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.


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".

Julia Kuzmenko McKim's picture

Julia is a Los Angeles based internationally published Beauty & Fashion photographer, digital artist, retoucher and educator. An International College of Professional Photography (Melbourne, Australia) graduate. Retouching Academy founder and Editor-in-Chief.

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Great one! :)

always the best

and some good music! :)


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

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

Molodetz Yuliya!

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.

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.

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

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.

Thanks !

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!

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?

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.

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.

Let's critique.

The photo of the woman in the white dress is in a setting that distracts. The plants in the foreground are obtrusive and take away from the impact of what the photographer wants us to look at. The background isn't pleasant either given that you see tree limbs everywhere.

The photo of the woman in the blue dress has a background with bright portions that take the eye off the subject. Also note the trees coming out of the top of the model's head. Observe the stairwell behind her to the right. What does that add to the photo?

The photo of the woman with the red lipstick is well composed and exposed, but the red ruins its aesthetic quality and I daresay proves that extensive post processing can ruin a shot. All of these have post processing that I detest, but that's just me.

Thanks for the article, though. I love the use of the rule of thirds.

THis has to be one of the BEST photography articles I have ever read!

Isn't the jawline from the second to last picture a bit too sharp? Would be nice to see the original source picture.

This is standard rule of thirds that is taught in all art classes . Learning what it means and putting it into practice has been taught for decades even more than a hundred years


It's odd that people think they have found the holy grail?

Look at all art and you will see it has been practiced for ever.

Being good and or great at it is subjective.

Reinventing a wheel ? I will keep waiting for something rounder?

We all know that. We all know it's been used for centuries by almost every artist in almost every field possible. But there might be some people who are not familiar with it or still didn't learn it.

But what does rule of thirds have to do with making women feel good about their looks? The formula for what makes women more attractive or less attractive has zero to do with rule of thirds and viza vie. Applying a layout formula to beauty is rather Odd.

I feel like its more about writing and making something look shiney as to grab the attention of the reader who is looking for the golden key that is responsible for misleading people!

This is what you end up with when knowledge is twisted.


I just want to thank for their time and effort in sharing your knowledge with us. Thank you very much indeed.

This is a very important issue, or rather the cornerstone of photography which often do not know how to put it into practice and it gets confusing.

Julia thank you very much for explaining so clearly and easy, I found it very useful and have cleared many doubts.

P. S. I hope I apologize, my English is not very good.

Try adding the Fibbonaci's complex rules and the description of "Golden Ratio" and "Divine Proportion" because it is seen by many to open the door to a deeper understanding of beauty in life... Even in adobe LR have this as an overlay tool to pre-divine you comp.

Julia when you crop do you crop at print dimensions or freely crop?