Useful Photography Tip #118: Working With Long Female Hair in Portraits

Chris Gampat Samantha Grossman's first shoot with me (13 of 15)ISO 32001-100 sec at f - 1.4

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When photographing women, working with the hair is always a big priority. That’s why many shoots often have a high price for hair and makeup artists. If the hair is in a specific style, then embrace what the makeup artist has done because they worked quite hard to get it to look that way. But when that hair is let down, it’s best to make it easier to work with. One method that we’ve found to work well and is fairly simple to do is parting the hair to one side based on how you’re composing the image, the lighting direction and the person’s facial features.

At the time of publishing this tip, this particular style is a trend. But parting the hair to one side makes it easier to control and work with so that you can focus on other things like the subject’s posture, how their nose will be seen in the image, and many other important details that you’ll need to pay attention to in order to deliver a better image.

Where (camera left or right) you put the hair is entirely a case by case basis but what we prefer to do is place it in the opposite direction of the key light in the image. For example, in the image above the light was camera right. Putting the hair to the left worked well because Samantha is leaning into the wall and it would have otherwise made the hair look puffy and maybe even cast shadows on her face. If that was my creative intention then it would have worked–but it clearly wasn’t.

Another big factor to consider is the person’s shoulder height. Everyone has a higher and lower shoulder because of the way that we wear our bags and sleep. Traditionally, the hair is placed on the lower shoulder–but again it also depends on the lighting direction.