Beauty and fashion photographer Ondrea Barbe, whose clients include L’Oreal, Bobbi Brown, Clinique, Aussie, Redbook and Elle, says that when she’s lighting a beauty shot, she thinks first about the concept the client wants to portray, and next about how she wants to illuminate the model’s eyes. “Above all, there has to be a luminous feel in the eyes and we see a feeling that is human,” she explains. “I say ‘human’ because a lot of beauty photography feels like it is still life but with living people.”
Eyes were the focal point of a story she shot for VIVmag about creative eyelash makeup. Barbe and the digital magazine’s creative director brainstormed ideas about projecting shapes onto the model’s face in a way that would emphasize the eye. Barbe came up with a variety of shapes, and thought of a lightning bolt that would cross the model’s face from top to bottom. “It was a creative approach to a makeup story,” the photographer says. “I always have to make something special out of such a small part of the face.”
She chose to use a Profoto ZoomSpot, positioned just above the model’s iris and slightly to the right, only about five feet from the model. “I always position it a little bit above the eye, and to the side—it’s pretty basic,” she says. “I generally only use one main light because you really do not need more—however, silver cards, reflected light and bounce can always help make the pupils sparkle.” She adds that she rarely uses fill in her beauty work. “When you fill, I think it takes away someone’s bone structure,” she says, and it can distort features.
Though she describes the zoom light as a hard or “specular” light, she finds that the directional light is forgiving. She’s uses directional light, she notes, when photographing actresses and celebrities of all ages. “It drowns out imperfections and it really makes eyes sparkle.”
To fashion the lightning bolt, she used black gaffers tape she cut and shaped. She then placed it in a holder on the Profoto spot, which is typically used to hold readymade blinds and other patterns.
Barbe shot with a Hasselblad camera, a Phase One P45 back, and a Hasselblad lens. “For these sorts of photos, I always use a 120 macro lens,” she says. She shot at f/16, as she typically does. She notes, “When it’s for a beauty image, I don’t go lower than f/16.”
When she’s trying to capture gesture or motion, she’ll sometimes shoot with an HMI and use a 35mm camera such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Barbe says that in order to make the model feel confident and at ease, “I always let them know: This is where the light is, and guide them fluidly through the space.” The eyelash shot, however, was more challenging, because the illuminated area on the model’s face was so precise, she had almost no room to move. Barbe says minimal directing is needed in a shot like this. “I think you can feel the light in your eyes, you know where the light is. It makes you feel beautiful.” She adds, “I like to let [subjects] see the images right away. It gives them confidence.” She says that after capturing just a handful of shots, she knew she had the image.
Though many of her images are shot with strong and specular strobe lighting, she says, “I’ve had clients look at my book and they say, ‘We really love the soft light.’” Says Barbe, “I genuinely think what they mean is that it’s not overretouched, the people look human.” She says her retoucher did minimal retouching on this image as well, to remove stray hairs and subtle flaws the camera revealed. “When you put beautiful skin in beautiful light, every art director will say that it doesn’t need to be retouched, but when you see the RAW image big, a pore can look like Mount Shasta,” Barbe says, adding, “At f/16, the camera sees things that the eye doesn’t.”
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