Welcome, Guest

Learning Center

Photoflex Lighting School

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Sparkling Beauty Lighting – Part 1

Lighting Equipment

With beauty shots, there are often limiting factors one has to work with, including constrained composition, precision lighting, and minimal background elements. Pro Showcase photographer Laura Tillinghast is quite mindful of these and other limitations, yet she chooses to get creative with them. And in the process, she truly elevates the quality of her work.

In this lesson with bonus video, Laura generously offers up valuable tips and techniques that will help you bring your beauty shots to the next level!


Every holiday season, I get an itch to shoot something really glitzy. This time around, I chose to execute a beauty shot with a glamorous party look for the styling and decided to use a new silver background from Drop it Modern to give a beautiful and sparkling background effect.

As a commercial photographer, I end up shooting a lot of different subjects, but my absolute favorite thing to shoot is beauty. I really enjoy the challenge of shooting from the shoulders to the top of the head and finding a way to make it interesting. Adding a dynamic and versatile background effect is a great way to give your beauty images a kick in the pants!

The key to nailing this look is choosing the right backdrop and making sure you light it properly. I have tried a number of things to achieve this style and this time around I chose to use a new silver backdrop from Drop it Modern*. The silver pieces are very reflective and great for creating a sparkling effect behind your subject. If your budget does not allow for a backdrop like this, you can substitute any silver and reflective material. I have used a hanging tinsel door that you can get from any party store and this also works great.

It's also important to use a longer lens with some compression so that you can easily throw the background out of focus without having to distance yourself too far from the backdrop or open your aperture up too wide. I am a Canon shooter so I love to use the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for this. 

For beauty shots, choosing the right model is paramount. Since beauty photography focuses on the face, you want to make sure that you find a model who can give you interesting expressions and keep some emotion in their eyes. It is very difficult to make a beauty shot dynamic if your model looks like a deer in headlights or a piece of wood. I always look for existing beauty images in a model’s portfolio so that I can get an idea of their range. I was very lucky to find Haley and Bianca, both of whom have experience with this type of shoot.

Another important element in beauty photography is your hair, make-up and styling combination. For every beauty look I do, I always work with a professional hair and makeup artist. Even though I do have proficiency in this area, I find it's better to have a professional be in charge of hair and makeup so that I can concentrate on the lighting.  As for styling, I usually try to work with a wardrobe stylist, but this is not always possible. I often end up styling a lot of my portfolio work so I try to keep up on trends by reading fashion magazines and following the bigger fashion Blogs.

Lighting Set Up
The beauty of the TritonFlash Battery Powered Strobes, at least for me, is how easy they are to work with. Lightweight and compact, these heads are a cinch to use in studio and a pleasure to set up on location.

For this shot, I used a TritonFlash with a small OctoDome soft box as the main key light. I chose the OctoDome for its soft and wide-reaching effect. This broad and even light modifier is very flattering to skin tones and creates soft shadows beneath a model’s chin and cheekbones. 

Normally I like to shoot beauty images with an aperture setting between f/8 and f/11, but for this shot I needed a shallower depth of field. To make sure that our background of silver sparkles was out of focus, rendering the bokeh effect, I set up the key light to expose at f/5.6. I also put a backlight with the included 7" metal reflector, also to expose well at f/5.6, on the backdrop to make sure it was fully lit. You can experiment with more or less light on the backdrop to intensify or downplay the sparkling effect.

Keeping shallow depth of field in mind, make sure you have the backdrop placed back far enough from the model to create a bit of distance. This will make the bokeh effect easier to achieve.

The last lighting component was the white side of a 42-inch 5in1 MultiDisc reflector. I placed this in front of the model, lying flat, just beneath the rib cage. This bounced a bit of light into the model’s eyes, adding a nice catch-light and softened shadows.

With beauty shots, your composition is typically limited, since you are working with such a tight crop. One thing I like to do is add a bit of wind to give some lift and movement to the model’s hair. A little movement can really breathe some energy into your shots if you are worried that the posing or angles are getting a bit stale or repetitive as you shoot.

