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How to Apply Makeup for Portrait Photography

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Read Time: 4 mins

High-power strobes and telephoto lenses allow us to see faces in great detail, and getting the makeup right is critical. In this photography makeup tutorial, you will learn how photography changes how you approach applying makeup.

How Applying Makeup for Photography Differs From Everyday Makeup

For photography purposes, you need to apply your makeup a little heavier than you would on an everyday basis. If you were to apply your everyday makeup the way that you apply your photography makeup, people might look at you a little bit strangely. In order for makeup to read strong through the camera, it has to be heavier.

When you are applying your product for photography purposes, you want to make sure that you're using natural lighting. If you're using other forms of lighting, they could change the way that you're seeing your own complexion and your own face and alter how you apply makeup.

What you'll want to be looking for in a lighting source is something with a high CRI rating. CRI is colour rendering index. Inexpensive LED and fluorescent lights tend to have a lower CRI, and that will make your subject look green, or even kind of purple. They often have a spike in the green wavelengths or in the magenta or purple wavelengths, which is definitely not what you want to be seeing.

Another great option for lighting is to use a traditional tungsten or halogen fixture, because they have a CRI rating of 100, which is the same as the sun. That's pretty much the best that you can get, especially if you're on a bit of a budget.

You can use a video light that is tungsten or halogen based, and a big soft box would work great. But you want to make sure that you get a really high colour rendering on the light source so that you're seeing the faces exactly how the strobes will see them.

woman applying makeupwoman applying makeupwoman applying makeup
Photo By Image-Source on Envato Elements

Makeup to Avoid for Photography

Depending on the lighting that you're going to be using for your photo shoots, make sure that you don't use any skincare products with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor). For that matter, avoid any makeup that would have SPF formulated into the product.

The flash of the photo could pick up on the iridescence of an SPF, and typically skin will look a little bit more on the white side or washed out—not exactly what we're hoping for. The last thing you want is for a flushed look that any flash could catch with SPF on your skin.

Some products with SPF do not exhibit flashback, and some do. Using a lower angle of light, such as on-camera flash, will make this phenomenon much worse. If you have to use a product with SPF, test it out before the shoot to make sure it won't cause flashback.

Glow or Satin Finish to the Skin

For some photography purposes, you might want a glow finish or a satin finish to the skin. The majority of the times you want to keep shine to a minimum, so you have to know where to strategically place it. Sheen or shine can read as oily or almost greasy on the skin in photographs. So be careful where you place your sheen, and then also counteract that with some more matte shades, so the skin looks healthy.

That's another thing that you can simulate with where you put your lights as well. Even if you're using soft boxes, depending on the angle of the light, that can work to accentuate or diminish the amount of reflectivity or specular highlights you're getting in the skin.

A lot of times, if you're using a kicker light from the back to give a little highlight on the cheekbone or the jaw, even if you're using a pretty big soft box, it can look as if the skin is shinier than it actually is because of the way that the light is reflecting off the skin.

If you want to go for that 'glowy' look, make sure that it's going to work with your lighting setup as well, because if it doesn't, it can look really oily.

Colour Choices

If you are working on a beauty shoot, you'll then have some room to play with more colour versus just the natural shades that we've discussed. If you use a complementary colour to your eye shade to enhance your eyes, that's often great for photography, especially when knowing where to place your sheen and your matte colours.

Typically, stay away from any shine or glitter or anything that will reflect more light. Instead, stick to more matte colours that would be complementary to your eyes.

For lips, use something that's more natural as far as tone goes, but depending on the photo shoot, you have a lot of room to play with colours on the eyes, lips, and cheeks.

I hope you enjoyed this photography makeup tutorial. In the next tutorial, we're going to be talking about how makeup is different for video applications.

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