use softboxes, translucent umbrellas or a beauty dish with a diffusor on it as the main light source. Rim and hair light might be more “edgy” and that’s why I need different modifiers for this task.
1 to 4 Light Simulation
My Setup: 4 Point Lighting for a Beauty Shot
Main Light & Basic Model Pose
I take a medium Octobox with diffusor and put the main light quite in a distance to the model. Info: The larger the source in relationship to your subject, the softer light you get.
So, if you want a softer look, just take bigger modifiers, bring them in close and the look becomes softer and softer.
Ask the model to put her body into a position that favors the key light and then slightly turn her head back towards to the camera, but not too drastically. This is the basic light and model pose setup.
Main Light Variant 2
Alternatively, I use a beauty dish. The light is harder with semi-soft edges and the contrast is higher, while the shadow is sharper. Put a diffusor on it in order to achieve an overall softer light.
In general, I opt for a beauty dish if I want the main light to be more defined.
After that I add a fill light. This will help you to control your contrast ratio. I am normally using an additional flash as I have more flexibility in controlling the light volume and fill strengths faster than when having to move a reflector around.
Hair Light/Separation Light
A last light that is always good for beauty shots is would be the backlight. This will add a separation from the background and also bring out some highlights of the model’s hair. It really makes it pop.
After this simple lighting setup you should be quite satisfied with your beauty shots. Now you have a general understanding on how to tweak your setups to receive your desired beauty picture.
Background Light & Bounce
If you want to light up your background with an even white illumination, take an additional 4th lamp and direct it towards the background. I also put on the opposite a bounce board for some filling
I love to use the backlight effect for reasons of purity and dream-like quality that it delivers each and every time.
ESSENTIALS. Studio Lighting for Nude Photography
Lighting Blueprint. Theory, showcases and exercises. Extensive theory part to strengthen your practical work. 19 all-inclusive case studies/lighting setups for 1, 2, 3 & 4 lights. Featuring Jenni Czech & Melisa Mendini. Sexy Women Photography at its best!