Pageant Glamour: 4 Tips for Shooting Beauty Queens

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Pageant Glamour: 4 Tips for Shooting Beauty Queens with Moshe Zusman

 

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Second to the world of modeling, the world of beauty pageants takes the cake for all its glitz and glamour. Photos of contestants need to be a step above a regular portrait.

When pageant girls step into my studio, they’re looking for a final image that represents who they are in the most fiercely confident and over-the-top, gorgeous way possible. In addition, the girls have complete trust in what I’m doing because I’ve been both a pageant photographer and judge, and their confidence in my expertise always helps.

Here are my top four tips for delivering great pageant shots to clients every single time.

  1. Set the Mood

We know this is important when we photograph any client. We have to create an environment where they can feel at ease in a normally uncomfortable situation. With my typical headshot clients, I do this by making small talk, offering them something to drink and so on. With my pageant girls, I do the same, and then some.

In addition to making them feel comfortable, I need to make them feel “confidently beautiful” (a theme of the Miss Universe pageant), and that doesn’t always come easy, even to beauty queens. As an added way to make them feel as beautiful as they are, I have a hair and makeup stylist on site. Stylists primp and make her feel like she’s being taken care of. Getting the right makeup artist is key to this because they also need to know how to make the subjects feel amazing.

Music is the final key to mood-setting. It’s always amazing to watch how quickly the right music can bring people into the right mindset and drastically change the expressions I’m getting from my subjects. On pageant shoots, I have upbeat music with a hint of sexy in it, which works every time.

  1. Lighting

When I photograph headshots, I usually start with a butterfly lighting setup. With fashion and pageants, I go for a more glamorous look, so I start with a clamshell setup and work my way from there. I use a Profoto D1 1,000-watt strobe just above my client’s face with a 2×3 softbox positioned horizontally. I use my 1,000-watt light because I want to shoot with higher apertures to get the most detail and sharpness as possible throughout the entire image.

Then, I have either a reflector or another Profoto D1 250-watt light just below her face with a 1×3 gridded softbox also positioned horizontally. It’s a run-of-the-mill beauty light setup that creates a gorgeous catchlight in the eye and highlights the subject’s cheekbones for a glamorous lighting pattern on the face.

Depending on the look we’re going for, I throw in a hair or rim light with my Profoto D1 500-watt strobe. I adjust the clamshell setup to utilize my Profoto soft-white reflector (beauty dish) instead of the softbox, and have fun from there. The key thing is to remember to never lose the catchlight in their eyes and watch for any harsh shadows underneath the chin.

  1. Posing and Props

There are two types of pageant shoots. I take photos for girls who need them for their application to the beauty contest, and that they’ll use in the pageant program and for judges’ eyes later during the competition. I also photograph the titleholders: girls who have just won a competition and need their winning photo session results. Their photos will be used for publicity and for the next-level competition (Miss Maryland would then be competing for Miss USA).

For submission images, the photo needs to be representative of how the woman looks in person. The judges see this photo before meeting her, and if it’s overly retouched to the point that they don’t recognize her when she walks into her interview, it will annoy the judges. The photo should be posed naturally, not too sexy, and accentuate her best features. If she has great teeth, have her show off her beautiful smile. If she has great hair, highlight that. You want to create an image that is beautiful and more than just a headshot, but also one that is a true reflection of who the girl is and what she looks like.

For titleholders, we add sashes and crowns. It can be a little tricky to work with props like these without making the image look cheesy. You’ll develop your own style. I take the traditional image of the winner wearing the crown and sash, then play with her positioning, putting her anywhere but where she is supposed to be.

In contrast to the submission photos, titleholder photos should be over-the-top sexy and glamorous. Concentrate on her best features, but add more sultry posing and varying expressions. Whatever the girl is good at, go for it. The only caveat is to know the difference between a Miss and a Miss Teen. Teens shouldn’t look too sexy, while more mature contestants can be a bit more provocative.

There is also a difference between Miss USA and Miss America. Miss America is like the “girl next door,” while Miss USA is the girl you wish lived next door. You can’t go too sexy with Miss USA.

  1. Post-Processing

Again, remember what kind of shoot you’re doing. Submission photos shouldn’t be overly retouched or alter how a girl looks since judges don’t like deception.

Titleholder shots can be retouched more heavily. Go to town with the retouching. Lower the shoulders to extend the neck, smooth out the skin, and brighten the eyes and smile. Take care of any blemishes and flyaway hairs. Nip and tuck as you see fit. These photos will be used for the next level of competition, and judges look for flaws first.

Want to see how we work firsthand? Get yourself to ShutterFest 2017, where I’ll be doing a live beauty queen photo session complete with music, hair, makeup and everything I talked about here. It’s going to be the most talked-about session at the show, so don’t miss it.

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the January issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.