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And While We’re on the Subject of Beauty Shots …

This image of Mel is what we’re typically talking about when we talk about a beauty shot:

© Donald J. Fadel, Jr. |

Mel is an actor. I’m a photographer. Mel’s job is to project a character – even herself –  before a camera (still or otherwise). Mine is to record it. That means technically setting up the shot (set, lighting), properly expose the image, and do whatever it takes to bring the final image to fruition.

In the case of a beauty shot, this means a beauty retouch.

Except in my case, at least, I approach it more as a portrait than an idealized image. I still retouch heavily – removing distractions  – but I don’t want to venture too far from the subject. I want to retouch it but I don’t necessarily want you to know that I retouched it.

I tell my clients “I want it to look like a cosmetic ad“, but I want it to look like they are in the ad. If you know what I mean.

I discussed retouching in my previous post, and it remains a large part of my work. Getting it right in camera is not the goal. Getting it right as an image is. So the end, at least in this case, justifies the means.

It would be great if I thought of everything beforehand, got all the settings right, and whipped out a 16×20 right from my camera back. Just like Ansel Adams (you are permitted to wipe the sarcasm off of your keyboard now).

Truth is, I try. I swear I do.

There’s Mel kicking the crap out of the look I want, I have the light the way I want (because I shoot tethered  into Lightroom and don’t rely on anything but what I see there on my laptop  – not that lying sack-of-shit known as the LCD on the back of my camera), my light meter tells me what the exposure is. So I leave the set all happy. I got it!

And then I return, all fat and happy with my memory cards all filled with 1’s and 0’s, and I load the images into Lightroom on my editing system in my office. How great am I! And then …

And then I discover the hairs where I don’t want them. Or that shadow that I didn’t see. Or the hundred other details I didn’t see because I was in the moment and the moment wasn’t brutally honest with me. It lied, too. I was shooting, damnit! The photographic elixir where everything is groovy and I am Richard Avedon and everything Richard Avdeon wanted to be.

But the reality is – and reality always sticks its ugly head in there – that, sitting alone, peering at a 27″ monitor at a RAW file at 100% magnification, that reality has indeed slapped me in the face. I’m not Richard Avedon. There is shit wrong all over the place – damn pixels! Talk about honest.

So, graphics tablet pen in hand, I have  to deal with that honesty. This is called ” post production”.

And I move those pixels around. I push. I pull. I do all kinds of crazy shit to muscle those photons-come-pixels back into shape. Into the shape that I want them to be, that I am capable of, which is always just this short of where I want to be because  there is always more –  and it is always just beyond my reach. But I try. I work the work that is never quite done. Enough. Until I’m just this side of happy. Until the image approaches what I thought the image should be.

And then I stop. I surrender. Enough! It is time to move on.

Mel did her part. It’s about time I did mine.

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