Secrets to Crafting Top-Quality Beauty Portraits

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

2. Lighting

3. Facial expression

4. Pose

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

It's all about visual balance. In formal visual art courses (including photography) composition, visual elements and balance are among the first things that students must learn.

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.

 

My Examples

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 2x3 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):

Creating Beauty Portraits by Julia Kuzmenko McKimCreating Beauty Portraits by Julia Kuzmenko McKim

Creating Beauty Portraits by Julia Kuzmenko McKim

Creating Beauty Portraits by Julia Kuzmenko McKim

Creating Beauty Portraits by Julia Kuzmenko McKim

Creating Beauty Portraits by Julia Kuzmenko McKim

Creating Beauty Portraits by Julia Kuzmenko McKim

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.

creating-beauty-portraits-fstoppers-tori-closeup

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.

Creating Beauty Portraits by Julia Kuzmenko McKim

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".

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39 Comments

Jon McGuffin's picture

always the best

Karl-Filip Karlsson's picture

and some good music! :)

Jason Vinson's picture

ALL HAIL JULLIA!!!!!

Julia Kuzmenko McKim's picture

YAY! Thanks, I'm happy you guys liked it!

I always love your posts. So much knowledge gained. Thank you.

Molodetz Yuliya!

Sean Capers's picture

Pretty good indeed

Of all the people that post here, it seems like you have the highest quality of work and posts. I have a deep respect for the work and posts you are producing.

Www.m-squared2.com

Julia Kuzmenko McKim's picture

Thank you for your kind words, Michael!

Did you draw that caricature? if not, looks very bad on your part to be using an image that is not yours. You really get upset when somebody else uses your stuff. We all get upset actually.

I suggest you remove it or credit who made that caricature that has been floating around the internet since 2008. http://www.tineye.com/search/655715eed3c9e84d113e30efa45bd82ce42b85be/

Have you been able to track down the creator of this image?

Julia Kuzmenko McKim's picture

Thank you! I did tried to track it down, I initially did not find it on the internet - our teachers showed it to us. And yes, you are right, that doesn't give me a right to use it.

William T.'s picture

These are the type of articles we really need! Thank you, Julia!

Julia's articles always bring so much knowledge. When I first started photographing I tried to remind myself of this rule everytime, I guess that it becomes natural after a while. Thanks once again Julia!

Julia Kuzmenko McKim's picture

Yes, I think it becomes your second nature after a while. But when I was starting out I had to actively make myself aware of my framing. A good trick is also to regularly look at great art - be it outstanding photography or paintings - that's how you train your eye to sense what looks good right away.

Great! Can't wait for that video book to come out! :)

Such great information. Thanks Julia.

Amazing article, Thanks Julia.

easy....first get a good looking girl.. then dress her like so guy wnat to jerk off....

Thanks Julia, for this great article

I shoot promo images for musicians in the main, and I've noticed that it's increasingly important for my client that their images work in a square format - this is because many social media (twitter, facebook, instagram) and music sharing sites (spotify, bandcamp, soundcloud) use profile pictures that are cropped square. So my clients want images that look good when cropped in a square. What are people's thoughts on composition of portrait (or group) shots in a square?

Glen Grant's picture

Great information and advise, well thought out and presented for ease of understanding.

I absolutely love shooting beauty. I really look forward to this series.

Eyes of models are werid and scary. All girls look like contestants from RuPaul's Drag Race,

Though I completely disagree with what you say, I will defend - to the death - your right to say it.

I love the grading of the woman on the staircase.

Nathan Joseph Dodson's picture

Great info, thanks for sharing, Julia! :)

Well written, and very clear. While I have applied these principles for quite some time to my own work, it can be difficult to explain to those who are struggling with it. I feel the article did a good job with that. You already know I'm a fan, and I'm an owner of one of your ebooks, so I'm glad to see you stay on target here with good quality content.

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