“Beauty Style” Headshot: Behind The Scenes


I got a few comments on Friday asking how I did the “beauty style” headshot featured in Westcott’s new Lighting catalog, and so I thought I’d show how to light it here. The shot you see in Westcott’s catalog (which was taken with 2 Spiderlite TD-5—scroll down to the next post to see the shot), was taken before Brad started working with me, so unfortunately I don’t have any production shots from that particular shoot.

However, I recently did a shoot using that exact same “beauty look set-up” (the shot at the top of this post is from that shoot) but I used strobes instead, and luckily this time Brad was there to capture the production set-up, which is shown below. So, just to clarify: what you’re seeing is the same exact position for the lights—which is what this post is all about—but in the production photo below I’m using strobes instead of continuous light Spiderlites. I use both Spiderlites and strobes in the studio, and I choose one or the other based on what I’m shooting that day (or based on what’s already set-up in the studio and ready to go. Sad, but true).


There are only two lights used for this look:

  1. You’re actually using a large softbox as your background (you can see the subject standing in front of a large Octabank above), but you tilt the light back at a 45° angle (as seen above). NOTE: For the shot in the Westcott catalog, I used a 36″x48″ Westcott softbox behind the subject instead of the Octabank. Worked just as well (the Octa is actually a little overkill). By having your subject stand directly in front of the large softbox behind her, it makes the light wrap right around her face on both sides.
  2. The 2nd light in this case is a Beauty Dish (the one shown above is actually a White Lightning strobe with a beauty dish attachment, but we’ve since replaced that rig with an Elinchrom strobe and beauty dish. I’ll discuss why in just a moment). NOTE: In the Westcott catalog, the front light was another Spliderlite TD-5, with a smaller 16×22″ softbox, but in the same overhead position as you see here. This light you put up high—directly in front of your subject, but angled down at her at a 45° angle (so basically, the two softboxes are aiming at each other).(2a) You also need a reflector down low bouncing some of that light back into your subject’s face (as shown above. By the way; that’s a celebrity guest-reflector holder; Photoshop World digital video instructor Rod Harlan). The reflector should be placed about chest level, just below the bottom of your frame (I just kept telling Rod “Lower….lower…lower…until I couldn’t see it in my frame any longer). NOTE: Since this shot was taken, I’ve gotten a Lastolite Tri-panel reflector (which reflects from three angles, using three different reflector mounted on one stand, and I would now use that instead—-that thing works wonders!).

Because you’re aiming directly at a softbox (the one behind your subject), there’s a decent chance you’ll get some lens flare back into your lens, so you could try and block the light as much as possible (by putting up some large black flags in front of you, and then shoot through a small slit between them), but instead what I do is just know that it’s going to be a little washed out when the Raw photo comes into Lightroom (or Camera Raw), but the fix is incredibly easy—-all you do is drag the Blacks slider to the right (as shown below) until the photo looks balanced. Works like a charm.


OK, so why did I ditch the White Lightning strobe and beauty dish? Honestly, it’s not really a bad rig at all for the price, but I had to to chuck it for two reasons:

  1. Because this light winds up on a boom stand, each time we have to adjust the power output of the light, even the slightest bit, we either have to pull the boom stand down (right when we had it positioned exactly where we wanted it), or we have to climb on a ladder to adjust the power. Ugh! By using an Elinchrom strobe with a Skyport trigger, I can change the power output for my beauty dish from right on top of my camera (on the Skyport transmitter). You can adjust everything (even the light behind her) without ever putting down your camera or leaving your shooting position.
  2. The second reason is; the White Lighting use sliders for adjusting the power of the strobe, and the modeling light, which makes the process kind of imprecise (to say the least). If you want to lower the power just 1/10 of stop—good luck–especially when you’re trying to do that on a ladder. Double-Ugh!

We finally couldn’t take it anymore, and ordered an Elinchome beauty dish. It’s been worth every penny (we had an Elinchrom strobe; we just needed to buy the beauty-dish attachment).

So, that’s how this look is done. Two lights and and a reflector: one right behind your subject, tilted back at a 45°; one light up high, directly in front of your subject, aimed down at your subject at a 45° angle. Put a reflector at chest level tilted back at your subject’s face. Have your subject pull her hair back in a pony tail (so the lines of the face are clean), and fire away (This was shot with a Nikon D3, at 200 ISO, at f/8 at 1/200 of a second, with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens out at 200mm).

Once the shot is in either Camera Raw or Lightroom; move the Blacks slider to the right to bring back shadow saturation and you’re in business.

One last thing: I want to give credit to well-known fashion photographer Mary DuPrie, as she is the one who taught me this lighting technique. She teaches workshops on how to pose and work with professional models, and there is just nobody better! You can read about my experience at her workshop right here.

Hope that helps. Have a great Monday everybody. :-)

1 comment
  1. Hi Scott, Great shot and thanks for sharing some tips. I’m looking at getting into studio lighting… what size beauty dish are you using here? I’m looking to purchase either the 40cm or 70cm Elinchrom white dish, but not sure which I should go for.

Leave a Reply
Previous Post

Friday News Stuff

Next Post

Tomorrow’s Guest Blogger Is….