Guide to Glamour Photography
Glamour photography is something you’ve seen many times, but you probably didn’t know that’s what it was.
Think about a close portrait of a beautiful model with a perfectly sculpted face on a magazine page, maybe as an add for a makeup foundation.
Or maybe the famous picture of Marilyn Monroe in her flowy white dress. Even if they seem different, they can both be considered a glamour shot.
Although glamour is a type of photography, it’s closely related to many others. In this article, I’ll try to clarify what it is, and give you some tips on how to do it plus some inspiration.
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What is Glamour Photography?
The straight answer would be that it’s the photographic genre that photographs beauty. Everything else in the picture plays a supportive role and is only used to enhance it.
Although this might be very clearly expressed in words, it’s not as easy to identify when it comes to images.
Glamour photography has a very thin line that separates it from other photographic genres such as boudoir, fashion, portrait, and even editorial photography.
For example, boudoir photography is also about beauty but it portrays it more sexually. It’s usually done in a private setting, with a model wearing lingerie, and sometimes you don’t even see the face of the model.
On the other hand, glamour photography is all about the model’s beauty with an emphasis on facial features perfectly sculptured with light and makeup.
The location can be private or outdoors and the wardrobe is set according to the mood of the picture.
Another example is fashion photography. It’s easy to confuse both genres but in a fashion shoot, everything revolves around the clothes and the model is used to show them in a flattering way.
In glamour photography, things work the other way around. It centers on the model and it’s the clothing that enhances her.
Another thing to note about glamour photography is that it’s often focused on ‘regular’ subjects – i.e. people who aren’t professional models but would like to capture pictures of themselves looking their best.
I hope you’re getting a better idea of what I mean, but to make it clearer I’ll give you some tips and examples for you to focus on and develop as a glamour photographer.
How to Become a Glamour Photographer
The first step to becoming a glamour photographer is to master portraits. This is because you’ll need to know how to light your subject to make their beauty shine.
Once you’re a good portrait photographer you can start to specialize in glamour shots. For this you don’t need to spend a lot of money on production, they can be quite simple exercises.
Remember that practice makes perfect. You can hire models to build your portfolio the way you want it. But it’s also important to get clients to choose you to make their portfolios.
This way you won’t be stuck in a comfort zone and you’ll gain experience and versatility in dealing with different beauty types and multiple looks and expectations.
Here are a few tips that you can practice to become a glamour photographer.
16 Glamour Photography Tips
Next time you make a glamour photo shoot, try out some of these tips to improve your results.
1. Choose the right gear
Fortunately, this isn’t a very demanding type of photography when you’re referring to the required gear.
You can make excellent glamour shots with almost any camera and lens, it’s the lighting that’s more important. However, if you have the possibility to choose, here are some things to consider.
Camera – You should keep in mind quality and resolution because you need images with lots of detail.
Lens – Continuing the discourse about sharpness, prime lenses are the best. However, zoom lenses do offer more flexibility.
Whether it’s prime or zoom, you need to consider at least an f/2.8 aperture to get a nice bokeh effect that separates the subject from the background. Also, the focal length is important to avoid any distortion. I would say nothing under 35mm.
Most portrait photographers prefer using telephoto lenses because a slight compression is flattering, but this isn’t always possible to use with indoor photo sessions.
On-camera flash – Usually speedlights and any type of on-camera flash are not recommended. There is an exception though: the ring flash. It’s not a must but it smooths the skin, provides even light, and creates the ring reflection in the eyes.
Tripod – Using a tripod will help with your composition and avoid camera shake. There’s no specific tripod that you should use, just make sure it’s steady.
2. Choose the appropriate lighting
Some photographers like to use natural light, but this doesn’t mean that you have to do the photo shoot outdoors. You can always use window light.
If you’re outside though, avoid the hard light from midday. Make sure that you’re under a tree or any other shade to create soft shadows.
If you decide to use an artificial lighting setup, you’d want to use soft light to avoid hard shadows. You can position the light source either coming from the top front, or from the sides. Softboxes and reflectors will help.
If you’re using more than one light source, don’t make too much difference between the power. A 1:2 relationship should keep the light to shadow grading very smooth while still adding volume.
That said, every face has a different beauty and sometimes a well-done hard light can be exactly what you need.
3. Hire a good makeup artist
Glamour photography requires a professional makeup artist. You’re not going for the everyday look, you’re aiming for perfection.
A good makeup artist knows how to enhance the natural beauty of the subject. This way your images will look more glamorous and you’ll save a lot of time in post-processing.
4. Learn to pose
Posing people is one of the most difficult things to master when making portraits. Hands usually need special attention.
Also, if you’re doing a full-body portrait then you have to consider many elements. It’s important to enhance lines and curves, which can be helped with the use of high heels.
