Quick Tip - Contouring for Men

Contouring has become a popular technique that women use to give shape and enhance facial structure by using makeup. Since most men aren’t willing to use makeup during portrait shoots, I’ve devised a way for photographers to achieve the same results simply by using lighting techniques.

The information in this article specifically covers round and oval faces, so if you’re interested in learning more about how to enhance every male face shape, you’ll have to watch me LIVE on creativeLIVE, November 24th and 25th.

A round face is one that is almost equal in width to height and doesn’t have a strong pronounced jawline. Oval faces are just round faces that are about 2/3 as long as they are wide; also without a pronounced jawline. Since most people with rounder faces have fuller cheeks and cheekbones, you want to focus on highlighting their foreheads and chins, while darkening their cheeks. This leads your eye to the core elements of a face: the eyes, nose, lips and brow.

Below are three images, all taken with a Canon 5D Mark III and Sigma 150mm 2.8 Macro Lens. Each of these images are unedited and straight out of camera for the purposes of showcasing the way contouring leads the eye. By using two V-Flats on either side of my subject I was able to reduce the amount of highlights on his cheeks, thus causing you to focus on his eyes, nose, lips and brow. When you don't have enough time dedicated to editing, being able to contour in-camera makes your life simpler.

Below are the same three photos showing exactly where the fall-off of light ends, and how shadows actually help accentuate my subject’s features.

Here are the three lighting setups side by side:


I found that this technique is a great way to light subjects who are a little self-conscious about their fuller faces and still be able to use the soft lighting that parabolic umbrellas and softboxes offer. The contouring technique can also be enhanced in post-production if you feel that you need to shape your subject’s face even further. I'd have to credit the makeup artists who I generally work with for the idea, you guys have taught me so much!

If you're interested in seeing the final image, look no further. And if you're interested in seeing more of my work, you can find that on my Facebook page.

Correction: Westcott Zeppelin

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18 Comments

Patrick Hall's picture

I've always been interested in how black v flats work. In these examples they seem negligible except they help contain the flash on the background. I always thought black vflats were only useful in small studios where your key light was hitting a wall or ceiling and bouncing back to hit your subject.

Adam Bender's picture

To further your point Patrick, I'm curious how the images would differ if the background were a constant black. I think that would help to focus more on the light contouring. The change in the background illumination makes it difficult to compare the differences.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Great point! I'll make sure that when I do this live, that there is no change in the background exposure so that it's easier to see. :)

Jeff Rojas's picture

As with makeup contouring, this method is meant for a subtle but noticeable change. I'll edit the post with a gif of the 3 images back to back in the next couple of hours. ;)

james johnson's picture

I can definitely see the difference in the v-flats photo, and I'm usually one of the people who complains that demo photos are too subtle.

Great technique, and something I don't use often enough.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Thank you James! :)

M L's picture

Patrick, you are correct and there is little difference between the two images with out the reflector. The darker background is tricking us into believing that the shadows are darker and his bigger smile is creating more places for deeper shadows on the v flat than the one without the flats. I'm a huge believer in V flats and use them all the time but that is either in a multiple light set up or in a light colored studio on a large dark/ non reflective room with one light you are just making work for yourself.

Michelle Alger's picture

Great job, Jeff! I can definitely see the change, especially on the line of the neck (the subject's left) and I think the black v-flats work well to absorb the light and carve the contours of his face. I'm really looking forward to your CreativeLive workshop!

Jeff Rojas's picture

Thank you kindly Michelle! Please stay in touch! :D

Jeff Rojas's picture

Thank you for reading! :)

Youness Taouil's picture

very good article thanks for the help.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Thank you for reading. :)

Jason Ranalli's picture

I have never tried it as I don't have v-flats, however, I wonder if you could do a clamshell lighting job with a grid on a beauty dish or small softbox above/reflector below then come in really hard and close on the sides with black v-flats.

I wonder if that would be more dramatic in slimming "fuller" faces.

Jeff Rojas's picture

I'd be absolutely willing to try it. :) I honestly believe that it would depend on the power of the softbox underneath. In case you don't have V-Flats at home. I've also been able to replicate this with black handheld flags. :)

Lee Christiansen's picture

My portrait studio is blessed with black walls so I don't usually need black flags / flats.

However I do find that using a narrower reflector under the face gives a more contoured look and I often just use one of the reflector panels from my Lastolite Triflector kit. I find that a standard round reflector adds too much "body" to a face.

Anonymous's picture

I'm thinking a gridded strip light would have been more effective than the Zeppelin mod for this shot. The subject's left ear appears too bright.

Jeff Rojas's picture

That absolutely would be better, but that was not the point of this article. :)