Photographing a Beautiful Girl

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Most photographers would love to photograph a beautiful girl given half the chance! But it’s not always as easy as you think…

You may be surprised to learn that even stunningly beautiful people don’t always like themselves on photos! Whilst we lesser mortals gaze at magazine pictures and wish we could look like that – the reality is that most of the people in those magazines don’t look like that. In these days of constant Photoshopping we all know this now, but it still doesn’t stop us feeling inadequate.

Whenever I photograph models they still say: “I hate my nose”, “my thighs are too big”, “I’m too fat”, and all the other things most women say – but when you’re looking at a beautiful “stick insect”, it’s often hard to believe.

The difference between models and “normal” people (apart from the obvious) is that they don’t get a choice about who sees their pictures. They are being paid to be photographed and someone else chooses which shots are used, so whether they like the photos or not is irrelevant.

“Normal” people get to scrutinise every picture and throw away everything they don’t like.

And that’s also the problem for many beautiful girls who want a photo shoot – the photographer often thinks, “wow! Beautiful girl”, and just fires off shots.

But she wants more than that – she still feels like any other woman – there are things she doesn’t like about herself, and you need to shoot in a way which makes that girl feel fantastic, and create pictures which not only you love, but SHE loves too.

Look at her as a shape, and make her look the best shape she can. Everything is relative – you may think that because she is slim, you don’t have to worry too much about positioning – but you do! You have to make her look her best. You can just do more with her than you can with someone who is not as tall and model-like, but you have to see her as an individual and consider how she feels too.

Background

Cat is a friend of my daughter’s and was 17 at the time of this photo shoot. When she turned up for the photo shoot she was in tears because she was so nervous and didn’t want to do the shoot – she only agreed to do it because I was a friend – she honestly didn’t like having her photo taken – which is so hard to believe, when you see her. I am telling you this so you understand that even someone so good looking, did not like herself on photos.

Make up and hair styling

For this kind of shoot, I want to make people look and feel their absolute best, so I usually enlist the help of a top make up artist – Karen Fundell. Working with a make up artist is great fun, and has the added advantage of really relaxing the client before the shoot, as the make up and hair styling usually takes around an hour, and gives us all time to chat and get to know each other – something I feel is really important before taking photographs (even if you don’t use a make up artist). But using a make up artist also gives the subject confidence, resulting in a more relaxed person to photograph.

Make up and styling can make a big difference to how someone looks and feels in a photo shoot - it will shape their face and enhance their features and they will also feel much more relaxed. All of which helps you to create better pictures. Careful positioning and flattering, soft light are also crucial.

Make up and styling can make a big difference to how someone looks and feels in a photo shoot – it will shape their face and enhance their features and they will also feel much more relaxed. All of which helps you to create better pictures. Careful positioning and flattering, soft light are also crucial.

Lighting

It was torrential rain and thunderstorms on the day we did Cat’s photo shoot, so we started inside. Even though it was a dark, wet day, luckily we had a very light glass building to shoot in, with glass windows on three sides.

To achieve similar light you could use a wide doorway (patio type doors) and place large pieces of white card at either side of your subject, and a reflector in front of her – effectively creating a large softbox. None of these images were shot with flash or artificial light – I have just positioned her in natural light to create a similar effect.

Top left and centre: Nothing has changed in the centre shot other than me zooming in and turning the camera the other way, to get a different feel to the picture. Bottom centre: Same as above but I have asked her to lower her head - and I've used a sepia tint in Lightroom. Bottom left and right: I have moved her face around until I think she looks "right" and then taken the shot.

Top left and centre: Nothing has changed in the centre shot other than me zooming in and turning the camera the other way, to get a different feel to the picture. Bottom centre: Same as above but I have asked her to lower her head – and I’ve used a sepia tint in Lightroom. Bottom left and right: I have moved her face around until I think she looks “right” and then taken the shot.

Start with some safety shots

I like to start a shoot inside a doorway or somewhere where no one is around, as the subject can often get embarrassed if other people can see her, particularly when she is most nervous at the beginning of a shoot.

