Quick and Clean Beauty Lighting in 3 Easy Steps

The title of this post may sound too good to be true… Fast AND good at the same time?! Usually you have to sacrifice quality for speed, or speed for quality. But beauty lighting is one of those areas where simplicity really speaks volumes. This is great because as photographers a simpler setup means more time for engagement with our subjects!

So how did we create this clean beauty image? What motivated the lighting? Simplicity. We lit three main areas of the photo, each to minimize a distraction or imperfection. There was a background light, a main light on the model’s face, and finally a fill light. Lets break down each light and look at what equipment was used and why.

First things first, we need a canvas! The folks at Studios LIC in Long Island City, NY were kind enough to hook us up with one of their studios for the afternoon. Like most NYC studios it’s a blank canvas with white walls and tall ceilings. These white walls would serves as the perfect background. The key to this photo is simplicity remember, so a background free of distractions was the goal, and a pure white background is as distraction free as you can get. To get the white background to register pure white in the camera we needed to blow it out, by overexposing it. To do this we used one of the new Siros 800 S strobe kits and two large white v-flats. If you look at the Behind the Scenes photos you’ll see we aimed the Siros monolights into the v-flats – rather than directly at the wall – which spread out the light before bouncing it back onto the wall behind our model. By doing this we avoided hot spots from the narrow beam of the strobes and achieved a broad area of overexposed wall. The result is the silhouette seen here with distraction free background.

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Next up we needed to actually light the model. For this High Key beauty image I didn’t want to create too much shadow and contrast on the subject’s face, which is common with classical Rembrandt and side lighting patterns. So I chose to butterfly light the model using another Siros 800 S monolight and a Broncolor beauty dish overhead aiming down. The beauty dish produces even lighting in both eyes and across the face, while creating a crisp edge to the shadows. This is a great modifier for beauty as it really defines facial features while still illuminating evenly. My final exposure was ISO 200 f/14 1/200 of a second. At f/14 we have a wide depth of field, keeping all of the details of the face in focus. At this exposure our background lights were also 2-3 stops brighter ensuring that the white wall was sufficiently blown out to pure white.

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At this point we’ve eliminated distractions with the white background, and illuminated the model with the beauty dish, now the final step is to erase any imperfections. While the main light was positioned to produce minimal shadows, there are still distracting shadows drawing attention to the under eye area and below the chin. To remove these we simply add some fill light.  The fourth and final Siros 800 S, coupled with the kit Broncolor 2’x2′ softbox, was placed below the model’s face and aimed up. This Siros was set to be slightly less powerful then our key light. In the very next shot you can see that the remaining shadows instantly disappear and we have a perfectly radiant face. This fill light also adds a second catchlight to the bottom of the model’s eyes, which is unique to this clamshell beauty lighting technique. (Under fill like this can be achieved to some degree by placing a silver/white reflector underneath the model’s chin as well, but by using a second strobe instead, you gain more control over the intensity of the fill light.)

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Similar results can be achieved with a single Siros 800 S kit as well, if you were to use one strobe on the background and a reflector for fill underneath the face. In the end I chose to use two kits for the versatility that four lights offered. It was really a testament to the power and speed of the Siros monolight as well. Clocking in at 800ws each we really pushed the strobes to their higher power levels to achieve exposures of f/14 and beyond. They not only pumped out a lot of light, they recycled incredibly quick which means the flow of the shoot wasn’t interrupted waiting for them to be ready to fire, and the resulting color accuracy between shots made post production breeze.

Photographer: Erik Valind

Make Up Artist: Soleil Atiles

Model: Jordan H – New York Model Management