Often when I’m working on commercial assignments, I am allowed quite a bit of creative freedom (and, of course, I allow myself that in personal work). Having lots of choices can be very exciting, but narrowing down the creative possibilities from countless options could also be a nightmare.
As a beauty photographer, what helps me pivot my thought process in the right direction most of the time, when I’m shooting for a client, is to focus on the product itself. Usually, the specific qualities of a product aren’t very numerous, and this helps me a lot in choosing the exact approach I’ll want to take for the shoot, lighting setup and model casting.
The most challenging element I’ve faced has been shooting products that contain reflective particles. Whether it be a shimmery eyeshadow, a blinding highlighter or glitter, I know I’ll need to build the entire concept and technical elements around the metallic glow or iridescence of what I’m photographing.
Normally, the client wants to accomplish a few main goals: to showcase the product’s pigment, glow and texture. Shooting such a product can be quite intimidating because your regular lighting setups may not work well with it.
Here are some techniques I’ve practiced over time. Not only do they help get the job done for the client, but they are also just fun to play with.
1. Focus on the Shimmer by Underexposing with Soft Light
This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to shoot reflective products. Lighting will pick up the shimmer but it will not overpower it, so the pigment will still stay visible. It is also very flattering on the skin because it minimizes shadows, so it will not emphasize or accentuate wrinkles or imperfections.
Shooting underexposed helps accentuate the shimmer even more. You can use one light source with a modifier that’s big enough to supply you with soft light, or you can bounce light off of a white wall or bounce panels. Another option would be to use daylight coming from a large window.
For extra fill, use a reflector or continuous light source. Remember that mixing different types of lighting will require you to be mindful of white balance.
2. Light Up the Twinkles with Multiple Hard Sources
I personally enjoy this approach because it is much more controllable; I am able to sculpt my subject by directing light angles.
Lately, I have been experimenting with continuous sources and have had a lot of fun with combining spotlights with LED strips and incandescent bulbs. Playing off of warm and cool light has been very pleasant to my eye, and with the glitter lit from multiple angles, it has been able to twinkle very beautifully.
One of the main challenges when photographing coarse reflective particles (like glitter, shimmery lip gloss and loose highlighters) is capturing them the way they would look in real life: sparkly, iridescent and magical. The facial landscape does not allow you to capture all of the product’s beauty by lighting it from just one angle.
Light has to come from various angles, “lighting up” as many particles as possible in order to really showcase the shine and pigment (while other products would be better suited in the shade, emphasizing texture and depth).
Continuous light can be very fun to work with when you combine different lighting temperatures and types of sources. To make sure that each source has a specific role and reason in the setup, begin with the key source and add others, one by one, sculpting your subject.
3. Trace Glitter Trails and Fragments by Adding Long Exposure
This has been my favorite approach for a few years now. It is one of the best ways to display coarse reflective particles in all of their glory. Keep in mind that fine particles, however, may not look as impressive with this method.
I start by setting up my lights to sculpt the subject’s features, ignoring how the makeup product looks in the light. Usually, those are key and fill sources—they expose the texture and pigment of the product, not so much the reflective qualities. To make a product twinkle, I use a long exposure feature and a continuous light source (which can be daylight, an LED strip, fluorescent bulb—even a smartphone flashlight).
The exposure length is decided for each project individually; there is no universal number due to variables such as the distance between the subject and continuous source, power, type of source, etc.
One of my favorite things to use is an LED strip. The camera catches light flickering, and light trails appear as dotted lines. It creates a unique, whimsical effect.
There are also a few filters I use to enhance the look of glitter, two in particular: star filter and diffraction glass. Diffraction glass comes in different patterns and creates really cool rainbow rays around shiniest areas of the subject.
I hope this was useful and that it will inspire you to work more with reflective surfaces. Do you have any tricks or secrets you would like to share? Tell me in the comments.
Daryna Barykina is a beauty and fashion photographer currently residing in Florida. Clients—Covergirl, Kat Von D and Matrix, among others—seek her out for creative lighting concepts, use of color and high-end retouching.