Beauty photography is all about the portrayal of a model in the best possible light. It is not just about capturing a beautiful face, although this is clearly important. As with portraiture in general it is also about revealing something of the model's character and, in a typical case, the inner beauty of a young woman in the prime of life. Neither is beauty photography comparable with fashion or glamour photography. These fields of endeavour are more about the pursuit of fantasy, although the dreams in the two cases may be somewhat different.
In any type of portraiture work the photographer must strive to reveal the character and emotions of the subject. Trust and communication are essential pre-requisites. In beauty work the model contributes much more than a perfect face. She also brings her own personality, feelings and warmth to the images. The photographer must be sensitive to the whole person and be able to communicate with the model in a way that engenders trust and hence enables her to relax. Only when she relaxes will she reveal her inner self and make possible not only beautiful but also intimate images in which the viewer can feel the emotion.
It is difficult to achieve all this without first establishing a good "photographic" relationship with the model. A professional model booked for a couple of hours may have a beautiful face and great ability to present herself to the camera, but the best images come only when the photographer has earned her trust. She needs to know that the photographer understands her abilities, limitations and feelings, and that he or she is on the side of the model and working with her to achieve particular aims. She must not feel that she is just a subject, a body sitting in front of a camera with no other contribution to make. Excellent images are obtained only when the talents of both the photographer and the model are brought together in a co-ordinated manner.
When preparing for a beauty session, make sure that the following have been properly considered:
- Is the session to be conducted in a studio or at an outdoor location? If the work is to be done outdoors, be sure to work at the best time of day - ie during the first and last hours of daylight. Check temperatures at the location, indoor or outdoors, because a cold and uncomfortable model is less likely to deliver the results required. Goose pimples and blue skin do not make a good start, and a cold model will never be able to relax. In hot or humid environments make-up may run and the model may perspire.
- For beauty work use a short telephoto lens, perhaps an 85mm focal length, unless there is good reason to do otherwise. Longer lenses may be appropriate but wide-angle lenses should be used with extreme caution as the features of the model may become exaggerated or even distorted.
- The model's preparation should be as close to perfect as possible. A competent and experienced hairdresser and make-up artist are essential for the best images. Also, where the model is to expose her arms, shoulders or legs, ask her to remove straps or tight clothing well before the session begins. Pressure marks can take a long time to disappear.
- Lighting must be soft and carefully controlled. Move around the model and observe how the lighting falls on her features. Ask her to move slightly in various directions to see how the image and lighting change.
- Decide what angles are most flattering for the model, and hence the positions of the camera and lights. take care with shadows cast under the nose and chin.
- Look closely at the model's face for anything that may seem less than perfect. Observe her attitude and expressions, and check the catchlights in her eyes. If anything is out of place, perhaps a strand of hair, ask the hairdresser (or perhaps the make-up artist) to address the issue.
- Before beginning a shoot be sure to examine every detail of the model's hair, make-up and general presentation for the slightest flaw. The devil is in the detail and little things that may not seem to matter at the time may scream out as wrong in the final images. Put it right now - it is much the easiest way.
- Look after the model - think about her needs. Also make sure that whatever you ask her to do does not leave unsightly pressure marks on her skin that will be visible in later shots.