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Cinema lighting for beauty photography tutorial


At first look, this picture seems easy and complicated at the same time.

Make up is the key to the picture, it is about cosmetics, light only highlights this.

To make a dramatic image and one that lives well on many supports including rather flat paper printed on rotary (helio) press, a hint of hard light keeps the contrast believable, and adds a dimension.

Since the last time I was at Publicis, the agency that does most of the beauty/cosmetics advertising in Paris, the chief art buyer told me you must make your pictures appear that they could be shot with daylight rather than dark studio style pictures.

Every time I shoot I remind myself of this, and have since shot more with daylight than studio clinical flash pictures.

Last time in New York, most agents mentioned that the clients ( hint hint) appreciate photographers that can shoot both stills and video. This too is something I will work on, hence the raison d’être for this picture.


Details first. This is shot hand held although it shouldn’t be. Why? Even when shooting with flash there is always some motion blur. Also learning to do video insists on more rigour, and a fluid head is the key to making smooth video, short of using a steady cam.

It was shot on a Canon 5DMKII 200 ISO, wide open at f2.8 on a 100mm Macro non IS.

Distance from camera to subject about 1.5 m. Now handheld is already hard enough, but I also had to wave the aqua azure filter (Rosco sample filter pack) in front of the lens to try to find a pretty blue reflection with a reflection of the window behind me on the filter. The filter was close to the lens but not so close that it obstructed the window reflection behind.

The girl was laying on the couch arms folded and elbows in the couch, making it fairly easy to maintain a comfortable pose. She did however have a hard time with the lights pointed in the eyes, making it difficult for me to get pictures without squinting pictures.


This is a case where the main light is not necessarily the brightest light. It is a mix of lights, and contrary to “best practises” there is no true main light priority.

The closest and most directional light is a spot Fresnel using the 150 W modeling light, an 80B blue correction filter and a 2X Neutral density. The Fresnel was open to allow a large circle of area, so the model could move without drastic light changes. For still photography sometimes the light can be more precise, but that requires models that don’t move about. It is about 0.5m slightly to the right of camera and just above the horizon as seen in the nose shadow.

There is a light more to the right, higher and outside the windows 80B filter. That was to add ambience to the background, yet is turned to add just a hint to the face..

To the left of the camera is a P65 ( large bowl reflector) filtered 80B and 4 leaf barn doors. The doors are closed in a lot to restrict the light to the face more than the arm.

Behind the camera is a huge window southwest overcast skies. That is what makes the eyes so clear and the fill light creating very gentle wrap around light.

Behind the couch are two lights, and two reflectors or mirrors.

The first is one for effect and drama, a snoot on a Pulso head with an 80B filter. Normally I’d remove the handle on the flash, the edge of the filter in Photoshop. Yet I left it in for now, thus you can clearly see it. It is adding a bit of flare, and I shot without a lens shade on purpose to allow the flare in the pictures.

The second light is a Pulso head on a boom ( you can see the boom stand) but not filtered. It is in fact this light that is making most of the flare, and the rim lighting.

All modeling lights were turned to full, all 650W tungsten yet the filter reduces the light by 2 stops. Ambient light was just under the continuous light f2.8 ISO 200 1/125th s).

There is a mirror to the left and behind and a metallic fabric on a polystyrene board to the right which gives ambience. We tried to find the right angle for the board, and the right small folds to breakup a large reflection.

That is about all there was as I can remember.

Not much retouch needed, just some settings in LightRoom.

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5 thoughts on “Cinema lighting for beauty photography tutorial”

  1. Very Useful information, this is good study for artical, this field is very interesting and effective image. the post on your blogs are super great.

  2. Great shot. Appreciate your sharing your knowledge. Always very insightful with good rational behind your set up.
    Look forward to the next one.

  3. First of all, many thanks for all your surgical lighting tips/tutorials, even for a pro snapper they are great info and inspiration. I, too find using modeling lights a great deal useful as most of the time I cannot seem to find the subtlety using even the lowest settings on my Elinchrom 500RX’s. Maybe the continuous is the way to go on everything even on stills? (If I’m not mistaken Lindbergh is known for using them pretty much all the time) I would be very interested in your view/take on this matter.

  4. Thanks for the post Neil.
    I always wonder about how you arrive at your lighting strategies.While I think the basic precepts are clear, do you also spend a lot of time experimenting while you have the model in place?

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