Secrets to Crafting Top-Quality Beauty Portraits
This article is for those of you how enjoy beauty photography: from fashion and advertising beauty, to beauty portraits of non-models and even boudoir photography. And while there are always millions or rules, trends and opinions, I base my article on my own ideas and beliefs as to what’s important to be aware of to successfully create attractive beauty images.
I started taking pictures of my lady-friends in 2006, and quickly realized that female beauty was what I enjoyed photographing the most. I love all types of visual arts, but creating beautiful images of my female friends and clients (who often become my friends) is my favorite photo activity until this day.
And because I figured out what my focus should be early in my photography career, I have since been learning and improving my ability to make my models and clients look beautiful and feel comfortable in front of my camera. So here are the things that I’ve learned from my own experience.
Women Always Want To Look And Feel Beautiful
It is true, and applies to most women regardless of their age, race and occupation. But we are also often very self-conscious, sometimes insecure, and constantly seeking proof that we are attractive and desirable.
I’ve noticed that it’s especially true for big cities. I believe that, in turn, explains the difference in size of the beauty photography markets in big cities compared to rural areas and small towns, as well as the difference in beauty photographers’ rates.
So, if beauty photography is your favorite photography type to shoot, no matter where you are located, you most likely already know that your success will depend on your ability to make your clients look the way they want to be seen by the world around them – beautiful, sexy, young and fit. That makes it essential for photographers who do this type of work to understand the principles and aesthetics of beauty, so they can put their models into flattering poses and set up flattering lighting.
The following fundamental elements are applied to all portraits, but I would like to look at them through the prism of all types of beauty photography: fashion, advertising, portraits and boudoir.
The Main Elements
The main elements that can make of break any portrait, including beauty, are:
1. Framing & Composition
3. Facial expression
These are the things I always keep in check, not only while shooting, but also when selecting my final images for editing and submission to client. Today I would like to focus on Framing & Composition, and I will talk about the rest of the elements in the following articles.
Framing & Composition
To master your ability to successfully compose your photos is not hard, but requires your understanding how important it is, your desire and determination to become better at your craft and constant practice. When I teach photography I always suggest training your eye to crop your images in camera as you shoot, not later in Photoshop.
These fundamentals of visual arts are not difficult to understand at all, however, I see many photographers struggling with their framing and composition very often. If you haven’t taken any basic arts classes before, I would strongly recommend that you visit a local library, purchase some good fine art books and learn everything you can on the topic. The internet, of course, is also a great source.
Check out these short videos. Even though they were not created specifically for photographers, the same principles apply to all types of visual arts. Please disregard the quality of some of them, just absorb the great knowledge that they generously offer. Watch in the order the videos are posted, please:
And reinforcing the previously mentioned principles:
All of the mentioned rules apply to portrait and beauty photography as well.
So next time while shooting, try to remember to visually balance the photo leaving eyeroom and headroom where needed; placing points of interest on so-called power points or along the Rule of Thirds guidelines; and be mindful of the negative space and the edges of the frame.
While preparing my images to illustrate what we have talked about today, I realized that my own Rule of Thirds grid is quite stretched out along the standard 2×3 frame.
I’ve never paid attention to this fact until I applied the grids to my images today. But I sure know what explains it – I always like cropping my portraits tighter leaving as little negative space around the subject as possible. And the standard proportions of a DSLR frame leave me no choice but visually push the horizontal guidelines apart, closer to the top and bottom edges of the frame. It is not something that I do consciously, but once I place points of interest along those imaginary guidelines, the frame looks well-balanced to me.
And this only goes to show that even though you don’t have to follow these fundamental rules to the letter, you must respect them nevertheless.
Check out these examples of various crops from medium close up to full body shots (all images are taken by me):
The last couple of images I’d like to show you are composed slightly different due to their specific types.
In the next photo, if I followed the same logic as in all previous images, I would normally place the model’s lips on the bottom guideline. But by doing so, I would have to crop her chin off, or crop her head off right across the neck. One of the most often unsuccessfully broken rules in people photography is cropping subjects across places where their body parts (limbs or head) are attached to the body (ankles, knees, wrists).
You can hear a little bit more about Full Close Up framing rules in the Filmmaking: Composition and Framing Tutorial by LightsFilmSchool that I posted above at 4:40 min.
The following image was created in collaboration with my wildly talented friend, the Editorial Stylist of the Year, 2013 (NAHA), Sherri Jessee. In hairstyling beauty photography the focus of attention is always, obviously, the hair. You will often see this slightly different composition where the hair, not the face or the eyes, is placed on one of the Rule of Thirds guidelines.
If in other types of beauty photography closeups we can crop the top of the head off, in hairstyling photography you will normally leave more headroom and step back while shooting.
I hope you enjoyed this article! Stay tuned and I will share more thoughts on lighting and posing for beauty photography in my future articles.
If you would like to learn more about female beauty aesthetics, biology and principles from a retoucher’s perspective, check out and sign up for my upcoming beauty, fashion and portrait retouching video-book “From Amateur To Pro in a week”.