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How to Apply Photographic Make-Up

Good Lighting. Good Brushes. Good Products.

Applying make-up for a photo shoot is not the same as applying it for a daytime or evening look. The lighting for photography is typically much brighter and the shadow formations can be very different from the norm. Every aspect requires consideration, and careful preparation is vital to a flawless look for photography.

A good set of make-up brushes is essential to the good application of make-up. Brushes need not be expensive or ‘professional’ but you should have a good range of brushes for all different types of applications. A good range of brushes can be bought fairly cheaply from eBay.

Troubles with Photography 

There are many reasons as to what can cause a negative effect on the look of your make-up. The lighting is the number one reason for a failed look if it has not been taken into consideration. There are questions that a make-up artist needs to ask prior to beginning, questions such as, which angles will the lighting be coming from? Will there be a mix of daylight and flash light? Is the photo shoot indoors or outdoors?

Photo shoots can take a long time. It is essential to use the correct products and correct techniques for longer lasting make-up.


Dark and Light – Shading and Highlighting

With photography, the rounded parts of a person’s face such as the cheeks, the chin and the forehead are usually made to appear brighter due to the flash. Areas of natural shade such as the eye sockets, dimples, under the nose and lower lip etc will all come up darker if the lighting is coming from above the person. It is essential to know exactly where the lighting will be coming from so that you can predict where the shadows will fall, and which areas will be naturally highlighted. When you have a good idea about the lighting effects then you will be better prepared to create the perfect make-up look.

Concealer and Corrective Make-Up

Using the correct concealer is vital to a flawless finish even with regular make-up but with photographic make-up, the need for concealer is much greater. The harsh lighting acts to highlight every flaw small or big. Every freckle, mole, dimple, spot, discolouration and scar from ten years ago will show up. To avoid this disaster, a good set of concealer is required. Use green/olive to cover up reds, use lilac/purple to cover up yellowing areas and use the natural/beige to cover discolouration such as dark circles.


Foundation and Blusher

With the foundation is it better to use something light and powdery as opposed to creamy. Ensure that whichever foundation is used it is a shade or two darker than would normally be required as well as matte. If the foundation is not made to a matte finish it will become reflective, making you or your model appear oily skinned.

The blusher is very important and can be completely bleached out of a photo due to the flash. The way to ensure that it can be seen within the finished photos is to apply a darker blusher with an angle blusher brush a little lower down on the cheek than usual. Apply it in a more angled manner, perhaps not following the natural cheekbones. Use a lighter shade of blusher and apply it above the previously applied blusher and then using a darker shade, shade out underneath the blushed area. This will allow the blusher to pop as opposed to becoming bleached out.

Use lighter and darker shades to highlight or shade out the areas that will be affected by the lighting, for example, if the lighting is coming from above, use a lighter shade of foundation or concealer under the eyes to reduce a bagging effect caused by shadows.


Eye shadows – Cream/Powder

Cream eyeshadow should be avoided on the eyes. This advice does not necessarily apply to only photographic make-up but in general, cream eyeshadows create creases and accentuate wrinkles, which is bad! It is possible to use creams provided that a good loose, translucent powder is placed on top to ensure a matte finish.

Good blending of all eyeshadows (as well as blushers and foundations) is essential. The harsh flash lighting from photography will highlight unblended edges making the make-up appear badly applied. A good range of brushes is essential for good blending.

Whichever eyeshadow you wish to use, it is essential that you choose colours that are a shade or two darker than what you would wear outdoors. The reason again is that the flash from the camera tends to bleach the colours making them appear much lighter. It is worth remembering that even eye colour will appear lighter. If your model has dark brown eyes (almost black) they can appear light brown to hazel under a bright flash.

Eyebrows and lashes

The colour of eyebrows is normally bleached in photography as well. Naturally, a person’s eyebrows are lighter and darker in different areas. Using a fine angle brush, apply a powder eyeshadow that is a shade darker than your natural eyebrows. Using a fine angle brush will help to create a defined look and applying a highlighter beneath the brow will help to accentuate them.

Eyelashes may appear lighter, thinner or shorter than usual and so it is essential that very dark mascara be applied as well as a good set of false lashes. The false lashes do not need to be very thick or unnatural looking, they can be a natural set that will simply work to thicken and enhance the colour of your natural lashes. 


If you wish to use a glitter then I would suggest that you use a fine shimmer instead. Glitter can reflect harshly against the flash causing many problems with the lighting effects. If a fine shimmer powder is applied instead, it will still reflect the flash of the camera but to a good degree, which will resemble the effects of glitter under normal lighting. 

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Gloss and Lipstick

Gloss or glossy lipstick is a great product for enhancing the lips but in photos, you risk making them look too harsh. A better way to enhance the lips for photographs is to keep them matte, use a lip liner to accentuate the edges and use shading and highlighting to make them pop. Apply the lip liner first and then the lipstick using a lip brush. Then, using regular eyeshadows in a shade lighter and a shade darker, apply the darker shade at the corners of the mouth blending it inwards towards the middle. Using the lighter shade, apply a small amount to the centre of the lips top and bottom. This will provide a pout effect without having to use reflective gloss.

Ten Quick Photographic Make-Up Tips

1. Choose a shade darker for foundation and shadows

2. Darken your eyebrows and use black mascara/extensions

3. Use lip liner

4. Use light shimmer powder as opposed to glitter

5. Mattify your lips and eyeshadow

6. Prepare for lighting direction/imagine where shadows will likely form

7. Disguise as many blemishes as possible

8. Aim for your look to be a bit dramatic

9. Have a good variety of brushes

10. Use tips for longer lasting make-up 

I Love Bobbi Brown


Lila on April 25, 2012:

Love it! Thanks. Any suggestions for covering acne scars? :(

basma on April 02, 2012:

wow!! thank god I read this article, I should careful on wearing makeup..especially during big occasion involve in photo shoot

Maggie Griess from Ontario, Canada on December 10, 2010:


Thank you, these are certainly hints I have never come upon anywhere else! Much appreciated!

Jacqueline (author) from Windsor, England on December 10, 2010:

Thanks Scribenet.

For wrinkles, it is simply a case of blending highlights and shading in the correct areas.

Highlight within creases/wrinkles and shade the surrounding areas. This will normally help to make it appear smoother. The tones (for regular make-up) don't need to be too much lighter/darker for the effect to work. Once blended, set with a loose, translucent powder. Never use cream products.

I might do a hub on corrective make-up, which will cover this in more detail.

Hope it all helps.

Thanks for reading.

Maggie Griess from Ontario, Canada on December 10, 2010:

Interesting tips. I think everyone who wants a professional photograph taken should be given a set of instructions like these to experiment with!

Do you have a set of special tips for older women who are experiencing wrinkles, etc?

Great Hub!

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