Photoshop 201
$24.99 $14.99

Episode Categories

Behind the Scenes: Beetle Beauty

Tagged with:
Jan 03

Subscribe to Phlearn

Lighting Be The Scenes

For behind the scenes we wanted to keep the lighting fairly simple in these images in order to show off the detail of the beetles, but not become a distraction. It is also important that while the key light is almost directly straight on, that shadow and highlight definition are maintained. If you use a light source that is too large at such a close distance you will wind up with images that don’t have a clear boundary between highlight and shadow.

For the key we used an 11-inch Long Throw reflector, usually reserved for point lights. Because it was so close to our subject, and only a small area needed to be lit, the falloff was not an issue here. This harsh light provides nice highlight detail while also producing shadows.

For the background we used 2 strip lights pointed towards a white seamless. The lights hit the seamless, exposing it properly and because the surface is white, it allowed a lot of light to be reflected. Some of this reflected light came back and hit the back side of the model, giving a faint rim light.

Images are exposed at f/18 ISO 200 1/160 sec. 105mm on a 24-105mm 4.0L IS.


This shoot was inspired by Rankin‘s amazing series of lips holding things like flowers. We also drew inspiration from  the Silence of the Lambs movie poster. I have always thought scarab beetles were beautiful and this was the perfect opportunity to feature them in a photo.

For the concept to come to life we needed an amazing makeup artist who could match the beauty of the insects. For the green scarab we decided to go with complimentary colors, yellow-green and red-violet. This colors play well off each other and allow each to stand out. For the blue beetle we took hints from its natural markings and decided to mimic those in the makeup. Using a dark blue as a base, a light stripe was painted down the middle of the lips. When the beetle was in place the effect took shape, making it look as though the stripe goes from the lips to the beetle.

I am a huge car fan, and I have seen a similar effect done on the Dodge Viper. The way the stripe continues through the steering wheel is pure genius.

Working with Models

Putting giant bugs on a model’s face is a lot to ask. For this shoot we had to find someone who had large lips, great teeth and skin, and was also ok with insects. Be sure all of that is laid out before the day of the shoot so there aren’t any surprises.

There are a couple of things you can do to help your subjects get more comfortable when doing something out of the ordinary. First be sure to show them references of other similar images so they know what they are going to get. If they can imagine the end shot, they are much more likely to have a good time. We also shoot tethered to a laptop so the model can see the images as they are shot. That way they will gain confidence as the shoot goes on and know how to pose for the camera.

We also used a mirror for this shoot so the model could see what she was doing with the beetles. We had her hold them because she has a better sense of pressure than someone else does on her own face. Using a mirror she could place the beetle correctly then pivot slightly for the shot.

Final Images





Photographer:Aaron Nace. Model: Ashley Brehmer. Production: Chris Todd. Production/Hair: Jamie Sterle. Makeup: Christina Artrip. 1st Assistant: Zach Spinner.

  • Bryan Dockett

    Dude the image at the 2:30 mark looks killer!!!

  • Bo Lelewel

    hi Aaron, the results look stunning :) did you use the 24-105mm for the shots? The photos look like they were shot with a 100mm macro or something close to that… great retouching on the skin, and the glossy lipstick looks awesome paired with the shiny bug! have a great day…

  • Aaron Nace

    We did use the 24-105. I would have been glad to use the 100 macro, but we shot on such a short deadline there was no time to rent one. Images are cropped a bit to get the full effect.

  • balint.alovits

    hi Aaron! Would you please create a phlearn pro about this image retouch pls? thx

  • Will Bremridge-willbphoto

    this looks so good! Love how simple and effective the lighting is too especially when I’ve seen backdrops lit with six profotos in umbrellas before.

  • Paul Ferradas

    Great job on the shots Aaron. I’m excited to see you doing beauty and fashion of course. I look forward to seeing the retouching. The lighting looks great. I may need to get me one of those long throw reflectors from Paul Buff. Also, how many stops over from keylight on the background?

  • Jay Stebbins

    I love seeing these behind the scenes videos on your projects. Great concept.

    I am looking forward to seeing what happens in 2013. We can call this the year of “Great Expectations”.

  • disqus_RlBVsktQIt

    hi Aaron, it looks good I have done the inspired Rankin look for my A-Level Photography as well will be updating the look this year as well with other items Ken

  • Pingback: Sweet BTS Video of Unusual Beauty Shoot With Beetles @ Spotofoto

  • Karissa Hosek

    Really cool concept and they came out beautiful! I love seeing models and bugs they’re always fascinating :) Check these models as bugs by Laurent Seroussi

    and these beautiful nudes as butterflys are beautifully lit by Carsten Witte

  • Brian Boudreau

    Aaron I’m not sure if this is the best place to ask this but I want to get some studio lights in 2013. I”m looking at the AB800, AB1600 or Einsteins. Can you give me any advice. I need it to power low enough for a small studio 10×12 (Glorified living room) but also powerful enough that I can shoot outdoors in sunlight.

  • Yo Mama

    Outstanding photos and BTS look at the shoot. When we lived on Kauai we knew a couple who were bug fanatics and traveled to the jungles to collect them. Anyhow, they mounted them and hung them ALL over their BEDROOM! How romantic, maybe you should try it. HAHA

  • Aaron Nace

    Hey Brian, you can’t go wrong with Einsteins. You will pay a little more than going with Alien Bees, but they are worth it.

  • Brendan Shanley

    Both shots are awesome, Aaron! Love seeing how the strips can work as rims.

