Creating Glamourous Head Shots

The difference between shooting a typical head shot an creating a glamour portrait are really obvious.

The lighting must be flattering and the make-up truly professional. It’s the execution of these principles that will set your work apart.

Our studio technique involves a few simple steps that give us the “Hollywood” look, as demonstrated in the accompanying photo.

For the primary light , we used a Photogenic MonoLight that has been placed into a Satrfish light Modifier. This gives a soft, low contrast lighting and a quality that sets the mood. The main light is placed on a boom approximately four feet in front of and above the subject. This is the butterfly lighting style frequently used for glamour work.

A silver reflector is placed in front of the model and just out of the camera’s view. The reflector bounces additional light back into the underside of the eyes and chin, filling in the shadow areas. In the photographs in this article you can see a catchlight in the lower half of the eyes as a result of the reflector.

The next step in the set-up is the background light. The background light used in the photographs accompanying this article was a Photogenic Powerlight fitted with a 7 inch parabolic reflector, covered with a gel and adjusted to emit equal power as the main light (metered just above shoulder level). This allows the light to fall-off at the edges of the photograph.

In this lighting set-up make sure none of the main light spills onto the background and contaminates it. The subject was placed approximately eight feet from the background and the main light was feathered down to prevent spill over light onto the background.

To create a more dramatic look in each of the portraits, a hair light was placed directly overhaed and slightly behind model’s head adding light to the hair. The hair light is a Photogenic Powerlight fitted with a four inch parabolic reflector. The reflector must be small enough to hide behind the subject’s head without being seen. When metering for the hair, I hold the meter at the top of the head and point it toward the light. Depending on the model’s hair color, I adjust the hair light to main light as follows:

Black + 1/2 to + 1 stop

Brown – equal to main

Medium to dark blond hair – 1/2 to 1 stop less

Blonds – -1 stop to 1 1/2 stop

Occasionally I will add different color gels to the hair light to create an entirely different mood and feeling.

Another vital key in glamour photography is make-up, and yes, a professional stylist is essential for top results. In my studio, I never do a glamour session without a professional stylist. The stylist is crucial because everyday make-up is very different from photographic make-up. Since lighting used on the set is relatively flat, the make-up must be applied so it doesn’t look flat. Therefore, the make-up used is heavier and more contrasting than everyday wear. Although I can fix some of this in Photoshop, I prefer to get it right in the camera and not spend my time “fixing things in Photoshop”.

To soften the skin I took the image into Photoshop and did my basic retouch.

Creating Glamourous Head Shots


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4 thoughts on “Creating Glamourous Head Shots

  1. Mike, I just started following you on twitter as well as your blog. I took a minute to blast through some of your posts, and I wanted to thank you. I just upgraded my camera body and have been toying with the off-camera speed lights I can now use, so the timing is perfect! Much appreciated!