Makeup for Photography: What Are Your Favorite Tips?

Published in: Just For Fun, Makeup, Makeup Tips/How To


Good morrow, my Liz Lemons. I have a confession. Prominently displayed all around my parents’ house are pictures from my high school years, and my makeup looks GAWD AWFUL. The worst one pic is on the fridge, a snapshot of me sitting next to my mom at my 16th birthday party.


That night I decided to wear a translucent face powder, and in every flash picture my skin was an unearthly shade of gray.


Since then, I’ve learned a thing or two about makeup and flash photography…

And I bet you’ve got some tricks up your sleeve, too. πŸ™‚

Are you ready to put on your makeup thinking caps to help out a fellow beauty junkie in need?

MBB reader Lesley wrote in yesterday asking for help with photography makeup tips for a few upcoming events.

I’m graduating next week (on the 22nd to be exact), and I’ll be having my graduation AND engagement pictures taken soon in an indoor studio.

It’s been great that you have been putting up a lot of tutorials and how-tos lately, so I’ve been getting ideas, but I was wondering if you have any recommendations or tips for makeup options and/or absolute dont’s for portrait makeup?

Any help would be greatly appreciated as I’ve only really gotten into makeup this past year.

What’s up, Lesley? Congrats on graduation and getting engaged. Talk about two mega milestones — WOOT!

Last November my BFF Jen asked me to be one of her bridesmaids, and I did my own makeup.

Here are a couple handy tips regarding makeup and photography:

  • Reach for your mattes. Opt for matte, rather than shimmery finishes for eye and cheek makeup. Shimmery eyeshadows and powders can give skin a greasy look under flash.
  • Apply your makeup in natural light. At Jen’s wedding, I noticed that the first thing her makeup artist did was set up shop next to the window with the brightest natural light. I’ve applied makeup in both bathroom and natural lighting, and I think I look my best in pictures when I apply makeup in the latter.
  • Opt for a powder with a yellow tint, rather than a translucent powder, to set your makeup. I learned this from my friend Melissa Street over at In My Professional Opinion. Transparent powders tend to leave a white cast when the flash goes off. I use MAC Select Sheer Loose Powder in NC 30 for pictures.
  • Practice your look and takes pics with a digital camera before your event. Then you can evaluate your work beforehand. You’ll be able to see and correct your mistakes. Before I started doing face of the day posts and taking a ton of pictures I never realized my tendency to apply heavier makeup to my right eye (I’m right handed and usually start with my right side), and I wasn’t lining my bottom lip evenly.
  • If you plan to wear undereye concealer, blend the hell out of it to remove any harsh lines. For serious. Even if you feel like you’ve blended out all the edges, blend some more; otherwise, you risk your concealer looking too obvious. I learned this the hard way, sigh!

For even more makeup tips, check out the interview I did with my friend Jen’s wedding makeup artist, Lynette. The tips are labeled as Wedding Makeup Tips but apply to all occasions where photography is up in the mix. Also, check out How to Look Your Best in Pictures, which gives advice on how to pose for pictures. πŸ™‚

Ladies, I know you’ve got some good advice for our girl Lesley. When it comes to doing your own makeup for pictures, what are your favorite tips?

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,



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  1. Maria says:

    I’ve heard foundation with SPF makes you look like a ghost in flash photography too

  2. Redhead says:

    At my friend’s bat mitzvah in January, I wore glossy red lips and smokey brown eyes. Unfortunately, I looked WAY freaky with overpenciled brows and glittering peachy cheeks… Moral of the story: Keep it natural where it normally would be, had makeup been unnecessary if you were born with those features (like naturally tinted brows and rosy cheeks). ALWAYS mattify your nose and the apples of your cheeks to kep from looking greasy, but shimmer on the tops of your cheekbones will make you glow no matter what light or photo you’re depicted in. I think you can go shimmery on the eyes, as long as you don’t wear a boatload of something frosty/glittery like MAC Copper Sparle pigment or MAC Black Tied shadow. Also, NO SPF(it leaves a ghostly cast)!! I dunno ’bout you, but I don’t want to be the only gal at the soiree that looks like she came thinking it was a costume party. πŸ˜‰

  3. Connie says:

    I keep my shimmers only on the lid and never above the crease if I know I’ll be having flash pictures taken since the flash just makes everything reflect and I’d have swollen looking eyes. I also try to take pictures with a low exposure and shutter speed so that the colors won’t get washed ou

    Connie´s last blog post..LAST CALL: I Nuovi Contest + Makeup Show NYC Tickets Giveaway

  4. heyhey says:

    “…blend the hell out of it”. Another subtle reminder that I’m not reading Martha Stewart:Weddings. Language, young lady!

    Good tips, as usual. My cousin’s wedding it just around the bend and LAWD HELP ME Cali+OutdoorWedding=Greazy. Need to come up with something that turns me into ShineFreeCity. Liquid Mattifier doesn’t have the same “ghostly” effect as SPF, does it?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Heyhey,

      It shouldn’t — but if you can you should check the ingredient list. If it has SPF in it you might want to find a primer without SPF. I like Laura Mercier’s (it’s oil free!) because it lasts all day and doesn’t break me out. I’m wearing it in the pic above. Tarte also makes a good one, too.

