No matter how much you research your lighting, no matter how hard you search for the model with the perfectly-chiseled cheekbones and that rare genetic defect that renders her skin totally without pores, you'll never be able to master the delicate alchemy of the truly professional-looking image if you're missing one of the most vital, but oft-overlooked ingredients: proper makeup application.
Sure, you think — I've got that down. All of my models know how to do their own makeup; they come wearing what they normally wear. Perhaps you're a female photographer and you think to yourself, Of course I know how to do makeup. I’m a GIRL. Well, there’s a difference between what works for day-to-day life, and what works on camera — even when what you’re shooting is everyday, non-fancy people doing everyday, non-fancy things.
Without hours and hours of practice, lots of research, and a strong kit, your results just won't rival a MuA who knows what they're doing. However, if you have a passion for perfection, a critical eye, and experience in drawing/painting/photoshop, you can definitely have images that show a bit more polish and professionalism than you’d get otherwise — and at the very least, you could end up saving yourself a ton of time post-processing!
Before you even sit down to decide what approach you (or your MuA) want to take for your model’s look, there are questions you need to ask yourself. What’s the lighting going to be like for most of the shoot? Am I using any color-casting gels? Will this be high or low key? If you’re shooting outdoors, what’s the light look at this time of day? Will I be converting some, most, all, or none of these pictures to black and white? The answers to each one of these questions can drastically affect how the makeup looks in the pictures. Here’s a quick cheat sheet for things to remember in different situations.
Shooting with flash or strobes:
Check the ingredients in the model’s foundation. If you see the words titanium dioxide, do not use it. Titanium Dioxide is a natural sunscreen that’s put into many types of primer makeup; it’s pretty undetectable to the naked eye, but it works by reflecting light and shielding the skin. What this means when you’re dealing with extremely high-powered lighting is that the titanium dioxide reflects TOO much, giving the face (and anywhere the TD product is applied) a masklike pallor that doesn’t jive with the rest of their skin. If you don’t have the time to check the ingredients of everything on the drugstore shelf, just steer away from anything with an SPF rating, and you should be fine.
A lot of contouring (we’ll get to that in a bit) will completely wash out if you’re not careful. Don’t overdo the cosmetic contouring to the point where the model’s skin looks dirty, but try to help the contouring do its job by directing the light to hit the model’s highlights. If you’re going for an extremely high-key look, skip the contouring altogether — it will work against the effect you’re trying to achieve. Instead, concentrate on making a strong graphic statement: if you want eye or lip treatments to show up at all in a strongly high-key shot, you have to really over-pigment the areas in question. And don’t even bother with pastel colors — reds, charcoals, jewel-tones and rich, chocolatey browns work best.
If you’re shooting in gorgeously warm, honey-colored light and your model’s face was done with shades of bronze and gold and brown, it will look like she’s not wearing any makeup at all. If that’s what you’re going for, good! If not, choose colors that will compliment the image’s color scheme, but contrast enough to show.
Black and white:
The most important thing to remember is to smooth out the tonal values of the skin. Get rid of any red spots, as they will show up as random gray splotches on otherwise phenomenal skin. The nature of black and white tends to cover a multitude of dermatological sins, so there’s no need to overdo it with the foundation. If you’ve spent any time developing your own black and white prints, the following won’t be anything new — warm colors, especially reds, look far lighter in black and white than they do in color, and cooler tones, especially blues, look far darker. That charcoal eye shadow won’t show up as a lovely dramatic black unless you pile it on — finding a nice, rich navy might do you more good. And, of course, that luscious fire-engine red lipstick will probably make your model’s lips look paler than the rest of her skin. The makeup for a good black and white shoot might look garish and circuslike in person, but remember, color doesn’t matter here, only tonal values.
If you have a background in art in any shape or form, this section should be easy to grasp. When you sketch the human form and face, it sort of becomes ingrained in you that, due to the skeletal structure of a person, light and shadow fall in certain places. By contouring cosmetically, you get that great, editorial-style look where the cheekbones pop and the nose looks more slender. It certainly won't end up looking as dramatic as what you see in Vanity Fair unless it's done by a real pro, with strong chiaroscuro in the lighting, and a decent amount of post-processing in Photoshop — but it will define the facial structure of your model much more than normal makeup would, and it will make him or her look far more attractive in the images as well.
One of the easiest mistakes to make is to blush the apples of the cheeks without contouring—most people use a shade of blush darker than their skintone, and the best way to get those great, defined cheekbones is by highlighting the bones themselves. Blushing without contouring basically amounts to trying to place shadow where light should be, and you lose a good amount of skeletal detail. Highlights should be applied down the bridge of the nose, on the forehead and chin, along the cheekbones, just under the arch of the eyebrow and under the eyes. Shadow should be applied along the jaw and hairline, feathered into the hollows below the cheekbones, and on the temples.
The powder you use really depends on the finish you're going for. If you want a nice matte look, there are contouring powders out there — or if you're on a budget, use matte eyeshadows. For a more glowing look, bronzer makes a good shadow. Choose a shadow that is slightly darker than the darkest part of your model's face; highlighter is more universal, feel free to use a matte white shadow (or, if you work with a lot of dark, highly-pigmented models, you may want to choose a warm off-white or something else with a bit more yellow or red in it, to ensure that the skintone looks more mahogany than ashen).
Remember — this is not the only makeup you do, unless you're going for a polished, "no makeup" look. This is the foundation you play on.
One of the most wholesome, fresh, and stock-friendly makeup looks is the “dewy” look: natural, glowing, and young. It’s trickier than it looks, but can be achieved pretty well with the right tools and the right model.
