Beauty, Glamour + Fashion

How to Shoot More Informed and Inspired Hair Photography

May 3, 2019

By Daryna Barykina

Photos © Daryna Barykina

As a beauty photographer, hair has become a natural focus in my work. I realized in developing my portfolio over the last four years that this super narrow niche is quite different from makeup-oriented beauty photography and portraiture.

Hair in Motion

One of the key features across this body of work has been capturing hair in mid-air.

Achieving such momentum has to be very planned out. In my experience, hair photography in general does not allow much movement on the model’s behalf. Since it is impossible to get two identical hair patterns, I need to capture the same pose over and over again to get the perfect movement. Oftentimes, we have to shoot up to 50 different frames to get the shot we are looking for.

Hair Helpers

Extensions, halos and toppers are very popular to use for editorial shoots because they are amazing tools to completely change the model’s hair color, length and haircut. But these can restrict you to a particular angle of a model’s face or pose because they’ll often look unfinished on the other side. That’s why some beauty posing can appear quite stiff—the hairstyle is just an illusion.

One time, my team and I worked on shooting the cover of the book Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young. I shoot a lot of self-portraiture, and I was selected by the editor to represent the main character of the book. My hair is blonde, but the character is a brunette. I didn’t want to color my platinum blonde hair, so my hairdresser used both a brunette topper (a clip-on wig, attached to the top of the head, that only covers the top layer of the hair) and a hair band (a layer of hair on a string that is placed underneath the natural hair and imitates length). These two pieces overlapped to create an illusion of my having brown hair—but only around the face; the back of my head was still blonde. While I managed to avoid dyeing my hair, I was restricted to shooting a straight-on self portrait.

Hair and Wardrobe

When selecting a wardrobe, it is very important to understand how the hair color and texture are going to look in the shoot. For example, vivid hair color demands muted wardrobe shades or monochromatic textures. I either use neutral colors or match the outfit with the dominant hair color, which both reinforces the main shade and helps the other shades stand out.

Hair Characteristics

Hairdressing is a form of art all its own; each hairstyle will contain certain identifying features like shape, line, texture and color. It is important to understand what the focal point of the hairstyle is before you go into the shoot so that you’re aware of what you should be exposing for and what will be considered the “hero” element of the look.

When working with wavy hair (above left), I like the key light to be placed at a 45-degree angle in front of the model or off to the sides. When I photograph textured hair such as tight curls (above right), I prefer having a rim light to show the wispiness of the texture.

My favorite lighting setup would be a variation of the old-school “butterfly lighting” effect, wherein the light is placed at an angle in front of the model so that her lashes cast shadows onto her cheekbones.

Hair Moods

I think of hair photos as being either descriptive or vibe-focused. Descriptive shots highlight the qualities of the hairstyle; vibe-focused ones create a mood to show how the hairstyle feels. To me, good hair photos zero in on an emotional component—an element of empowerment or softness—that emanate from a hairstyle.

When I’m working with a client, the majority of the shot list is about the parameters of a given style, but I always put my own spin on it and deliver vibe-focused images to provide more options. Usually, those photos are the ones that clients enjoy the most, so I’ve learned to never be afraid to show my vision on a commercial shoot. Much of the time, clients do not realize what’s possible with hair photography.

Hair Narratives

Hair is a powerful conceptual element in beauty photography that can truly tell a story. Projects like that are my favorite to shoot because I can create more complex narratives and create a so-called “universe” around the model, saturating the shot with different features that introduce the model as a character.

To me, the more ambiguous the concept, the better. Ambiguity helps audience impose their own story as they look at the photo and relate to it in their own way.

Daryna Barykina is a beauty and fashion photographer currently residing in Florida. Clients—Covergirl, Kat Von D and Matrix, among others—seek her out for creative lighting concepts, use of color and high-end retouching. She has multiple international ad campaigns and hair photo competition wins under her belt.


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