• Colin Anthony

Finding new beauty in a post lockdown world

Updated: Jun 9

Like everyone else during the lockdown, I've found myself with a little more time on my hands. Despite the easing of the restrictions here in the UK, we are still not allowed to shoot inside. Starved of any creative collaboration, I've been looking through last summer's beauty shoots to find some new beauty in the shots that have never been used. I've forced myself to review what has previously been passed over for another shot. Here are some unused shots from 2 days last summer... It seems like another world now.

Reviewing work has been quite revealing. I have begun to see the personal editorial choices that I make.

I am a hopeless romantic. Always have been. No point in trying to change now, and, I don't want to anyway. I have come to realise that this is reflected in my beauty and lifestyle work. I reject, or pass over images because they may be slightly edgy, or they may jar in some way. I have come to understand that this jarring may be just "in my head". What I consider to be a "good" shot, or a "better" shot, has been subject to these self imposed, or innate rules, for many years. My photographer friends are all raising their eyebrows at this point. I can hear the chorus of "Err? Yeah! Duh?" So, I rejected all the shots above. I rejected to large shot because I felt that her look was a little "knowing". In addition to this, it is a little busty. There it is... I told you... a hopeless romantic and a lost cause. I'll let y'all decide why the others were rejected.

I've also begun to understand how I rank critical photographic elements and how these are applied under differing circumstances. Note: All of the elements below are critical. That's the job of every pro photographer, to understand, acknowledge and give credence to each of them, and only then, to push the shutter release. All elements have to be at a high standard for the shot to be successful. Just because accessories are at the bottom of the ranking doesn't mean that it's not important. The ranking list is a tightly squeezed list of essential elements. In an environment where all elements are critical, I am attempting to rank them, to learn how to improve my decision making during a shoot that is both time and budget critical. (And in 2020, that's every shoot)

Assuming that we are not discussing the basics, like focus, exposure and camera shake, for my personal work, I am ranking like this:

  1. Composition

  2. "The look"

  3. Quality of Light & Lighting

  4. Make Up

  5. Hair

  6. Wardrobe/Styling

  7. Accessories

  8. Location

Personal Work - What's the thinking here?

If the shot is for me it needs to be as close to a perfectly composed image. It needs to follow classical rules, to be easy on the eye. The crop needs to justify its action. If the model does not have "the look" what's the point? - Studying the large Cody - Summer Girl shot above will indicate many aspects of classical composition. The quality of the light is so important, as the basis on which to retouch and enhance the image - The lighting above is controlled by placing the model in the shade of the orangery at my house. The gold reflection is controlling the overall tonal quality on the face. It places a warmth and opens up the shadows, making the skin look very clean clear. You'll notice that the high key nature of the shot is enhanced by over exposure in the background. This is a natural occurrence when the model is in the shade. Easy to do and an effective technique.

Good make up is critical in a beauty environment. Why am I retouching blemishes that the Make Up Artist (MUA) should be covering. - The make up here took around an hour to achieve, by a professional make up artist. This is after a 15 min brief where I discuss what's required. In this case a clean, youthful look with high cheeks. The make up should echo the models eyes and skin tone... At this point I usually retreat from the brief and allow the make up artist and model some time to collaborate. The model has been made up thousands of times. She knows what works for her and what doesn't. In addition to this I have already discussed this job with the make up artist. She's a professional. I will always rely on their experience. It's very rare that they get it wrong. I work with 3 make up artists who know their stuff. Why would employ them for their skills and then lean on them. It's my experience that they get it spot on 99.9% of the time. In fact since I started assisting in the 1990s I've only seen 2 issues with MUAs getting it wrong.

Hair is often overlooked but it's critical to have good hair for the shot to be "professional". Less experienced photographers seem to have a blind spot regarding hair. It's easy to be overwhelmed by other seemingly more important elements. I think that this has come about because the MUA gets roped into doing the hair too. This has become common place unfortunately. It's OK to have windblown hair but straggling sprays and flat hair looks awful and is a "tell".

