11 makeup tips every photographer should know

11 makeup tips every photographer should know

As photographers, our job is so much more than taking beautiful images of our clients. Our clients look to us to provide them with assistance in every step of the photographic process, from booking the session to the delivery of the final images. But what about the in between? There is a lot of planning and prep that happens after booking and before the sale. Many of us get the question, “What do I wear?” and while I do believe wardrobe choice is very important, another, often overlooked, significant factor in a successful session is styling and makeup.  Styling and makeup are often something the client doesn’t think of until the day of the session but these two factors can make or break the entire session. It is our job as photographers to educate our clients about these details just as we would about location selection or wardrobe choices. Whether you are shooting a high school senior, a bride to be, an expectant mother, or a mother of three, preparing your client for their photo shoot by educating them about their makeup shouldn’t be an after-thought.  Instead, it should be something we help them with so they have a great experience with us, feel terrific at their session, and look fantastic in their final images.

I am a photographer, licensed M.A.C Pro makeup artist, and a self professed makeup junkie. Professional makeup is included with my senior portrait sessions but not every photographer does this and that is okay!  Just because you are not providing the service doesn’t mean you can’t give your clients expert guidance. As a side note, I do not include makeup with my engagement or wedding sessions and I am going to share the tips I give to those clients.

First and foremost I always encourage my clients to use a professional makeup artist or book one of my sessions that includes hair and makeup. I do this for one of many reasons. The most important reason I suggest a pro makeup application is because a pro knows how to apply makeup for the camera. A pro gets a perfect foundation color to match the skin tone and can select the right colors to make the clients features pop! A pro knows how to contour to bring out the right amount of shadow or highlight. Another major reason a professional artist is a great investment is because the client comes to the session feeling very confident about her look, and we all know there is nothing easier to photograph than a client that feels great about themselves!

If a professional makeup application isn’t something the client wants to invest in I share the following tips with them so they can easily create a camera ready look on their own.

1.  Be sure to start with a clean and moisturized face; nothing is prettier than beautiful skin!

2.  Apply your makeup in natural window light if at all possible. This may mean applying your makeup in a room other than your bathroom but good lighting is essential to a good, even application of makeup.

3.  A good primer is just as important as a good foundation. Use primer before applying your base to give a smooth canvas by concealing large pores, uneven color and texture, and fine lines. M.A.C. Prep and Prime, Benefit That Gal Brightening Face Primer, Benefit Porefessional (my personal favorite!),  Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer, Makeup For Ever’s HD Microperfecting Primer, Rimmel Fix Perfect Primer, or L’Oreal’s Studio Secrets Professional Secret No.1 Magic Perfecting Base are all great primers to use under your foundation.

4.  Please stay away from using mineral makeup for your portraits. Mineral Makeup is fantastic for everyday wear; however, in portraits it can give a very distinct and undesirable glow or shine.  Revlon’s Colorstay Makeup is my favorite drugstore option while M.A.C. Studio Fix and Make Up For Ever’s HD Invisible Cover Foundation are great high end options. In portraits, a matte finish is more desirable than a glow. When applying your foundation it is best to use a damp sponge or foundation brush rather than wiping your foundation on your skin with your hands to avoid uneven coverage or streaking (this also cuts back on the spread of germs). I use a foundation brush and the Beauty Blender sponge.

5.  Set your foundation with a translucent matte powder banishing any shine.  My favorite is M.A.C Prep and Prime Transparent Finishing Powder while another great option is Revlon Photo Ready Translucent Finisher.

6.  Play up your eyes! Again, avoid shimmer or glitter. I strongly suggest using matte or satin neutral shades to bring out your beautiful eyes. Trendy or dark colors can cause your images to look dated and your eyes to look small or garish.  Almost every makeup company offers pallets that can give you a natural look for your eyes. A golden brown really plays up any eye color. Almay Intense I-Color comes customized for your eye color and can take the guess work out of picking the right shade. Be sure to blend the color for the most flattering look.