It also gives me chance to control the light, and see which angles work best for her. It helps to show her that I am directing her, and she doesn’t need to “pose” herself – which is most people’s greatest fear in a photo shoot. It’s important to tell her that she won’t have to do anything and that we will just work it all out together. Once we’ve done these first “safety shots”, she will feel much more confident and then we can venture outside, where there may be other people around.

It’s all about building trust – how people FEEL will directly affect how they will LOOK in photos.

Positioning

  1. Stand above the subject and shoot down on her – this will make her eyes look bigger and accentuate her jaw line.
  2. Move around her and look at her “shape” – decide where she looks best and shoot from that angle.
  3. Turn her face from left to right – sometimes people can look good from various angles, sometimes it’s just one way – everyone is different.
  4. Start by sitting, as it’s easiest for her to relax. Then try her lying on her side, and keep moving your position until you feel she looks “right”.
  5. Ask her to look to the side, and then ask her to keep her head exactly where it is, but look back at you with her eyes – this makes a big difference to the shape of someone’s face.
  6. Ask her to put her chin down, and then stick it out forwards – feels weird but creates a firm jawline (not necessary here, but essential in most cases, particularly when smiling, so you don’t get double chins).

On location

Amazingly it stopped raining and we even had occasional bursts of sunlight, which we grabbed at every opportunity. That’s another reason for having your camera set up ready – you can grab that shot when the light suddenly appears, and it looks like it was sunny all day!

We literally had about 45 minutes to do the outdoor shoot, due to the rain and thunderstorms, which is why we changed the jacket only and not the entire outfit, as we just didn’t have time in between downpours.

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Because we are working fast to avoid the rain, I vary the shots by changing the camera angle and zooming in and out, so I can create a whole series of very different ones in just a couple of minutes. Cat hasn’t actually moved more than her head – I have moved my position and zoomed in and out, and changed the angle of the camera, whilst giving her instructions on where to look.

This is one of my favourite shots from this set - I just asked her to walk slowly towards me, angled the camera and enhanced the background in Lightroom later.

This is one of my favourite shots from this set – I just asked her to walk slowly towards me, angled the camera and enhanced the background in Lightroom later.

During another moment of sunlight, we moved over to the long grass which made a beautiful background.

You can see the difference sunlight makes to a picture on the ones above - I would normally use shade, as in the centre top picture - but because Cat has such good bone structure and looks like a model, she also looks great with the sunlight creating shadows on her face, as in the two pictures on the right.

You can see the difference sunlight makes to a picture on the ones above – I would normally use shade, as in the centre top picture – but because Cat has such good bone structure and looks like a model, she also looks great with the sunlight creating shadows on her face, as in the two pictures on the right.

Tip: When shooting someone who does not look like a model, try turning her face different ways to find the most flattering light. As you can see from the bottom two pictures (above) – one way she has soft shade on her face (left) and the other she has harsh sunlight (right) – most people look better in soft shade. Anyone with lines or wrinkles would look older in harsh sunlight, as the dark shadows will highlight any flaws.

Finally, we changed the black jacket for her red one, made her eye make up much stronger and added red lipstick to create a more dramatic look. The background (below) is a very wet bonfire!

The light was created by the storm lifting and creating that eerie effect you get with big black clouds, and sun coming through. Sometimes, before a shoot, the weather looks like it’s going to be really bad, but then it actually works out perfectly! If you only worked on nice dry days, you wouldn’t get the chance to shoot in thundery weather – which really can be quite dramatic!

I love this shot - it's my favourite from the whole shoot. She just has this amazing way of standing and staring straight at you as if to say "Yes? What are you looking at?!"

I love this shot – it’s my favourite from the whole shoot. She just has this amazing way of standing and staring straight at you as if to say “Yes? What are you looking at?!”

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So to recap – give as much attention to a stunningly beautiful girl as you would to anyone else – they will really appreciate it. They often know they’re beautiful, and therefore they have much higher expectations.

Annabel x


Check out my other blogs below for more ideas on positioning women: