Men’s Magazine Cover Tutorial

Aside from the occasional rant about economics or society, I blog primarily about video production. However, I also do – and love doing – professional photography. One of my pet peeves about photography is the industry-wide obsession with gear. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my career, it’s that you don’t need most of the stuff you think you need.

To wit, I wrote an eBook a while ago called “You Can Shoot Upscale Glamour.” In this book, I go through eight detailed setups (complete with 3D diagrams that I created in Blender 3D) using extremely minimal gear. No more than three lights for any setup, and no softboxes at all!

For those that are interested in such things, I used Photogenic lamps to shoot this, but you could use inexpensive off-camera flash units, or even work lamps.

Here is a sample chapter from my book. Enjoy!

Using a bright background and soft keylight allows you to create the look associated with upscale men’s magazines. Simple posing guidelines guarantee great results.


A large, shoot-through umbrella creates a reliable soft source for the model and the portion of the white background in front of her. Using a light on either side of the background will overexpose it nicely. Use white foamcore to block the background lights from hitting the model directly.

As you see in this diagram, you can position another piece of white foamcore on the side of the model opposite the key light to fill in the shadows.

As shown here, you can use more foamcore to block the background lights from hitting your lens and causing unwanted lens flare.


This type of setup works well with a lot of warm, golden tones in the makeup. A model with a deep tan will look terrific with this setup, while a model with fairer skin will need a little work in post to keep from looking too pale.


An astonishing number of men’s magazine covers use almost exactly the same pose: the model kneeling at an angle to the camera, looking at the lens. Of course, you shouldn’t limit yourself to this, but you can achieve several variations on this pose very easily just by having the model lean lean forward at varying angles. In this sequence of photos, notice how the placement of the model’s hands and shoulders determines her posture. Directing your model to arch her back, regardless of how she’s positioned, will usually give you good results.


The goal of post-processing with this shot is to keep the clean, white background, while giving the model a healthy skintone, and maintaining an overall high-contrast look.

1. Start off with a “flat” setting. [This is covered in greater detail elsewhere in the book, but the basic idea is to zero out all the contrast and exposure settings in your RAW processing software, and then to build the desired look on that neutral foundation.]

2. Slowly bring up the contrast to taste. If this doesn’t give you pure white in the foreground, add a negative-strength (makes it brighter) vignette.

3. Bring up the blacks until the eyelashes and other areas look pure black. Bring the exposure up until you start losing detail in skintones. Pull the brightness down to regain detail in skin. For this look, some clipped highlights are okay.

4. Bring the overall saturation up a little bit. Then bring the orange and red saturation up a bit more to make the skintones glow. If your model’s skin or the makeup leaves something to be desired, you may not be able to increase the red saturation without exaggerating blemishes. You can also try increasing the red luminance a bit to diminish complexion issues, but be careful not to let the lips start looking too pale.

If you like this example, check out “You Can Shoot Upscale Glamour” for seven more complete setups!

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