Glamour Photography TipsSubmitted by Michael on Thu, 2011-02-03 16:37

Shooting hair photos with Toni&Guy and cousin Saint Exupéry

Good news: we are nominated for the awards - so wish us luck. Which award? Exactly! I tend to forget the main thing: The German Hairdressing Award. Not the first time that I've to remind myself that "hair" is the main thing here: Imagine, if your client is from the hairdressing business and wants photos of their hair model in order to win the national hairdressing awards, then what will be the central element of the hair photos which you produce?


Of course - the hairdo! Your client couldn’t agree more. It’s even written in the submission rules of the awards “Focus of all photographs must be the hairdo.” Of course your client completely agrees on booking a model who’s personality matches their hairdo perfectly and putting her into clothes that match the hairdo perfectly - a no-brainer. But then again, how should the hairdo stand out if model and clothes are beautiful and her style goes exactly into the same direction as the hairdressing? Now this is the moment where I would default back to good ol’ cousin Antoine de Saint Exupéry who had an excellent theory: “Perfection is attained, not when no more can be added, but when no more can be removed.”

Well, of course my photographs are as far away from perfection as the french pilot Saint Exupéry was from stopping by with his plane at a Mac Donalds fly-through restaurant. But I think removing things from the frame really helps. And it’s so much easier than adding stuff. Have a look and then give it a try yourself:



Lighting is simply done like this:


Model: De Nise N
Hair: Toni&Guy
Makeup: Emily
Photography: Michael Zelbel
Postproduction: Gina Hernandez
Graphic Design: AlexZlatev 

I wish you good light!

LOL! The photos are much better than "just a hairdo". I wish you luck for the awards!

Hi Michael! I found your blog and YouTube channel last night and have already watched all your videos! I am a new photographer and find your videos VERY, VERY inspiring, insightful and helpful! Your photography is great! Thanks for sharing! -Robby

Cousin Robby, thank you so much! It's hard to imagine that someone can stand watching all my videos :-) And it's dangerous to state that because it motivates me to do even more of these vids.

HaHa! Keep 'em coming! I'm learning a lot!

Brother Michael,
Do you have a recommendation of manufacturer for backgrounds? I want to get a plain white and black one for my background stands.

Consider a gray one. For some reason they knitter much less and often times they look quite posh. The one in the video is a standard black backdrop from Savage. It's rolled on a paper roll. I stuffed the roll with a perfectly fitting aluminium tube, because otherwise the roll would bend after a while. With the aluminium inside, it stays perfectly in shape.

Excellent demostration Michael... I love your videos, they are very practical

Hi Diana, I doubt it's excellent. But keep saying such things - I love'em!
Thanks a lot!

Fantastic stuff Michael. This has given me an impetus I need to shoot a hairdresser I promised to do a shoot for.

HI Cousin!
Awesome! Please share your results with us!
I wish you good light!

I love your videos they are straight to the point, simple settings and very helpful

great share!

Yes, I tend to keep my photo shoots simple. Guess that's reflected in the videos. If I'd make too complicated photo shoots then I guess I'd mess it up.


Thanks for sharing. Good video. Good luck with the awards!


Thank you, Ziggy! We will need some luck, for sure!

very useful, as always!

Thanks a ton, Val! And feel free to share it with our russian cousins!


I love your video's. They are realy helpfull for me. I do have a question about your setup this time. You tell you use 2 flashlights, but I also noticed a third on top of your camera. I also see him flash during the video. Can you plz tell us more about the use of that particular flashlight.

I keep on enjoying ur video's...

Till nect time

Anton Fielmich
The Netherlands.

Hi Cousin Anton,
yes, I am using 580 EX II on camera as a remove control of the two other speedlights. It is the master, the other two speedlights are the slaves. When you have a look at the closeup of the LCD display of the 580 EX II in the video, you might notice that there is an icon depicting the speedlight, but there are no "lightrays" coming out of the flash head on this pictorgam. This is an indicator that I did switch the "Master Flash" setting to "OFF". This has the effect, that this master will trigger the slaves, but it will not contribute to the exposure itself.
However, the way it triggers the slaves is by sending out a flash. It flashes with pretty low intensity, but it is still a flash. So just in order to be totally 100% sure that the on camera flash does not add to the exposure, I turn the flash head away from my subject.

In exchange for this master flash you could also use the ST-E2, which I don't really like because it has fewer control options. Or you would use the main light as the master and connect to it via a long TTL cable (ebay). Alternatively for this simple setup you could also use radio triggers that support TTL, but they are usually unreliable, so I would not go that route.

