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PPD Master Series: Taylor Brumfield: Beauty is in the Eyes of the Beholder

By Jeff Wignall   Thursday December 16, 2021

Virginia-based photographer Taylor Brumfield began her journey into beauty and product photography when she was in college and interning at a glamour magazine. It was there that she planted the creative seeds of a style that can only be described as vibrant, dramatic and, not to use a pun (she does a lot of photos showing beautiful models adorned in colorful eye makeup), downright eye catching.  

“My ‘Aha!’ moment actually occurred when I started doing behind the scenes work for that magazine,” she says. “I found so much beauty in being able to create a dynamic story around styling and color and textures and sculpt out light and create drama and fantasy and then to be able to capture all of that in a still image. It was magnificent to be able to witness that up close. I wanted that for myself.”      
   
Brumfield took that inspiration as the driving force to teaching herself the techniques she needed to make it as a pro. “Besides working behind the scenes and observing the editorial photographers, most of my skills have come from investing a ton of time and energy into practicing and experimenting with new skills,” she says. “I try to fail intelligently and always fall forward so that even if something doesn’t go according to plan, I can still learn something valuable from that experiment—even if the thing I learned is simply “what not to do”.

Brumfield recently took time out of her busy schedule to speak with writer Jeff Wignall about her work challenges, her inspirations and her devotion to Tamron lenses.

PPD: Was it a scary adventure to jump into a new and untried career?

TB: It wasn’t scary but there was a disgusting amount of preparation that went into it. I think I did a really good job of setting myself up for success by hoarding away a bit of financial cushion, opening up access to a high quality support network, as well as making sure that the gear I had, like my Tamron lenses, was of high quality so that I could hit the ground running and keep pushing out good content.”

PPD: Do you regard yourself as a beauty or portrait photographer?

TB: I consider myself a beauty (and product) photographer over being a portrait photographer. To me the difference is that portraits center the person and the story centers the person, but beauty centers the light and the makeup and the story of the makeup and light. The model is simply a conduit upon which beautifully sculpted lighting and masterfully applied makeup and jewelry and other aesthetic accompaniments combine to tell their ensemble story in camera. The model isn't the point in beauty, they are an accessory to the point.

PPD: Do you maintain a studio or have a dedicated room that you use at home?

TB: I am currently sitting in a spare bedroom in my home that I use as my dedicated work space. Come December 1st however, I will be moving into a studio space that will be dedicated to my new rebrand “Taylor Bee Agency” and will hold and enable the entirety of my beauty and product photography business!

PPD: All of your models are beautifully and often dramatically lit, do you rely on a particular style of lighting?

TB: I love some drama in my lighting for editorial work, especially Rembrandt style sculpting showing hard shadows across the body with unapologetic highlights. Being that most of the models I work with are of color, the bold contrasts in my lighting are very flattering on darker to deep dark skin tones and my models glow.

For my commercial style work, especially for skincare, I generally don’t have much room in my client aesthetic  directives to utilize such contrast so I will fill in with reflectors and white board and use larger softer light sources. But I definitely prefer high-contrast glowing bright light.

PPD: What lighting tools do you use to create those effects?

TB: For my contrasty light, I usually use one strobe with a large umbrella usually around 48-51 inches. I may add diffusion, but the umbrella is what I usually will go to, or a white interior beauty dish if am going for big drama. And then, of course, the distance the light is from the model will determine just how much contrast I am going to get in the shadows.

PPD: How did you learn lighting? Long learning curve or was it something you picked up quickly?

TB: Studio lighting wasn't too much work for me actually. I was already quite developed as a natural light photographer and really understood the exposure triangle going into working with artificial lighting so it was a rather intuitive transition. Took me maybe two or three shoots to nail my settings and find a good workable setup and after that I was good to go!

PPD: Which Tamron lenses are your favorites? (And what is it that you like about them in general or specifically?)

TB: My whole Tamron kit consists of the 70-200 2.8 G2, the 24-70 2.8 G2 and a now-discontinued Tamron 90 macro.

