Because what seems less… is actually more.

A cheaper makeup artist might do something that will not work for your professional headshots.

Every now and then, someone gets to the studio with makeup they got done over the counter at Sephora, or Macy’s, or other beauty counter. It seems like an awesome deal, you get your makeup done for less, and you take products home. But are you sabotaging your own headshot session?

I hear you, a professional MUA (Makeup Artist) is at least three times the cost of going to a beauty counter. It can be up to ten times more expensive or more, depending on who the MUA is. And you don’t get to take home new shiny stuff. Listen, listen, listen. You are paying for some amazing headshots, and you’re giving it your time and attention. You are hiring a specialist, your headshot photographer. Take their advice and trust the process.

Here’s the thing: if you can afford this specialist photographer but cannot afford a specialist makeup artist, then do your own makeup as you would normally do for an important business meeting. When you do your own makeup for a meeting, how much gold and glitter do you apply? How much blush will you wear? How dark should the corner of your eyes be? Will your eyelashes poke other people’s foreheads?

The results you get from beauty salons or makeup counters is unpredictable, but it has never failed to be disappointing. They can give you an orange glow; they can be too heavy on the cheeks or on the eyes; they can get your face in a different color than your neck; and surely they won’t be doing retouches during the session, so we might have to deal with dry patches or lines later.

Doing your own makeup has its advantages. You have products that match your skin and your taste. You are comfortable with what you get. There’s nothing wrong with doing it yourself.

Hiring a professional, of course, takes it to another level. A MUA that knows how to work for photoshoots will do magic on your face, and you will still look natural on camera. No, really, that’s sorcery. And this MUA can stay through the shoot and overlook your makeup at all times, fixing, changing, adjusting. The photographer may have a request, you may have a request, the team will work together for the best outcome. It feels pretty good to have a team working on making you look good, by the way!

McKenzie Kelly is a MUA that often works with us at Hoag Studio. She is excellent at what she does, and a pleasure to have around. McKenzie also has a very reasonable price for this type of service, as of today (who know where she’ll be in five years? Maybe adopted as personal MUA for a Hollywood celebrity?). She stays through the shoot to adjust, change, correct – and that is super valuable. The makeup looks natural, works well under our bright lights, gives a beautiful shape to the face, and blends seamlessly with the neck and chest (she will makeup your neck, too).

One of the most difficult things to fix in post is a bad makeup. Ideally, we get you on camera just the way you’ll be on print, and retouching is minimal. Sometimes we have to fix a thing or two. But a bad makeup is not something we expect to fix in post. It can be pretty dang hard to fix! A based-out face (too much base) is practically unfixable. Nope, can’t fix that. You’re rubber face. The only way to fix it is by washing your face before the shoot. Another pretty difficult thing to fix is an orange or other non-natural color all over the face. Color is extremely important in headshots! The face has some natural color variations that make you look real and authentic. Bad makeup can ruin that. And the truth is that it looks pretty good when you walk out the salon. Most people can’t tell it’s “bad makeup” at all. Maybe even if I told you it was bad makeup, you wouldn’t believe me. By the time you’re wearing it, though, that’s too late and I don’t want to be a party pooper, so I’ll just go with it and do the best I can. But here I am hoping you’ll listen beforehand! Heh.

A common issue with makeup that is not done specifically for headshots: eyelashes. Fake eyelashes are a terrible choice for headshots. Your eyelashes should be as natural as possible. If you have very thin and barely-there eyelashes, maybe use a bit of mascara, but it should be minimal. We are going for a natural look that makes you look genuine and trustworthy. Definitely not a glamour shot. And heavy eyelashes only make it difficult for the viewer to see your eyes! Take a look at the images on the top of this article, going from the heaviest makeup to the most natural one. And if you’re naturally blessed with beautiful eyelashes, you can skip the mascara completely! Maybe just use a gel or oil that does not look like makeup at all, that gives definition and make it “spiky” without being “spidery”. Maybe it won’t lengthen your eyelashes, but can will look very, very natural. You can use Vaseline, but be warned that it doesn’t dry like mascara, so you’ll have your eyelashes wet and potentially interfere with any eyeshadow. On the bright side, Vaseline will also nourish your eyelashes in the process! One thing that you can try is using an eyelash clamp to curve your eyelashes up before applying anything. It really helps, especially if your eyelashes are naturally straight.

Have you tried the spidery eyelashes, though? The think ones that make your eyes look like tarantulas. Like multi-legged tarantulas from outer space. I wonder if it requires eyelids strength, and whether it can make your eyelids tired. I’ve never tried those, so if you have, please let me know! Maybe it requires eyelids yoga, or eyelids weightlifting.

