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Beauty Lighting Setup – Step by Step

Beauty portrait with make-up, studio lighting with setup for face photo. Stefan Tell

This kind of beauty portraits in my studio is not what I usually do, but the lighting setup is useful for all kinds of headshots. The main difference might be that these photos have a lot more make-up and hours in Photoshop than the rest of my portfolio.

The client was a Swedish producer of make-up and they wanted photos of their products in use on a model to show the colours of the season. In my studio we managed to fit a model, a stylist, a hairdresser, a couple of people from the client’s office. And me. And four studio lights. And some light shapers.


Behind The Scenes – overview of studio

This is how it looked right before the model and her entourage entered my studio. To keep it simple I decided early that the model should sit, mainly because that is an easy way of knowing that she will stay in the same place during the session.

Sometimes when you set the lights very tight, just a minor change of distance from the main light to the model can do a lot of difference in the final photos with the exposure and how the shadows fall in her face.


Main light, a beauty dish

To show off how the products look applied to a face, I used a classic lighting with the light coming on-axis with the camera, just high enough to highlight her facial features and create a small shadow under the nose and chin. And around the eyes.

A Profoto D1 250 Air with a white Profoto Softlight Reflector on a Manfrotto boom stand (420B I think, very useful thing) was my main light, a little in front and above the camera. The distance from the light to the model’s face was maybe three feet/one meter or something like that.

Fill, a large softbox Octa

Right behind me, I placed a large 5-f00t (150 cm) Profoto softbox Octa to provide fill light for her face, making sure that there were no dark shadows and to soften the portrait just enough.


During the session, the MUA got in between the lights every now and then to fix small things and made sure the products looked good. I did most of the work before they arrived with the lighting and all, and sat a lot just waiting for them to get ready. It is very different from other kinds of assignments were I feel more effective. But, a nice change of pace in many ways.


Soft, diffused light from behind

To get a white background and at the same time let soft light bleed a little on the edges of her face and neck, I placed two Profoto D1 500 with barn doors behind her shooting through Chimera panel frames with diffusion fabric to soften the light and make the light sources bigger.

I guess it would have been the same with two softboxes doing this job, but I chose this solution this time. The barn doors were open on the side facing the background, so light from these made the cyc almost white. Getting it pure white was something I did in Photoshop. Working in a small studio, I like to do it this way if I can to avoid having to much light bouncing around, even if I use flags.

Flags for contrast

Talking of flags, with the amount of light coming from behind, I placed to black boards of foam core on both sides of her face, quite close, directly outside the frame. Without them, there would be a lot less contrast on the sides of her face.


The funny thing with a session like this is that I really thought the previews in my camera looked almost ready to deliver. But when starting to work on the retouch, I spent a lot of time going over the photos fixing small things I had missed before.

With a model that has almost flawless skin, and on top of that, professional make-up applied, every little thing stands out as something you want to remove. But, I think I got just a tiny bit of natural feeling left in the photos. I hope.


All photos were shot with a Nikon D800 and a 105mm/2.8 lens, the shutter speed was 1/200s and aperture f/5.6. The good thing about the 105 is that you can get as close as you want, but I still think the 85/1.4 is better for portraits, or it might be just me being used to that lens?

I am satisfied with the results, but next time I should probably hire a professional retouch artist to do the post production. There is something in this kind of perfection that never gives me the feeling that I am done. Looking at these photos now, almost a year after I shot them, I can still feel the urge to fix something. Just because everything else is so perfect.

But, a lesson learned, I should stick to more natural portraits. Having a make-up artist on set is great and can do wonders for the time needed in post production, I just like to leave a little more of the original face in the photo.

If I would do something like this again, I think I would stick to this lighting setup. Maybe skip the fill light from the Octa and instead using a large white reflector. Mostly to add more light into the eyes, and to get more space to work in the studio.

Please write a comment if you think I missed something, or just press Like. Thanks.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Saurabh October 23, 2013, 14:23

    i liked the way you diffused the light, gives a dimension to the models

  • AelbrechtH February 12, 2014, 15:39

    Hi, i like what you’ve done here, great setup, great model, great light. The only thing that’s missing (my personal opinion) is a beautiful catchlight in the models eyes (last photo). Great work overall.. 🙂

  • Stefan Tell February 24, 2014, 00:59

    Thanks, and I agree.
    Mostly I am doing my outmost to get the alive-feeling with a catchlight, but sometimes angles are not on my side.