Glamour Photography: What To Know & How To Nail It
Pegging down exactly what glamour photography is can be confusing. It influences other genres, like fashion, and relies on techniques and know-how from other genres, like portraiture. One thing’s for sure, though: glamour photography is all about the physical beauty of the models themselves, not their clothes or whatever they’re doing or using. That stuff’s additional if present, secondary to the main objective of visually exploring and capturing the model’s actual beauty.
Learning the basics (and more!) of taking portraits and using that as a foundation for glamour photography is necessary. Although that’s beyond the scope of this article, the tips you’ll find here will not only give you a good overview of the specialized aspects of taking glamour shots. They’ll help put your portrait skills to work towards capturing amazing glamour images!
Equipment to have
Taking good glamour shots isn’t really that demanding equipment-wise and you can start with pretty much anything. But ideally, you’ll want to use a more powerful, capable camera with higher image resolutions, which uses interchangeable lenses, like a DSLR or mirrorless setup. Having a few lenses in the normal to telephoto focal ranges would be good to have for your glamour photography toolbox. Avoid “wide-angle” lenses since they tend to distort images (and faces).
The most popular portrait lens focal lengths are in the 50mm to 85mm range.
A tripod will be an indispensable tool to keep your camera steady and produce sharp pictures, whether you’re shooting indoors or out. Alternatively, you can use a monopod, which makes it easier and faster to move around as needed; some photographers use their tripods like monopods, in fact, for that reason. Of course, if you’re capable, you can handhold your camera, especially when you’re shooting with a flash.
If you want to do many indoor flash shoots, note that a basic on-camera flash doesn’t usually produce excellent results. Therefore, you’ll eventually want to look into off-camera flashes or even studio lighting equipment. At the very least, have a more sophisticated on-camera flash with adjustable aim and angle, letting you bounce light with reflectors.
Taking photographs in natural light, however, consistently produces outstanding results. That’s when there’s no direct sunlight, such as on overcast days or under the shade that blocks out the sun’s harsh and hard direct light (which, by the way, is why photographers avoid midday hours when shooting outdoors). For naturally-lit glamour photography indoors, window light is also an option; you can use reflectors to reduce shadows and brighten areas a bit more.
You can try to simulate natural light using artificial lighting equipment that produces softer light. Try to make sure that the light source is naturally angled, from the sides or the top front. Keep a close eye on shadows! Your artistic sensibilities and judgment will come into play. All faces are different, and some have beautiful features that you can enhance with harder lighting. Experiment!
Setting up the shoot
The next few tips are more practical, less technical know-how, important for glamour photography, and likely useful for other types of photography as well. Such as this one: You’ll need a makeup artist. A good one, of course. You can get by with free options when starting out and learning, even have your models do makeup themselves, but you’ll eventually want to hire and establish working relationships with professional makeup artists.
For newcomers to the genre, a neat thing about glamour photography is you typically get to plan and prepare your image compositions and settings. Although a lot relies on your artistic eye, start with the basics and the tried and true, and work your way from there, experimenting with other creative concepts as you gain more experience.
As you set up and compose your shots, keep in mind that capturing the model’s beauty is your primary objective. Try to keep things simple to minimize distracting elements that may detract attention from the model. That goes for colors too; opt to work with more solids and dominant color themes for the shot. Take special care in choosing colors that complement your model’s skin tone, hair, makeup, attire, etc.
As for locations, you can work pretty much anywhere, indoors or out. Indoor glamour photography does not necessarily mean using a studio; you can use any suitable interior, with natural and/or artificial lighting. Again, whatever location and setting you choose, keep the “simple” principle in mind, even outdoors.
Working with models
With all the possibilities, posing your models will probably be one of the most difficult aspects of glamour photography to get good at.
Study the huge body of glamour photographs that already exists—in magazines, advertising, social media — for ideas and visually appealing poses you can emulate. Do a Google search for photography model poses (or similar), and it will present you with a huge amount of links to collections of images to explore. Or, better yet, check out our own little guide on the subject. You can even get books and photo card decks full of different poses. Very important: do not neglect the hands! Hands are very expressive, and will need to be positioned and posed with the same degree of care as the rest of the model.
Consider facial expressions
Also, give special attention to facial expressions. They set and affect the mood of your image, of course. One thing you’ve probably noticed is that many glamour photos have models with serious, non-smiling expressions. There’s a simple reason why: smiles often produce wrinkles. Serious doesn’t have to be rigid, however. You can create a more relaxed non-smiling expression just by having the model open their mouth slightly (like when breathing). You may be surprised how that one little action can ease the visual tension like magic!
We’ve saved the most powerful tip for last. Strangely enough, we rarely see this mentioned, which is peculiar since it’s a factor that truly can make a difference: help your model feel beautiful. That’s it. When your model feels truly personally beautiful, it somehow shows through in the resulting images. Everything works together to help gain this intangible quality — the makeup, hairstyle, wardrobe, environment, and even encouraging words and praise from you, the photographer — and it’s within your control and direction. Try it!
Before you go
By the way, if you ever wanted an opportunity to pick up and practice some photo editing and retouching skills using software like Photoshop, glamour photography is perfect for that! “Post-processing” is normal, even expected, within the genre. Learn how to look for and fix any possible minor imperfections and lighting issues (check the skin, eyes, teeth, hair, bone structure highlights, etc.). As usual, try to keep your edits and retouches simple, subtle, and natural.
Most importantly, have fun!