Personality Photographer and Makeup artist working togther for a headshot client

Makeup tips for headshots

How to do makeup for headshots yourself: know what's important

Natural Look, not “Light” makeup

For headshots, you want natural look makeup, not “light” makeup. The key difference is that, if you apply foundation makeup too lightly, the application tends to be uneven and you can see mottled pattern in the picture. To avoid this, use a good amount of foundation with attention to make it uniform. Also, don’t be afraid to use a lot of setting powder, compared to when you are going to, say, a workplace or a party. What you need is good coverage combined with natural look finish.

Always good start is a clean and healthy skin, well moisturized. Use primer where appropriate.

Color of foundation

Match the color of foundation to the natural color of your skin in neck/chest area. Some people (especially with fair skin) often choose a color darker than the skin tone, and that is fine for social events. However, in photography, always match your foundation color to the rest of your skin. If you prefer to alter the skin tone in your photograph, the whole skin color can be adjusted darker or warmer to make it look most attractive during editing.

The best type of foundation is liquid type. For headshots, oil-free (water or alcohol based) or those that contain just right amount of oil is best. In particular, oil-free matte finish foundation is most common for beauty headshots, but it is a bit difficult to apply as they dry quickly, and it also makes caky look if applied too thickly. Avoid “sheer look” type as they have a bit too much oil to give excessive shine in the pictures, but sometimes oil based or silicon based foundation is used with a lot of powder. Powder or compact foundation doesn’t quite give the right level of coverage for photoshoots.

Lips

The color of the lips should be one notch darker than the best look in person. The lips should be shifted in the direction of darker red. Also, lip gloss is often effective in making the lips fuller.

Eyes

Wax your eyebrows a couple of days in advance. Trying to reshape the brows through retouching process is possible, but costs more time and money than getting them waxed in real life.

Fill in your brows, especially if you are not going for a retouching option. Make sure your brows are clear and dark enough when viewed in soft natural window light.

Mascara is also appropriate for headshots. Darker color works better for mascara, so black is usually the best choice, even if you normally use brown.

For natural look headshots like actress audition or corporate bio, there is no need to use heavy eye makeup at all. But if you are going for more styled photographs, the eye accents should be one notch heavier or vibrant.

You can wear false lashes for most types of work other than the actor’s headshot. In photographs, the lashes do not look as long and drastic as you see in the mirror.

Keep this in mind: the photographic lighting biases your face color to the lighter side, and eyes are where you get the most attention.

Blush

Use blush in one small notch darker than the best look in person. However, please make sure to make a few well diffused applications in small quantities. The first time should be applied and spread in a wide circle, and the second and third in progressively smaller areas. This is to make sure that the edges of the blush are gradual and not abrupt. You can always add more, but once you apply too much in one application, it is hard to blur the edge or remove some.

Powder

Don’t be afraid to use a lot more powder than usual. A lot of setting or finishing powder is routinely used in fashion and beauty photography to reduce shimmer and make the skin look matte. You will realize that a professional makeup artist will keep applying powder every 10–20 minutes of the shoot to prevent shiny skin. You should bring yours and apply extra powder regularly.

For party makeup, shimmer can look great, but in photography, use matte finish.

Hair (also for men)

You may want to use hair spray, gel, and other products to tame frizz and make your hair look healthy. Make sure to avoid products that give a matte look. These are fine for some situations, but not for a photo shoot. Matte finished hair will look dull and lifeless in pictures. Instead, use hair products that enhance shine. Hair shine sprays of various kinds are available for women (Biosilk spray is a favorite in the studio) and American Crew makes a good line of hair products for men.

Oily skin

The best way to control oily skin is mattifying gel (cream) that is easy to apply and works well with skin of all types and colors (available in studio).

A more traditional recommendation is colorless translucent powder, such as L’Oreal Bare Naturale mattifying mineral finish powder (also available in studio), which works well for light skin, but not so on darker skin.

Further Reading

Want to learn makeup for photography work? Here’re two books that Beaupix Photographer found useful:


Would rather hire a professional?

Beaupix Studio works with several experienced professional makeup artists and can book one for your session. Check out professional makeup artist page

If you would rather do the makeup yourself but need help, please ask your photographer during the telephone consulting call. There are numerous cosmetic counters in Boston, but not all companies train their staff well, and some have better selection of products.


Review: MAC powder products

MAC Blot Powder (#2) has more gray and less red, thus is duller and appears darker in photographs than MAC Mineralize Skinfinish powder of comparable shades (#1) or an even darker shade (#3). MAC Mineralize Skinfinish powders have more red and less gray. Apparently, they market Blot Powder for people with more oily skin to control shine, and being more modestly toned, it’s more forgiving of imprecision in application. However, faces finished with this Blot Powder look lifeless in photography, and are difficult to retouch in order to regain the look of a healthy skin tone, while those finished with Mineralize Skinfinish powders look more lively, even when toned down during the retouching process.

MAC Powder Products compared by a personality headshot photographer