Morgan Miller: Lighting for Beauty

Fashion and Beauty photographer Morgan Miller was born and raised in New York City. He has shot for various fashion brands and has been the featured photographer at the Leica Store SoHo and Leica’s 2012 S-Studio Event at Milk Studios. Recently, his “Her Story” assignment appeared in Creem Magazine’s “Questionable Taste” issue.

Below, Morgan discusses his approach to beauty shots and the importance of lighting in advance of his lecture “Lighting for Beauty by Morgan Miller” on October 24 and October 25 at Go Studios as part of Leica’s S-System Studio Events. You can read our past features with Morgan here.

Q: How did this Beauty series come about? What was the inspiration behind it and what were you trying to achieve?

A: This Beauty series was a collaboration with make-up artist David Tibolla. We wanted to do a comprehensive overview of current beauty trends, along with just creating beautiful images that had a current look, yet classic feel.

Q: You talk a lot about the importance of light in your photography. Can you tell us a bit about the lighting setup you used to shoot these images?

A: These images have a mixture of light sources with both strobes and hot lights, with a blending of both soft and hard light, and the use of the HMI for fill adds a unique glow to the hair and skin.

Q: The images are flawless, as are the models. How much of this is a result of makeup versus lighting versus post-production? And how did each of these steps work together to create the images we see here.

A: Precise lighting is the most important thing in beauty, though of course good application of the make-up certainly helps. Post-production is also very important. My retoucher spent many hours perfecting these images — good retouching has now become a necessity for any successful beauty shoot, no matter how precise the make-up application or perfect the lighting.

Q: These shots are much tighter than some of the other galleries you’ve presented on the Leica blog — how was your approach different than say your “Her Story” series?

A: This Beauty series is all about the face and hair with nothing else to distract the eyes or pull you away.

Q: There’s a pattern of featuring strong woman in your images. Was there any specific characteristic you were looking for in the models for this particular shoot?

A: Beauty does require that the models have a certain symmetry to their features, nice eyes, a beautiful mouth and good cheekbones. After that, when casting, a lot depends on how the model appears in Polaroids and the connection she has with the photographer. These models all had a certain something special when they came to the casting.

Q: You shot these images with the APO-Macro-Summarit-S 120 mm f/2.5 lens. Why did you choose to shoot these images with that lens? How do you think it affected your way of shooting and the images you created?

A: Using the longer lens allows you to take advantage of the telephoto compression that is the nature of a lens of that length — how it can add some gracefulness to a face, in a subtle and beautiful way. The Summarit 120 mm lens takes beautiful portraits.

Q: The images in this series are quite simple (just a model’s face and neck with a white background), but the expressions are quite powerful. What is the message you’re trying to convey with these images or what are you hoping the viewer takes away?

A: Especially in beauty, it is crucial for the model to connect with the camera and for the photographer to work with the model to facilitate that. If these photos were taken for a commercial client, then the desire would be for the images to have an impact upon the viewers, at final count for the person viewing them to want to buy the product they are advertising.

Q: The color of the make-up really pops whether it’s the lipstick or the eye shadow in these images. Any tips for other photographers looking to get this vibrant of color in their images, whether using the S-System or not?

A: No other camera/lens system I have ever used resolves colors the way the S-System does. I don’t know of any other system out right now where the lens and sensor are designed together to work in a balance of precision and harmony. It does something with colors in a way that is hard to describe, something emotional, ethereal — it has great feeling in its reproduction of colors in an image. After that it is all about the kind and quality of light you choose to use.

Q: You’re conducting a “Lighting for Beauty” seminar at the Leica S-System Studio at Go Studios. What can attendees expect to take away from the experience?

A: I hope that they will more fully understand how important good lighting is for beauty and also have gained some understanding of how to light a model for a beauty shoot. They can also expect me to discuss some secrets of the beauty industry and answer any questions they might have about shooting beauty.

Q: You were at the S-Studio last year too doing a live shoot. What are you looking forward to most about the upcoming event?

A: I enjoy discussing technique with other photographers and hope that I am able to impart some knowledge or tips to those who attend my talks. I am a firm believer that it is a photographer’s duty to share whatever knowledge they have acquired throughout their careers.

Q: Do you have any other upcoming projects on the horizon to share? It looks like you’re exploring some different angles (from a story-arc incorporating a fantasy sequence to these close-ups to your fine art homages).

A: I do have a very exciting project with Creem Magazine for their next, special 10th issue that I can share with you. The theme of this upcoming issue is “What is Art” and the issue will be previewed at Art Basel in Miami. During the shoot we will be playing with ideas from artists such as Hirst, Bacon, Emin, Duchamp, Abramovic, Cattelan, Flavin, Sherman and Quinn.

J. Matthew Riva (MISTER), who is art directing the shoot, writes:

“Great art is often controversial. The cultural rebellion has passed its torch from generation to generation. Much of the art we remember shocks us into rethinking or analyzing our own models we apply to the world around us in order to bring us a sense of order. Fashion pulls from wells of creativity and is often inspired by fine art. This story is a celebration of these works of art as rebellion and provocation. Each homage will show the name of the artist and the work inspiring the image.”

This shoot is somewhat of a continuation, with a different twist, of the iconic series exhibited at the Milk Penthouse last year and should once again showcase what an amazing camera the S-System is. The images will be printed in Creem Magazine and previewed at Art Basel.

Q: How has your work changed in the last few years?

A: I am continuously studying my craft, and always trying to learn more, trying new ways to light, new post-production techniques, to have my work continually evolve. What I love about photography is that there is perpetual room to grow, learn and expand ones horizons; that each day I will face new and exciting challenges.

Thank you for your time, Morgan!

- Leica Internet Team

Connect with Morgan via his website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Beauty Series Crew Credits: Photography by Morgan Miller, Make-Up by David Tibolla, Hair by Ginger Crudo, Production by Severine Manuel and Photo-Assistance & Retouching by Katya Polyakova.