I wish you good light!
-- MIchael


Sorry for a late response. Much thanks for your update.

Sorry for all my questions, but i really want to learn, understand and i never mean to be offensive. If the flash on your cam triggers the others, there is light going to those flashheads which are triggered. Otherwise they wouldnt know to do something. But if there is light comming forward to trigger, isnt that light also adding at least a tiny bit? Even if set on low capacity, there is light. Also when your ceiling is white it reflects even when tilted to the backwards position.



Yes, correct, that's exactly what happens. It is adding a tiny bit to the exposure. But it's practically nothing. Try this: Expose your scene with the master only, while your slaves are turned off. If you are at f/11 and your master points to your white ceiling, then you will still end up with a black frame... unless you crank up your ISO to 1600 or so.
So in daily photography that trigger flash is not such a big issue, but your questions are well worth asking because it's good to understand these mechanism. Once you come into a situation in which it potentially COULD be an issue (you're shooting at ISO 3200 or something) then you know what's going on and you can work around.

Very good explanation that is simple enough for amateurs like me. A real find for me.

Exactly! My thinking is, if it's simple enough for amateurs like me, then it's absolutely simple enough for amateurs like you - so everyone of us can have some fun with it!

Wonderful! Your videos allow me to learn so much in just a few minutes!

I am soooooo glad to hear that, Rainier! In case you have some results that you'd like to share, please post a link over here.

Another great video from cousin Michael!
I agre totally to the concept that the work should stripped down to its most fundamental features. Perhaps as we do with light, adding one at the time, we should do in composition.
"Less is more" loved to say another german cousin (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe)...
have luck for the awards!

Very interesting video, dear cousin.
I like the simplicity of the shooting and lighting and the very good results.
Live long and prosper.


Proving yet again that you can get great results from a simple setup. Great model helps too :)

Really appreciate these videos!


Hey Michael! I'm very curious to what camera you're using. Would you mind sharing?

Of course. I am using a 5D MK II. It's a cam where I can really feel how much love the engineers putted into the development. For my sort of photography (rather slow, very portrait focussed) it's absolutely awesome.

Dear Michael,

Love your video! Very inspiring. In your video I noticed you used a flash right next to the camera. You did not mention it in the video. What does this flash do exactly and what is the setting?

Thankx, Freek

Hi cousin Freek,
good observation. However, I did not use that flash. It's just standing around, not firing.

Hi Michael,

I noticed that in the video it appears the main light has a modelling light shining through it? Do you use a separate modelling light with your speedlights to see the light that is cast on the model or is this just the ceiling lights shining through the umbrella?

Also, thanks for doing such a great job with your instructional videos, I find them very inspiring and it helpful to see such great quality videos using affordable equipment!


Hi Simon, I would really love to have a good solution for modelling light and speedlights. Unfortunatly, I am not aware of any, so I don't use any modelling light. I mean, I know that light rays are pretty straight so I know upfront where they will hit. The tiny details of where the light falls I can see on my LCD. So I don't have a real need for modelling light - but still, it would be cool.

What you see in the video is simply a room light under the ceiling. By chance it was pretty exactly where the umbrella ended up to be. Coincidence.

I love it Michael I wouldn't have thought about removing the clothing to concentrate on just the hair. And I totally see the difference. Thanks again for sharing.

Thanks a lot for watching, Tucker!
That's part of my mission: encourage models and photographers to leave away clothes in shootings - I mean... the clothes of the model, not the photographers.

Hey Michael,

danke für das klasse Tutorial... sobald ich meine 2 Speedlight habe werde ich es nachstellen :-)... Gruß
aus Bergischem Land Andreas

Got your two speedlights already, cousin Andreas?

Just came across your site earlier and never seen it before.
WOW, excellent videos really practical and hands on, EXACTLY what I was looking for because they are not too simple but not too complicated either.

Your are now in my bookmarks and I keep coming back again and again, and again, and again.

Thanks for sharing.

Hi Sven! Thanks a ton for bookmarking me! If you have iTunes then you might also considder subscribing to the HD feed or the iPhone feed on the right of this page. Then you get new episodes delivered to your device automatically.

