If you’re heading back to school this fall, chances are you’ll have to make some timely decisions before you start. Some will be important, like what classes you’re going to take, whether you’ll join band again (all I have to say is BAND GEEKS 4 LIFE!) or whether you can finagle a ride home from a car-owning friend because you don’t have the wherewithal to brave the school bus. (The buses at my school were exactly like Thunderdome! Freshman year in high school, a mean girl almost poured a can of soda on my hair; thankfully, my friend stopped her.)
Other decisions, like figuring out what makeup to wear on picture day, seem like small potatoes by comparison, and yeah, in the grand scheme of your entire school experience, picking a lip color (bold or neutral?) seems pretty lame, but do you really want to look back at your picture in the yearbook and cringe? GIRL, I’ve done this, and trust me, it’ll be hilarious in about 20 years, but for the timebeing, it kind of sucks.
So! Here are some things to help you take your most brilliant pic on picture day. This step-by-step tutorial will walk you through a back-to-school picture day look that everyone, even makeup beginners, can handle. When you’re done, you’ll still look like yourself, just a little more polished, and the results should look great on camera.
And even if you aren’t heading back to school this month, you can still do this look. It’s a good one for all kinds of picture occasions, like I.D. pics, or perhaps if you’re doing a headshot, or if you’re going to an event and you want to look sharp but not completely over the top.
If you’re ready, let’s start!
1. Find a window
When you’re putting on makeup for pictures, it’s really, REALLY important to have good light, and natural light, like from a large window, is fantastic for this. It’s big, bright and diffused, so find a window, and set up shop next to it (but sit in the shade, not direct sunlight).
2. Apply primer
You’ll want your skin to look smooth and your foundation to appear even, so start by applying a primer all over your face and on your lids.
If you haven’t used makeup primer before, it works a little like paint primer by filling in the tiny gaps and lines on the surface of your skin so that products layered on top of it look smooth and even.
It also has the added bonus of helping your makeup last longer, and since you’ll probably also be doing a number of other things on picture day, like picking up your schedule or getting books, you’ll want your makeup to stick around.
Don’t worry if you usually skip primer in your regular makeup routine. If you don’t want to buy one just for picture day, head to a beauty store or counter, and ask for a sample. 🙂
3. Apply a matte foundation
You want to apply a flat matte with absolutely no shine, because chances are the photographer will be using a flash. When flashes are involved, matte foundation is a must, because flashes have a habit of making shiny finishes look extra super-duper shiny, which can lead to oily-looking skin in your pics. Generally, however, it helps to avoid matte foundations containing SPF because they can result in a white cast on your skin when the flash fires.
Now, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, because I have used and worn many matte foundations with SPF that still looked fine in photographs, but I would steer clear of anything with titanium dioxide or very high SPF.
Also, if you need to, conceal any dark circles and blemishes in this step.
4. Set your foundation with a matte powder
To help your skin look as matte as possible, and to help your foundation last and last, set it with a matte powder.
5. Apply matte bronzer and blush
Matte foundations look great in pics, but by evening out the natural colors and contours in your skin, all foundations can make your face look one-dimensional, which is why you’ll want to build back in some warmth, natural contours and to simulate shadows. One way to do that is with bronzer just beneath your cheekbones, across the bridge of your nose and around the edge of your face.
Then, blend a blush onto the apples of your cheeks, and I like peachy pink blushes for this because they add color without overwhelming the face.
Again, with both the blush and the bronzer, you’ll want a matte finish.
If you’re wondering if you need to contour…well, in my opinion, I say skip it. Contouring has been a beauty buzz word for a couple years, and it seems like everyone is doing it, but it’s one of those things that you really have to get spot-on for it to look right in pics. It can look totally wackadoo if it’s even just a little bit off. If you’re confident in your contouring skills, go for it! — but if you have any sort of hesitation at all, I say skip it, and just do a quick bronzing instead.
6. Fill in those brows
Fill in those brows, girl, even if it’s something you never do. There’s an old saying that brows frame the face, and they really do. Things can look off in pictures if your brows aren’t filled in. Plus, bright photo flashes can make light-colored brows practically disappear in pics (filling your brows in can prevent this).
