Makeup for dummies (AKA guys who would be photographers)

This post could be subtitled Every Thing Men Wanted to Know About Makeup But Were Afraid to Ask.

I am fortunate enough to have appreciated first hand the quality enhancement professional makeup brings to portraiture so I will put it straight: makeup is a necessary evil  makeup is an integral part of the resulting image quality. So guys, do not be afraid of makeup, it helps more than you think and not all women can do their own makeup to the level of a professional.

And how did I get to those conclusions? Simple really, I went back to fundamentals and inspired by math humour (and the classic MONEY = WORK/KNOWLEDGE theorem), I examined the underlying equations to the problem:

Fact #1: When done properly, makeup adds to a woman’s beauty (math translation: WOMAN + MAKEUP = BEAUTY)

Fact #2: Women get their portrait shot to look beautiful (math translation: WOMAN + PORTRAIT = BEAUTY)

The two equations above yield MAKEUP = PORTRAIT, or in plain English, makeup makes the portrait. This supports my first claim. There is an interesting corollary as well: since WOMAN is removed from the equation, it means that the theorem equally applies to men… (albeit to a different extent)

Now the second claim is sort of self-evident but let me illustrate this with an equation which is not only applicable to makeup but also to most human endeavours:


No solving needed: regardless of the innate talent, the practice and time devoted to the craft by professionals, and knowledge acquired through formal training, put their work in a different class.

Here’s another truth that took me multiple discussions on the topic to comprehend and that all women know instinctively: makeup is like non-destructive sculpting of the face. Facial topology and features can be compensatedassisted by makeup.

Obligatory caveat: I will now refer to makeup artists using the feminine form. Although I do not know any non-female makeup artists, it is still meant to be gender-neutral.

I read several books on fashion photography and the tip often given is to familiarize oneself with makeup and learn enough to be able to perform basic makeup tasks. I have yet to handle a brush, pad or any other implements of makeup so I prefer to resort to the following three laws of makeup:

  1. Trust the makeup artist. She knows WAY more than you do.
  2. Involve the makeup artist in the creative process. It takes a lot of creativity to get in that field. Refer to 1.
  3. In terms of makeup, the makeup artist has the final say. What you dreamed up and think looks real sassy, she may think it looks real cheap… Refer to 1.

We’re done with philosophizing, let’s get down to photography. For this project, I worked with Annick N. as makeup artist and Nancy as model. We decided on three different makeup schemes and the pictures were all shot on simple white backdrop using 2-3 studio monolights.

I really enjoyed the collaboration as it highly enhanced the quality of the pictures and simplified the post-processing work quite a bit. Makeup for photography differs than for other media as, among other things, it needs to control the skin specularity under intense light flashes. It makes the photographer’s work so much easier as reflected light is nice and uniform, without any hot spots.

Would I do portraiture again without the help of a makeup artist? Probably not for closeups of the face and particularly of the eyes as the quality of the makeup is particularly apparent. I am now such a believer in the makeup that I notice and examine its quality when studying images from fashion magazines (when I wait for a haircut…)

So there it is, all you need to know about makeup from a guy’s perspective.

Equipment: Canon DSLR 5D Mk II, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS macro lens

One thought on “Makeup for dummies (AKA guys who would be photographers)

  1. Pingback: Portrait session: immortalizing long hair | SPH3RE

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