Boston photographer teamed up with makeup artists for headshots and corporate portraits.
Boston photographer with a network of makeup artists

Makeup tips for headshot photography

Makeup key points to make a stunning natural look, by a Boston photographer who specializes in headshots.

Natural Look, not “Light” makeup

For headshots, you want natural-look makeup. “Light” makeup is suitable as long as it is natural and evenly applied. It is more important to aim for a natural look than “light.” Although both can be accomplished simultaneously, it is important to prevent an uneven application. To avoid this, use a minimum amount that ensures uniformity. Also, don’t be afraid to apply setting powder, more than when you are making up for in-person activities, say, going to a workplace or a party. What you need is even coverage combined with natural look finish.

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

Color of foundation

Match the color of the foundation to the natural color of your skin in neck/chest area. Some people (especially with fair skin) often choose a shade 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 the liquid type. For headshots, oil-free (water or alcohol based) is best. In particular, oil-free matte finish foundation is most common for headshots, but some find it a bit difficult to apply, as they dry quickly, and it also makes a caky look if applied too thickly. Avoid “sheer look” (or glowy or dewy) type as they give excessive shine in the pictures. (Those latter type of makeup is popular for party makeup, as some like the way they look in person, and they last for many hours, especially the ones that are silicone-based. Very few makeup artists who are familiar with photo shoots use those, at least for commercial work in the US.) Powder or compact foundation doesn’t provide the right level of coverage for photo shoots.


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 used in making the lips fuller.


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 eyebrows 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 usually 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 darker 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.


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, it is tough to blur the edge or remove some.


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. However, if you are taking a corporate or professional headshot, you probably want to use the next technique to control the shiny skin instead.

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

Oily skin

The best way to control oily skin is a blotter sheet (available in the studio). If this is not enough, mattifying gel (cream) is easy to apply and works well with the skin of all types and colors (also available in the studio).

A more traditional recommendation is colorless translucent powder, such as L’Oreal Bare Naturale mattifying mineral finish powder (also available in the studio), which works well for light skin, but not on darker skin. For fashion and beauty shots, a lot of powder is used, but for clean, natural look makeup, you want to use powder to adjust the look and not to control the shine.

Hair (also for men)

You may want to use hairspray, 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).

DIY Headshots

Do you want to shoot headshots at home? Check out this article on DIY headshots

Headshot Examples

You’re welcome to see examples of very natural makeup for actor headshots and a range of makeup from very light to somewhat heavy makeup used in headshots of corporate people, professionals, and business owners. Click on the first thumbnail of the Sample Image Gallery section and you’ll see full-screen images.

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 a better selection of products.

Further Reading

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

Review: MAC powder products

MAC Blot Powder (#2) has grayer 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 redder 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 the application. However, faces finished with this Blot Powder look lifeless in photography, and are difficult to retouch to regain the appearance of a healthy skin tone, while those finished with Mineralize Skinfinish powders look more lively, even when toned down during the retouching process.

Makeup artist working in Boston headshot photography studio