Timeless Beauty | Photographing Women Over 70

There’s definitely something to be said about letting yourself be vulnerable enough to step in front of a camera for a photo shoot. For women, especially women over a certain age, the ability to tear down your own walls and allow yourself to feel beautiful is a challenge. So many women are mothers, caretakers, homemakers, busy entrepreneurs, and so much more. Sometimes, all these women need is a little nudge to do a beauty session for themselves.

I had the honor of photographing my mother-in-law, Terri Cincotta, last week. While it may have taken more than just a little nudge (see the text message thread below), I am glad I strong-armed her into doing this shoot because now my husband and I have these images to cherish for the rest of our lives.

When Sal and I saw the first image come back from retouching (I send my images to Evolve Edits, evolveedits.com, for all my post-production work), we both got choked up. I knew this was going to be an incredible experience for Terri, but I had no idea the impact it was going to have on me and Sal. I am so thankful to have these images.

So, how did the planning process go?

For starters, Terri has a nickname, TTG (Terri Tough Guy). She talks a big game. And talks a lot of trash. She’s a New Yorker, what do you expect? She had been talking trash to Sal about how he photographs all these other people, but she wanted her portrait taken.

Well, I ran with it. I wanted to dial in my lighting skills a little more and wanted to push myself outside of my own comfort zone with the setups and styles I’ve always gravitated towards (ahem, natural light).

I started the whole process on a Monday for a shoot the following Saturday. This is proof that you don’t need 30+ days to plan a photo shoot. It’s all about using stuff you already have and getting creative (or ordering from Amazon Prime at the 11th hour and praying it arrives on time). I did a little bit of both for this shoot.

Wardrobe & styling.

When I am planning stylized shoots, I make sure to personalize every detail to my subject. Skin tones and color schemes are my starting point. Terri is Lebanese and has a gorgeous olive skin tone. Knowing olive skin tones typically look good with any color, I had a lot of freedom here. The only color you want to steer away from with olive tones is silver—it tends to clash with the warmth of the skin. Instead, I went with gold to enhance the warmth.

I find that 3 looks are perfect for an in-studio portrait session. It gives you enough opportunity to deliver a variety of looks while allowing you to complete a full session in 2 hours or less.

These were the three colors I decided on: Olive green, gold, and powder blue (this one is my favorite color on Terri). Knowing the colors, I began my hunt for wardrobe on Amazon. We have a never-ending stash of jewelry I’ve been building over the last few years, so I didn’t need to buy any of that. I went into my search knowing I wanted three styles: Romantic & feminine with florals, confident and powerful glam, and a soft and sweet everyday look for the third.

Hair and makeup.

I say this every time I do a shoot: Thank you, Jesus, for bringing Brandi Patton into our lives. Brandi is our go-to hair and makeup artist and a personal friend. She always understands what I am looking for, even when I don’t use English words to explain my thoughts.

When it comes to women over 50, you want to be very careful with the hair and makeup. Less is definitely more. Keep foundation on the dewy side vs. matte. Matte makeup and heavy powder tend to settle in to creases and enhance the look of wrinkles (why would anyone want that?). Keep eyeliner to a minimum and go with styles that give the appearance of an eye lift like a slight wing and eyeshadow done in an upward angle. Avoid undereye eyeliner and mascara completely if possible. Blush and contour should be slightly heavier than normal, and I recommend a lip color that can be seen, but not too dark as dark lip colors tend to make lips look smaller than they really are.

Here is what I sent to Brandi for inspiration. I trust her with everything she does, so I try not to be too heavy-handed when it comes to sending her inspiration. I like to let her do her thing, she always amazes me.

Makeup Inspo
Hair Inspo
Final Product - Before & After

Look #1: Romantic Florals

For our first set of shots, I started with the romantic and feminine robe shot with florals (my signature shot). This series of images I like to do right out of hair and makeup because everything is perfect. The hair is curled exactly how I want it to blow in the wind, makeup is flawless, and there’s a level of nervousness going into the first scene that gives women a look of innocence in their eyes. I don’t know what it is, but it works.                 

Pro tip: Have mimosas during hair and makeup, but don’t let your subject have more than 2 glasses before getting in front of the camera. While it’s nice to get them loosened up a bit, you run the risk of droopy and red eyes, and expressions that don’t match what they really look like.

I did my typical lighting setup for this scene: One single continuous light with a softbox. I love using the Westcott Solix with the 2×3 softbox for this look. By placing the light close to my subject, I was able to create a nice, soft light that evenly lit my subject and the flowers she was holding, while providing nice fall-off behind her to showcase the green of the background without having to add a second light. I used the Noelle Mirabella backdrop from Intuition Backgrounds in their fabric material for this shot.

This is everything I bought from Amazon for this shoot:

Robe | Pink foreground flowers | Orchids held

I used a Manfrotto Nano Stand, clamped the smaller pink flowers to the top with a backdrop clamp, and placed the stand directly in front of my lens to shoot through the flowers. You’ll need to maneuver either your body or the flowers around a bit to create a natural gap in the florals for you to shoot through. Adding an element like this is a great way to frame your subject and add a pop of color without having to do an elaborate set design.

I took a few test shots to make sure I liked the power and direction of light, then I started working with Terri on her expression. There is minimal movement needed from your subject in a shot like this, but expression will make or break your shot. I then added a box fan to get some movement in her hair—this always adds to the romantic feel of the image along with all of the other elements together.

Final Images from Look 1

Settings: f1.2 @ ISO 125, 1/320th

Settings: f1.2 @ ISO 125, 1/500th

Settings: f1.2 @ ISO 125, 1/500th

Look #2: Powerful & Confident Glam

For the next look, I wanted to glam Terri up and make her feel like the strong, powerhouse she is. I have a black and gold Louis Vuitton scarf she always compliments and was just gifted a gorgeous pair of black and gold crystal earrings from Mark Ross that I knew would go perfectly for this look.

