Home How-To Tip Of The Week Beautiful Beauty Shots Without Retouching - 3/30/09
  • I'd also like to receive the DP eNewsletter
Monday, March 30, 2009

Beautiful Beauty Shots Without Retouching - 3/30/09

Three exposure tricks that make any face look great

This Article Features Photo Zoom

In Hollywood’s glamour era of the 1930s and 40s, the studio machine churned out star after star, all the while relying on gorgeous promotional portraits to aid in the process. The great names of the era—like George Hurrell and Clarence Sinclair Bull—certainly were master photographers who could retouch their images with the best of them. But half a century before Photoshop there was one thing they did to ensure all their subjects looked beautiful: they retouched with light.

Understanding the tricks of the trade makes it easy to make people look their best. Here are a few secrets you can use to make beautiful portraits that the great glamour photographers would surely endorse.

1. Use overexposure to create high-key images. One of the surest antidotes to beauty is the shadow—dark circles under eyes, creases turned into crevasses thanks to harsh lighting… This pitfall can be avoided by simply overexposing the photo by a half-stop, full-stop, or even more. In portraits, detail is usually made up of pores and blemishes and other unflattering things. An overexposed image blows out the detail, eliminating those problems.

With a flash on the camera, an up-close portrait is often overexposed anyway; consider using exposure compensation to achieve this affect with the flash as well as with the baseline exposure even if your camera doesn’t offer manual exposure controls. If it does, open up to overexpose and brighten the scene and utilize the high key for its pleasing, very flattering light. (As a bonus, ask your subject to wear white or light colored clothes, and shoot them in a white or light-colored environment. The added reflectance of all these light tones not only helps to fill in nasty shadows, but it lends itself to the overall look of a high-key photograph.)

2. Make it blurry. Sure, the computer makes blurs easy in post production, but in days of yore photographers relied on a number of other tricks. Shallow depth of field (achieved with wide open apertures) not only puts the focus on subject, but a shallow-enough depth of field can keep eyes tack-sharp while letting distracting blemishes and wrinkles elsewhere fall out of focus. To really affect the sharpness of an image photographers have often placed tissue paper, hosiery, cling wrap and many other diffusing items over the lens in hopes of obliterating some of the undesirable detail. The technique works just as well with a digital camera, too, and it’s easy to gauge your success via the LCD preview.

Along with focus and lens blurs, don’t forget about motion blur. A slightly slower shutter speed coupled with blowing hair or a moving face can create just enough interesting movement to both eliminate unwanted details and improve the overall interest of an otherwise stagnant image. If you’ve got a windy day, use it. If not, try a fan for blowing lovely locks all around. (Long hair also offers a great distraction for a face to hide behind should all of these lighting and exposure tricks fall short.)

3. Use a very big, very soft light. Working on the same principle as the first tip—shadows are evil—consider finding the biggest light source you can. What, you’re not a studio-pro? No problem. In lieu of the giant 5- and 7- and 10-foot beauty dishes that professional glamour photographers use, you can find large light sources all around the house. A north-facing window on a sunny day is a great choice for a large soft light, and it will create a pleasing softness for even the most weathered faces. No large windows around? Head outside and look for shade on a sunny day. Even standing in an open doorway, the indirect illumination from the sky creates the biggest soft light of them all. The same is true of a cloudy day: gray skies may not be pretty, but they sure do produce pretty light that can make any portrait subject look good.


Add Comment


  • International residents, click here.
Check out our other sites:
Digital Photo Pro Outdoor Photographer HDVideoPro Golf Tips Plane & Pilot