Have you ever wanted to explore the niche of beauty photography but are unsure of how to get started? Beauty expert Chloe Kempson weighs in on the what, how and why of beauty photography – with some top tips on how to arrange your own shoots and enter the beauty industry.
To get started let’s discuss the basics.
What is beauty photography?
Beauty photography captures mainly a tight crop of a model’s face, to capture a close-up of the model’s beauty, but for the most part in the commercial sense of the discipline, it’s to market beauty products.
In a beauty photograph, you will be able to see a close-up of the model’s skin texture and features. This is great for marketing the skincare and makeup products that have been applied.
Something called a macro shot is common in this discipline. A macro beauty shot is a super close-up shot of a model’s feature. It can be their eyes or lips, or a combination, but not limited to these. It can be anything else that your imagination can dream up related to the discipline – for example, a blob of skincare product on the skin. The possibilities are limitless. Macro shots will require a lens with magnification, but we’ll get into that later when we get to the gear you will need…
Can you make a living from Beauty Photography? Absolutely.Chloe Kempson
Why Beauty Photography?
For me, beauty has always been a passion. I used to save my pocket money as a kid to buy every hairbrush and hair product from the local pharmacy, this was before I was allowed to wear makeup…
As you can imagine the second my parents allowed, make-up and all manner of beauty products became a fully-fledged obsession. So to me, it made absolute sense that I venture into the beauty industry, doing something you’re passionate about makes me feel like I’m not ‘working’ and every day at the studio is a fun day painting faces.
However, if you’re not fixated on makeup and beauty products, do not let that deter you from entering the industry. If you have a keen eye for aesthetics and are good at directing a creative team, you can have your own team of experts on hand whose job it is to know the industry inside out.
Can you make a living from Beauty Photography? Absolutely. The beauty industry is a huge business, currently valued at $511 billion, so there are plenty of opportunities available for work in this sector. I also heard that lipstick is rumoured to be recession-proof 😉
Test as much as humanly possible until you find your signature style.Chloe Kempson
How to get Started in Beauty Photography?
Here is my practical and realistic guide to getting started, and my recommendations for starting out:
Have you ever heard, it’s not the kit, it’s how you use it? Yes, that’s true in a lot of circumstances and it’s also true in beauty photography. It’s important to know how to use your kit, but at the end of the day to create that commercial beauty style you need the right equipment.
Keep the cost down, you don’t need to buy new. If you can, that’s great, but it’s not necessary. The other day I bought a lens that was almost 20 years old, and it’s my favourite in my whole kit. My favourite places for bargain hunting are eBay or the guys over at Wex Photo Video. They always have great second-hand stock with accurate wear and tear descriptions.
A good quality lens is more important than the camera body. My recommendation when it comes to budgeting is to spend 75% of your funds on the lens and 25% on the camera if you need to buy both. If you’ve already got a camera, then great!
For lenses, a 100mm Prime Macro lens is my top recommendation. This is your best bet for the macro shots explained earlier, it provides life-size magnification for your subjects. Look for a lens that has a 1:1 magnification. If you are on the Canon system, their 100mm prime is my go-to.
If you don’t already own a camera, I recommend that you get a full-frame one because it has a larger sensor size. When it comes to brands, go with whatever you are most comfortable with. I’ve always used Canon – since I personally like the familiarity and I find it the most comfortable to hold. Each to their own, go with what feels right for you.
We can use our god-given light: the sun, and a few reflectors/flags. These can give you gorgeous results and, yes, we can shoot without an expensive studio set-up. But being only able to shoot natural light won’t get you too far when booking commercial jobs.
Studio lighting can be daunting to a beginner, but once you get the hang of it you will have so much more control and it will be easier than shooting in daylight. I promise you that studio lights are the best! Let’s get into my suggestions for beginners starting out:
• Strobes: Start out with just one good quality piece of equipment. My go-to is Profoto (a premium brand), my philosophy is ‘if you buy cheap, you buy twice’. I know these lights will last me for years. The lights from Profoto are user friendly and the customer service is impeccable at the company. If you’re not ready to make the investment, Neewer lights from Amazon are budget friendly and will do the job.
• Reflectors: Great for basic set-ups. I often use a clamshell technique with a reflector under the model’s chin as a fill light.
• Lighting Modifiers: The best option for beginners are umbrellas. The are cheap and compact, but most importantly, they are versatile.
When it comes to learning about lighting, I recommend experimenting but Youtube can be particularly helpful. I would recommend following fellow photographer Chris Knight. He has an in-depth free tutorial here on YouTube and authored an amazing book called The Dramatic Portrait that helped me get started with studio lighting.
In beauty photography, the makeup, hair and nail artists are key to success.Chloe Kempson
So now you have your equipment and an understanding of lighting, what’s next? Testing. Test as much as humanly possible until you find your signature style. Start off using family and friends as subjects and once you’re comfortable, it’s time to start arranging tests with a creative team and model. In beauty photography, the makeup, hair and nail artists are key to success.
When it comes to working with a team, planning is essential. Before pitching the idea to prospective artists you need a brief or a mood board. I use Canva to make my mood boards, but you can use any method you want to get your creative idea across.
Whilst shooting, I put a lot of emphasis on direction and positive reinforcement. This is extremely important to me as a photographer and can make or break a shoot.
For models, beauty photography is a lot more intense than other shoots, having a camera right up in their face.
In my opinion – as a former model – being left without direction, encouragement or praise can be very disconcerting. If the model is not feeling comfortable and confident, it 100% shows in beauty photography. You cannot hide a tense jaw or pursed lips in these tight crops, nor can you retouch them out of the photograph.
Let’s normalize telling the models how amazing they look, asking about their favourite side of their face, and making sure to find their best angles. Don’t hesitate to go full-out Kris Jenner proud mom mode on shoots with a “you’re doing amazing sweetie”.
We hope you enjoyed reading about how to get started in beauty photography! This article has been written by professional beauty photographer, Chloe Kempson. Explore more on beauty photography on the Cherrydeck Blog!
Chloe Kempson is a professional photographer based in London. She specializes in editorial, commercial and beauty photography.
Chloe brings a unique perspective to her work as both a former model and creative. As a photographer and retoucher, her industry knowledge comes full circle bringing 12 years of experience behind the lens.