Let's take one of my favorite cosmetic staples, the highlight powder. I use MAC Pigment in Lily White, but Vanilla or Frost would work just as well. These powders have a high pigment payload (as evidenced by their name) and ingredients that cause them to adhere extremely well to the skin — there's no real way to "blend it into place," because it stays where you put it. Plus, MAC pigment has a highly pearlescent (refractive) finish.
There are some pros and cons to this, of course. You don't want to slather on the pigment, because it IS like applying extra light — you will blow out your highlights if there's too much. And what can look really great in person can really screw things up in camera. So here's some tips to help you translate your favorite looks properly to the camera.
There’s the "dewy" look, where everything's moist and has a certain sheen without being too shimmery. It works best on people with flawless skin — the more shine and shimmer the skin has, the better that texture imperfection will show up. Due to the way light reflects, a lot of shine in scarred or wrinkled skin will also create shadow — easy to see at 100%, but easy to miss in person. You'll have to spend a lot of time softening the effect, which will mean that the great dewy look you spent so much effort to create will be all but lost.
If you have a model with great skin, you're not going to need to do a lot to even the skintone. You can create a tinted moisturizer by mixing a little bit of foundation with a light oil-free moisturizer. This will smooth out any dry patches and leave the skin looking moist and fresh. If you like, you can mix a small amount of your highlight pigment into the tinted moisturizer for a little extra glow. For arms and legs, collarbones, and any other places that look great with highlight, I always mix the pigment and moisturizer together (no tint, unless the skintone needs serious smoothing) and apply where the light hits — the place where the clavicle juts out, the highlighted spots on the limbs, the tops of the shoulders, etc. This adds the illusion of more muscle tone, as well as translates that healthy, dewy glow to the rest of the skin — it's important that all the skin that shows get some sort of treatment, if only some last-minute moisture, so that you don't end up with someone who seems to have lush, amazing skin on their face and dry, pale, crackly skin everywhere else.
If a model has chapped lips, bring a soft-bristled toothbrush and have them brush their lips to exfoliate the dead skin. Then apply moisturizer. If you want a glossy look without blowing out the highlights or looking like you covered the model's lips in patent leather, apply the moisturizer with pigment to the lips, then cover with lip balm to add a little extra moisture to the look. If you want a bit of gloss without going 110% glam, add some clear or contrasting gloss in the "bubble" of the lips: the place on the bottom lip, right in the center, where the light hits. That will give you the wet look while not making your exposure scream for mercy.
If you’re a photographer who is considering buying your own makeup kit, sanitation should be your top priority. Most beauty supply stores sell brush cleanser; an alternative is using hand sanitizer followed by soaking the brushes in warm, soapy water. A less economical, but far easier solution is to use disposable everything: disposable eyeshadow wands, blush and foundation wedges, disposable mascara wands. (Disposable mascara wands are advisable, regardless; never dip a wand that has been in someone’s eyelashes into your mascara!) Even discounting the fact that many models have sensitive skin, it’s good practice to use clean instruments because your makeup will adhere to the skin better, and the color will be truer to what you see in your palettes.
For quick basics, usable on men, women, and children:
Rice blotting paper: Absorbs excess oil and shine. Don’t leave home without them. Just remember to press gently, and don’t rub.
Clear mascara: Defines lashes without looking like mascara; good for men and women. Also good for taming super-unruly eyebrows.
Lip balm: To moisten lips for men and women.
Shine eraser: Many cosmetics companies have some sort of “shine eraser,” usually in powder or crayon form. When applied to shiny areas, it magically prevents shine from happening.
If you’re looking for something more involved, you can add the following:
Highlight powder: There are plenty out on the market. Look for something pale, refractive, and highly pigmented. White (or very pale, warm-tone pastel-colored) eyeshadow also works.
Contouring powder: Any neutral pigment that is neither too light nor too dark for the skintone of your model. Bronzer works well in a pinch.
Fake eyelashes: There aren’t enough good things to say about these little beauties. Once you get used to applying them, it’s easier than applying mascara! Fake eyelashes open up the eyes a hundredfold. Just examine the lashline carefully to make sure the lashes are completely anchored. And don’t reuse eyelashes on multiple models!
Neutral lip liner: Changing the shape of the lips can completely transform a person’s face. Or, in a pinch, fill a model’s lip with a neutral shade of lip liner and top with lip balm for a polished but natural look.
You can always look for a Makeup Artist, or MuA. You can find them on sites like ModelMayhem and One Model Place—but it can be difficult to find a MuA worth their salt who’s willing to operate on a TFCD (“time for CD,” where they work in exchange for images for their portfolio) basis. Some MuAs will do “Test shoots” where they work for free once, as an audition for paying work; others will work TFCD but charge “kit fees”—usually around $25.00—for replacing the makeup they use. The vast majority of professional MuAs in large cities will require payment, except in the rare case that the shoot involves professional, agency models. Whereas stock photography revels in “real people,” the cosmetic industry creates a mystique of unattainable beauty; as a result, the most beautiful images with the most beautiful makeup are useless in a MuA portfolio unless the makeup happens to be on the most beautiful face. Most MuAs will charge by the day, with half-day and full-day rates that vary due to experience, geographic location, and project.
When you have a MuA willing to work with you in exchange for images from the shoot, be sure to cater to their unique needs. Close-up “beauty” shots which show off the MuA’s hard work are best; keep post-processing to a minimum for the artist, as no one is better at discerning the difference between outstanding makeup and a photographer’s airbrushing than a MuA’s potential employer. Do fix small things if necessary, but at least for the MuA’s portfolio, do not mess with the makeup!
and makeup artist
All other images by dissolvegirl