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10 Beauty Photography Tips for Better Poses and Lighting

Last updated: March 13, 2024 - 11 min read
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Beauty photography will open doors into editorial and commercial work.
But capturing beauty images can be a little intimidating when you’re starting out.
These 11 tips will help you take great editorial quality beauty photography.

1. Why You Should Hire Makeup and Hair Stylists for Beauty Photography

It goes without saying that beauty portraits take a whole creative team for them to come to life.
Makeup and hair styling are some of the most important elements next to lighting.
Even if you are going for a more natural look, it’s important to have a makeup artist and hair stylist. This will limit the time you spend in post-production. 
Many are willing to work with photographers on a TFP basis. This means ‘time-for-photos’. 
A beauty photography diptych of a female model posing against a white background
Other professional makeup artists and hair stylists may charge you. If you admire their work, it’s worth hiring them.
When you work with a beauty team, make sure to give them enough time to get the model or models ready. This is similar to fashion photography, where the entire team works together to create the final look. 
It’s important to communicate exactly what look you want and have examples ready. Consider using a mood board for this.
Close up beauty portrait of a blonde model - magazine photography
You can also let the beauty team add their personal touches.
Giving them a little control over the creative process will make them want to work with you in the future.

2. Use Concept Cards to Make the Shoot Run Faster

Beauty photography can be experimental. If you’re working with a client, you’ll want to prepare with storyboards or concept cards.
This will make the whole shoot go smoothly, whether you’re a beginner beauty photographer or a pro.
Have a general mock-up of the looks, ideas, textures, color scheme, and posing. Everyone involved will “see” the shoot in a more visual way and be on the same page. 
And having everyone focused on the exact look can make everything run smoother.
A beauty photography diptych of a female model posing against a white background
Keeping a mood board can also help to bring the beauty shoot together. Try having different elements of inspiration or “feel”.
Everyone can get an idea of what the photos are supposed to look like. 
This means the model will know what to do, and the client what results to expect.

3. Work With a Creative Director 

It can be helpful to have a creative director on board.
They can make sure that the photoshoot goes according you and your client’s plan. 

A beauty photography diptych of a female model posing playfully against a white background
Having fun and taking photos that are more experimental during the shoot will give your clients more variety.

A creative director will also ensure there’s no time wasted.
Some creative directors, like beauty teams, are willing to work on a TFP basis. Others will want to be paid. 

4. Which Models Should You Work With

There is a notable difference between real working models and those looking to put their foot in the door. 
Real models sometimes only work with well-known photographers. Or with photographers who are willing to test shoot ideas or concepts the models have in mind.
A beauty photography diptych of a female model posing against a white background
New models are more willing to work for free to grow their portfolios. This can also build new working relationships for future projects. 
Having said that, models who have been working for some time can be more helpful during a shoot. They know how their body lines and movements can make a photo more interesting. And give the client what they’re looking for.
They are also more experienced in getting certain facial expressions or poses.
A beauty portrait of a female model posing against a white background
This does not mean that less experienced models aren’t great in front of the camera.
Try working with all types, sizes, and working and new models. You will get more experience photographing different bodies, facial textures, and other differences.
You can also ask a close friend to model for you. This will allow you to experiment with beauty style photos. And you’ll gain more practise before working with more experienced models.

5. How to Choose the Right Lighting for Beauty Shots

You can use shadows and more directional lighting in beauty photography, as well as side lighting. This depends on the story you want to tell.
Colored lighting can also make the photos pop. Try this if you’re doing something more fashion-forward or high fashion.
The best thing about lighting is that you don’t always need a studio to create stunning beauty photos. You can use direct sunlight to create directional light depending on the time of day you shoot.
Also, using different colored boards can give color casts. And they can reflect the colors that you are looking to add to the photos.

A high fashion style beauty portrait of a female model
Using studio strobes can give off more lighting and create a high fashion style.

Using off-camera flashes or strobes can make it easier to photograph on location. You can use different translucent paper or fabric to add color. 
Using reflectors and bounce cards can also help reflect light. These will create a more uniform traditional beauty lighting setup.
Setting your off-camera flash or strobe to create more directional light. This can add an interesting style to your beauty photographs.
It’ll also expand your beauty/editorial portfolio.
A beauty photography diptych of a female model posing in low lighting
Using off camera flashes or only one light source can offer shadows but still highlight the face. This becomes the focal point of the photo.

If you’re using backgrounds, be aware of where the fall-off of the light happens. Then you can add or take away light from the background according to what you want to achieve.
More fall-off will make your background more visible. Less fall-off will do the opposite and make the background less visible.
Make sure you take some tests shots to see how this will affect your overall composition.
Beauty shoots are prepped ahead of time with creative directors or storyboarding. This includes lighting. 
A beauty photography diptych of a female model posing against a white background
Different angles can give different looks to the photograph. Try different poses and see which one the client likes best.
Experimenting with different light sources can also add effects to the beauty photos. Try string lighting like Christmas lights, sparklers, lighters, or strobe DJ lighting.
These can give interesting lighting effects. Use them on their own or together with off camera lighting.