Hi Michael,

I am amazed at all the great portraits you make with "simple" speedlites & umbrellas. I see many blog posts where people use outlandish softboxes and studio strobes. Their pictures are awesome and so are yours.. I do have a couple of questions. (1) Do you feel that the speedlights provide you with enough power for all your jobs or do you sometimes (outdoors for example) use other strobes. (2) In one of your episodes you mention that you never use a lightmeter. Is that because you have ETTL compatible speedlights? What should someone like me do when we have 3 different types of flashes, and cannot utilize ETTL. How do we establish lighting ratios?

Thanks a lot! Excellent questions!

> or do you sometimes (outdoors for example) use other strobes

If I am at a sunny beach, for instance in Sanya in China, then I am using highspeed sync in order to be able to use a very fast shutter speed. I can do that with speedlights only. Other flashes do not support that mode.
But of course you could also try to overpower the sun by using 3 gigawatt seconds of portable flashes :-)
If I had no speedlights I'd rather use reflectors.

> Is that because you have ETTL

No. Sure I would not meter a TTL setup - really no use as the flash power varies from frame to frame, automatically :-)
When I use manual setups (no TTL) then I am using the histogram and the preview images for setting up the flash intensities. It's because those two tools provide me with much more accurate and usable feedback than an incident meter.

> How do we establish lighting ratios?
Have a clear idea about how much light you want to have where exactly on your subject, then set it up rughly, shoot test exposures, do some fine tuning.

Later on I am going to blog about different lighting zones per lightsource. I believe that knowlege is really key for engineering lighting setups or reverse engineering setups when seeing example photos. Stay tuned.

Michael, you and the team did a great job on these hair photos and the video was very informative. I was wondering if there was some kind of modeling light behind the umbrella in addition to the Canon strobe. It looks like it is constantly lit in the video.

Thanks for sharing your tips.

Just saw your answer to the first post which also answers this question. Thanks again Michael for sharing your knowledge with the photo community.

Thanks a ton for watching and also for writing and reading comments! That's great!

Michael , your work is mind blowing ..
you are really a gifted photographer :D
I will definitely try this hair stuff and hopeful to get the good results.

Thanks a lot. Once you tried it out, please post a link to the results! I'm curious!

Hello Michael,

I am part of a photography forum, http://www.nobsphotosuccess.com I posted there about a hair photo book I am working on with my neighbor (hair stylist) and a NOBS member suggested I come look at this video.

This has been incredibly helpful. I am going to try your lighting set up tonight and see how it differs to what I've been doing over the last couple of days.

The stylist wants to have the background white to have the hair stand out more. What is your opinion on this?

Thanks, and I am learning a lot from all of your videos. Thanks for taking the time to share.


Hi cousin Paul,
I think, if you like to use a white background then you might want to photograph your models skin either really pale, or pretty underexposed. However, according to my personal taste a moderate gray background is more posh. In addition to that it allows me to take a photo of the hair at a really optimum exposure level and having it blending nicely into the rest of the photo.
If I expose dark hair at an optimum level and then contrast it with a white background then for my taste the contrast would be too harsh. But well - it's a matter of taste.

If someone goes to your site and is not inspired by what you do they should not be taking pictures. One of the best blogs I have found, hands down. Kudos. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.

Thanks a lot, cousin Adam!

hi michael...

...these vids are better than thousand learn cd's !

thx for your great work ...

a photoshopjunky :-D

I can't really believe that one, but thanks a ton for the compliment!

So, Michael, did they win the German Hair Competition?

The winners are not announced yet. I wish them all the luck in the world.

Love the photos, the model is very versatile and despite the short length of her hair there's a good range of styles there. Toni&Guy seem to be branching out and doing more now for other ethnicities, which is good.

I totally agree. Cousine Denise is very versatile and Toni&Guy really rock!

Very nice!

Thank you, cousin Mike!

Tucohdown! That's a really cool way of putting it!

OMG! I really like your blog!!! Not only you seem to know what you are talking about but you also have this really charming way of simplifying things to your viewers. This simplicity in lighting techniques and loads of useful information makes your blog one of the best sources of information I've found on the net.

I also really do enjoy your success videos. I've been shooting for awhile and I believe I'm at a point where I should be making money considering the quality of pictures I deliver.. however, apparently I'm doing something really wrong with my marketing.. and my goals have no clarity to them.. this can be quite discouraging.. So I really look forward to see more inspirational videos on this subject as well as more tips on how to better market yourself.

Thank you!!! and good light to you, too.

Thank you so much, cousin Diana! I hope I can give you some pointers regarding your marketing.

