How I Shot This Beauty Editorial With a Single Speedlight

How I Shot This Beauty Editorial With a Single Speedlight

I've been getting more and more into beauty photography lately, and I'm a big proponent of using one light whenever possible. 

The Gear and the Crew

This shoot would not have happened without my model, Abuk Tong, and makeup artist Sangeeta Bhella. Gear-wise, for this shoot, I used one speedlight, the Cactus RF60x in a parabolic softbox above the model with a reflector below the model. I shot all of the photos on the Fujifilm X-T3 with the 90mm f/2.0. I used a smaller reflector for the extremely close shots and a larger reflector for the two full-face photos, simply because I couldn't get as close as I wanted with the 90mm and the large reflector.

Woman, dark skin, close up, beauty, portrait

One of the photos from the editorial

The Idea

I love the idea of showing the process; it's one of my favorite things in photography. I find well-shot behind the scenes photos sometimes to be more pleasing than the actual photo. So, I wanted to bring in the process of a makeup look into this shoot. I wanted every shot to incorporate the techniques and skills used to create the look, slowly building it photo after photo. 

The sketches I used to help convey ideas

I started the shoot with a notebook of bad sketches, but they helped me visualize exactly what I wanted my framing to be and communicate that with the team. I find that building out sketches and marking down exactly what you want is extremely helpful for showing your team exactly what you have in mind and ensuring that everyone is on the same page. As you can see, you don't have to be a good artist to get these simple sketches across. The photos changed a bit from these sketches, but what is important is the idea, not the specifics. 

The Process

As usual, I set up my lights in my home studio the day before. I do this to reduce stress and allow myself to sleep in. I want to have as stress-free of a day as possible, and if I suddenly change my mind on how I want the lights set up, I can do that before anyone arrives.

Makeup touchups and lighting setup

We shot these photos in order, starting with the simple swoosh of foundation on Abuk's cheek, followed by the lipstick, then the eyeshadow, and last, the pink eyelashes. Since this was all shot one by one, it allowed us to get multiple looks with only one makeup application. If it wasn't for Sangeeta's amazing makeup skills, this shoot would not have turned out half as nice. If you've never done it, I highly recommend working with a team, even if it's just a makeup artist. When you find a makeup artist that you trust and really click with, it's like nothing else and can really bring your work to another level. 

Woman, dark skin, makeup, beauty

Another shot from the editorial


When it comes to retouching, I try to keep things relatively simple. A little bit of blemish cleanup here, a bit of frequency separation there. On these shots, however, I really wanted the makeup to pop, so I selected it using Capture One's color selector and upped the saturation. I also took all of my shadows and darkened them a little, so that I could get those deep, warm skin tones that Abuk has.

Beauty, Dark Skin, Closeup, Makeup

I really wanted the image to be very dark and make the makeup pop, hence the bold eyes and lips, which are normally a no-no, but Sangeeta and I really trust each other for making such decisions, and we made a series of photos that we are really proud of.


Blush being added

In conclusion, you can see how easy it is to put together a set of beauty images with just a single light. You won't need a lot of equipment, just one light, maybe a bounce, and you're good to go. So, go out, and get shooting!
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Nick Viton's picture

Great work, David! Sangeeta is the best!

Rob Waller's picture

Finally. Somebody who sketches faces worse than me :)
Cool shots, and good read. Thanks.

David J. Fulde's picture

I'm the best at being the worst!

Andy Day's picture

Nice. Great photos, excellent write-up.

Shavonne Wong's picture

Love your sketches 😂
Nice work!!

gameleather jacketsuk's picture

Nice Post.You don't have to be a good artist to get these simple sketches across.