  • Rob Henry

    Beautiful pics and concept! Can you advise exactly what boom, stand and accessories, if any, were used for the key light? I have been looking for a sturdy and easy to use boom and the one in your video looks perfect.


  • Waseef Akhtar

    It’s so great to get back and see how Phlearn doesn’t change a smidgen but just gets a lot lot new content that take days to cover haha. I wonder how are you guys so motivative to make a post here each and every day. I’ve been trying so hard to work on a new shoot I was done after months, for New Year’s. I think photography’s in comatose for me these days and I somehow kinda need it to revive back. Will anyone of you help me out here?

  • Nic Warrington

    Images look amazing! As always, thanks for the behind the scenes vid ;)

  • Pingback: Sweet BTS Video of Unusual Beauty Shoot With Beetles | Photo Junkiez

  • Michelle Moore

    I’m sorry – why did you leave the saliva strings on her teeth in the first image! It is so distracting, I can’t get over it. Beautiful concept otherwise. Thank you for sharing.

  • Pingback: Sweet BTS Video of Unusual Beauty Shoot With Beetles | Fstoppers

  • Nicolás Belazaras

    How many shots do you take before you think ‘we’re done’? I know it’s different for every photoshoot but how do you measure it?

  • Dave

    Terrific concept!
    By how much did you overexpose the white seamless (above the meter reading) to get the rim light effect without flaring at the edges of the model’s face? Thanks!

Episode Transcript

Aaron Nace: Welcome behind the scenes of our latest beauty shoot with beetle.

Hey guys. Welcome to Phlearn. My name is Aaron Nace. You can find me on Twitter on @aknacer. Today we’re taking you guys behind the scenes of our latest beauty shoot involving beetles. We’re going to tell you a little bit about how the concept came to involve. We’re going to take you through the shoot, the lighting, the human makeup and the beetles together and then a little bit of post-production.

The whole idea with this shoot was they put these beetles on someone’s face and having that kind of contrast in beauty because I really do think these are beautiful as well we’ve got this green one and then a blue one with kind of like a yellow through it. Doing a beauty shot involving insects is pretty cool and not a whole lot of people do it.

We wanted to make sure that it really did read as a beauty shot. One of those ways was the match the makeup to the actual beetles. When using the green scare beetle, we made sure to match the makeup with a magenta so those complimentary colors work together. For the blue beetle we decided to actually mimic the makeup on the marking on the beetle with the makeup. We wound up with a white stripe right down here which we kind of actually kind of mimic here with this beetle. I think it came out really cool using really, really close-ups. Our makeup artist did an amazing job matching all the colors of the beetles to lip makeup.

Once we found the beetles, it was our job to go ahead and remount them. They were actually mounted in these really nice containers. We have to take them out of there and then we just came up with this little mechanism. It’s really just, as you can see here, it’s a safety pin that goes straight and then at the very end there is an angle that points and that is stabbed into the back of the bug. These bugs were dead when we got them so don’t worry, no bugs were harmed in the making of this photo shoot. What this allowed us to do is create some kind of a handle. These are extremely delicate and they will break if you touch the leg too hard.

We also used a mirror right in front of our model. She couldn’t really see what was going on and it was really important that these bugs were put in the exact right place. A little bit of shift to left, to the right, completely changes the photo and completely changes the lighting. We put a mirror in front of our model so she could kind of see directly as she was placing these insects and what was going on in the mirror and then she can just turn ever so slightly and pose for the camera.

The lighting is a huge part of this beauty shot. We wanted to make sure that the lighting was simple and refine. We went with three lights in total. We have two strip boxes and those are behind the subject. Both of them are basically just firing into a white seamless back shot. The cool thing is when you do put quite a bit of light behind someone, not only do you get a very nice clean backdrop but some of that light is going to spill forward if you don’t use flags which in this case we didn’t use flags. The strip boxes are shining backwards into the seamless and then some of the light actually comes out forward. That creates a very nice soft rim light on our subject as well. As she moves around you’ll even see it on her lip some places. That’s like coming from the background that was lit with the strip boxes.

The key light for this was a long thorough reflector and that was placed directly above the model’s face and directly above the camera as well. We used a boom to kind of get it in place, taking what would normally be a small light source and putting it very close to your subject, makes it appear a little bit larger. That’s how we were able to get a really nice clean look but still get nice deep shadows as well and not have it be too soft.

Be sure you talk to the model ahead of time, before the day of the shoot. Be sure you let them know, “Hey, we’re going to be shooting with bugs. They’re not going to be alive.” You might find a model who’s just not okay with this. Make sure you let them know beforehand. Another great way to make sure the models are okay working with it is to show them reference pictures, other pictures like, “Hey, this is kind of our goal. This is what we’re going to get out of it. It’s going to be worth putting this bug on your face.”

We shoot tethered so that during the photo shoot the model can kind of come around after a couple of shots and look at the photos and be like, “Oh, my God, that’s awesome.” She can get excited about them and kind of really get into it and see that their efforts are really paying off in putting this bug on their face which seems like a totally weird and gross idea actually can be pretty.

Thanks so much for watching guys. I hope you learned a little bit and I hope you enjoy the shots. Look forward to our tutorial on how to edit these images and make them really stand out and pop. Thanks a bunch. I’ll phlearn you later. Bye everyone.

Thank you and thank you and thank you and thank you. Thank you.

Free PRO Tutorial
Sign up for our newsletter and instantly receive a free PRO Tutorial!
Over 20,000 people
are already signed up.
Random Tips

Adding RAM to your computer is a cheap way to make Photoshop much faster.