      Congrats to your cousin! Weddings are so fun. πŸ™‚ Where are they hosting the it?

  5. Audrey says:

    These are great tips! I totally agree with using the mattes… some of my fave colors are the shimmers but I also notice they make me look shiny. I also agree with taking pics beforehand… I do that all the time.

    If it’s a big event, I will take the plunge and add the false eyelashes as well. I have no lashes and I notice falsies always make my eyes pop more in pics.

    Audrey´s last blog post..Real Housewives of NYC – Over already?!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Audrey,

      False lashes are so fun! I haven’t figured out how to apply them on myself comfortably (they feel kinda heavy and funky) but I love how they amp up the drama.

      Are you ready for the weekend? Got any exciting plans?

  6. Wow, ur makeup is so naturally polished, Karen! Wish I could look like that too in my pics. Unfortunately, my pics ended up looking either too bare, despite tons of makeup (when I did my own makeup)or too pasty (when I did a makeover).

    HaNNa_HuLLaBaLoo´s last blog post..My Stila hauls. (finally!)

  7. Aleia says:

    Karen, your pics look great! Reading your blog, I remember you said you have oily skin, what moisturizer do you use? I find the one I am using, is giving me a dewey look during the day which i hate. Any suggestions?


    • Karen says:

      Hi Aleia,

      When I was young I had super oily skin, but as I’m getting older it’s moving towards oily/dry combo. I wear a heavier moisturizer in the winter to remedy the dry sitch, but in the summer I use a moisturizer for oily skin. I really like Dermalogica’s Active Moist but it costs an arm and a leg (here’s a review. If you want a drugstore option, Clean & Clear’s SOFT moisturizers are GREAT! I love ’em. If you like Clinique, Moisture Surge is a great one for oily skin (here’s the review). Hope this helps!

  8. ParisB says:

    As everyone else has said, skip anything with SPF. Titanium Dioxide reflects the flash and can make you look ghostly or grey. Also, eyeliner is a must have to define the eyes in photos. Congrats to Lesley for her double joy! πŸ™‚

    ParisB´s last blog post..Checking out the Maybelline Mineral Powder Blush and What is the Instead Softcup?

  9. Shivotra says:

    When I worked for clinique, we were taught that the best makeup for weddings and pictures is kept neutral and lips not too glossy. My number one eyeshadow to use on all skin tones was Like Mink and I would do a smokey eye with a medium brown pencil. So use a beige, non sparkly eyeshadow and use a matte lipstick. Definitely what karen said, mattify eveyrhting. shine is a no no.

  10. Karen,

    You always explain makeup in such a simple way that it makes it way more approachable for anyone!

    This is a great post and so timely because a lot of us will be applying makeup for photos because wedding season is around the corner!

    Miss Gisele B.

  11. Thanks for the encouragement, Karen! I’ll keep on practising,guided by your tips here. =D

    I usually love the smokey-eyed & defined look for events whatnot. But most of the time, I go for natural look.

    HaNNa_HuLLaBaLoo´s last blog post..My Stila hauls. (finally!)

  12. Rachel says:

    mine’s just a simple reminder: especially if you have oilier skin, keep some blotting sheets on you! boscia makes good ones, so does mac

  13. Meream says:

    These are great tips! I’ll remember these the next time my boyfriend asks that we have a photo shoot.

    Meream´s last blog post..7 Delicious Ways to Get Your Green Tea

  14. Amanda says:

    i’ll second the tip on mattes–too much shimmer+flash=bad results.

    as for powder i recently starting using cargo’s HD powder when I know i’ll be photographed-it works pretty well. (and it’s not transulucent either like Karen mentnioned). hmmm, also i guess this should be said-go for classic makeup vs. trendy so you don’t look back at the photos and look dated, especially for the engagement set.

  15. AmyLou says:

    I completely agree with NO SPF! I had my makeup done once at a counter and she put foundation on me with SPF. . . I’m a shiny ghost in all the wedding photos (luckly, it wasn’t my wedding, but still!).

    Also, don’t “change” yourself just because it’s your wedding day. If you ALWAYS wear black liner, just go with a thinner line (or tightline, my newest fav trick), but don’t skip it totally. Or if you love bright colors, just tone it down a little (think pastel versions) but still use some color. While you want to look natural and gorgeous, you also want to look like yourself, KWIM?

    Finally, don’t forget that a lightweight, NON-shimmery bronzer can do wonders!! If you’ve never used bronzer before, experiment at home. But it can really make your cheekbones pop and give you that extra “glow.” But again–find one w/o shimmer!

  16. Dao says:

    One thing I learned from Bobbi Brown is do not use products that have sunscreen when you have an outdoor photoshoot. The sunscreen diffuses light and make you look ghostly. Also, keep the blotting papers around, I find my outdoor photos to be shinier than I thought.

