Picture-Perfect Beauty Images

Picture-Perfect Beauty Images with Jeff Rojas

Over the last few years of my career, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing my work featured in Elle, Esquire, and other magazines across the globe. It’s been a rewarding experience that has provided me with a great marketing outlet to create more perceived value for my photography business. It’s also allowed me to have a reason to reach out to new commercial clients that I otherwise would not have had access to.

Shooting beauty photography shouldn’t be inherently tricky. Still, every day, I see photographers struggle to nail what I would consider a traditional beauty image—something worthy of a beauty campaign that you’d see in stores like Sephora or Mac. Whether you’re a photographer interested in beauty and fashion photography or just want to learn new creative skills to take your portraiture from boring to “wow,” below, you’ll find five secrets to help you create picture-perfect beauty images.

TIP 1. Less Is More

By definition, commercial beauty photography is photography that is used to sell skincare or hair products, and/or jewelry. In the same respect that fashion photographers focus on photographing clothing, beauty photographers should stay focused on selling beauty products and accessories.

I believe it’s crucial to focus on subtly showcasing one of the following: makeup, skincare products, hair products or jewelry.

It’s easy to want to make a bold statement piece, with big hair and lots of makeup, but rarely does it ever work to create a cohesive piece that looks worthy of a makeup or hair campaign. And let’s be clear—I’ve been there. Several years ago, after shooting fashion for a few years, I hired a commercial photographer to comb through my portfolio and critique it. His exact words were, “I’d start over.”

I cannot convey how heartbreaking that felt, but I took it with an open mind and an open heart. I asked why. He imparted this advice to me, and it’s something that I’ll in turn give to you:

“You will rarely see bold makeup, bold hair, bold lighting, and bold clothing executed well. In most cases, it just looks like a jumbled mess.”

My point is, focus on something you want to showcase, and go all in. Focusing on bold hair? Showcase that hair in a beautiful and daring style, but maybe opt for a more natural makeup look.

Subtlety is the key to success.

I encourage you to Google beauty photographers, and you’ll start learning to appreciate my sentiment.

TIP 2. Make It Believable

If you’ve never heard me say it before, let me go on the record: I hate retouching. I do. It’s not my forte. It’s tedious, it’s tiring, and I take no pleasure in hours of staring at a screen. So I outsource everything (consider this a shameless plug for Evolve Edits).

What I ask of my retouchers is simple: Give me something that’s clean, but that looks believable. I want to eliminate blemishes while retaining as much skin texture as possible. Doing so ensures a natural look that doesn’t appear over-processed, one that helps sell the makeup and skincare product used to create the image. If my audience can tell that it’s been overly processed, then I didn’t do my job as a commercial beauty photographer.

Also, an important side note: I’m not going to get on a moral high-horse here, but many companies are starting to use “unedited” photos of their models, claiming the images are entirely photoshop-free. I can guarantee two things to you: 1) They are using models with clean, clear skin, more than likely young and blemish-free, and 2) They’re using softer light sources to eliminate contrast and therefore reduce the focus on any blemishes the model does have.

TIP 3. Shoot With a Plan in Mind

If you work together with any creative, I promise you that they’ll try to take over the shoot. Save yourself the hassle and disagreements. Shoot with a plan in mind.

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I live by the adage, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This is true in photography as well. You should always start with a concept in mind. If you want to shoot crazy hair, be sure that it’s outlined in a mood board. That ensures that your hair stylist, makeup artist and such are all on the same page.

A mood board is a series of images that convey the concept that you have in mind using six to eight pictures.

TIP 4. The Model Makes the Image

The model makes the image, plain and simple. Most, if not all, of the models I use in my work come from some of the most prestigious modeling agencies around the world. If you look at your portfolio and judge it against those of any of the top global photographers, and you feel like you’re lighting and editing match, but something isn’t quite right, I can almost guarantee it’s the model.

If you live in a small city and don’t have access to a modeling agency, here’s what I encourage you to do: 1)Head over to Instagram, and 2) Search for “Hashtag:Model:Your City” For example, #MODELNYC

What you’ll likely find is an assortment of aspiring models of all ages interested in modeling, and you, my friend, are a photographer. It’s time to reach into your heart, put away your fear, and humbly ask to work for them.

TIP 5. Focus on the Details

Focusing on the details sounds like a simple concept, but it’s often ignored during a photoshoot, because photographers are usually distracted by capturing a pretty face. Focus on the details.

If your makeup artist is using beautiful eye shadow, crop in. If your makeup artist is using beautiful lipstick, crop in on the lips. Don’t be afraid to try a tighter crop. You’re not shooting a portrait; you’re shooting beauty. One of the things that makes photography so wonderful is that there’s no wrong answer when trying something new. As a beauty photographer, I think that it’s important to capture those details and textures in a way that helps the viewer understand what they’re looking at.

If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a game I love to play on set. Try a new lens you’re not used to using or one that will help you look at the scene from an entirely new perspective. One of my favorite lenses is a 90mm macro lens that allows me to get in closer to my subject and focus on small details, in a way a regular portrait lens would not.

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To read the full article, launch the digital version of the January 2020 magazine.