7.  When it comes to applying eyeliner, in many ways less can be more. I suggest lining brown or black brown eyeliner, being careful not to line the inner rim too heavily as this will create a small looking eye. It is best to just line the lash line creating a full looking lash.

8.  Don’t forget mascara! I suggest waterproof (aka sweatproof) black mascara. Two coats. Using a new mascara tube can really be helpful because the product will not be dried out causing you to have clumpy lashes. Be sure to wipe off any excess mascara on the tube before your application.

9.  When selecting a blush color, choose a shade that resembles the flush you have after exercise or laughter. Again, stay away from glittery or shimmery shades for your portraits. Almost every woman I know is afraid of blush but when applied correctly it expertly enhances your look. Apply the most vibrant part of your blush on the apples (where you smile) of your cheeks and blend upward on your cheek bone. Blush needs to be applied a bit heavier than normal for portraits because the camera has a tendency to wash out the color.  After applying your blush take a large fluffy brush with no product and blend once more for the most natural finish.

10.  A naturally colored lip is the most flattering in portraits because lip color trends change so quickly. One of my favorite ways to keep the lip natural is to use a neutral colored lip pencil (my favorite is M.A.C spice but almost every cosmetics company makes a neutral shade) and line and fill in the lip. I then apply a blush colored gloss lightly over the lip concentrating the application in the center and blending out toward the corners of the mouth (again, less is more).  If you prefer lipstick choose a color that enhances your existing lip tone.  One of my all around favorites is M.A.C Honey Love but another all around favorite is Smashbox Primrose.

11.  When you are completely finished with your look, give a final dusting of translucent powder lightly over your entire face to set the look.

Well applied makeup offers a multitude of benefits to you as a photographer. With the right guidance you can give your clients the confidence to prepare their look that is all their own and you can save yourself a lot of time in post processing.

About the Author:

Dana is based near the St. Louis Missouri Metro Area. Her main body of work is focused on Weddings, Engagements, and Senior Portraits. Dana is hopelessly addicted to photography, makeup, haribo gummy bears, and her iphone. Dana has over 5 year experience working as a stylist and MUA and is so thrilled she has been able to combine her two loves in to one amazing career. Dana isn’t all about photography she is a wife and mom of one. When she isn’t shooting you will find her at soccer practice/game cheering on her favorite girl, her daughter, cooking (which she loves to do!), avoiding housework as much as she can, and watching her some of her favorite television shows, Bones, and the Vampire Diaries. Visit Dana Tate online.


  1. Catherine Ro. Aug 16 2012 at 11:05 am - Reply

    Super helpful post! Will definitely be referring to this in the future! Great job, Dana! Thanks!

  2. Holly Thompson Aug 16 2012 at 11:07 am - Reply

    Dana, this is a fantastic article! I am so glad you linked us up to your favorite products because I want to get some for myself! Thanks for sharing these great makeup tips, you rock!!!

  3. Jamie Aug 16 2012 at 11:12 am - Reply

    Very helpful, thank you!!!

  4. Dana Tate Aug 16 2012 at 11:34 am - Reply

    Thanks girls!!!

  5. Jaci Aug 16 2012 at 11:55 am - Reply

    This is fantastic! Thank you so much for sharing these tips. Very helpful!

  6. Lisa Benemelis Aug 16 2012 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    I never really thought about this but it makes perfect sense, thank you. Wonderful article with so much valuable information. 🙂

  7. Joyce Aug 16 2012 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    This is fabulous!! Thank you Dana! This article is full of advice which I can use for my shoots 😀

  8. Linda Aug 16 2012 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    Awesome tips. I have never been a makeup wearer but I have noticed some make up my clients wear for sessions rather than enhancing destroys their natural look! In my country (Honduras) the contrary to your tips is suggested! by "pros". (Wearing heavy black eyeliner and shadow to make their eyes bigger-they actually look like raccoons in the pictures!) I will definitely share these tips with my clients.

  9. Katrina Aug 16 2012 at 12:59 pm - Reply

    Awesome Dana! I am totally going to share these tips with my clients! Thank you!

