Ahh, the photo sometimes jokingly referred to as the Oil of Olay shot, because this sort of photo is often used to advertise cosmetic products. It is fairly simple and not stylized much and has many features that might make people think it’s a boring type of photo, but it still has one attribute keeping it a perennial favorite; it’s probably the best sort of photo for the simple purpose of saying “oohh, isn’t she pretty” in a visual way.
This type of shot is primarily determined by the sort of light used. The basics are to put one light near the subject, above and in front of them angled at 45°. Then place another light below the subject basically as a mirror to the above light. This arrangement can be described as being like an open “clamshell,” thus the name of the lighting setup. The photographer has to shoot through the small gap between the two lights. The bottom light, as fill, can either be an actual light or a fill card. Many photographers, myself included, like the top light as a beauty dish with a diffusion sock. I personally use a reflector as a bottom fill, but a small softbox would allow more control. The reason I use the card is currently the softboxes I have are too large to be convenient for this shot. This light setup shows the woman’s features in the best possible light; soft and shadows that aren’t too dark.
I have improved on this type of shot, primarily because I have learned to make the light on the subject more intense, which makes everything work better. White backgrounds aren’t necessary, but are the customary background for this type of shot. I use a Lastolite backlight for this sort of thing currently, but a large softbox or illuminated piece of white background paper could also be used. However you choose to do the background, the important thing to remember is to illuminate it just barely enough to make it white, unless you want the light from it to spill onto your subject.
Post processing is very simple, usually at least. I do some basic adjustments in Lightroom, primarily increasing the contrast a little. Then I go into Photoshop and retouch the images according to the methods laid out in Scott Kelby’s Proffesional Portrait Retouching Techniques for Photographers using Photoshop. The vast majority of the time, that’s it. You might notice that in one of the shots, I applied the High Key filter from Color Efex Pro4.
I have made this sort of photo with every female model I’ve worked with thus far.