Beauty Blog Photography Tips: Swatching Session and Post Processing

Beauty Blog Photography Tips: Swatching Session and Post Processing

Finally! We’re at the “meat” of this beauty blog photography tip series, this is how I set things up, take my pics and then process the pics afterwards.

First, I use my new infinity edge photo backdrop for most of my pics. It’s an upgrade from my previous method of just draping white fabric over whatever boxes or baskets happened to be on my office floor.

Pick a room that is sunny, but with indirect sunlight. You don’t want the sun directly on your swatches, you’ll end up with pics full of shimmer, but it will be almost impossible to tell what the shade looks like. This is what it looked like outside on the day I took these pics. Definitely overcast, though it is still pretty bright out. This window faces west and it’s about 1 pm in the middle of the winter. I recommend afternoon light, but not the “golden hour” around sunset that photographers love. It’s amazing for fashion bloggers, the golden hue is beautiful in a look book pic. But, it will skew your swatch pics. Avoid it if you can!

Here’s what it typically looks like when I’m taking pics of products. You can see that the backdrop is set up, products are on it, and the entire thing is facing the window. I try to keep my body a little off to the side when taking pics, or else I’ll sometimes cast a little shadow over my picture. Also notice that my grey card is hanging out in the periphery of the shot, I’ll talk more about it later.

I take all of my pics on the Macro setting, without flash. On my camera, the camera will automatically figure out the shutter speed and aperture, though I can change them a bit if I want. I just leave them alone. I usually take a couple of images with ISO 100, and then I’ll switch to Auto-ISO and take some pics with that setting as well. I’ve found that 100 is usually best for getting the color as accurate as possible, but if the room is a bit dark that can cause problems. Auto-ISO usually ends up about 200-400.

I also have to confess that I’m a bit impatient, so I typically leave my camera on the continuous function. I push the button once, it takes 4-5 pics. I started doing this when I had my daughter (amazing what a difference it makes for baby pics! Happy smiling baby vs. baby looking angry or toppling over), and I just left the camera set that way when taking blog pics. I push the button, move around just slightly very slowly. I get pics at slightly different angles and sometimes there might be a shadow or reflection that I don’t like. This way I’ll have lots to pick from.

When taking swatch pics, I usually use my left arm. This is because I can hold and take pics with my right hand, but not my left. I can use both arms if I want to get out a tripod and remote.

I recommend using q-tips for swatching. It makes the makeup you apply to your arm less messy and when swapping between colors you can just move on to another q-tip end rather than a dirty fingertip.

My arm typically looks something like this. I try to get mostly white background and a hint of the grey card in the background, since you never know when you might need it for post-processing. Note that in this image not all of the swatches are in focus. This can be a problem when swatching a lot of shades in a row like this, I typically stick to 2-3 at the most. For swatching I move my arm around a lot, closer and further away from the camera while it snaps away. It can sometimes take a lot of pics to get one with everything in focus perfectly. As well, one pic at an angle and another straight on can be helpful to show off shimmer or a frost.

When I take pictures of makeup on myself, I frequently end up with a lot of images like this. The focus of this picture is the lippie, and that’s what will be shown in the final image, but here’s what the rest of it looks like.

To take pics of makeup on myself, I generally follow the tips in this Specktra post about makeup pictures. I never use flash, I always use a tripod (I somehow make my face look like it is a wonky shape otherwise), and with the tripod I always use a remote. I set my ISO to 100, I try to have the grey card off to the side somewhere if I can, and then I snap away.

I’m pretty much sitting where the backdrop was previously, facing the window, out of any direct sun. The tripod is in front of me and I’ve found that sometimes a few inches in either direction of where I am sitting and the tripod is sitting might mean a shadow over part of my face. So, it is a little bit of trial and error.

When taking pics of lippies, I start with the lightest shades first. I apply, take my pics, and when ready to switch to the next shade I remove with baby oil on a cotton round. I then wash the baby oil off with a face wash. I can usually take pics of a few lippies before my lips start retaining the color. Once that happens I stop swatching, I consider pics taken at that point to not be accurate.


Now that you’ve taken a bunch of pics, you should have some pretty accurate pics to chose from. Hopefully not much of this post-processing stuff needs to be done. I start with the image that has the most accurate color representation, shows what I want and is in focus (obviously).

First, I crop out most of the extra stuff. Then I adjust to 72 dpi for the web, RGB color, and resize appropriately. I typically go 500px width max, though this will vary with your blog template. I also add my watermark. I go very subtle for my watermark, usually I pic a font (often one currently used in my blog), and in white I’ll write my blog name and address. I size it to stretch across about 50% of the picture, and then I change the opacity to about 10% or so. I want it to be barely noticeable, but there if you look closely. I’ve found that this prevents people from stealing my pics but doesn’t detract from what I’m trying to get across. Of course, I might be wrong! But, that’s what I do.

To adjust the color go to the levels panel. There are a few things that you can mess around with here. The theory of what to do here is best explained in this DPS post on levels and the histogram.

1) The arrows under the histogram. Notice that they are colored, the one on the far left is black, the middle is grey and white is to the right. If you move the white one to the left a bit (usually to where the “mountain” of the histogram starts) the image will lighten. Typically that is the only triangle that I mess with.

2) If I have colors that are slightly off, I’ll grab the grey eye dropper and click it on my grey card, that fixes most issues. If it doesn’t fix it, I’ll take the pics again another day.

Finally, saving the image! For years I didn’t realize this was a vital step, but you really do need to save your image correctly. Because the web usually slightly different colors than your camera and Photoshop, you need to convert to the web colors. If you don’t save the image correctly, the color will look off once you get it to your website.

So, make sure you use the “Save for the web and devices” function!



  1. MissConcept
    February 15, 2012 / 1:41 am

    ggod job

  2. February 15, 2012 / 2:43 am

    holy cow. you blew my mind with the last one!

  3. February 15, 2012 / 2:48 am

    Truly, it would drive me crazy. I'd post something, the color would be different on-line. HATED IT.

  4. February 15, 2012 / 3:36 pm

    Thanks for sharing this info, it will be usefulmfor my blog.


  5. February 15, 2012 / 3:46 pm

    Awesome Tutorial! I'm going to share this w/ a few people and take note myself!

  6. February 16, 2012 / 11:04 pm

    I'm so glad that this helped some people! I don't think my pics are anything really spectacular, but they're decent. Sometimes it can be so helpful to see how other people do things. šŸ˜€ I think that Michelle over at All Lacquered Up and Christine from Temptalia both do an amazing job with their images.

  7. July 12, 2012 / 1:09 am

    Thanks for the great post!

    What camera do you use?

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