© Michael Roscoe
It goes without saying that mastery of studio lighting is an essential in any fashion photographer's armoury, and that what comes in and out of vogue is as changeable as the designs debuting at each season's runway shows. In the 1940s and 50s, Cecil Beaton borrowed a little Hollywood glamour to bring fashion shoots up to a whole new level, and in the mid-1980s Nick Knight, collaborating with maverick designer Peter Saville and a new generation of acclaimed stylists, introduced ad production values to the medium with stunning effect.
Hair and beauty photography is an ever-lucrative market that closely mirrors fashion trends. But there's a key difference in that hair and beauty require an extra level of perfection, as most images focus on close up detail, so lighting and skin tone reproduction needs particular care. Here, I've tried to capture three different looks, using a various combination of ringflash, softbox and beauty dish lighting.
My first brief, shown above, was to capture a close-up shot of the model's eye make-up using Hensel's RF 1200 P-XS ringflash with an Octahaze RF90 reflector. In addition, I used two Elinchrom BXRi flash heads with softboxes, and shot on a Nikon D3x with a Nikkor AF-S VR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED Micro lens at f/11, 1/200s at ISO50. I processed the images in Capture One Pro 4 with minor tweaks to the contrast (+12) at either ends of the level.
The model was positioned against a white background and illuminated with three lights. The key light I used was the Hensel ringflash, but with the standard reflector/honeycomb removed and the Octahaze RF90 reflector attached instead. The Octahaze light-shaper usually has two internal diffusing screens but I removed these to attain a slightly harder light, avoiding the classic circular catch light to capture something more unusual. I then positioned two flash heads behind the model and pointed them at either side of her head to get the highlights at the sides of her face and around her temples. The background wasn't specifically lit, as there was enough light spill to get the neutral grey tone I wanted.
Close up detail shots of a model's face and make up call for specific macro (or as Nikon refers to them, Micro) lenses. I used the 105mm Micro, which can capture full headshots but also enables close-up work with 1:1 maximum reproduction ratio. Its 105mm focal length also means macro images can be captured without having to get too close to the model with a focus distance of around 30cm. It is easy to achieve a very narrow depth-of-field when shooting macro subject matter with a 105mm lens, so I opted for a setting of f/11 to get most of the make up in focus while throwing out the nose and the side of the face.
I also wanted to create a more natural look, focusing on the model's eye and skin make-up. I used the Hensel ringflash again, this time with a white reflector and honeycomb grid, and a Profoto D1 head with a beauty dish. The D3x was set to f/3.5, 1/200s at ISO50, and used with the full tilt-and-shift movements of Nikon's PC-E Micro Nikkor 45mm f/2.8D ED lens. This time I used Capture One to tweak the contrast to +20, and saturation to -20.
Set-up time for all the images captured was no more that 20 minutes. The key light in this photograph is a Profoto D1 head mounted on a boom using a beauty dish. It's positioned so that it's directly in front and above the model to cast a flattering, diffused and directional light that will produce the subtle shading that can be seen around the cheek bones, the eyes and under the nose.
However, the cast of illumination from this one flash head and light-shaper alone produces shadows that are too harsh, so I've filled and softened them using a silver reflector and a ringflash. The position of the key light (beauty dish) is too high to put a highlight in the model's pupil so I used the Hensel RF 1200 P-XS with a standard reflector and honeycomb grid, which help to soften the light and produce a distinctive thin, circular, catch light in the model's eye.
Again, I wanted to create a very narrow depth-of-field for this image to focus on the eyes and throw the rest off focus to create a soft, dream-like, effect. To achieve this I used the PC-E 45mm Micro lens. The full-frame sensor, very low sensitivity setting equivalent to ISO50, and maximum tilt-and-shift movement with a wide-open aperture setting, made it possible get the plain of focus primarily on the model's eyes to help draw the viewer in.
For my final set of images, I wanted to capture the model's main features - nose, eye and mouth - with a hard, manikin-like feel. I used the Hensel ringflash with a white reflector, and two Elinchrom BXRi flashheads with softbox attachments. The D3x, used with the 105mm Micro again, was set to f/18, 1/200s at ISO50. In Capture One contrast was tweaked to +15 and saturation at -20.
The heavy, bold and straightforward black-and-red make-up tones used around the model's eye meant I could use a much harder light that would slightly over-expose the model's skin to ensure the make-up stood out. I used the ringflash with a white reflector but removed the honeycomb grid to get a clean white circle in the model's eye, helping to create a harder, robotic feel. The white Colorama background was lit with two flash heads but I made sure there was minimal light spill on the model so that there was a clean line along the side of her face.
While I used the Micro lens, I wanted a slightly wider depth-of-field than the softer looking previous shots, so I adjusted the aperture to f/18 and shot the model from a further distance away to get most of the eye and part of the mouth in focus.
It is worth noting that I had to manually focus the PC-E 45mm til-and-shift lens as it has no AF function, but I also found it better to employ manual focus when using the 105mm Micro as, when on auto, it tends to search too much when working close-up with moving subject matter such as models. The only minor issue when turning off the AF it that it can be tricky to adjust the focus ring on the lens barrel when it's stuck in the middle of a ringflash.
I finished off the image after processing the raw image by further desaturating the skin in Photoshop, while preserving the colour of the eye for more impact. Any blemishes in the model's skin were also cleaned up using the Clone and Patch tools.
The eyes have it
The ringflash is celebrated and derided in equal measure. But not all ringflash systems are the same. The Hensel RF 1200 P-XS is available with numerous light-shapers to help photographers control the cast of light and open up a host of creative opportunities. The Hensel range includes an Octahaze RF90 reflector and white reflector with honeycomb attachment, and there's now a new beauty dish option that also fits Elinchrom's ringflash. This array of light-shapers means the quality of light can be precisely controlled so that you can easily avoid the ubiquitous, over-harsh, bleached-out look of the past (a style often combined with a cross processing effect).
I used ringflash in each of my lighting set-ups to produce different effects. To create a natural look, top left, it is used as a fill-in light. I've used a standard reflector with a honeycomb to soften the light and produce a distinctive catch light in the eye, as the position of the key light (beauty dish) is too high to put a highlight in the model's pupil.
I lit a second image with the Octahaze. I used it without the internal diffusing screens, which meant I avoided the circular catch light but still got the direct cast of light and some pleasing reflections from some of the eight silver-lined sections inside the light-shaper.
The final image unashamedly uses the very distinctive, clean, white, circular shape in the model's eye. The model was positioned with the ringflash placed directly in front of her so that there is a continuous circular catch light in her eye, which isn't usually possible if the ringflash is positioned at a more oblique angle.
Lights, camera and post-production
I used Capture One Pro 4 to process the Nikon D3x raw files. This intuitive piece of software has all the control you need so that skin tones and colours can be reproduced as desired. It is possible to tweak the colour temperature in Kelvin and adjust the tint. It has all the usual Exposure, Contrast, and Saturation controls but it excels itself with such options as Skin Tone and Shadow and Highlight sliders enabling you to extend the dynamic range.
Once processed, it's a given that most photographers will clear up the skin and eyes but a Photoshop filter that seems to crop up frequently in some photographers' work is the Lens Flare option in the Filter menu. It is very easy to apply and may have the additional effect of winding up studio lighting purists.
Make-up artists: Hayley Gittins and Hannah Burton
Model: Maddison Skinner.
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