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The Clueless Photographer’s Guide to Makeup (Part One)

Home InFocus, Tips & Tricks   The Clueless Photographer’s Guide to Makeup (Part One)   

Jim Jurica Photography
It’s a funny thing, the skill sets we acquire after a decade in the industry. When I first started photographing models, I had no idea what “foundation” was. I’d never heard of “contouring” or “smokey eye” or dozens of other basic makeup terms. But after the umteenth no-show MUA (MakeUp Artist) or portfolio client who had no clue how to do her own makeup… I started learning as much as possible so I could step in and take charge if need be.  I’m no makeup artist, but in a pinch I can (and have) applied fake eyelashes to models, darkened their eyebrows, showed them how to color-correct to cover up blemishes and more.  Knowledge is power and in the first part of this series, I’d like to share some hard-earned wisdom about what photographers should be aware of with regards to makeup for photo shoots.


If you love pointless, time-consuming image editing work… get yourself a bad makeup artist.  The industry is rife with people calling themselves “pros” who are really only good at keeping a straight face and saying “Yes!” to every opportunity.  I’ve worked with a few MUA’s whose heavy-handed makeup made my model look like a streetwalker after a busy night.  I’ve seen models wipe off a professional makeup application and re-apply everything themselves.  I even had one MUA who showed up with only eye shadow and asked to borrow the model’s eyeliner, foundation and lipstick.

Bad makeup artists were more of an issue in my early days, before I learned to screen them better.  I got bored with “makeup artists” taking credit for their handiwork when in reality, it was me spending hours in Photoshop after the shoot, drawing in eyelashes, fixing bad lipstick lines, painting in eye shadow color and more.  Your makeup artist is there to (A) make the model look good/feel good and (b)  make your job easier.  Anything less simply will not do!

Unless you’re shooting a very complicated makeup style, the first makeup look should require about 45-60 minutes.  Minor touch ups or changes should take 15 minutes or less.  Some MUA’s may need a little more time, but if they’re taking 2 hours to do basic makeup, something is wrong.


We’re all artists in this business, but not all artists are also creative collaborators.  Many work by using their skill sets to turn someone else’s vision into reality.  Frequently, those decisions are left to the photographer to make.  But if you, the model, and makeup artist are all equally confuzzled about what makeup looks to create, things probably aren’t going to end well.

Even the most clueless photographer can tear pages out of a magazine, or download images off the Internet that demonstrate how you want the model to look.  Point to the image and say to your MUA, “this… I want the model to look like THIS.”  It’s a pretty sure-fire method.


There is a scene in the film Six Degrees of Separation where an art dealer tells the story of picking up his daughter from grade school.  And looking at the beautiful artwork produced by the second grade children, he proclaims them all to be genius and asks what is the art teacher’s secret?   The teacher replies:   “I don’t have any secret. I just know when to take their drawings away from them.”    I have found this to also be  true with makeup artists at photo shoots, sometimes.  Some just don’t know when to stop, and we end up with heavy-handed makeup more suited for a night of clubbing.  Don’t hesitate to put your makeup artist on pause, grab some test-shots and review them before proceeding.  You won’t offend anyone, and most seem to appreciate the candor and professionalism.


Along the same line of thinking, I should mention that makeup is all about building up.  It’s easier to start light and add more as needed, and a good idea to plan shoots around building up when multiple makeup changes are involved.

We use terms like “clean makeup,” “natural look” or “daylight look” to describe a certain style of makeup where you only would notice it, if there were no makeup at all.  The idea is to cover up blemishes and lightly accentuate what is already there, without creating a false reality and misrepresenting the person in the image.  Many makeup artists refer to this same style of makeup as their “money maker.”

Rarely do we create a makeup look that has both bold eyes AND bold lips.  It’s usually too over-the-top for contemporary glamour and commercial imagery.  More typical is that one element plays a supporting role to another: Bold eyes with a non-distracting lip color, or vice-versa.


The eyes are a window into the soul, and can make or break a photo shoot.  It’s amazing how some models can walk in the door looking like Plain Jane, but after applying a good “smokey eye” look, suddenly they’re Tyra Banks.  When really rushed for time, I always say we can skip all the other makeup and just work on the model’s eyes.  They’re that important, and I’ll cover the subject of eyes in greater detail in part two of this article.


The fastest, easiest way to make a model look completely different from one look to the next is with a change of lip color.  For male models, a little cherry Chapstick can make a big difference, too.


Cheekbones define the shape of our faces.  High-fashion models are known for their “high cheekbones” but even the most baby-faced model out there has cheekbones too… if you know how to draw them out with proper lighting and makeup.  Having high cheek bones means a face is widest up close to the eyes, and narrows towards the chin.  This shape accentuates shadows under the cheeks and produces more striking features.

A good makeup artist knows how and where to apply makeup to accentuate any model’s cheek bones.  Features can even be artificially created through clever use of makeup – we call this “contouring” when an MUA creates fake shadows with darker makeup, resulting in more contrast and definition.  You see contouring used all the time, without even know it.  Victoria’s Secret contours their model’s busts to appear fuller.  High-fashion models may have had their chins and cheeks and noses heavily contoured for a more dramatic look.  Even Hollywood uses contouring all the time, to paint in those insanely buff six-pack abs we see in Gladiator movies.

Jim Jurica PhotographyEYE BROWS EXIST TOO

Once you  really begin to notice eyebrows, there’s no going back.  Especially when viewing them them at 200% magnification in Photoshop.  Suddenly the small details that went unnoticed become bigger issues to be addressed.  Eyebrows need makeup too.  We darken them with eyebrow pencils or eye shadow to fill in gaps or define their shape.  Tweezers are used to keep unruly brows from growing out of bounds.  Nobody is offended when we say (in a professional tone) let’s fix those stray hairs, or darken that light spot.  But they do sometimes feel bad about the images afterwards, if we don’t address these kinds of issues.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  take test shots, take test shots, and take test shots!   I’ve seen too many nervous/flustered/rushed photographers just start snapping away, picture after picture, only to discover much later that something went wrong with auto focus, lights, hair, makeup, or whatever.  Since we as photographers are the final step in the photo shoot process, it’s logical that everyone may rely on us to give the thumbs-up on their work.  Reviewing test images before the photo shoot actually begins is a great way to identify and resolve issues before they become serious problems.  Reviewing on a camera display works fine but a larger, calibrated PC monitor is even better.  I like to have my models and makeup artists review the test shots along with me, so we can all agree everything looks okay or if we need to make adjustments.

As far as reviewing makeup goes, what you see live in person may not photograph the same.  From 4 feet away, the eyes may look great but viewed up close, the eyelashes are clumped together.  Eye shadow has a nasty habit of dropping onto the model’s face, leaving little black spots on her cheeks.  Models can rub their eyes or scratch their face and “damage” the makeup.  Drinking from a can or bottle can wipe off lipstick or smear it onto the models’ teeth.  (I keep drinking straws on hand for thirsty models!)  In a perfect world, your makeup artist should be standing next to the model while you photograph her, keeping an eye out for potential issues.  But since when is our world perfect, right?

One good image is worth 10,000 bad ones – review everyone’s work… especially your own.
Photography & Interview:  Jim Jurica



GlamModelz Magazine staff photographer Jim Jurica, of Chicago, IL. is one of the most creative photographers on our staff. Whether he is shooting in the studio or on location Jim excels at thinking outside of the box. Jim offers conducts very popular workshops several times each year and they tend to sell out fast. To learn more about Jim please see his commercial web site: or directly by email here: Jim has published 16, articles with GlamModelz Magazine.

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