The wardrobe carries less importance for me. I'm looking for that romantic, beautiful image, I'm looking for allure. Of course, I wish that I had a stylist on every test but that ain't gonna happen in the 21st century, so I will work with what we have. I have found that carefully selecting and ironing a lesser garment is usually enough.

Accessories can often make a shot but they are not critical. However, I always remove rings if the model is comfortable with it. Pendants can be useful to help create better compositions. Earrings in pierced ears used to be critical however this is now easy to correct in post. Dropped earrings can be useful with composition, but they do restrict image rotation.

I have left location until last as lots of my beauty work has a very shallow depth of field, so it's easy to drop the background back to colours and shapes. Of course if you want reflected water or dappled light then you'll need to be near water and trees, however, if you are looking for clean light then you can be just about anywhere.

Have I got this right? How would you judge this?

Whereas, if I was working for a magazine my ranking would be:

  1. "The look"

  2. Composition

  3. Location

  4. Wardrobe/Styling

  5. Hair

  6. Make Up

  7. Accessories

  8. Quality of Light & Lighting

Magazine Work - What's the thinking here?

They are paying me to translate their vision. It maybe a cover, or a brand. I need a reason for every element that appears in the shot. Beauty does not happen in isolation. Beauty trends are no different from fashion trends. I had better be on point or the shoot will fail before a single shot has been taken. I have to show the client that I understand what composition is. My assumption is that they know what they are about as well as knowing what they want. I would be disappointed if they didn't. I must structure the image to what they are used to seeing from other photographers through the ages. I'd better have a good reason for why I composed it as I did or they will not use me again.

The location is normally chosen in collaboration. It often has some association with the theme of the shoot, or the brand. It's importance as a supporting device means it carries a greater importance within this thinking. The wardrobe/styling is often the product or it supports the product therefore it's importance must be acknowledged. If the ain't right both the magazine and client will let me know... Been there, got the T Shirt and it don't fit. In my experience the Magazine usually send a stylist. Make up can be corrected in post production. It's still important, but I'm confident I can remove a stray hair and shadows and even enhance the Make Up or lipstick if required. Accessories are also a collaboration. If the magazine or the client has an opinion they will voice it during the shoot. If it looks good and they are not commenting it's all good. The reason I have placed lighting last is because if I am controlling the lights then it has to be good and it's my fault if it's not. I am referring to the natural light. If it's just too bad then we have weather insurance, and we'll postpone the shoot and do it when it's better weather. Raw digital files have an extremely wide latitude for exposure. One has to work really hard to get it wrong these days. Colours and tones can be infinitely adjusted along with vibrancy, saturation and hue. I can't make the sun come out but I can create an acceptable image from a flat exposure.

Have I got this right? How would you judge this?

If I was working for a personal client my ranking would be:

  1. "The look"

  2. Make Up

  3. Hair

  4. Wardrobe/Styling

  5. Quality of Light & Lighting

  6. Accessories

  7. Composition

  8. Location

Direct Client - What's the thinking here?


The look is everything here. The client is paying me to capture them in the best light. The brief requires me to use make up, hair styling and wardrobe to make them feel good about themselves. It's true that when people feel good they will relax in to a shoot. I must control the light in these situations. It's right up there with good make up. There are many "tricks" and techniques that I can use here to soften the light, the shadows and the skin. The accessories can sometimes be something precious to the sitter, however, sometimes an gaudy ring or a piece of jewellery can ruin a shot. This can require careful handling. In the end if the client want to wear it... Hey!...

Composition is still important but I will fit the composition around the look, and the client. Unless the client has requested to be shot at home I usually use a shallow depth of field to focus in on the subject. At home "social portraits are a totally different genre.


Have I got this right? How would you judge this?

What would your ranking be? What have I missed? Let me know in the comments below. C


All images © 2020 Colin Anthony - do not copy or use any image for commercial purposes, without permission.

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