  10. Mara Aug 16 2012 at 5:41 pm - Reply

    Great idea for an article!! Dana’s tips are super helpful and I appreciate having them for myself personally, too!

  11. Mara Aug 16 2012 at 5:42 pm - Reply

    Oh, and gorgeous images too!

  12. Amii Aug 16 2012 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    Okay Dana, this is just awesome! Agree 100% with all of your tips!!! And beautiful work as usual!!!

  13. Shellie Aug 17 2012 at 11:15 am - Reply

    Great advice! Thanks Dana 🙂

  14. Dani Aug 17 2012 at 6:02 pm - Reply

    Thanks Dana! Out of curiosity, what do you do regarding clients who don't wear/aren't comfortable wearing makeup? If someone had told me to wear makeup for my senior portraits (I had my friend do them so this wasn't an issue for me) I would've felt very self-conscious because it's not me. Do you simply go ahead and push through the extra editing or do you try to find a happy medium where the client is comfortable but still covered a bit to lessen editing needed?

    • Dana Tate Aug 17 2012 at 8:31 pm - Reply

      Hi Dani,
      It is not an option, my senior clients wear MU for their portraits. I educate them on why it necessary and explain that a NO MU, makeup look can be achieved, but for my shooting style it is a imperative. This isn't the right choice for everyone however I mostly attract clients who want to have MU because that is my style and that is what they see.

  15. Daisy Helber Aug 17 2012 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    Great article. I’m far far from a makeup artist myself, but would love to offer it to my clients. Anyone have tips on finding a makeup artist and how much it costs?

    • Dana Tate Aug 17 2012 at 8:32 pm - Reply

      check model mayhem or call a couple of popular salons in your area!

  16. Iylasyi Aug 17 2012 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    How’s things?, re eyeliner, do you have any tips on how to create the cat-eye look with makeup? I have tried many but been not very successful unfortunately. Thanks!

  17. Carla Bagley Aug 19 2012 at 10:41 am - Reply

    Wonderful tips!!!!

  18. Rebecca Aug 22 2012 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    This is great! Thanks Dana!

  19. GretchenW Oct 03 2012 at 12:19 am - Reply

    Dana, thanks for this article. Your work is truly stunning! And, just wondering, what is your CM username? Thx!

  20. Jenn C Green Nov 08 2012 at 6:16 pm - Reply

    Loved the article! Not many people realize how important the makeup for a photo shoot. I will write more about it in my site!

  21. Jennifer Apr 20 2013 at 1:05 pm - Reply

    Dana, thank you for the best tips for makeup in photography. I will share your info certainly with clients. I like that there isn’t a mention about contouring. This I find tends to leave the skin dirty looking and I think the skin should appear youthful and clean. The tips you’ve given are concise and easy to understand. Thank you

  22. Cerah Ravelo Jan 20 2014 at 4:08 am - Reply

    Thank you very much and looking forward for more informative articles in the future. Bookmarked!

  23. iran fund Aug 12 2015 at 3:08 am - Reply

    I’m glad I found your article. I’d never have created sense of this subject on my own. I’ve learn a few different articles on this topic, however I used to be confused till I learn yours.

  24. Shari S Sep 06 2015 at 10:42 pm - Reply

    So many great tips! Wow! Thank you so much for all the info, learned lots!

  25. Luke Smith Apr 25 2016 at 9:27 pm - Reply

    I would have to agree that it would be smart for photographers to be able to know a thing or two about makeup. I make sense that it is best to apply makeup in natural light. I bet they can get a lot of good ideas from a really good makeup artist.

  26. Millie Jul 01 2016 at 2:26 pm - Reply

    Im a photographer and an avid Makeup lover! great post. thanks so much

  27. Wayden King Oct 05 2016 at 1:01 am - Reply

    trick I really like is to mist a little hairspray at the root of the crown as I blow it out. Shielo make GREAT products for Volume, and they do not add weight. The hair spray I use is the Shielo Flexible Design Hairspray – which is part of their Volume collection.

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