Don’t worry if your brows look too full or a little cray at this point. It’ll all come together in the end.
7. Apply two different shades of eyeshadow
For this look, you’ll want to emphasize your eyes, but still look like yourself, so you might want to save the sooty, smoky eyes and falsies for prom or homecoming. They can be a little much for a school pic.
Here’s a simple formula I like to follow with eye makeup when it comes to pictures: use two eyeshadows, one liner and mascara. It doesn’t take too long to do, and it gets the job done.
For your eyeshadow, look for two shades — one darker than the other to define your lids and crease (I recommend a neutral brown or taupe two shades darker than your natural skin tone…but I’m a neutrals gal), and one lighter shade that you’ll use to highlight your brow bone. I like matte or satin finishes for both of them.
If you’ve got your heart set on wearing a bright color instead, DO IT! Just be sure you can handle blending everything out. 🙂
To start the eyes, apply your darker eyeshadow onto your lids and in your crease with a flat eyeshadow brush. Next, blend out the edges with a fluffy tapered brush. Then, dip a flat eyeshadow brush into the lighter shade, and apply it to your brow bone.
Keep in mind that the flash will likely lighten up the color (sometimes A LOT), so you can go a little heavier on the application (both for your eyes and when you do your cheeks). In other words, you can apply a little more than you’d wear for your regular day-to-day makeup.
8. Line your eyes with liner
Even if liner isn’t something you wear all the time, I recommend that you wear it for pics. It draws attention to the eyes, makes your lashes look thicker, and it’s generally very flattering in pics.
Grab either a black or brown pencil liner — something that you can smudge a little — and draw a very thin line along along your upper lashes, and maybe your lower lashes, too, if you’re comfortable with that. Soften the edge with a Q-tip or an eyeshadow brush because sharp lines can look very harsh in pics.
9. Coat your lashes with mascara
Curl your lashes if you need to, and then grab a black mascara and coat your upper and lower lashes.
Yup, black! I suggest wearing black for picture day, even if black mascara isn’t your thing, because it just photographs so well. Remember how the flash lightens colors and blows them out? It’ll happen here, too, but a really dark mascara will still look natural in pics.
10. Finish with lipstick
Finish your look by applying lipstick. The shade is totally up to you. If you’re a red lip gal, and that’s your signature look, work that crimson! If you’re going to do red or any other bold color, though, I’d definitely grab a lip liner and a lip brush, because you want your lips to look as perfect as possible in pics, and it’s hard to hide any application boo-boos when you use a bold lip color.
For this look here, I went with a rosy pink slightly darker than my natural lip color (about 2-3 shades darker). It’s almost a nude lip look, which I think is really flattering in pictures.
Lips, I think, are an area where you can play with shine. A cream lipstick formula, or a satin lipstick with a touch of gloss in the center of the lips, photographs well. I’d be cautious about applying gloss all over your lips, though, because I think it can be a little distracting sometimes. It focuses attention squarely on your lips when you want all eyes on the overall you!
Lastly, before you leave for school, prep a makeup touch-up bag so you can do any last-minute adjustments if you need to be before your pic. Include…
- A compact with a mirror
- A matte powder with a brush and/or oil-blotting papers
- Lipstick and/or gloss
- Liner (just in case you applied it to your water lines, and it fades a little)
- Q-tips to clean up any smudges
Have a great school year, friend! 🙂 This one’s going to be amazing; I just know it.
Makeup worn in this tutorial
Primer — Make Up For Ever Step 1 Smoothing Primer
Matte foundation — Diorskin Nude Air in 040
Matte powder — Chanel Natural Finish Loose Powder
Bronzer and Blush — Rimmel Natural Bronzer in Sun Bronze and Clinique Cheek Pop in Ginger Pop
Brow filler — Urban Decay Brow Beater in Dark
Eyeshadow — Tom Ford Cocoa Mirage Quad, light brown and beige shades
Liner — Chanel Waterproof Liner in 914 Feuilles
Mascara — Chanel Le Volume de Chanel in 10 Black
Lip Liner and Lipstick — Hourglass Lip Liner in Eden and Dolce Gabbana Lipstick in Gentle Monica
Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,