Looking to take stunning portraits? Uncover the secrets of refined beauty photography with behind-the-scenes tips from these seven pro photographers.

Beauty photography is one of the medium’s most adaptable genres, and a great beauty picture can appeal to a wide variety of buyers, whether they’re in the skincare, makeup, clothing, or even jewelry business. Throughout the years, beauty and fashion photographers have catapulted the field into new and radical directions. For instance, Guy Bourdin drew inspiration from surrealist painters, while Helmut Newton challenged the status quo with his dynamic, and sometimes controversial, compositions.

Today, in the age of digital retouching and social media, a successful beauty photograph is more powerful than ever. Every frame depends on a series of moving parts: the model, the makeup artist, the stylist, the equipment, and the location. If any one of these elements falls out of place, the shoot suffers. We asked seven expert beauty photographers to share the tricks of the trade. Below, they spill the details behind some of their favorite (and most popular) photographs and offer tips on working with models, makeup artists, and studio equipment.

1. “Choosing the right model is crucial. I think that 50% of a successful beauty shoot depends on the selection process.”

Karel Noppe

7 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Outstanding Beauty Shots — Choose the Right Model

Image by Karel Noppe. Gear: Canon 7D Mark 11 camera, Canon Macro 100mm f2.8 L IS USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/125 sec; f11; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I’m always on the lookout for models. Sometimes I use professional models, and sometimes they are just people I know. This particular model is still a student, but she has great professional potential. For me, the most difficult part is finding the right face to achieve the right mood and look. In this case, the braided hair was a must.

Pictured: [1] Karel Noppe. [2] Karel Noppe.

Pro Tip:

Beauty shoots require teamwork, and planning in advance can be of great help. I typically do some rough pencil sketches on paper for composition, props, and lighting setups. Choosing the right model is crucial. I think that 50% of a successful beauty shoot depends on the selection process.

I achieve the best results working with Elinchrom strobe lights and softboxes. Experimenting with different lighting setups on the same photo allows me to compare and sometimes combine images in post-production. With a macro lens, I have more freedom to capture the fine details. The final step is editing and retouching on the computer. Having knowledge of editing software will help you to clean up skin imperfections. Some of the common adjustments I make are frequency separation, color correction, and some filters.

2. “Do not take everything that happens during the shoot too seriously. An easy-going attitude will result in natural photos.”

RomarioIen

7 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Outstanding Beauty Shots — Make the Model Comfortable

Image by RomarioIen. Gear: Sony 7m2 camera, Sony FE 24-240 lens. Settings: Focal length 180mm; exposure 1/125 sec; f11; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Though this photo looks like it was taken in summer, we actually did this shoot in January! It was minus 12 degrees Celsius, and we were in the middle of a snowstorm. This often happens in fashion photography; summer catalogs are shot in advance, immediately after the collection is released. This time, we placed the most powerful lighting device at a great distance and put large palm leaves in front of the model on a tripod. We used minimal, natural makeup and a carefree hairdo. I wanted something natural. We had a great conversation, laughed, and even dreamed. It was three hours of “summer” in the midst of a snowy winter!

7 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Outstanding Beauty Shots — Plan Ahead

Image by RomarioIen.

Pro Tip:

I do not like pretentious, unnatural beauty photos. The face of the model is already beautiful and doesn’t need too much makeup. Keep it elegant. For me, the main thing is to make the skin glow. Make test shots so that the makeup artist can correct their work if needed. If you are genuinely in love with what you are doing, that will be a great help. Draw your own portraits, and study the pictures of Italian masters. Train your eye.

Do not take everything that happens during the shoot too seriously. An easy-going attitude will result in natural photos. Joke around, and do everything you can to make the model happy. Enjoy the process. At the same time, remember that your shoots should be useful to your customers, companies, and advertising agencies. I learn from my clients.

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3. “For shooting in sunlight, it is good to use a gold reflector and sometimes even a mirror to give the skin more radiance.”

Ekaterina Jurkova

7 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Outstanding Beauty Shots — Get Creative with Your Equipment

Image by Ekaterina Jurkova. Gear: Canon EOS 6D camera, Tamron AF28-75mm F/2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 30mm; exposure 1/640 sec; f3.2; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This photo was taken on a sunny day in a botanical garden. To avoid sharp shadows over the model, the assistant held a diffuser. The girl is wearing a neutral-colored dress because I did not want to have strong color accents in the frame. I love the work of Annie Leibovitz, and when I created this photo, I was inspired by her.

Pictured: [1] Ekaterina Jurkova. [2] Ekaterina Jurkova.

Pro Tip:

Every detail is important, starting with the choice of the location and ending with the wardrobe, hairdo, and makeup. Everything should be in harmony. Photographers sometimes overdo it in pursuit of a smart result, forgetting that photography is about small stories, even if it is done in the studio. Everything in the image should tell the same story, and the viewer must believe this story, as if it were an excerpt from a good film.

First, you need to think about lighting. For natural, soft light, large windows or a large softbox is best. A smoke machine will make the space seem a bit hazy, and transparent film wrapped around the lens will blur the edges of the frame. Sometimes unexpected tricks can also work! For example, ordinary petroleum jelly gives an interesting effect. You can use a protective filter for the lens, lubricate the glass edge with a washer, and leave only the center free to soften the image along the edges. For shooting in sunlight, it is good to use a gold reflector and sometimes even a mirror to give the skin more radiance.

