Dramatic Beauty Lighting

Matthew Jordan Smith

Celebrity portrait and fashion photographer Matthew Jordan Smith has created three short videos on dramatic beauty lighting. 

Known for his iconic photographs of celebrities and models, Matthew uses these videos to clearly explain how to achieve perfect and repeatable lighting using a Sekonic L-858D-U Speedmaster Light Meter.

In the first video, Matthew covers clean lighting techniques, stresses the importance of consistency, and fully details how and where he positions lights, along with basic metering tips.

In the second video of this series, he breaks down hard edge lighting, proving dramatic light doesn’t mean it can’t be flattering.

In the third video, Smith pays modern homage to film noir lighting and explains how metering will keep your work consistent, and how that helps you get and retain paying clients.

Achieve a new level of competence and consistency in your own beauty portraiture by learning from a master of celebrity portrait, fashion, and beauty shoots.

Video 01: Three Light Beauty Dish Setup​​​​​​​

“I know if the light’s over by a third of a stop. You can only do that with a light meter.”​​​​​​​

Matthew demonstrates how he emphasizes clean beauty lighting using just three lights and a reflector. Watch him explain how a beauty dish, a small reflector below, and two lights at the rear are positioned for flattering beauty light without loosing detail in the hair.


Pay close attention for a great lighting tip: Look at your lighting from your subject’s point of view. “This will help you find out exactly where the light is falling, go behind the model,” he advises.

 

How does all this come together? “A light meter makes you consistent. Clients hire you for consistent point of view, a consistent vision. A meter makes makes me exact.” Smith achieves his signature lighting by dialing in the exact exposure and lighting recipes with his Sekonic L-858D-U Speedmaster Light Meter.

 

Video 02: Dramatic Hard Direct Beauty Lighting

“ How do you feel on a day with bright sun on the beach and not a cloud in the sky? This is that light.”

Simulated sunlight can be flattering, too! Watch Matthew break down dramatic lighting techniques that doesn’t sacrifice beauty. In this video, Smith details the emotional effects of his lighting, and how the lighting shapes viewers’ opinions on portrait subjects. By dialing in the right settings from his meter, Smith can recreate natural light. Imitating direct sunlight—but controlling it your way—is completely possible. 

By using a meter, Matthew quickly dials in the values for his main light, hair light, and background lighting. He also breaks down how to meter for different hair colors in order to achieve a high key image without blowing out fine details, he advises

When you're using multiple lights, combining different modifiers, and creating a style, "The meter tells you everything," Matthew says. Watch this video and see how Smith combines a narrow beam reflector with a grid, a zoom reflector, two umbrellas, and black v-flats to create gorgeous and wonderful light only rivaled by the sun.

Video 03: Theatrical Beauty Lighting​​​​​​​

“A light meter is crucial to your success and you standing out as a photographer..”

There’s a reason the old film noir look is still timeless. Hard light, when dialed in correctly, can make any beauty portrait session stand out and scream “sophisticated” even today.

The Sekonic 858 enables Smith to dial in a perfect ratio he’s looking for among his different lights. In this case, it’s a three-to-one ratio. This enables him to get detail in the shadows without overpowering the drama of the main spotlight. With his meter providing spot-on light values, Smith can now reproduce the same tones any time in the future, and with ease.

Using a zoom spotlight as his main light, a large soft fill light, and a standard reflector with a grided standard reflector for background separation in this Matthew Jordan Smith beauty shoot. V-flats clean up the edge light, block the background from getting too much light, and help increase con-trast.

Smith breaks down how knowing what your metering numbers are will help you recreate any shoot for any client, saving you time, money, and getting you the gig again and again.