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Picture an old Hollywood portrait of an actress from the mid-century. Think of the well-defined curves, the cheekbones carved with shadows, the classic beauty. That’s glamour photography.

But glamour shots extend well beyond the traditional portraits of Hollywood stars. So where does the genre sit in modern photography?

Read on for all you need to know about glamour photography. And how to get gorgeous glamour shots.

What Is Glamour Photography?

Glamour photography focuses on the beauty of the person in the photograph. While it’s a standalone genre, that focus on beauty can inspire work in other genres as well, like portrait photo sessions or fashion shoots. 

Glamour photography isn’t well understood. As a genre that can also celebrate sexual attraction, it sometimes makes photographers apprehensive.

And other times it is taken to an extreme that no longer qualifies as glamour.

A female model poses on a rock - tips for taking glamour shots

Image by David Hofmann, Unsplash

Not all master photographers agree on what, exactly, qualifies as glamour photography. In it’s simplest, most accepted definition, glamour is photography that focuses on beauty and charm.

This is unlike fashion photography, which can often feel similar in posing and lighting. A glamour shoot isn’t about the clothes.

Glamour sets also aren’t about the props or location. These can be important, yes, but less so than for a fashion shoot.

Glamour shots focus on physical beauty. Photographers piece together several different aspects in order to highlight that ethereal fairy tale beauty. From the wardrobe and makeup to lighting and post-processing.

All the different elements work together to celebrate the subject’s beauty.

For many, glamour photography is about giving women confidence. And about making all women feel beautiful. For photographers working with this definition, glamour photography is a portrait session that maximizes the subject’s beauty.

It’s a portrait session that involves a makeup artist, wardrobe choices, and fine-tuned poses.

Others define glamour photography as something a bit more sensual. These types of images still celebrate beauty, but in a more flirtatious way. These glamour shots highlight attraction. But photographers can do that with posing and light. Not necessarily wardrobe.

That doesn’t mean the model is always wearing revealing clothing. But sometimes photographers will define glamour as boudoir-like shots that are outside the boudoir (or bedroom).

The genre also doesn’t stick to one specific style. Some glamour photographs are about confidence, others, a shy flirtatiousness. 

Glamour photographers can use hard light, soft light, natural light or studio light.

What matters in glamour photography is how everything comes together to celebrate beauty. Whether that’s in an understated way or a more obviously alluring one.

Bright and airy glamour photography portrait of a beautiful female model posing by a bed

Is Boudoir Photography Glamour Photography?

Glamour clothing covers the gamut from fully clothed to scantily clad. A boudoir shoot is a sub-genre of glamour photography.

Boudoir also celebrates beauty, but in a more obvious sexual way. Boudoir photography subjects are often wearing lingerie. And, as the name suggests, it takes place in a bedroom or other private location.

Boudoir shoots — and glamour, for that matter — aren’t about creating a response from the viewer. Boudoir can help women feel more confident in their own skin. For example, new brides often gift their husbands with boudoir images.

Boudoir shares many of the characteristics of glamour photography. While all boudoir is a form of glamour, all glamour isn’t boudoir. This means you can shoot glamour without using a lingerie wardrobe.

6 Tips for Succesful Glamour Shots

Bright and airy glamour photography portrait of a beautiful female model posing against a pink background

Image by Heng Films, Unsplash

Glamour photography brings several different elements together. And it ties them together in an image celebrating beauty.

While glamour photography has a lot of variation, there are several things that glamour photographers consider as they create an image.

1. What to Do Before the Shoot

Glamour photography brings several elements together into a cohesive image. Planning is necessary for that cohesiveness.

Before you get started with props, location, clothing and actually shooting, define the goals of the image.

What look are you going for? What type of beauty are you hoping to highlight? What’s the client looking for?

Once you’ve identified your goals, pick the location, lighting, posing, and props. You’ll have more to work with to create that look.

Glamour photography is not a cookie cutter formula. By defining your goals and the look you are going for from the start, you can work through the entire process.

That helps your artistic vision come through. Right alongside the beauty contained in the shot.

Bright and airy glamour photography portrait of a beautiful female model

Image by love_k_photo on Flickr

2. Why Clothing and Makeup Matter

Glamour photography is not fashion photography. But that doesn’t mean clothes aren’t important. Clothes aren’t the focus, and the wardrobe doesn’t have to be from a name brand designer.

The clothing should help the photographer highlight the model’s beauty. 

In glamour, the photographer will work more on the wardrobe than a portrait photographer. Choosing clothing that highlights curves, rather than hiding them is important.

The wardrobe should flatter without being too loose or too snug. That’s not a hard and fast rule though. Some boudoir, for example, hides enough to tease with a loose “boyfriend” shirt.

The focus is the person and not the clothing. The wardrobe also shouldn’t be too distracting. Solids are typically preferred, and any patterns are minimal, not busy or distracting.

High heels are also often a favorite for glamour photographers. This is because of the way the arched foot helps highlight curves in the calves and thighs.

Glamour photographers also often work with a makeup artist to achieve the right look. Whether you are going for 50s glamour with bold red lipstick or a natural look. Well-done makeup can play a big role in the final results.

Bright and airy glamour photography portrait of a beautiful female model

3. You Can Shoot Glamour Almost Anywhere

From an all-white photo studio to an old abandoned building. Glamour photographers aren’t limited in location choices.

You can have your own glamour shots studio, rent a studio for local glamour shots, or take your photo shoot outdoors.

What expert glamour photographers will do, is ensure the location works with the clothing, the light and everything else to make a cohesive look.

A glamour photographer working in an old warehouse, for example, may choose torn jeans as part of the wardrobe. 

Or, glamour photographers may work to bring out the model’s beauty by juxtaposition. Placing a model in an elegant evening gown at that same abandoned warehouse is an example of juxtaposing the location and the wardrobe.

Atmospheric glamour shots of a female model

4. What Lighting Setup to Use for Glamour Shots

With any genre of photography, lighting is important. In glamour, lighting works to highlight beauty and hide imperfections.

Glamour lighting can be hard with deep shadows. Or soft with gradual transitions to the shadows. For example, 1950s Hollywood glamour used hard light with spotlights. But many boudoir artists use soft window light.

The position of the light is one of the most essential aspects of lighting in glamour photography.

Placed above and pointing down at the model, the light will help highlight the cheekbones. This sculpts the face.

Along with the cheekbones, the right light can highlight the chin line and elongate the neck. Light can help the model appear to pop from the scene and draw the eye to highlight beauty.

Bright and airy glamour shots of a female model posing by a curtain

5. Why Posing Is Essential to Good Glamour Photography

Glamour photography’s focus on beauty makes posing essential. The genre celebrates the human body and posing is the key to that focus.

Used correctly, posing will help draw the eye to beauty and away from flaws.

Glamour posing often celebrates curves. A glamour pose starts by getting away from that flat-footed stance. Shifting the weight to one foot starts that curve from the ground up. You can use several tricks for this, from popping a knee out to stepping forward.

Pay attention to the placement of the hands, shoulders and the chin. These work together to create a pose that highlights the model’s beauty. Arching the back can also highlight curves in some poses.

When working with professional models, the models will already have a good deal of posing experience. But the photographer should also know how to use posing to articulate the position of the subject to highlight that beauty.

Glamour focuses more on the body than the expression of portraiture. But the expression is still essential. Whether that’s a coy smile, slightly parted lips or an intense stare. Work to create a genuine expression that matches the overall feel of the shot.

Bright and airy glamour shots of a female model posing on a bed

6. Post-Processing Glamour Photography

Most glamour images are retouched, but not airbrushed. Glamour photography celebrates beauty. Photographers need to take care not to cross the line from beauty to plastic.

Working with a makeup artist will help keep post-processing to a minimal. When retouching skin, work to remove flaws without removing the entirety of the skin’s texture.

Glamour editors also often focus on the eyes. Use editing tools to bring out the color, while burning can bring out the eyelashes.

Atmospheric glamour photography shots of a female model posing against a black background

Conclusion

Glamour photography emphasizes beauty — sometimes sensually, sometimes tactfully.

Glamour shots may be often parodied and occasionally controversial. But when done right, glamour is a style of photography that appreciates beauty. And what photographer doesn’t appreciate beauty? 

If you’re interested in more portrait photography, check out these articles on taking high school senior pictures and how to handle family portraits photo shoots.

Header image by love_k_photo on Flickr

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

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Hillary Grigonis

Hillary K. Grigonis is a photojournalist turned lifestyle photographer. When she's not taking pictures, she's writing photography tips and gear reviews. She lives in the Great Lakes state with her husband and two young children.

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