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4. “Think about the kind of advertisements for which your image will ultimately be used.”

Irina Bg (Irina Ryabusjkina)

7 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Outstanding Beauty Shots — Think About Who Uses Your Images

Image by Irina Bg (Irina Ryabusjkina). Gear: Pentax 645Z camera, 120 macro lens. Settings: Exposure 1/120 sec; f9.0; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

These models are famous in our city and often sell well in stock photography, so I decided to do a shoot with both girls. In this image, there is diversity in the models’ skin and hair types, which I think is interesting and unusual for customers.

7 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Outstanding Beauty Shots — Consider All the Details

Image by Irina Bg (Irina Ryabusjkina).

Pro Tip:

Think about the kind of advertisements for which your image will ultimately be used. It can be a narrow segment, such as false eyelashes or tanning agents, or a more versatile direction. Select the most profitable and frequently-used angles when taking pictures, and take all the details into account, including the colors of the manicure, the makeup, the clothes, the hairstyle, and the model.

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5. “Study the work of artists, other photographers, and feature filmmakers, and be inspired by them. Don’t be afraid of breaking the rules.”

Pablos33 (Pavel Novikov)

7 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Outstanding Beauty Shots — Study Other Artists

Image by Pablos33 (Pavel Novikov). Gear: Canon EOS Mark II camera, Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/250 sec; f2.0; ISO 125.

What’s the story behind this photo?

For a long time, I wanted to create an image of a girl from classic Russian literature in a modern way. I drove to the countryside with my model, and makeup and hairstyling were done on the spot. The shoot was conducted in the countryside at sunset. The warm and soft light corresponded with my idea.

Pictured: [1] Pablos33 (Pavel Novikov). [2] Pablos33 (Pavel Novikov).

Pro Tip:

Educate yourself and develop a sense of taste. In my opinion, the best examples in terms of composition are classical portrait painters. Study the work of artists, other photographers, and feature filmmakers, and be inspired by them. Don’t be afraid of breaking the rules. Experiment.

Depending on the location, whether you’re in a studio or outdoors, you must be able to see and understand light. Learn to use studio equipment so that your images have volume and perspective. Don’t forget about processing and retouching, an integral part of modern beauty photography.

6. “In fashion and beauty photography, it’s crucial to consider makeup and fashion trends.”

Marina Frost

7 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Outstanding Beauty Shots — Pay Attention to Trends

Image by Marina Frost. Gear: Camera Canon 5D Mark II camera, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro lens. Settings: Exposure 1/125 sec; f16; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

On a sunny spring day, I decided to walk around the city. I took in the fresh smells, and I saw people in bright clothes. My mood turned to spring, and I decided to embody the season in photography. That’s how this photo was born. After that, it was easy!

Pictured: [1] Marina Frost. [2] Marina Frost.

Pro Tip:

Professional shooting is always a team effort. It’s important to make friends with the people you work with, like the makeup artist and the model. Share your vision and inspiration with them. My advice to every beginner is to always make mood boards and draw face charts. Keep your first beauty looks simple. After all, as the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy said, “Simplicity is the necessary condition of the beautiful.” It’s essential to emphasize the makeup or hair by creating eye-catching accents.

Don’t hesitate to experiment with light. Look at the play of light and shadow in the paintings of great artists to learn about the classical half turn, contrapposto, and Rembrandt lighting. I like a free style of shooting: the model moves, and I direct it. Even when working with the most professional model, you need to communicate with her. Details like a slight turn of the head, a lowered shoulder, a sensual glance, or a slightly open mouth play a big role in composing the whole look.

In fashion and beauty photography, it’s crucial to consider makeup and fashion trends. I try to communicate often with professional makeup artists and stylists, and I also follow famous photographers and popular fashion magazines. When we are inspired by the works of others, we are able to create our own, unique works.

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7. “My favorite type of reflector is the beauty dish; it gives me a perfect balance between edgy and soft and is suitable for all kinds of beauty images.”

iconogenic (Katja de Bruijn)

7 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Outstanding Beauty Shots — Don't Be Afraid of Creative Edits

Image by iconogenic (Katja de Bruijn). Gear: Canon 5D MKII camera, Canon EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/125 sec; f18; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This summer mood image was actually shot inside on the floor using a yellow PVC backdrop. In post-production, I added water from a completely different shoot that was done outside in a small pool. I let the water “run over” the backdrop using Screen blending mode.

7 Photographers Share Their Secrets for Outstanding Beauty Shots — Change Your Lighting Setup

Image by iconogenic (Katja de Bruijn).

Pro Tip:

Although I like to make mood boards for my shoots, I usually wait until my model is all made up and ready before making final decisions about background and lighting choices. Beauty images serve different purposes: some are natural (think: skincare), and some are more high fashion. For skincare, I like soft and broad lighting. My favorite type of reflector is the beauty dish; it gives me a perfect balance between edgy and soft and is suitable for all kinds of beauty images. When I want a really soft effect, however, I work with white umbrellas and softboxes and with daylight, of course.

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Top image by Ekaterina Jurkova.