Eyeliners are also a critical item. They should be minimal and super natural for headshots. Again, you want to look genuine, trustworthy, and your headshots are not a glamour portrait. Some women have argued that they use eyeliners every day, and if that’s what you’re comfortable with, then by all means, go ahead and use that. There’s a principle that trumps everything else said above, and the principle is: your headshot should look like you. When you walk into a room at 10am, someone that never saw you in person (only saw your headshot) should not get surprised. If you wake up in the morning and draw your eyes like Cleopatra every day of the week, then your headshot should definitely reflect that.

Excessive eyeliners and eyelashes are also a trouble to remove and cleanup before going to bed, aren’t they? I think they are. Maybe I’m just not doing it right – I have makeup removal pad specific for the eyes, and the few times I had makeup done with too much on the eyes, I’ve had to use several of those pads to get it clean, and get back to my old, comfortable self, before going to sleep. That’s one thing I remember when I see someone with heavy makeup on the eyes: how do they remove that without burning their eyelids? I must have been doing it wrong. For sure.

Next on the list, of course: eyebrows. Yes, you want to tame your eyebrows and disguise any bald spots. And some may say there are eyebrow trends they like and want to follow. But your headshots will look much better if your eyebrows don’t look like they were stamped on your forehead. Fake eyebrows will look especially unflattering in a couple of months from now, when the trend will have changed, faded, or when it becomes overused. Eyebrows that are too thick, too thin, too delineated, those are all bad news for a good professional headshot. Cleanup little hairs between the eyes is a good idea, but keep the brows natural, and do not remove hairs for at least 24 hours before your headshot session to avoid redness and bumps on the skin.

The neck is an especially critical area. A good MUA will not forget to take care of the neck. It should at least continue the work done on the face, keep the same color and texture. And possibly add some natural shading, so we don’t notice double chins as much, or turkey neck. During the session, I do ask you to move your head in a certain way to get similar results, but good makeup can surely help, while a not-so-good makeup can do the opposite.

Also avoid enlarging your lips, delineating on the outside of the natural limits. And a modest color is best in general. As with everything else, it’s really up to you, and you have the last word, but usually a color not too bright and not too unnatural is preferred, with some shine to make you look alive and healthy. Nevertheless, if you want bright red or gothic black or 60’s orange, just go ahead and tell me that’s what you want. We will make sure to plan everything to match the visual you have in mind, instead of being lost between here and there and not getting anywhere. And we can have fun bringing your vision to life.

This brings me to another point I’d like to make clear: in the end, this is your headshot and you can wear anything you want. I can give you my professional guidance, but I’m hired by you to make the images you dang like. What makes you happy is what makes me happy. You can break rules, you can make your own rules. As long as you are clear about it, and you let me know what you want to do, I will support you and help achieve your goals for the session.

I always tell my clients they should hire a professional makeup artist, or alternatively they can do their own makeup. Sometimes they don’t quite listen to what I say, and it’s unfortunate. But if you totally miss all of this and come to my studio with a pretty bad makeup, I won’t scold you for that either. It’s too late for that. We want to do the best with what we got, and I will cheer you up and make it a great day.

Maybe you do want a specific makeup.
Maybe you do want a specific makeup.

I actually think it’s a great idea to bring your latest Halloween costume to your headshot session. I always ask people to bring different options, because we can work with it and get what’s best or even try it out and see how it looks on camera. If you’re in doubt about a shirt or a suit or any wardrobe piece, bring it. The saying is: if you don’t bring it, we can’t shoot it. Oh yes, the Halloween costume thing: there’s makeup. I would say most Halloween makeup doesn’t work quite well for headshots. Unless that’s what you absolutely want. If so, just bring it, and it will get done.

But don’t skimp on your makeup artist. Paying less is actually worse than not paying anything and doing your own makeup. And that’s all I want to tell you today.

In any case, better than any makeup, any hairdo, any wardrobe and even any lighting, a positive attitude is the single, most important thing in a headshot session. Being in a good mood is the best thing ever to make you look good on camera! Hands down. Have a boring session and most likely you will look bored. Jump around and sing out loud and you’ll look super excited 😊 which may or may not be the look you’re going for! But rarely you’re aiming for the bored or grumpy look. So I always bring my best mood to the studio, and I’m usually playing my favorite songs. You’re welcome to sing along and even bring your own songs to play. This is the best last touch for a great headshot prep!

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