Study some fashionable poses in magazines and on social media in advance, which you can use to direct your model. You can also ask her to contribute with poses she already knows. Remember to keep things well proportioned by choosing the right lens and angle of view.
As I mentioned before, every decision is made to support the physical beauty of the model. The composition of your image is no exception to this.
The way you position the elements inside the frame should be harmonious and beautiful to look at. Also, it should guide the gaze through the frame towards the best features.
For example, notice in this photo how the details on the sleeve complement the space while the position of the arm guides your sight to her face.
6. Choose the right color scheme
The choice of color can make or break a glamour image. You want to choose the colors that complement the model’s skin tone, eyes, etc.
If the combination is not pleasing or if it draws attention away from her beauty, then it won’t be a successful shot.
Look in the above image how the green from the garments around her head matches the color of her eyes making them stand out.
7. Use solid color to avoid distractions
Intricate patterns or busy elements can take the eyes away from the model and that’s not something you want in a glamour photo.
If you’re having problems balancing these things, it’s better to use solid colors. This can be applied to clothing and accessories and to the background.
8. Interior locations
Interior photoshoots are not just studio settings. You can find any number of locations that could work.
It’s better if you already have a mood or a concept in mind when you’re scouting. Remember that also the models’ bedroom can be the setting without becoming a boudoir shoot if you choose the right wardrobe and expression.
9. Face expression
Although this isn’t as crucial as it is in other types of photography, it does count. A particularly happy expression could shift the image into a portrait for example.
You also need to consider that the expression doesn’t interfere with the beauty, which is the main subject of any glamor shot. For example, a slightly open mouth keeps the muscles relaxed which is good, but if that turns into a smile, then wrinkles start to appear.
10. Try outdoor locations
Glamour shots can be done basically anywhere which is a great advantage. So don’t be afraid to experiment with different locations to change the mood of the pictures.
Even seasons and weather conditions can become an interesting element.
11. Play with contrasts
Sometimes playing with contrasts or opposites can make things stand out. For example, smooth skin can be enhanced by a grungy, textured background.
This can work with materials, colors, or light. Experiment with different combinations to find what works and develop your style.
12. Be bold
While glamour photography is not particularly conceptual, there’s nothing stopping you from experimenting. Some famous glamour photographers stood out exactly because they broke the scheme.
As long as you keep beauty as the main subject, you can be bold with your location settings or the lighting technique.
13. Show range
We all have a comfort zone that’s sometimes hard to break. Still, it’s important that we do it if we want to become better photographers.
Sometimes you’ll face a challenging situation if your model has a special request because of something she wants to incorporate, a particular feature she wants highlighted, or simply a specific color scheme.
Pushing yourself to deliver great quality photos in any situation will diversify your portfolio and improve your photographic skills.
14. Use more than one model
It’s not written in stone that glamour photography needs to be about a single model. It might be a little tricky though.
All models need to be enhanced with the same lighting and color scheme, so maybe this will be difficult, but definitely an exercise that will help you grow as a photographer.
See our Model Mayhem guide if you’re searching for the right talent for your next shoot.
15. Male glamour
While female glamour photography usually takes up most of the spotlight, you shouldn’t forget that it’s not the only type.
Male models and actors are beautiful too, and they need glamour shots for their portfolios so maybe this is something you should try.
16. Beauty retouching
There’s always some post-processing involved in this type of image. Use Photoshop to fix any imperfections, smooth the skin, and highlight the cheekbones and chin line.
Don’t forget to whiten the teeth if they’re visible and retouch the eyes to make them shine.
4 Famous Glamour Photographers
If you’re clear on the technical side but you’re still struggling with inspiration, here’s a list of some famous glamour photographers to spark your own creativity.
Look for their glamour shots and learn which poses they used and their lighting setups and practice them. Very soon you’ll become experienced in glamour photography.
- Helmut Newton – A great photographer that revolutionized portrait, fashion, and glamour photography. He changed the way in which fashion got represented and he made nudes that show the power of the female body.
- Sam Shaw – Photographer of the stars. His most famous photograph is Marilyn Monroe passing through an air vent that lifted her white dress, an icon of glamour photography. He also worked for different fashion magazines and made portraits of famous figures like Woody Allen and Alfred Hitchock.
- David Bailey – British photographer. His black and white headshots from the 1960s are unmistakably glamour photographs. But don’t think he got locked into an era, he’s very active in digital and smartphone photography even at his 82 years of age.
- George Huller – He was the photographer of many famous Hollywood portraits. He mastered Rembrandt lighting, butterfly lighting, and many other techniques used even today for glamour photographs.
While glamour photography can stand alone, it needs skills and techniques from other types of photography.
That’s one of the reasons why famous glamour photographers also tend to work in fashion, portrait photography, and boudoir photography.
Take inspiration from them and find your style.