    Dao´s last blog post..EcoTools Brushes: Ahmazin’!

  17. lesley says:

    Wow, thanks for all the great tips everyone! Most especially thanks to Karen for posting my question and giving me some tips! I’m definitely going to practice, practice, practice now πŸ™‚

  18. Aleia says:

    Thanks Karen! I am going to try your suggestions and see how they work. I got a sample of the DDF one at sephora and it cuts down the Deweyness alot but not completely. I’m wondering if it would work better with a better foundation. Are there any good matte oil free foundations? I read your review on La Mercer, and that you were not too crazy about it. Did you ever try the Armani on? Or what do you think?

    Thanks for the help! This is agonizing, finding new a foundation.

  19. cloudburst says:

    Use a warm concealer (something in the NW range) that matches your skintone, don’t use something more than a tone or half tone lighter, it will give you racoon eyes in flash photography.

  20. MS says:

    I know everyone is saying “no SPF,” but my graduation (tomorrow!!) is outside. The forecast is for lots of sun, and I really don’t want to burn or get any more freckles. Any suggestions for something with SPF which won’t make me look like a ghost? Would a mineral foundation be better?

  21. penelope says:

    just keep it simple

  22. Martha says:

    Don’t wear anything mineral.
    I wore mineral makeup for my senior panel pictures, it made my face look greasy. I later had this reaffirmed by a makeup artist.

  23. Solé says:

    I know I’m a little late on this post but I thought I’d throw in my two cents. I got married last September so I actually did a lot of research on this. My ceremony pics were taken early evening outdoors and my reception was indoors in the evening (separate days) and I did my makeup completely different for both events.

    You can use SPF as long as it’s in your moisturizer or primer, but not in your foundation or powder. Don’t use anything with Titanium Dioxide, Iron Oxide or Zinc Oxide. Stay clear away from minerals (since those are their main ingredients) because they reflect the light and your face will look pale as a ghost, while your neck will look its normal color. Also stay away from under-eye concealer that is paler than your skin tone.

    It’s ok to use *some* shimmer as long as it’s not heavily frosty or actual glitter. Tiny as they may be, the glitter pieces will look like white spots with the flash. I actually sprayed glitter on my hair once and it looked very subtle in person but in the pictures it looked like dandruff! Gross.

    Also, I highly recommend false eyelashes. They really stand out in pics without looking overdone. If you think they look unnatural, use the brown ones (if your lashes are lighter) or trim them a little. Some people prefer individual lashes but I find those really hard to use unless you’re a pro. I usually get the strip lashes and trim the ends to fit my eye if they are too long. Practice beforehand if you’ve never used them before because different glues work differently. I usually use the drugstore glue because for whatever reason the glue that comes with the higher end lashes doesn’t get tacky enough for me.

    Carry blotting papers if you tend to get oily but don’t use the ones that have rice powder because that will also make you pale. Those little blue ones from the drugstore are great. Since it’s outdoors and you might sweat a little under the sun, use a cloth handkerchief or a piece of paper towel to blot the moisture. Don’t use tissue because it will leave lint on your face.

    Now if you plan on taking any black and white pics, don’t do them on the same day because your makeup will have to be completely different. For example, you should use navy liner instead of black in b&w because anything black will look gray. Also, red lipstick won’t show up at all on b&w, and you might have to do some sharper contouring than you would in color.

    And last but not least, if you decide to use a lip gloss with some shimmer in it, use a darker pigmented lipliner underneath it so at least some color will show up in the pics.

  24. lyndsey says:

    drink nothing but water on the day of, i find it makes my skin look better, and more refreshed, and youll feel better if your body is filled with something so pure, caffine makes my skin looks dry, and as much natural food as posible, try to stay away from prossed foods.

    lyndsey´s last blog post.."everytime you get a job, someone else gets cut"

  25. Teen says:

    I was invited to my teacher’s wedding, and it was the most anticipated event that year because we didn’t have anything special to dress up for. Everyone came in their best, and dressed to the nines. Being extremely new to make up then, I never realized how much foundation i caked on. Even though I didn’t look ghostly, I looked pale. Thankfully it wasn’t that bad. Until I noticed in pictures how my neck was at least two million shades darker than my face.

    Just saying, always try to do make up yourself. Take time to practice because only you know what you feel and look good wearing. :p

    I learnt that not everything someone thinks looks pretty on you, will look pretty on you. Some times, second opinions aren’t that great and you should stick to your gut feeling.

  26. Erika says:

    Hey! This might be a stupid question, but if I wear a photo finish primer under an SPF 30 BB cream will I look ghostly white in my school photo? I’m already pretty fair, so I don’t want to look any whiter.

  27. Patti says:

    Terrific page, Karen! Love your sense of humour! I’m getting my hair done professionally on Friday, so thought I’d book a photo shoot to immortalize it. Plus, I’m a musician, so why not take this opportunity for another headshot? But I can’t afford a pro makeup artist, so I’ve been looking for tips on how to do it myself. Found you, and am happy I did. Thanks so much!

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