Jan 03, 2013

Behind the Scenes: Beetle Beauty

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.

Related Tutorial

Hola From Mexico! Earlier this month, I went on vacation to Playa del Carmen in Mexico with my parents. For those of you who have never been to this part of the worl...
Self Portraits Can Make You a Better Photographer Self portraits are near and dear to my heart because that is how I got my start in photography. Contrary to popular belief, there is actually a reason...
Phlearn News and Updates Phlearn News Hey phamily! There's some great Phlearn news going on around here, with a couple big changes coming soon. Some of them may make some peop...
How to Select and Change Colors in Photoshop Selecting Color Range To select out the different Colors, create a New Layer and go to Select - Color Range. Click on the Color you want to sample wi...

Related advanced tutorials

Underwater Fantasy
The Last Athlete


user image You
(will not be published)

  • user image
    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…

    • user image
      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.

  • user image

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

  • user image
    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?

  • user image
    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”.

  • user image
    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.

    • user image
      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.

  • user image
    Braxton Klavins

    I really love the glossy colors of these photos, and it really stands out.
    Idk if you would want us to critique your photos but here is what I thought of the beetles.

    When I first saw this photo, I looked like the beetles were just taken separably and just photoshopped in the photo. The reason why it looks like this to me is because since it was a real beetle, I initially thought it was alive. It looked photoshopped in to me because the beetle was not grabbing on to her mouth to make it seem like the beetle was crawling on her mouth. And I am assuming that you wanted it to look like the beetle was crawling on her mouth. What I think the reason why it did not look like it was crawling on her mouth was because of the shadows from the legs on her mouth. Since the beetles legs were not completely touching her mouth, the shadow cast was longer.
    That is what first thought when I first saw this photo. I hope you understand what I was seeing.

    Beetles crawling on a mouth does not sound pretty but with these photos, it looks amazing.

  • user image
    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

  • user image
    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.


  • user image
    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?

  • user image
    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.

  • user image

    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!

  • user image

    Hi I love the concept i wanted to ask from where can i find beetles? Like what kind of store you found them>?

  • user image

    Hi Aaron
    Great free tutorial, nice of you guys to give this free tutorial, i had some fun doing it !
    here is my version ………