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The Anatomy of a Beauty Product Photo Shoot

George Carter,
  • The catalyst for great ideas—and subsequent execution—for a photo shoot is a first-class brief.
  • The outcome of a successful photo shoot is consistent with the brand image already established and creates a composition that complements the packaging, design and layout, and also creates excitement, energy and interest.
  • Both group shots of an entire line and shots of each component are vital to brands, as these are used in virtually all marketing media.


Murad was launched in 1989, positioned as America’s first modern doctor brand. The clinically backed skin care line—founded by dermatologist Howard Murad, M.D., associate clinical professor of medicine at UCLA—was created with the goal of making healthy, beautiful skin something everyone can attain. Further, Murad’s skin condition-specific formulas were intended to transform both in-salon care and home care from simple feel-good experiences to real results-oriented treatments. All Murad products are based upon Dr. Murad’s work to uncover the link between loss of intracellular water and the systemic dysfunction that erodes health and accelerates aging—principles the brand has trademarked The Science of Cellular Water. Because Murad’s unique position in the market is offering products that rebuild skin’s health and strength by optimizing intracellular water levels, water is often incorporated as a prop in photographs for advertising campaigns and collateral marketing/sales material.

Briefing a Photographer

The catalyst for great ideas (and subsequent execution) is a first-class brief, and the importance of visual comps to set direction cannot be forgotten.

Initial comps were sent to the team at Nuvisions, a photography-based catalog design studio undertaking photography for Murad’s latest campaign, and strategy and goals for the shoot were discussed. It was clear that there was a need to stay consistent with the clean brand image already established and create a composition that would complement the packaging, design and layout and also create excitement, energy and interest.

The strategy included the element of water to introduce The Science of Cellular Water through a more obvious flow of water wrapping the product line. The goal was to capture the consumer’s imagination. Through discussions, initial ideas began to evolve as the photography team brought creativity and expertise as to how it could achieve the water effects and movement across the products.

By the day of the photo shoot, a clear plan of what needed to be accomplished was established, and the creative team and brand felt confident about the direction. Ultimately, the collaborative efforts of the designer, art director and photography team paid off. By working together, they were able to take a conceptual idea and make it a successful reality.

The Shoot

Two unique setups for the shoot were created. The first, used to photograph all straightforward product angles, was a tabletop set with a pure white background and a white Plexiglas foreground that created reflections of the product.

When shooting basic images of a new beauty line, Nuvisions typically starts with a group shot of the entire line, followed by a shot of each component. These images are vital to brands. They are used in virtually all marketing media—from online vehicles to print catalogs.

Basic shots must fulfill several requirements. First, they have to represent the products accurately without being bland or unexciting. This can be a challenge if the products have no interesting surfaces, such as chrome or glass. If the products are white and shot on a white background, as in the Murad shots, the assignment becomes even more challenging.

Not only must each shot be in perfect focus, it’s critical color consistency matches the product. That's even more challenging when shooting incomplete products and prototypes, which is often the case. Tight integration with a postproduction team enables the delivery of the images the brand needs, even when the sample provided and shot doesn’t look like the final product.

For the second setup, Nuvisions created a “wet set” that allowed it to photograph water splashing and interacting with the products.

Shooting water is not a straightforward process. The technical and logistical aspects are extremely challenging, and the right lighting equipment is vitally important. The photographer must also select camera gear capable of freezing the motion of water with crystal clarity. Blurry images are useless to the postproduction team.

Although these shoots usually start with a well-constructed plan, it is not uncommon to deviate from the plan as the shoot progresses. It’s all part of working with and adapting to the unpredictable nature of water. This is where photographers look for those magical moments when they can capture the perfect frame of moving water. Each frame selected is used to construct a loose layout in Photoshop, assembling pieces of the puzzle. Each of the chosen frames is then constructed in Photoshop at the highest possible resolution.


In postproduction for the Murad shoot, each “dry” product shot was given a clipping path outline, and backgrounds were retouched and “vignetted” to give a smooth consistent look. The images were then retouched to eliminate any spots or prototype inconsistencies. Critical color correction was achieved by isolating color areas through alpha masks and outlines, then adjusting to match product.

The “water” group shot was completed by compositing several of the best water variations and splashes into a single image. A low-resolution comp was sent to Murad for initial approval, with several changes and edits being made at that stage. Following initial approval, the water group shot followed a similar postproduction path to completion as the dry product—with retouching, alpha masks and color isolation, and final color correction.

Final high-resolution files were uploaded to a file transfer protocol (FTP) server for instant access by Murad.


High-quality photography of its products continues to be an important part of Murad’s communication strategy—and product images and compositions are used as the primary art in the brand’s catalog, print advertising and collateral. The brand continues to work with its photographers to help meet the challenge of capturing the brand’s heritage and positioning as a premium quality, superior performance and serious science brand in images that still read as fresh and clean. Because the brand materials are so photo-dependent, and due to the brand’s rapport with its customers, Murad receives a tremendous amount of positive feedback whenever it refreshes its images.

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