One thing I love about this backdrop is how versatile it is. If you don't want to use a backlight, then you can shoot using just a key light. As long as some of the key light falls on the background, you'll get a sparkling effect, but with more contrast and shadows.

Additional Equipment Used

  • Pocket Wizard Plus II and Plus III wireless transceivers
  • Drop It Modern "Mermaid" backdrop

To see Part 2 of this lesson, click HERE.


Written and photographed by Laura Tillinghast.
To see more of Laura's work, visit her Pro Showcase page

Follow Me on Pinterest


Lighting Equipment


On January 08, 2013 at 03:11 PM, Bill Margita said:

More and more of what I read indicates a lot of post photo work.  How much was done to create the photo?

On January 09, 2013 at 02:15 PM, Laura Tillinghast said:

HI Bill! I have noticed this as well! For my images I try to keep the post production to a minimum. There was virtually no adjustments made on the background, I just smoothed imperfections in the skin and brightened the eyes a touch.

On January 12, 2013 at 02:15 PM, Hamid said:

Hello. Dear friend Modeling lamp is a yellow or white in color image effect?
Thank you.

On January 12, 2013 at 02:17 PM, Hamid said:

Hello. Dear friend The modeling lamp is flashing yellow or white in color image effect?
thank you.

On January 12, 2013 at 02:26 PM, Hamid said:

Hello.Dear friend The modeling lamp is flashing yellow or white in color image effect?

On January 12, 2013 at 03:58 PM, Hamid said:

Hello.this video. Yourself how your camera’s white balance can have nothing to do in the garden or outdoor and studio?

On January 17, 2013 at 11:21 AM, mike said:

Some pretty bad eye brows

On January 17, 2013 at 12:08 PM, Samir Popaja said:

Nice shoot and good explanation of how to do it…plus video…It will be nice to see aperture settings on SETUP drawing not just mention in the text…easy to remember…

On January 17, 2013 at 02:21 PM, Steven said:

Very easy to understand. I especially like the part about on how you used the fan on the model to bring out her hair. Great work.

On January 17, 2013 at 03:14 PM, Jim said:

A scrunched up silver space blanket (survival blanket) is a good (and very cheap) alternative for this type of shot smile

On January 17, 2013 at 04:24 PM, Anne said:

That background doesn’t seem to be available. It would be nice if you’d use things that are actually available.

On January 17, 2013 at 04:30 PM, Anne said:

drop it MODERN’s web site is goofy, sometimes the background shows up, some times it isn’t here.

On January 19, 2013 at 09:50 AM, Mark Eddiford said:

I like the background and use of fan, which as yet I have not put into practice.
I was just wondering at what height you had the Octobox set above the model and how far in front of her.
I really like your clear & easy to understand presentation and I’m going to check all the others I can find including the follow up’s to this one of course.

I am aiming to become a photographer here in the UK, but my own studio space at home is only 10ft x 25 feet,
but I do have 9ft wall mounted backgrounds the usual black & white so far,whilst looking for other ideas at this time. Which is why I took an interest in your training video’s.

Yours Sincerely
Mark Eddiford

On January 19, 2013 at 03:30 PM, Photographer Pat said:

Great quality love it. Cant get that clarity have the gear but struggle to be satisfied. Cant figure it out. Totally committed. Try and try but something just not right. Any help, tips advice, desperate. Cheers

On January 20, 2013 at 07:42 AM, Russ Frayre said:

Do you ever use a tripod when doing this type of shot? any benefit?

On May 11, 2013 at 10:25 PM, charles said:

I have a question how did you hook up your Pocket wizard three cause i have the 650 and 300 and cant get them to sync. your shots are lovely


On January 02, 2016 at 02:42 AM, cosmetica groothandel said:

Wow it’s very happy news ,which I have seen in your post.
cosmetica groothandel

Leave a Comment





Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?