Hair & Beauty Photographs-Some Techniques

by William Lulow

I have had occasion to make many hair and beauty images over the years and have come up with some basic guidelines for doing this kind of photography. Unlike shooting portraits, here it’s the style that matters most. Lighting should be high-key enough to make sure that the hair styles are shown to maximum benefit.

Some points:

  1. It’s the hairstyle we’re selling, not the models
  2. Lighting should be bright enough to feature all details
  3. Dark hair needs more light (usually at least one stop)
  4. Models need to be able to show off the hair and keep expressions secondary
  5. Attitude and lighting are paramount
  6. Stylists need to be on set at all times to make minor adjustments

Here’s part of my setup recently at a salon in Chappaqua:

You can see my background light (on the floor) and my two edge lights which produced the highlights on the model’s hair, showing off the style. Below, one of the finished shots:

Notice how the edge lights give the hair a shine and the background light makes the background reproduce as pure white.

I also use my normal mainlight umbrella plus a fill-in light bank:

For this shoot I had my mainlight set on 250watt/seconds and my fill set at 125watt/seconds, keeping the ratio between them at approximately 1:3. This setup yielded an exposure of f/11 @ 1/100 of a second. I set up my accent lights to give me a reading of f/16 off the subject’s hair. That insured that they would register white in the image. Here is another example:

What I am looking for here is that the detail in the hair is lit up and clear because that is what the client is trying to sell. The attention should always be the hair.

Here’s another example:

Notice how the hair shines and the braid is shown off in this image. That’s what I’m always trying to do with these kinds of shots. They are basically advertisements for the salon. I brought almost all my lights to this location. I used five lights for the setup so that I could have an accent light on both sides of the model, one to light up the background and two more for main and fill lights. The attitude of the model’s head also lends more importance to the hair because it is a secondary part of the composition.