The 24-70 2.8 is an amazing lens for product photography. Its wide angle with a very manageable pincushion distortion that can easily be worked around by having a bit of extra margin for lens correction in post. It's also very sharp, very fast which is what I need for working with small objects and capturing quickly moving elements like splashing water and “dew droplets.”

The 70-200 2.8 is my secondary lens for beauty work, though once I get into my larger studio space, I anticipate using it for more product work as well. The focal range is perfect for portraits and working with faces without distorting human proportions too dramatically. I also like that it's wide enough to easily fit a wider product scene without having to back up so far that you lose the small details and without the distortion that a much wider angle lens would cause.

PPD: Many of your models are women of color. Does this present a different set of lighting challenges or skill sets than someone might face photographing lighter-toned skin?

TB: Lighter skin reflects light where as darker skin absorbs it. As I mentioned earlier, because most of my models are darker skinned, it's one of the reasons I use such bright bold contrasty light. I find that it's very flattering on darker skinned people and really helps bring out all of the amazing textures that skin has to offer. If I'm working with a lighter skinned person, I'll generally go for larger, softer diffused lighting so as not to blow it out and to retain textures. It's not a challenge for me to light different skin tones. It all comes down to understanding the what and why of exposure and how and why light is absorbed and reflected.

PPD: Your make-up colors are often very bold. Do darker skin tones provide a more dynamic and fun canvas for experimenting make-up colors?

TB: I feel like yes, darker skin does make a much bolder canvas for brighter colors. Due specifically to the fact that the skin absorbs a lot of the light so that the color isn't competing because it's conversely reflecting a lot of the light. Both elements have their own stage to “shine!”

PPD: Do you use the same make-up stylist/artist for most of your shots?

TB: Yes! There’s a make up artist named Camille Holly (@theglamcamm) here in northern Virginia who is my go to make-up artist. We have worked together so many times that we have become very instinctual to the other's creative mentality and at this point I trust her and her creative decisions implicitly. Often when I'm trying out an make-up artist, I'll stick very close to them to make sure that the techniques they are using will look best in my camera because I am very particular about skin and cosmetics that go on the skin. With Camille, I no longer have to do that because we know each other so well. There's another make-up artist who I felt (feel) the same way about. His name is Jeffery Glenn (@ivebeenfancy). He used to live here in northern Virginia and was heavily involved with my beauty work several years ago but he has since moved out to LA and is thriving there. Both of these people have amazing instincts for working with skin, especially POC skin tones and I value them immensely.

PPD: You’re very skilled at retouching, is that a self-taught skill?

TB: I’m self taught person. I attended an inordinate amount of Youtube and I watch the behind the scenes and screen recordings of artists that I admire. I also am not afraid to ask questions if I need the help. I’ve never taken a formalized class for any of my skills so I would consider that self taught but I am definitely an information seeker and will jump in a more skilled person's inbox if needed.

PPD: Are you a perfectionist when it comes to retouching?

TB: I’m a perfectionist in that I know what I want and won't stop till I've gotten it but I don't want my skin to look perfect. I still want it to look like skin. So I'll leave quite a bit of textures and won't blend the colors all the way down because it's closer to what's real.

PPD: You teach retouching, as well, yes? Online? In person?

TB:  Both actually! Prepandemic,I had several in-person workshops for retouching and lighting and I will be starting those back up within the next several months. These work better for those who need that individualized hands on approach. I also offer online retouching one on ones which work well for most people who can watch and absorb information verbally!

TIP

PPD: What advice do you have for someone who is just starting out in portraiture work and needs to build up some experience?

TB: Photography is very much a marathon not a sprint. It's a journey and as long as you're learning and moving forward, it's ok to never reach the end of your “journey.” The point of all of this is to enjoy the journey itself, not to reach the end. So even if you get frustrated, find value and utility in your mistakes. Your hurdles are “areas of opportunity” for you to learn something new. Explore intelligently and keep pushing forward!

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