Hey Michael i have seen a lot of videos but you are the best...the set ups, the lights, the imagination.Thanks for you inspiration.

If I can inspire you, then this makes me really happy!

Thank you! This was very helpful, as I'm embarking on more hair photo shoots.

Sounds great! Let us know how it went, cousin Isaiah!

Great tip, thanks for sharing

Thank you for watching, cousin Joseph!

That was fantastic hair. I like the hair cut of the hair it so natural cut. Thank you.

I love your simple lighting setups... very cool :)

Did you photoshop the skin? And do you do any tutorials on beauty retouching?

Good light!

Mike :)

Hi Cousin Mike, thanks for the compliment. Yes, my retoucher photoshopped the skin a little bit. I already asked her to make a tutorial on that technique, but up to now she was too busy to do it.

Hi there,
just discovered your interesting site. Good one! I had a question for you regarding this lighting set-up, but Anton already asked it and you already responded :)
Good light to U 2


This video is really useful for a budding for photographer like me thanks a lot for sharing your valuable knowledge with fellow photographers

Of all of the instructional sources I have viewed, yours are the most informative, useful, concise and fun!! Keep up the wonderful work Cousin!

Hard to get my thick German accent? Here's the transcript!

Hey fellow photographer, how is it going? I’m Michael Zelbel and today we are going to shoot some photos for the German hairdressing award, with our model De Nise, our super hairdressers Lutz and Uemit, and the lighting set up as always very simple. One main lights through a shoot umbrella from and one speedlight in the back shooting against the black backdrop. I think that is going to be it. So keep on watching. In this episode of glamour lighting set ups, you are going to learn how to emphasize a particular part of your model. That is really important if you make photos for a particular reason, like in our case we make the photos in order to win the German hairdressing award or to let the customer win the award. And in order to do that of course we have to focus on the hairdo of our model and on nothing else. In this video we are going to focus on 2 techniques which are the only 2 techniques that I have used, the first one being specular highlights on the point of interest, in this case on the hairdo of the model of course and the second thing I used was removing distractions,removing everything that is not essential. Now for the specular highlights, how did we do it? Simply by pointing the main light directly to her hair. The lighting set up is like this: we have got our model, she is sitting in front of the table and behind her, pretty close behind her is a black backdrop and now we got like I said, the main light coming from top pointing down. It is going through a big shoot umbrella and we have a silver reflector material on the table just in order to fill in the shades. Otherwise when light is coming directly form top, then it would harsh shades and with the silver stuff we are opening up the shades. And there is a second speedlight behind the model and that is just to shoot a vignette effect into the background. Otherwise the background will be a little bit boring but with the gray vignette, it is just fine. The camera is on 200mm and 1/200s and f/11 to have just nice depth of field. I pushed it from ISO200 to ISO400 just to stress the speedlights a bit less, to have them faster. Both speedlights are on TTL plus 1/3 and the way we came up with plus 1/3: actually we played around with the intensity of light until we founded the color of the hair was coming out best and we liked it most with TTL plus 1/3. Besides that you might notice I am not using any groups. It is both speedlights are, so to speak in group A, and shooting on the same power setting, only the main light is metered by the camera because of the background. On TTL the camera will only meeter the area which is exactly underneath the auto focus field and that would be hair, when I focus on the hair and what you can see on the hair is main light source, not the background light source. The background light source is just shooting along on the same intensity which is fine in this case. One thing that I would like to mention as a little trick, in order to get the model a bit higher, a bit higher, we added 2 extra pillows onto the chair so that she could sit a bit higher, a little bit away form the silver reflected light source and I could shoot comfortably her whole upper body That also leads us to the second technique that we used which is removing distraction, our first idea was to shoot a model with clothes that would amplify the feeling that her hairdo should transport. Her clothes were matching the wired, punk like hairdo. But I found that by removing the clothes I could bring out the hair much better and in the end we not only removed the clothes, we also had her doing poses where you couldn’t see her eyes, where you could see not much of her face, all of that was removed, so we ended up with just a bit of skin and the hairdo and I think that worked really best. How about you try it out in your next photo shoot and the first thing you do is you remove everything that is not really, really essential for your photo and the second thing is you can care your main light source is reflected exactly in the area of interest, exactly in the area that you want to emphasize. I really hope that that is something that is really good for you, so that this video will be useful and if you like please comment below the video, share your opinion below this video. I hope to see you next Thursday in the next video and until then, I wish you a lot of fun with your photo shoots and good light!

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