Makeup artists are an invaluable part of the creative team for many photographers. In fact, there are certain genres of photography that rely so heavily on makeup artists that we simply couldn't work without them. Unfortunately, there seems to be a few serious problems cropping up between makeup artists and photographers.
My goal as a photographer is to create great images. In my chosen genres, working with a makeup artist is a given for several reasons:
- Makeup artists help us capture our creative visions.
- They make our clients feel like a million dollars.
- They raise production values.
- They bring a unique perspective to the table that can help us take our concept and hone it to a fine edge.
Great images are, more often than not, the result of collaboration, and since communication is the most important factor in working with a team, I'm always looking for ways to improve the way my team communicates. With that in mind, I asked several makeup artists what their biggest difficulties are when dealing with photographers. Some of what they had to say was things I expected to hear, and other things surprised me enough that I thought it would be worthwhile to share with the world.
Communication seemed to be the most common theme I ran across in all the places I asked this question. Sometimes the issue was as simple as making sure the makeup artist knows what the limitations of the location are, such as lack of plumbing or poor ambient light conditions, and other times they were more specific to the mechanics of the shoot itself, such as what kind of light you plan to use during a shoot, since certain kinds of light, like colored gels, will affect how the makeup reads on camera.
Makeup artists would also love for us to have enough understanding of makeup to, at least, give them a solid idea of what look we are trying to achieve.
I find that some photographers (more particularly male photographers - no shade) don't always know how to communicate the looks they want. Just knowing about makeup generally (like the differences between peach nude, brown nude, etc) goes a long way.
Also, communicating about the progression of looks. For example, I had a photographer tell me that he wanted bone straight hair and then voluminous curls (but didn't tell me that in the beginning so I could suggest doing it the other way around).
Communication is key, period.
If we, as photographers, can cover this kind of basic information, that will go a long way to helping us successfully communicate with makeup artists. However, there were some difficulties that turned out to be a bit more individualized and made me reconsider the way I approach artists I'm interested in working with.
As a body painter I can say that a roadblock for my process is getting SLAMMED with inspiration images (of other artist's work) right off the bat. I believe that mood boards and visual inspiration are essential for communication and cohesiveness, but I struggle removing those images from my brain to clear space for my vision and contribution to a project. I create really well when I get descriptive words like: dark, light, soft, hard, celestial, earthy, sleepy, bright... maybe a color scheme... I want to know why you're chosing that makeup or bodypaint image for inspiration, before you show it to me. I hope that makes sense. Otherwise I end up feeling like I am just regurgitating someone else's work. Another way of explaining it:
"Hey Jen, I am planning a shoot in a mansion built in the 1920s. The location is filled with luxurious details like red velvet, fur, and richly stained wood. I plan on having a color palette of *blank* on two models. I want the makeup to reflect a "gilded cage" era, maybe a feeling of 'distressed' beauty. Something like 'High class, come undone,' what do you think?"
"Hey Jen, I have a shoot coming up and I am looking for makeup like this (image). Are you available?"
I am just asking for a little foreplay, if you know what I mean. Then throw an image or two at me, just for clarity.
Hearing that made me decide to talk to the artists I work with about their process, so I can understand how they work best, and alter my approach to communicating to that they are capable of giving me their best work.
Another issue makeup artists are facing when dealing with photographers is not receiving images they can actually use in their portfolios.
Heavily editing images (for some of us, like myself) will most likely not be usable for my portfolio when doing trade. I've done a lot of work with photographers who over smooth, over edit, make my models look like poreless aliens and it's pretty to some, but I like to stick to attainable beauty being in my portfolio.
Clear communication on how I will receive images. Some artists give me the gallery and I can select a few, sometimes I get all of them, or they select the handful they want to give me. However, what I am looking for in my portfolio and what a photographer thinks is a great photo are two totally different things. While a photo is beautiful, it maybe far away and really not show my work in detail.
Kat St John
I'd say, if we did a test shoot together and you're going to go ham in post (which, you're allowed to do, I acknowledge) to the point where the intrinsic nature of the make-up I applied is altered, it would be amazingly appreciated if you could include a less processed-looking image or two in the files you send me.
Other times, they aren't receiving images until several months later and, sometimes, not at all.
Instagram screen shots are NOT the same as actually giving me my f*!#$&! images.
All the responses I received to this question seemed to stem from, in part, miscommunication of expectations on both sides. When doing a trade shoot, it's incumbent upon both parties to be clear about what they expect to get from the transaction. If a photographer wants a certain style of makeup, that needs to be said in no uncertain terms. If a makeup artists needs work that is edited in a certain style, that also needs to be clearly understood. Contracts go a long to way toward helping iron out this problem, since they cover exactly what each party is responsible for and what each will receive once the shoot is wrapped.
Something else that seemed to be a common theme among makeup artists was the frustration about the lack of accountability in a very un-regulated industry. Since one doesn't require any formal training in order to become a photographer, makeup artists can often be handed images from events that are all but unusable because the photographer is inexperienced. This seems to be a common thread among wedding makeup artists in particular. The frustration is palpable.
What I wish photographers would know is how to take a damn decent beauty shot. What I wish photographers would KNOW is that just because you have a fancy camera does not make you a XYZ photographer. I have spent the better half of the afternoon looking at images from weddings over the last few years and I am so angry. Such beautiful brides with beautiful details and beautiful hair and makeup...
Then the photography...yo. What the f*!$ am I looking at? That s!*# isn't even good light, did you EVEN F!&#$!& TRY?
To get a winning image (in any area of makeup or photography) the team has to work together, the light has to be good and then you have money. In my 17 years as a wedding makeup artist, never in all my life have I ever seen such shit in terms of wedding photography. I can take better photos with my iPhone. Makeup artists aren't the only one dealing with so-called 'experts'
If you find yourself feeling defensive, I'd challenge you to question, instead, why so many makeup artists are saying the same kinds of things, and to remember that this isn't a competition to see who contributes most to a final image, but a way to find out how we can improve our work. Sure, a wedding makeup artist could hire a photographer to do a styled shoot for their portfolio, but it's also important for potential clients to see how the artist's work looks on real brides during real wedding days.
Photographers and makeup artists need each other. Makeup artists improve the quality of our work and, without photographers, makeup artists wouldn't have their most powerful tool to promote their skill. Beautiful photographs are of value to everyone, and great final images are the result of a team who is invested and communicating well. If we, as photographers, value what makeup artists bring to the table, and we should, then we need to be doing our best to understand how we can improve our working relationship. Better communication equals better relationships which equals amazing images and a happier industry for all of us.