I needed a simple, form-fitted black dress for this shoot. On Amazon, I ordered a basic black dress and sized up so I would be able to clamp her into the dress and not run the risk of it arriving and being too small.

The lighting here got a lot more complex. I started by getting the main light dialed in on Terri’s face. For the main light, I used a Westcott FJ400 with the Westcott Rapid Box Switch Octa-M softbox. I placed the light high and angled down slightly and used the Westcott Eyelighter to fill in the shadows being created by the directional light above. Because I chose a backdrop that matched the colors of the wardrobe, I needed an edge light to separate Terri from the background. I used the FJ200 with the basic reflector that comes with it, no additional modifiers for this, at a power of 1.5. This created a nice highlight along the left side of her body and hair (her left, camera right).

I used the Buffalo Bill backdrop from Intuition Backgrounds in their fabric material again for this shoot and chose to NOT light the background for this one because it would have been too orange in contrast with the subtle gold of the scarf. By not adding light to the background, it allowed it to become darker and not so distracting. I also had Evolve tone the background to blend better with the gold tones in the scarf.

For these photos, I wanted to showcase her personality a little more so it was all about getting her to really laugh and loosen up, not so much about having a soft and romantic expression—that just wouldn’t work with this look. Fake smiles are always so obvious in photos, so figure out ways to make your subject really laugh and you’ll capture some great expressions while they’re laughing, and their smile will be real after the laughing calms down a bit.

Pro tip: Make sure you take behind the scenes of every shot 🙂 We all got so caught up in the 2nd outfit we forgot to take pictures of the setup!

Final Images from Look 2

Settings: f1.2 @ ISO 200, 1/125th

Settings: f1.2 @ ISO 125, 1/500th

Settings: f2.5 @ ISO 100, 1/200th

Settings: f2.5 @ ISO 100, 1/200th

Look #3: Soft and Sweet Mom

Who doesn’t want photos of themselves in a more natural, everyday look? Most females love having pictures where they’re all glammed up and fully stylized in clothes they would never pick themselves, but I believe that every shoot should have one outfit where they really feel like themselves. I like to end with this style because my subject is very warmed up on camera at this point and I can usually get the most realistic and natural expressions out of them at this stage of the shoot.

The powder blue sweater I also bought on Amazon and intentionally sized up because I wanted the look of her cozied up in a chair where she just exuded comfort—in her expression, in her pose, in her wardrobe. Powder blue is my absolute favorite color on her. It brings out such a softness in her and I was so excited to photograph her in this outfit. The long crystal and pearl earrings were part of our jewelry collection already, and I added those in at the last minute. Those were a perfect touch!

For the lighting here, I did two different looks: I started with strobes and ended with natural light so I could add in some prism work (you don’t get the same effect with prisms when you’re shooing with strobe).

For the strobes, I kept the Westcott FJ400 as my main light with the Westcott Rapid Box Switch Octa-M and had it positioned directionally camera right, above her and tilted down slightly. I had Terri sitting in a wingback chair with her body facing the light camera right and face square at camera. I needed to fill in the shadows again being created by the FJ400 so I moved the Eyelighter to a shorter light stand and placed that under the FJ400. I kept the FJ200 as my edge light to separate her off the chair. This time I also added the Westcott FJ80 on a Nano Stand directly behind Terri aimed at the backdrop to really make the blue tones pop and create a vignette around my subject.

For this backdrop, I switched to the Poseidon from Intuition Backgrounds in their fabric material as well. These fabric drops are extremely simple to swap out when you don’t have a lot of hands on set and need to move quickly. They are also very easy to store—just fold them up and put them on a shelf. They will get wrinkled this way, but I find that they are extremely easy to steam out and when I don’t have time for that, I just have Evolve add a texture to the background in post-production to get rid of the wrinkles.

Once I got the shots I wanted in the chair, I moved Terri to apple crates again and took a few shots with strobes, then got rid of all artificial light. I added the Lensbaby prisms from the OMNI Deluxe Collection II to have a little fun by adding another unique element to the scene.

Final Images from Look 3

Settings: f1.4 @ ISO 50, 1/200th

Settings: f1.4 @ ISO 50, 1/200th

Settings: f1.4 @ ISO 50, 1/200th

Settings: f1.4 @ ISO 50, 1/200th

Settings: f1.2 @ ISO 400, 1/160th

Settings: f1.2 @ ISO 400, 1/160th

Final thoughts.

Photographing women at any age is such a fun job. We get to make women feel beautiful and see a smile on their face that is truly priceless.

There are three important things to note when photographing women over 70:

  1. Go easy on the makeup. You want to enhance their natural beauty, not turn them into someone they are not.
  2. Styling should be feminine and soft, still conservative. These types of beauty portraits are supposed to be about your subject, wardrobe should complement your subject, not distract from their experience and final images.
  3. Lighting is so important. Don’t create harsh light on 70+ skin. Learn and understand beauty lighting to soften wrinkles in-camera, and short light to create shadows in all the right places.

I hope this article helps give you some inspiration to get out there and practice with your family members. If nothing else, it will be a great way for YOU to get images of your mother, sister, aunt, whomever. Images that you and your family can cherish forever. And at the end of the day, here’s what really matters: you get to make someone feel special for the day.


Deconstructed // Creative Studio Lighting

In this shoot, check out how this creative portrait session was brought to life with three lights: The Westcott FJ400 with the Rapid Box Switch Octa-M as the main light, the Westcott FJ200 as an edge light, and the FJ80 on the background to create a natural vignette.