Sigma Pro Lindsay Adler explains how lighting helps make the mood in a studio shoot 

There is no such thing as ‘beauty light’.

Beauty light can be soft and glowing. Beauty light can be dark and dramatic. It is all about your end goals for a beauty image.

When I am putting together a beauty shoot, I ask myself several questions before I begin. Where should my focus be in the image? What mood am I trying to set? What tools will accomplish these goals?

During a recent workshop in NYC, I taught many different approaches to beauty lighting including two very distinctive lighting setups. In the two images shown here, I photographed the same model about 10 minutes apart with very different goals, moods and results.

When shooting beauty photography in the studio, I typically work with a long lens. The Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens is the shortest lens I will use in the studio, though on location it is my go-to beauty lens (do to the stunning narrow depth of field and bokeh). In the studio I typically reach for my Sigma 70-200mm 2.8, Sigma 105 macro and Sigma 150 macro. All are great lenses with different compression and effects on the face. The 70-200mm 2.8 is so versatile that it is usually the first lens I reach for, and it was choice of lens for both images in this demonstration.

First, I started with a light and glowing (more traditional) beauty shot.

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Lens: 70-200mm 2.8 | Focal Length: 150mm | Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec | ISO: 100 | Aperture: f9 | Canon 5D Mark 2 ©2012 Lindsay Adler

I picked up a floral swim cap and loved the bright springtime colors. My model Kara has such pure, light skin and I wanted to play off of these features. I knew that I wanted an image that glowed, and was flooded with light. I wanted everything to be light, with minimum shadows and overall even tonalities.


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To accomplish this, I used the ‘sideways clam shell’ technique. Here I placed two soft boxes (2ftx3ft) side by side, facing the model and slightly wrapping the light around her. This does several things; (a) it nearly eliminates the shadows on the face, (b) it gives large catchlights in the eyes (c) it results in a ‘glowing’ appearance to the shot with light coming from all angles. I was sure to light the white seamless background to keep the image high-key.

For this particular effect you want to use two even-sized soft boxes and place them symmetrically in front of the model in order to get such even lighting.

One thing to note is the importance of makeup in a beauty shot. My fantastic makeup artist Griselle used makeup to help give shape to Kara’s cheekbones before the shot. This was essential because the light I was using was very flat, and therefore would not accentuate her beautiful bone structure. Furthermore, without the brightly colored lipstick the swim cap would dominate the image. By adding the lip color, it brings the focus back to the model and helps to balance out the image.

For this image I selected the Sigma 70-200mm lens, shooting at a slightly longer focal length (150mm) in order to compress the features slightly and to get a tighter head shot. I posed the model to accentuate her long neck and give nice flowing curves to the entire image.

Second, we decided to take a turn for a darker and more mysterious image. I put Kara into makeup and requested that Griselle go a bit darker– dark lips and even more defined cheekbones. During this quick transition we set up a darker take on clamshell lighting. I grabbed a piece of lace from my photo kit (that I purchased from a fabric store on 39th and 7th in NYC). For this shot I wanted unusual light that created shadows but still showed off the model’s amazing skin and features.

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Lens: 70-200mm 2.8 | Focal Length: 100mm | Shutter Speed: 1/60 sec | ISO: 100 | Aperture: f22 | Canon 5D Mark 2 ©2012 Lindsay Adler

I used a beauty dish overhead to shape the face and give definition to the cheekbones. You can see here how the underside of the cheeks and jawlines are in shadow. The beauty dish was a 20in silver beauty dish on a boom arm (no sock or grid). I wanted to add a bit of definition to the lace so I pointed a standard silver reflector dish toward the model’s right check (left cheek in the photo) so that the lace would pop from the background. Even though the background was white, the model was 8ft from the background and there was no light hitting it, so the background falls into shadow.

After using the beauty dish to define the face’s features, the eye sockets were dark and without a catch light. For this reason, we used a standard reflector dish to pop just a bit of light into the eyes. The catchlights make the eyes sparkle a bit and gives them life. In post (Photoshop CS6) I desaturated the skin tones a bit to add to the surreal, almost other-worldly look of the skin and model. I also add a bit of false lensflare to the left side of the frame just to add a bit of visual interest and texture.

Again I used the Sigma 70-200mm 2.8 lens, but this time at 100mm. I didn’t want as much compression and also wanted a slightly looser frame.

Both of these images are beauty images, though the first is much more traditional to the definition of beauty photography. Though the images were just capture minutes apart and take drastically different approaches, both are striking accent different beautiful attributes of our model.


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SIGMA Pro – Lindsay Adler
Twitter: @lindsayadler

About the author: Sigma Pro Lindsay Adler is a professional portrait and fashion photographer based in New York. For the past 10 years she has owned and operated a portrait, fashion and wedding studio distinguished by its ‘fashion flair’ approach to imagery. As a New York fashion photographer, her editorials have appeared in dozens of publications internationally. She regularly contributes to a variety of major photography magazines including Professional Photographer, Rangefinder Magazine, Popular Photography and more. If you’d like to learn more about lighting, photography, and marketing, check out her blog at,, or To Check out more of Lindsay’s work click here.