6. Use Light Modifiers to Manipulate the Mood

Light modifiers include large softboxes, grids, bounce cards, reflectors, or umbrellas. You can even use black flags to create more shadows or add some soft light.

A beauty photography diptych of a female model posing in different lighting
Different lighting can give different looks to the same beauty concept.

Light modifiers are especially helpful in a studio. They can give you more dispersed light, making a small light source bigger. Or you can make the light softer and more even.
You can also use a snoot to sharpen and make the light more directional.
Light modifiers highlight what is most important during the shoot. Be it the makeup, hair, or skincare products.
Expressive beauty portrait of a female model - hairdressing photography example
Experiment with different light modifiers. That way you’ll get a unique look for your beauty photographs.

7. Which Props Should You Use for Beauty Photography

The great thing about beauty photos is that you generally don’t need much space. 
Beauty photography is focused primarily on the face and shoulders and up. Full body shots are not necessary. 
Again, this does depend on what you and your client are aiming for.
A beauty photography diptych of a female model posing against a stone wall
It is always great to have useful photography props to help make the shoot go smoother wherever the session takes place.
For beauty shoots, you’ll need the following:

  • Stool or backless chair to have the model sit on;
  • Tape to put marks on the floor for models, lights, assistants, etc.;
  • Fashion tape for all things wardrobe related;
  • Station or table for beauty team to set up and spread out;
  • Music on a portable speaker to set a good tone for the shoot;
  • Tripod so that you can set your camera down or keep it in place for certain shoots;
  • Laptop, or viewing monitors like iPad or tablet. Especially helpful if the client will be attending the session. Also great to keep an eye on your exposure and overall look of the photos;
  • Snacks and water for everyone involved to keep the energy up if the shoot runs long.

You may not need all of these for every beauty shoot. But it’s good to have them on hand. 

8. Beauty Photography & Retouching for a Natural Look

Camera settings only go so far. Retouching is inevitable in any beauty session. But it’s becoming more common for clients to avoid over-processed photos.
If your retouching skills are not up to par, you can outsource this. There are many retouching services that can follow all your specifications and have a good turn around time.
Sensual beauty photography diptych of close up portraits of a female model
If you’re editing your beauty photos yourself, watch out for common mistakes like over-processing. The skin needs to be done with a high attention to detail. It needs to look natural and not fake. Keep an eye out for uneven skin textures.  
Depending on what your client has requested, you may have to alter facial features. Adobe Photoshop is your go-to program here. 
Speak to your client during the planning process about retouching and what they prefer. What they like, don’t like, what is on brand, and what they want the final images to look like.
Knowing what your client expects can save you time in the long run. You won’t have to re-do any of the post-processing.
Make sure to show different examples of different retouching styles. They’ll have a better idea of what the final photos can look like.

9. Which Lens Is Best for Beauty Shots

Your lens can mean the difference between an okay photo and a great one.
For beauty photos, a long lens is best. It compresses the background and brings out the face. 
A lens longer than 100mm is perfect.
A female model posing in a straw hat for a beauty photo shoot
Keeping your aperture small, f/8 or higher, will make sure that you get all of the details of the face in focus.
This is highly important especially if you’re photographing a specific product on the face. It also helps to have the details of the skin in focus for better retouching in post-processing.
Keeping the angle of the lens a little bit below level can give the model more of a high fashion feel. But photographing them straight on can create a more powerful stare.
Shooting down at a model makes them look demure. It can soften the pose and feeling of the photo.
A beauty photography diptych of a female model posing playfully against different background
Try photographing the model at different angles so that you have more options when choosing the right photo for your portfolio or client.
If the model is using a curated wardrobe for the shoot, get some full-length photos too. These can help tell the story or simply add to the portfolios of everyone involved.

10. What to Include in Your Contract/Model Release

Even if you are doing a beauty shoot solely for your own portfolio, it is very important to have the models sign a model release form or contract. These should outline all of the specifics of the photo shoot.
Detail what they will receive. If they are going to get photos, include whether print or digital, retouched or not retouched, how many, and the expected turn around time.

Brighta nd airy beauty shot of a female model posing on a beach
Not all beauty photoshoots have to happen in a studio. Sometimes using locations can add to the story the client is trying to tell.

Outline your terms and conditions regarding copyright and permissions. This can save you from future disputes. And no one is left confused as to what they are going to get out of the collaboration.
Give all parties involved a copy of the contract so that they have access to the terms and conditions of the photo shoot.
Close up beauty portrait of a blonde model posing against a stone wall
This can save you from a legal lawsuit later in the event that one person was not satisfied with the outcome. 
There are many contracts and model release formats out there on the internet. The best option is to work with a lawyer to create a legal document that suits your needs.


Beauty photography can open many doors for you in the editorial and commercial niches. Whether you’re a fashion photographer, or you’re a professional trying to improve their portfolio or social media. 
Next time you have a beauty shoot, refer back to these tips to get the best photos possible.
We have a great article on Best Model Poses for Fashion Photography or beautiful milk bath photography to check out next!