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6 Tips on Doing Your Makeup for Headshots

Aug 11, 2020

[Guest Corinna Cooke, is going to give 6 tips on doing your makeup for headshots and tell us why is so important to tell the right story. She is a professional make up artist, world traveler and international best selling author.]

studio headshot photography

For such a tiny piece of the puzzle, your headshot has an incredibly important job to do. For potential clients and potential employers it will define that crucial first impression they make of you. They will either see someone they can identify with, or someone they cannot relate to.

In less than a second your level of professionalism will be evaluated along with whether or not you are a good fit for the job.

Take a quick scroll through Linked-in and you will see a few people with really good headshots and loads of people who missed the mark by either telling the wrong story or telling no story at all. Properly doing your makeup for headshots is imperative for your brand.

1. Tell the right story

When I have a headshot client in my makeup chair the first thing I ask them is what story are we are telling? Are we making a power play so everyone knows you are the boss? Are you wanting to look approachable and amenable, or do you want to look terrifying?

Does your job require you to look aloof and disengaged (scientist) or warm and caring (masseuse). Do you need to look trustworthy and reliable (banker, real estate agent) or like a drill sergeant (fitness trainer).

This is so important. If you are a nuclear physicist and have a headshot that looks like you work at Sephora you are not going to be taken seriously. If you are trying to get a job at Sephora and your head shot makes you look like a disengaged medical researcher, you won’t get to the next round.

Who wants to hire a florist, masseuse or care giver whose head shot has them in a fierce red lip with brown stripes on their cheeks and Instagram eyebrows? (No one.)

If a headshot looks overly made up it implies the person in the picture will be more focused on themselves and their look than the business you are potentially bringing their way.

2. You but more polished

Ideally your makeup for your headshot should make you look like you, just a little more polished. If you don’t normally wear extreme makeup, don’t start now!

If you or a makeup artist create the sleekest winged eyeliner and the most architecturally sculpted cheekbones anyone has ever seen, unless you are applying for a position in a fashion based business this will actually work against you. 

The goal with your makeup for your headshot is to enhance what you’ve already got, project the image you are trying to convey and create a level of confidence in anyone looking to potentially do business with you.

3. Skin

Foundation should smooth your complexion, hide the under-eye bags we all have and even out your skin tone. A good makeup artist will make your skin look like skin instead of making you look overly bronzed or burying you under a thick and heavy foundation.

4. Brows and cheeks

The role of makeup in a headshot is to help tell your story while drawing attention to your features. Enhanced brows, cheeks and lips will emphasize your features and open up your face. 

Your brows should be defined but not overpowering. The idea is to draw out your features, not make them dominate. An overly emphasized set of eyebrows will dominate the photo and become all the viewer sees. An under defined brow will make your eyes disappear and can make your forehead look top heavy.

If your eyes are wide set you should add emphasis to the inner brow and not extend the tail. If your eyes are close set you should de- emphasize the inner brow and focus more on the arch and tail of the brow.

An under sculpted cheek will disappear and can leave you looking moon-faced, while an over contoured and highlighted cheekbone can look plain silly. Avoid anything sparkly on your cheeks. Use a warm toned blush to break up the beige plains of the face and give the cheek some lift.

5. Lips

When doing your makeup for headshots, you want to define your lips but don’t over draw them. Almost no one has perfectly balanced lips, so use lipliner to correct the shape and make the lip a little crisper.

Avoid overly glossy lips unless you are a gum snapping teen or a porn star. Matte lips can read flat and lifeless in photos, especially small pictures like headshots.

The ideal formulation is a satin finish. The lip looks fresh and inviting but also soft. (Not threatening).

Dark colors make lips look thin, compressed and angry, so unless you have really large lips you should avoid dark lipsticks. 

Red lips are fantastic but it is a power color and can be perceived as threatening or overly fierce.

A mid-toned pink neutral through a bold fuchsia is a really safe bet. These shades don’t overpower the photo. They’re friendly and approachable, and make the skin look nice and warm. Another advantage to the warm pink and fuchsia tones is they make teeth and the whites of your eyes look whiter and if you have blue or green eyes will make your eye color and therefore your eyes stand out.

6. Keep the eye simple

Don’t overpower your eyes. Anything too dark or too involved will close down your eye, making it look tired, beady and sunken. A winged cat eye is perfect for Flamenco dancers, Dominatrix and Burlesque girls but for most of the rest of us it can be a distraction in a headshot. 

Black eyeliner can make your eyes look like they’re squinting, whereas an espresso brown liner will give you definition and depth while allowing the eye to look open.

Use soft toned eye shadows, an espresso liner, an eyelash curler and lots of mascara to enhance and open the eye. False eyelashes can be wonderful, so long as they’re not too dense or too long.

If you are hiring a makeup artist for your headshots be sure to look at some of her work beforehand and make sure you are on the same page.

Often the artists who work in salons are not familiar with the intricacies of photographic makeup. This means they can be quite heavy handed. Ideally, we do not want makeup to wear to a nightclub or to look like you are auditioning to become a Kardashian. 

Ask your professional headshot photographer for makeup artist recommendations. Then, when looking at other headshots this makeup artist has worked on, ask yourself what story the person in the photo is telling. 

Don’t overlook how important makeup for headshots is!

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