Tech Talk: What Photographers Should Know About Makeup

By Don Becker of db Creative Images Photography OMP Member #155

My involvement with women’s makeup began almost 20 years ago, when I first started teaching a glamour photography workshop.

I was aware of how important makeup can be for beauty and glamour photography, and I decided to have the first model of each workshop do her makeup in front of the class at the start of the workshop.

While most women know about makeup, virtually all men have little or no knowledge about the intricacies of makeup or the HUGE difference it can make in the look of a model.

After running this workshop 15 or 20 times, I decided that it did not look so difficult, so I purchased the appropriate materials and proceeded to start helping to do the makeup for some of my shoots, especially for beginning or inexperienced models.

I found it interesting to do, and particularly rewarding when completely transforming the looks of an aspiring model. In the rest of this article, I will describe some of what I feel are the most important steps in the makeup routine; how photographers can evaluate the makeup on the model they are about to shoot, and perhaps suggest modifications and/or additions to their makeup to better suit the aims of the shoot.

(Disclaimer: Actual makeup artists — also known as MUAs — have extensive training and usually are licensed, so untrained persons cannot legally charge for their services, and must be aware of their limitations, including makeup techniques which could cause problems and/or injury. Photographers can participate as a friend who is helping the model with her makeup.)

STEP 1: COVER STICK – A white or very light cream, usually in stick form, which is important as a first step, to cover difficult blemishes or discolorations.

STEP 2: OPAQUE FOUNDATION – Most foundations are translucent, which allows blemishes and skin unevenness to show through; unless she has perfect skin, the model should use a foundation which hides skin irregularities.

STEP 3: EYELINER AND SHADOW – Black or dark brown eyeliner (used in moderation except if going for an exotic or very dressy look) plus dark gray eye shadow (earth tones for younger models or for a more natural look) can emphasize and make the eyes a focal point.

STEP 4: COUNTOUR POWDER – You can use a dark reddish color called “brick”; very useful in moderation to help define the cheek line and give a “sunken cheek” look. Applied with large soft makeup brush.

STEP 5: LIP PENCILS AND LIPSTICKS – Without lip coloration, the lips often are lost in the face. Outline with lipstick pencil (usually one or two shades darker than the lipstick) and then fill in lipstick with lip brush or direct application.

STEP 6: TRANSLUCENT POWDER – Actually, the powder, applied with a large soft makeup brush (not the one used for contour!) should be used after each makeup step, to help “set” the makeup. It is also invaluable for eliminating facial “shine,” and should be used throughout the shoot at the first sign of shine (i.e., oil and/or perspiration on face giving specular highlights).

The application of makeup to a face is an art just as much as painting and drawing. Just as every artist knows how to use shades and colors to make something project forward or recede, the makeup artist can do the same. Light shades and colors project outward, while dark shades and colors make that area appear farther back. There are many different techniques, and almost every model does their makeup in a different way, most with good results. Each time you watch or do makeup, you learn something new.

Keep in mind that makeup also can be used to modify the model’s features. A nose can be made to look narrower, eyes can be made to look more set apart, a double chin can be made less prominent, etc. And, of course, many of these makeup features can in some degree be duplicated in PhotoshopTM, with the addition of substantial post-production effort.

Don Becker is a scientist, a professional photographer, and a long-time faculty member and technical director of a professional photography school located in the Washington DC area. For more about Don, check out his OMP portfolio.

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