If you like working with models or photographing beautiful women, at some point you’re going to want to try a blowing hair shot. The problem as we all know is that hair often has a mind of its own, so adding wind is definitely a recipe for disaster – UNLESS you have the right tools and are willing to put in some practice.
So let’s get real before we dig in… don’t think that reading this article and spending some money on the right fans will suddenly get you shots like these – even with all of my experience, I still get a lot of bad frames. This is not a technique that you will nail on every frame and you’re not going to master it if you’re a photographer that shoots just five frames and then you’re done. It is a technique that with some practice you will learn enough skills to experiment with and give you better odds of achieving a result like this – which only took 42 frames.
If you’d like to see more behind the scenes of these hair shots – be sure to follow me on Instagram @joeedelman for lots of behind the scenes images and video clips.
6 Types of Fans for your studio
Before I show you the ones that I like – let’s get rid of an obvious one – hair dryers. Hair dryers make horrible fans for hair blowing shots. They really aren’t that powerful so you won’t get much motion out of your model’s hair, and hopefully it goes without saying that even with the heat turned down low, blowing hot air at a model’s face from a close range is not going to help you get good relaxed expressions. So hair dryers – no go!
I know some of you are now very disappointed because you don’t have the budget to go out and buy a bunch of expensive fans – relax. A $1 piece of 20” by 30” foam core is probably one of the best hair fans that money can buy – provided that you have an assistant to help you with the shot.
You can see here that I have my makeup artist Monae holding the foam core on camera right just under my model. On my cue she flips the foam core up and I take a shot. YES – one shot per flip. Great action shots require planning, practice and skill – not spray and pray!
We shot a total of 38 frames – which is a relatively low number that comes from lots of practice. I had Monae start in front of my model on camera right and then had her progressively move more to the side of the model – which I realized I liked better and eventually came up with 5 shots that I was fond of. Watch the video below to see all five as well as video the foam core technique in use.
The foam core is a very deliberate process that does give you more control but requires an assistant to make it happen. Experiment with your assistant using the board from different angles and at different speeds. The possibilities are endless with this foam core fan.
Next up is my 15” black floor fan. This is not a particularly powerful fan, but it is my go-to when I am shooting three quarter length or full length shots and I want just a little bit of air to keep the model’s hair from falling forward on her face. This $31.00 fan is AC powered so it does need to be plugged in, but I’m able to use it without an assistant. It also has three power settings but I find I almost always use it on full power.
If I have an assistant available – and I want just a little bit of air to push the hair off the model’s face, you can use a voice activated fan. Yes – voice activated and you can purchase small fans like these on Amazon for less than twenty dollars and if you go with the USB powered versions – you can run them off a portable battery – no cords required. Now I can see some of you scratching your heads about the voice activated feature. It’s very simple really. You hand the fan to your assistant and then give them directions…. like a little higher – lower – more to the left. It is important though to find a good assistant otherwise your directions will be more like this…. higher – nah not too high – lower stop – no – not so low – left – No No NO – your other left!
The heavy lifter in my fan collection is this high velocity 20 inch floor fan. This fan creates lots of power with its large blades. This is also the fan that I use to blow around the material that you frequently see flying around in my photos and videos.
Warning About Fans and Eyes
It’s worth mentioning that you can buy fans that are capable of practically blowing somebody off a chair. Don’t think bigger is better. Especially if you are working in a small studio – working with a fan that is larger than the one that I showed you could easily become a safety risk. For you GearTographers that like to spend money – you can get a fan like this studio wind machine. The problem with this is that it’s huge. It weights 23lbs and has a price tag of $348.00. So for my money – this is a no-go too.
This is the Studio Hair Fan by Cowboy Studio. It sells for $99.00. It is AC powered with a 2,600RPM motor and it has a dial controller for speed. I like the fact that the front is like a snoot that focuses the air into a smaller space and gives you more control. This is a fan that I would use in front of the model and slightly below the lens to blow the hair backwards.
This is probably the most versatile fan in my collection. The Blow-it Fan was originally designed for drummers so that they could attach it to their drum kit and remain cool while playing. This is an AC powered three speed fan with a 3,300 rpm motor. It clips on to any light stand or pole and has a flexible arm that provides both directional and angled adjustments for precise targeting.
I love the fan because I can quickly adjust the angle or height and even get it right under a model’s face to blow hair up.
Tips and Techniques for Blowing Hair
This is that part where you want me to show you – place the fan here – use this setting and voila – perfection. I’m sorry – it doesn’t work that that way. If you want great results – you’ll need to put in the effort to practice and be creative. But here are some really important things that I can share with you.
Let’s start with consideration for your subject. When you purchase your first fan – set it three feet in front of you, turn it on and aim it at YOUR face. Now see how long you can keep your eyes open without tears starting to run down your face or without having to force your eyes open to stop from blinking. Why should you do this? So that you understand what your model is experiencing while you have that fan blowing at her while you take 30, 40, 50, 60 or even more shots.
For starters, put a small space heater nearby. The fan is cold and your model will get cold – and trust me – models are no fun when they start whining and shivering.
Always ask your model in advance if she wears contact lenses. Regardless of the answer it is important to let your model know that they need to try and blink naturally. If they don’t blink – the fan will dry their eyes out and then the tears will start. If they wear contacts – their eyes will dry out even faster. Part of the way you avoid this problem in the first place… always use the least amount of air blowing straight at the model’s face as possible.
Tell your model that if she feels her eyes starting to tear up – she should turn away from the fan and tell you. Always explain to the model that they don’t win any prizes for toughing it out because you don’t want the tears to flow and ruin the makeup. Make sure you have tissues at the ready or better yet if you are working with a makeup artist – be sure that he or she is ready to blot the tears when needed.
Having this conversation in advance will prepare your model and help to keep her more relaxed and it will save you lost shots or lots of retouching after the fact.
You should also pay attention through your viewfinder. If a model is starting to tear up – you’ll begin to see an additional catchlight from the extra fluid pooling in the corner of her eye.
Also, when I am testing with the fan and trying to figure out the best placement – I will tell my model to keep her eyes closed. That way I’m not causing additional stress and drying the eyes out. Remember – no matter how much of a diva your model may be – her comfort comes first because her comfort gets you better expressions and better body language.
Be sure to watch this video to see how I set these fans up and use them to create the cool blowing hair shots:
Again – a reminder, If you’d like to see more of the behind the scenes of my hair shots – be sure to follow me on Instagram @joeedelman for lots of behind the scenes images and video clips.
Hopefully I shouldn’t need to tell you this – but fans cause turbulence and the bigger the fan the greater the potential of it knocking something over or blowing something in your models eye. Take your time. Like I said in the beginning – practice and planning and then slow deliberate execution are the best way to create these very cool “calm in the middle of chaos” fashion and beauty portraits.
Hey, I hope this gives you some ideas, so please – take this idea and run with it – go create and show me what you come up with.
Now go pick up that camera and shoot something, because your BEST shot is your NEXT shot. So keep learning, keep thinking, and keep shooting. Adios!