Photographic Studio Lighting for Hair and Cosmetics
Soon after starting our studio in New York we realized that in order to attract high-paying cosmetic, hair, and beauty advertising clients we would have to develop a method of lighting that resulted in flawless textures, and that reduced expensive retouching to a minimum. The problem with hair, for example, is twofold:
- The surface of hair strands act like a mirror, reflecting everything around them.
- The outer parts of a hairstyle cast shadows on the inner "roots," making them dark and unattractive.
The problem is to get soft light coming evenly from all directions, with hardly anything that might reflect on the surface of the hair.
Beauty and cosmetic photography presents similar problems, although usually not as serious.
Accurate color rendition is essential in this type of photography.
The techniques that we developed brought us the number-one name in hair coloring, Clairol, as a long-term client along with several of the largest names in cosmetics. This photography was used by them on their packaging, publicity, and for advertising.
No secrets last forever, and eventually other photographers adopted the same ideas — spread, probably, by models, spies, free-lance studio assistants, and the clients themselves. Some even underbid us on price.
Anyway, here's how it was done:
Beginning with white paper on the floor, we erected a "tent" around the model using 4x8-foot white panels and a white ceiling. Strobe flash heads were placed at critical positions, bouncing off the white panels to create a soft, even light. The background paper was lit separately from flash heads behind other panels. The front panel, easily movable for access, had a hole in it for the camera lens. The lens of the Hasselblad 500-EL camera was itself shielded with a long, black bellows-type lens shade to minimize flare and increase apparent sharpness.
Getting exact color rendition was achieved by carefully choosing emulsions. Every batch of color film varied slightly, and was tested by our color lab, Duggal Color Projects. They selected the best and sold fairly large quantities to us, which we kept frozen until a few hours before use. Leftover rolls of the size 120 Ektachrome were put back in the freezer.
Today, photographers would almost certainly shoot digitally, probably saving in the RAW format for better tweaking in Photoshop. But the lighting techniques remain the same.
Interested in photography? Check out my "Assisting Avedon" blog.
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