First Book Cover
Beauty and Headshot Photography Combined
Camera: Olympus E-1
Lens: Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/2 Macro
Focal Length: 100mm effective
Shutter Speed: 1/160
Camera Mode: Manual
White Balance: 6000K
Lighting: Hensel Integra Pro 500 w/Chimera Octa57 soft box in 7-foot configuration
I first met Holley Dorrough at a photography event in Georgia a week before I took this photo. At the time I was looking for a beauty headshot for my first book cover so I approached her to discuss the possibilities; when she found out I’d done work for Playboy she asked me if I would photograph her for Playmate consideration. The answer was “yes” provided we focused on my beauty headshot for the book cover first. She officially became Playboy Playmate April 2006, nine months after our first photos and continues to model at some of my photography workshops.
The Story Behind The Photo
The first time I saw Holley Dorrough was while having breakfast at a hotel dining area where a photography event was being held. I was sitting at a table with Atlanta photographer Larry Merchant, and we saw her having breakfast with her parents. We didn’t disturb them, but immediately after breakfast as Larry and I were walking down a hallway, we saw Holley talking to the event coordinator and I asked, “Is she one of the models for this event?”
She was and the event coordinator formally introduced us. Larry and I told her she was very photogenic and then I mentioned I was looking for a beauty headshot for my first book cover and I’d be interested in photographing her for it. She was excited and responded positively then in the midst of all four of us talking, she learned I occasionally did photography for Playboy and asked me if I would consider photographing her for Playboy Playmate consideration.
After learning she was not a minor, I responded with a “yes,” provided we’d focus on the beauty headshot first and that I would like to speak to her parents as a courtesy. I told her I was on a deadline for my book, so I’d call her immediately after my return home so we could coordinate the shoot plus we had two upcoming photography workshops, one in Atlanta, one in Dallas, and that we’d love to have her model for both. She was fine with that, so upon my return to Texas, I called as promised.
Her dad answered the phone and after introducing myself I began by telling him as a father of four daughters that I wanted to speak with him first, then his wife, to ensure them their daughter would be safe and to ask their permission to photograph her for my book cover and Playmate consideration. He immediately told me that him and his wife were not happy about Playboy, but that their daughter was an adult and it would be her decision plus they would support any decision she made. He also thanked me for the respect in calling to talk to them.
The rest is history that perhaps I’ll expand on in my future memoir book, but Holley not only did the two workshops and continues to model today in some of my photography workshops, but her beauty headshot made the cover of my book and she became a Playboy Playmate (April 2006) nine months after our photo shoot. Ironically the book was released around the same time her Playboy issue was released. We did a book signing at WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographer’s International) annual event in Las Vegas at the same time Holley’s Playboy edition was out on newsstands.
It was her first trip to Las Vegas so there are funny stories to tell, not to mention, a month later she’s modeling at one of my Virgin Islands photography workshops and when we left to come back to the mainland, Holley had lost her government ID, so we had to use the magazine centerfold to prove to the U.S. Immigration official that she was in fact Holley Dorrough; again, we’ll save those fun stories for the memoir book.
Photographing a beauty headshot has its challenges and in Holley’s case, she was sporting practically platinum blonde hair plus a sprayed on tan, something that the human eye can adjust to, but the camera, especially digital, cannot. Here is where the 90-Percent Rule of lighting in photography comes into play.
Basically the rule states that whatever is pure white will reflect 90-percent of the light that strikes it and anything pure black will absorb 90-perecent of the light that strikes it. The human eye, along with brain perception, helps us adjust this variation when we view things in life, the camera does not, and in Holley’s case, since I have to expose for her darker tanned skin, this means her hair will become “washed out” in the final photos if I photograph her without taking the 90-Percent Rule into account.
We tackled this challenge by simply placing black cards around her head as she sat on the bed. These black foam core boards absorb light around the hair, but also reflect “black-toned” light back into her hair. Great wedding photographers know this and will usually use two black V-flats, out of camera frame, on each side of a bride in a white wedding dress—especially if the bride has dark skin. The opposite is done with a groom wearing a black tux, simply place to white V-flats on each side of the groom.
If we had not used the black cards around Holley’s head, since we’re exposing for the skin, then her hair would have been at least one f/stop overexposed—something you do not want for a beauty headshot. Regardless of flash or not, her hair would always reflect more light than her skin, even to the human eye—however, the eye and the mind adjusts but the camera doesn’t, it captures exactly what is reflected back in through that camera lens.
Another challenge with any headshot, beauty headshot or not, is that a model knows what you are after and this can lead to a tense face. The easiest way to avoid this, don’t bring up the word “headshot,” during the shoot—that word can scare people sometimes, so instead, I told Holley that Playboy required a full-length, 3/4 (mid-thigh up), plus bust-up shot as well as other images.
So when we set the shot up, I told her that I wanted a shot that showcased her back and long hair—I didn’t discuss headshot, face or beauty and this allowed the shoot to flow naturally. Plus, we had already done some shooting throughout the house so by the time we got to the beauty headshot part we were both comfortable in working with each other.
This shoot also included a great make-up artist, hair stylist and one assistant, a true team effort. When you have several people on a shoot, it can relax the model, especially if everyone is smiling, sometimes telling jokes, and constantly reassuring the model of her beauty.
While not exactly a challenge when it comes to a beauty headshot, something worth noting, we photographed Holley a month before her 19th birthday in San Antonio, Texas. She is from Alabama and back then, the law when it comes to photographing anyone nude in Alabama was 19, not 18-years of age. We shot in Texas were the legal age is 18.
There are many states where the legal age for appearing nude when it comes to photography varies from 19-21, and these states are clearly identified in Playboy’s model release so a photographer doesn’t violate that law in any state. I’m not sure today what states still remain on that list, but back then some of the states were Alabama (19), and Mississippi (21) just to name two of many—so check your state laws before you shoot nudes! Do not confuse “legal age of consent” with “legal age to appear nude,” those are two different laws.
In the end, we overcame our challenges rather easily and Holley provided some great looks for me to capture a great beauty headshot that would also later be published as a full-page advertisement in PhotoInsider magazine for Samy’s Camera out of Los Angeles. The following year Rangefinder did a cover story on my photography titled, “Mysteries of Lighting,” but their publisher thought the beauty headshot was too sexy for the cover, so they chose another image from one of my Virgin Islands photography workshops—Rangefinder did however include Holley’s beauty headshot full-page in the magazine.
There were no real safety concerns during the creation of this beauty headshot photo other than securing the black foam core cards on light-stand arms and ensuring they wouldn’t fall on Holley’s head. The black cards are extremely light so I wasn’t too worried, but we did secure them tightly.
During all of our photo shoots we take every safety precaution including running electrical cables under the light stand legs so stands will slide if someone trips over an electrical cord. If you do not place your monolight’s power cord under the stand legs, and someone trips over the cord, chances are your light will fall completely over vs. sliding across the floor.