Shoot Breakdowns

How To Create a Colorful Beauty Portrait With a Truly Unique Hairstyle

Studio Shoot Breakdown

The Concept

My subject, Monae, is also a makeup artist and hair stylist with her own salon. She sent me an image of a hairstyle with a kind of heart shape. 

A black woman in a pink top posing for a colorful beauty portrait.
The image that sparked the concept.

In the photo, she was wearing a bright pink top, which gave me the spark for the color pallet I would use for the shoot.

So, my goal was to create a colorful beauty portrait that showed off the unique hairstyle and ensured the subject was prominently featured. It is easy to get carried away with these images and wind up with an image about the style or the fu-fu, and the subject takes a backseat.

We decided on a beauty makeup that would draw attention with bright-colored lips and eye shadow above the eyes.

Frequently, when we begin with idea photos like these, the ideas will evolve as we execute them, and this shoot was no different. 

As you can see in the finished photo above, the hair is like two round balls – almost with a Mickey Mouse ears shape, and the top, while still pink, is a solid pink turtleneck. While I liked the original top she wore in the sample photo – it was a bit busy, so we went with a bright pink turtleneck.

📸 Pro Tip
Vaseline for Glossy Lips: Believe it or not, some makeup artists use a dab of Vaseline on models’ lips for an extra-glossy, kissable look in photos.

The Background for a Colorful Beauty Portrait

I considered doing the pink turtleneck and magenta accents of her makeup on a solid-colored background, but I have been having a lot of fun lately while creating my own unique backgrounds.

These backgrounds are created digitally using textures, light flairs, light leaks, bokeh, patterns, and pretty much anything I can come across that I find interesting.

You can purchase stock images or transparent .png files created for this purpose, which can be found inexpensively on sites like Etsy or Envato Marketplace.

More to come in a future article about how I combine them, but my goal is to create a background that is unique to my photograph and cannot be found anywhere else.

My process involves blending modes in Photoshop and then manipulating the layers via blur, saturation, hue and opacity.

A colorful beauty portrait with the words do not copy displayed against a blurred background.
.png overlay #1
A colorful beauty portrait with a blurry purple background and the words do not copy.
.png overlay #2
A colorful image of a firework, capturing its beauty and vibrant colors.
.png overlay #3
Golden lights against a dark background create a mesmerizing and captivating scene, illuminating the surroundings with an enchanting glow.
.png overlay #4

In the case of this image, I used the four images above – blended together to create the background.

The Portrait Lighting Setup

This was a five-light setup using Godox AD200 strobes. (See diagram below)

[Fig.1] With my subject placed five feet in front of a #20 Black Seamless Paper Background from Savage Universal, I had one AD200 on a DIY Baby Pin stand directly behind my subject and aimed up at shoulder level on the background. I used the fresnel head on the AD200 modified with a Magenta MagMod gel.

[Fig.2] On either side of my subject, I placed an AD200 with the fresnel head and modified it with an Amber MagMod Gel to create the subtle amber-colored rim lighting.

[Fig.3] Above and behind my subject, I had another AD200 with a fresnel head modified with a Magenta Gel aimed back towards my subject to create a subtle magenta hair light on her unique hairstyle. This was placed almost all the way back at the background and aimed forward. I didn’t want to use it as a traditional hair light; I just wanted a subtle accent on the hair.

📸 Pro Tip
A hair light is typically positioned just behind and slightly above the subject, shining down on the crown and highlighting strands around the face. This helps create depth, texture, and a soft, natural-looking highlight in the hair. A well-placed hair light will also make a subtle highlight on the subject’s shoulders, which also helps to create depth and separation from a dark background.

[Fig.4] Finally, my key light is a Phottix Rani II 33in (84cm) Folding Beauty Dish used as a softbox with the baffle and front diffuser in place. I had an AD200 with the bare bulb head mounted in the softbox. A 20″ x 30″ white foamboard is placed below the models face to provide a slight fill light from below.

A colorful silhouette of a person with hair in the dark
Fig. 1
A woman with colorful hair buns, posing for a beauty portrait.
Fig. 2
A colorful portrait of a woman with vibrant hair wearing a turtleneck.
Fig. 3
A colorful beauty portrait of a woman with two buns in a pink turtleneck.
Fig. 4
A colorful woman with a pink sweater in a beauty portrait.
SOOC Image

Lighting Diagram

Click to enlarge

Camera Gear

For this shot, I used my Sony A7RIV with Tamron 70-180mm F/2.8 Di III VC VXD at a focal length of 126mm.

I mounted the camera on a Cheetah Stand Pistol Stand with an Acratech Ball head and a Tether Tools TETHER Block.

I shot tethered to my MacBook Pro using a 15ft (4.5m) USB-C Dual Right-Angle Cable from TetherTools and Smart Shooter 5 software to manage the data transfer.


One of the great things about working in a studio is that YOU decide where to place light and when to move it or modify it. YOU also decide how bright each and every light will be.

That said, I almost always shoot at 1/250sec | F8 | ISO 100 when I do portrait work in the studio unless I do a special technique like shutter drag.

This allows me to ensure that I will have enough depth of field to keep both eyes in sharp focus, even if I turn my subject’s face.

I simply set the exposure on my camera first and then adjust the power of the lights to match the look I am after at f/8.

Poses and Angles

I initially planned to pose Monae with her body and face looking straight at the camera. Because of the bright pink sweater, the broad base created by her shoulders overwhelmed the detail of the hairstyle at the top of the image, and both of those things minimized the impact of her beautiful face.

With that in mind, I kept her head lined up straight at the camera but turned her body to camera right, giving me a smaller base and creating a nice diagonal line with her shoulders. The sweeping folds on the camera left sleeve were a bit of serendipity, not planned for, but a nice touch.

My camera was placed just below her nose to be pointed slightly upward towards her eyes.

📸 Pro Tip
Direct eye contact with the camera can be powerful and engaging. Sometimes, a slight tilt of the head, shift of the shoulders, or change in hand placement can make a big difference in the final image; EXPERIMENT and WORK THE SHOT!

Post Production

The final image required minimal post-production beyond the usual color, contrast, sharpening, and removing blemishes. This is a reminder of the importance of great hair and makeup.

Because of the advanced planning with the background, I was able to use Photoshop to automatically select the subject, then I created a mask and dropped in the background.

The Final Frame

A woman with colorful makeup and a puffy hairstyle.

There you have it. A beautiful subject, cool hair, and some creative fun making a one-of-a-kind background for a truly unique and colorful beauty portrait.

I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – “Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman

Have more questions about beauty portraits or lighting? Would you like to continue the conversation? Join my TOGKnowledge Photographic Community, where you will find photographers from over 30 countries passionate about learning and sharing their photography as they develop their craft.

Curious about the gear I use?

Joe Edelman

Joe Edelman is an award winning Photographer, Author, and "No Bull" Photo Educator.  Follow this link to learn more about Joe or view his portfolio. Please be sure to connect on the social media platforms below.
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