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Photographing Women: Head & Shoulders

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  1. Head & Shoulders: Front
  2. Head & Shoulders: Side
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Head and shoulders—or beauty—photography represents an enormous slice of both the advertising and editorial markets worldwide. In this excerpt from Photographing Women: 1,000 Poses, Eliot Siegel explores two general categories of head and shoulders poses: front angle and side angle.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book


High-ambience headshot

A wonderfully ambient image shot in a room with strong sunlight coming from at least one or two windows, behind or to the side of the model. Use a long fluorescent light bank (daylight-corrected) or a softbox camera left or right for your main light, but keep the power low enough that the backlights are more powerful than the front light. This lighting ratio will give the background of the image its “blown-out” quality. This photo is shot from above, encouraging the model to raise her face and catch the front light. (David Leslie Anthony)

Head and shoulders—or beauty—photography represents an enormous slice of both the advertising and editorial markets worldwide. Posing for and photographing these shots is more difficult than it might appear. Lighting setup is crucial, and the model must have great self-awareness and self-confidence to be able to pull off the concept, the ability to create and sustain a mood, and the sensitivity to provide the emotion. This section explores the three most general categories of head and shoulders poses: front angle, side angle, and reclining.

The methods and techniques I use and follow are not typically textbook. I like to experiment with color, shading, and lighting. By working closely with clients and understanding their needs, the results seem to translate perfectly and are above and beyond expectations. I try to get inside my clients’ head to realize and visualize their end goal. I was lucky enough to be asked in 2003 to attend Paris Fashion Week and shoot for Yahya al Bishri, a designer to the late HRH Princess Diana and the Saudi Royal Family. In 2009 I was asked to work with Sebastian Professional, a brand of Wella, to shoot the Sebastian “Cult Team” 2010 hairstyles for a special feature in Runway magazine Fall/Winter 2010. The success of this led to me being asked to join the Session Expert course in London, Manchester, and Scotland, which was led by Dom Capel, UK Creative Style Artist for Sebastian Professional. In 2011 I was asked to shoot collections for the British Hairdressing Awards, Leanna Sutherland, and John L. Morrison.


This elegant picture speaks for itself: a soft, dressy look with an inviting mix of sexy (one eye obscured by sweeping fringe) and renaissance (the cascading curls); a bit of now with a twist of retro. The soft lighting used complements and highlights the soft curls of the hair. The image was published in Runway magazine Fall/Winter 2010. (Sebastian Professional Cult Team 2010)



These shots were inspired by the late Alexander McQueen’s collection of Fall/Winter 2009. The poses and look I chose for the models convey women of strength and power. Shooting downward in the image left captures the sharpness and angles of the model’s face, giving the shot more power and drawing the viewer’s attention to the fiery red hair. The softer image below required the model to face the lens, to show the fringe as well as the beautiful triangular plait, which is reflected in the angle of the elbow to provide symmetry. When shooting images of this nature, it requires skill to achieve the correct balance between the hairlines and the model’s pose. (Leanna Sutherland Hair Collection 2011)


Head & Shoulders: Front

Shooting from the front makes up the biggest portion of the head-and-shoulders genre. Advertisers most often want models to be direct and make eye contact to catch the attention of the public (and their purchasing power). In terms of physical requirements, immaculately manicured hands and the ability to make varied, interesting gestures with them are essential.

The success of great head and shoulders work is also dependent on the artistry and technical proficiency of the hair and makeup team, and, of course, the digital retouching.


Framing with hands

Beautifully direct, the eyes “speak” to the viewer, while the model’s hands form a natural frame around her face. The makeup is impeccable, with the lipstick in particular remarkably accurate, which is important when they are such a focal point. (David Leslie Anthony)


Extended neck

Tilting the face up and shooting from a low angle is a great way to show an elegant neck. Re-create this light by using one flash at far camera right. Place the light, then have the model twist and turn her face to find just the right spot. Note the triangle of light on the shadow side of the face. (David Leslie Anthony)


Drifting away

This image is gentle in its approach; the model’s eyes are closed softly as if she is deep in thought, while the hands form a delicate pedestal for a face that is literally aglow. Try desaturating the color while adding contrast to achieve a similar look. (Nicola Gaughan)


Big hair

Shot in black and white for maximum graphic appeal, this image would make many a hair-product company smile. Shoot this look with one light on the model, high enough to create deep shadows that knock out her eyes, and no reflection. Use a single graduated light on the background. (David Leslie Anthony)


Captivating gaze

The gentle movement of the hair and the raised hand frame this model’s expressive beauty. Models need to be actresses, helping you convey various messages to the viewer. The casting is the time to find out whether a particular model has the aptitude to be more than just a pretty face. (David Leslie Anthony)


Golden girl

The mood here is made provocative by the styling of the hair and makeup: full red lips and romantically curled hair with sweeping fringe, and large precious-stone pendant. The golden tones add alluring warmth. (Amy Dunn)


Engaging confidence

Here the look invites the viewer into the model’s confidence. Use a table and adjustable posing stool so the model can put her elbows down at just the right height for her size. (Crystalfoto)

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