5 Tips for a Successful Beauty Shoot

beauty shoot

5 Tips for a Successful Beauty Shoot with Kristina Varaksina

Tip 1. Break Down the Assignment

There are editorial beauty shoots, and there are commercial beauty shoots. They have different goals and different target audiences, and therefore they should look different. If your assignment comes from a client such as a skincare, makeup, hair or jewelry brand, you need to check their objectives. What is the product or products they are featuring, and what kind of images are they expecting to get? Catalog shots can be quite different from social media shots. For example, on social media, images tend to be more approachable, the emotions more candid and spontaneous, whereas in catalogs and on brands’ websites, the images traditionally look more polished, carefully constructed and with no accidental elements. Editorial assignments are usually very different, because they put an idea, a story first, and the products and accessories just become tools that help the story to be told. So when you think of your lighting, composition and model direction, you should always keep in mind what exactly you are featuring and what story you are telling.

Tip 2. Know Your Team

Your team, as well as your model, make up 80 percent of your shoot’s success. When you know your assignment and your goals, you have to start thinking of the creative components. Knowing the type of story you want to tell, you need to be very precise with your choice of model, hair and makeup people, wardrobe stylist, and prop stylist in some cases. Every creative person has their own style, things they are into, things they are good at, and also limitations. For example, in my beauty photography, I really like fresh and real-looking skin. As such, I prefer working with makeup artists who do not put foundation on the skin. I always say to them, let me deal with blemishes and other skin imperfections later on in post—focus on preserving the real skin texture, the natural glow and your creative ideas. Some makeup artists like putting a lot of product on the skin, so for many of my shoots, I would not pick them.

Knowing your light, you can also communicate to your makeup artist if you would like the skin to be more matte or more dewy. If you are adding color to your light, make sure your team is aware of that. And it’s important that they can listen to, take direction from, and co-create with you. You are not just a person who presses a shutter release button—you are fully responsible for the outcome of the shoot, so it’s important that you are in control of all the elements, and that you don’t let the rest of the crew “just do their thing.” On my shoots, I generally prefer to work with the same people, because we understand each other very well. I’m also very particular with hair styling. People often do not realize how much hair can tell us about a person, about the mood and the story of the shoot. Badly done hair can ruin a shoot, and the worst thing is that you can’t do much about it in post. There’s a lot you or your retoucher can do with the makeup in post-production, but there’s not much you can do to fix the hair. Make sure to discuss all the details and go over the references with your team before the shoot.

Tip 3. Direction on Set – Stay in Control

When you are on set, and you know the mood you are going for and what you’d like to feature, your first tool to help you accomplish that is, of course, your lighting. Quite often, you get an art direction with lighting references from a client or an art director, so you can adjust that to what you feel will be right to achieve the goals of the assignment. For example, if the assignment is to feature fresh and dewy skin, and the client wants moody lighting, you might need to adjust that to more of a high-key approach, because the viewer might not see the fresh, glowing skin in the deep shadows.

Once you know your lighting, you need to make sure that the directions you give to your model help convey the same story—moody, happy, mysterious, sensual, playful, etc.—as your lighting. How much should your model move to create the mood you are going for? Should they be looking at the camera and interacting with the viewer? How tight is your crop? Beauty photography can range from portrait-like framing to macro beauty, where you can only see one eye or just the lips or half of the face. The model, of course, should be aware of the framing. You also have to specify if you would like to see the hands in the shot, and what role they will play. Typically, for a beauty editorial, you wouldn’t want to choose too many shots with hands in them, maybe just a couple. But if you are shooting jewelry like rings or bracelets, the hands will play a crucial role—make sure you have a good amount of references, so that the hand gestures do not repeat in every single shot. I also like to go with the model’s personality. I know that some gestures will not look natural with certain models, but will work great with others.

Tip 4. Take Breaks

It’s important that you take breaks often enough to let your team touch up makeup and hair and make other adjustments. Beauty photography is extremely honest—you can’t get away with a lot of things you’d normally be able to get away with in fashion photography, for example. Every detail matters, from the direction of the hairs in the eyebrows to the placement of every single curl or a fly-away of the model’s hair. Another reason to take breaks is to let your model’s face rest. Faces get tired much faster than you would think. After some camera clicks, you often start noticing that your model’s face gets a bit frozen, or the eyes lose their spark, or the lips become too tense. The models themselves may not feel tired yet, but certain parts of their face might start “giving up.” It is important that your pictures look as engaging as possible, and therefore you should give your models breaks, so they can regain energy and translate it to the camera.

Tip 5. The Importance of Post-Production

The first time you create your image is when you first think about it—in your head, you imagine the mood, the light, the model’s expression, maybe even the makeup and hair. The second time you create the same image is, of course, when you shoot it. You may get better ideas, or your team may come up with something, or often the model does something you didn’t expect, and you think, “This is it.” And the third time you create the image is when you work on it in post. That’s why I love playing around with pictures myself before handing them over to a retoucher. You can change contrast, which will affect the mood (the light will essentially become softer or harder), and you can change colors. I always mess with the color of the background just to see what happens—what if something else works much better?

You can play around with the colors of makeup, even shift the focus from one area of the face to another. But of course, you should be confident in your retouching skills before you make big changes, because the key is that it has to look natural. For example, if you don’t know how to work with skin texture, it’s better to leave it as it is. The result will always look more “expensive” than overly retouched skin. The same applies to makeup. You have to know makeup application rules to be able to retouch it well. If you are not sure about your skin and hair retouching skills, then better to leave it to professionals. But you should definitely play with color and contrast—the global adjustments, as they are called. To become better at post-production and creative decisions on tonal and color grading, you can simply look at all the latest campaigns and editorials on models.com and analyze what might have been done to those images, and how that changed the character of the shots. In the end, it all comes back to the initial goal of the shoot.

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