How to Know Your Makeup Artist Is the One

How to Know Your Makeup Artist Is the One

If you work as a portrait photographer of any kind, it's useful to work with the same makeup artist (or MUA) every time you shoot. You'll cut down on time spent casting and won't have to learn how to communicate in a way that works for a new collaborator every time. But how do you know that your new MUA is the one? Check these key factors that will make them a collaborator you can depend on, time and time again.

What's Their Training?

Straight off the bat, you need to know where they were trained. These days, a lot of makeup artists are just learning from YouTube videos and Pinterest posts. That's fine and can help to nurture talent, but when you want someone who can face all challenges, real training can be a better indication of their skills.

It doesn't necessarily have to be a fancy course at an expensive makeup academy. Many great MUAs, for example, might have worked on the counter or as part of an in-house team at a key beauty company. Keying runway shows for MAC or celebrity events for Charlotte Tilbury will give any makeup artist a baptism by fire: needing to create flawless, often avante garde looks in the quickest time possible while working in a cramped space.

You'll want to be confident that your chosen MUA can deliver, no matter what you ask them to do.

How Quickly Do They Work?

This is so key for makeup artists, especially on commercial shoots. When you are paying to hire a location by the hour, you don't want to run out of time. You might even be shooting with a celebrity who is only available for a short time. You have to trust that your MUA can get the job done fast.

If they produce beautiful work, that's great. But if it takes two hours for them to create a face that will work on camera, you might want to think about partnering with someone else for the long-term.

The best way to test this out is to actually work with someone; the time estimates they give you when quoting for a job might be way off. If you've ever experienced the panic of a ticking clock and a face that is still only half-done, you'll know that speed is essential for a good working relationship.

Can They Handle All Skin Types?

Skin is a funny old thing. Sure, we all have it, but that doesn't mean it's all the same.

Where makeup is concerned in particular, skin type can have a huge effect on the results. Black, white, tan, olive, rose: there are so many different shades of skin colour in the world, and a makeup artist needs to be able to match up foundation quickly. If they don't have a color that works immediately, they should have the skill to mix up two shades and create one that does.

They need to be able to cover up acne or scarring and deal with dry spots and rough patches. They have to have a solution in their toolkit for oily skin, suntans, sunburns, windburn. If they can't create a good base, you're going to spend a lot more time editing your shots than you need to.

Check out their portfolio for a good idea of what experience they already have, and keep a close eye on the model when you first shoot together. If they do have any blemishes or problem areas on their skin, you will want to see how well the MUA can cover those.

How Precise Are They?

Precision is what elevates truly great makeup. It's about that sharp cat-eye flick that is at exactly the same angle and length as the other eye, the sharp lines, the gradual but even gradient between two colours across an eyelid.

Precision is about making sure that the makeup fits the brief exactly and doesn't need much fixing in post. In fact, ideally, you don't want to have to fix anything unless you're doing high-level beauty retouching. If a makeup artist ever asks "can you fix that in post?", you might want to reconsider your relationship, because seriously, no one wants to have to go through and heal out a speck of loose eyeshadow powder on the cheek in every shot of a whole campaign.

Are They a People Person?

A makeup artist can easily be the person who spends the most time working directly with a model on-set. This is particularly true for celebrity portraits, where you might get just 15 minutes to shoot or avant garde looks that take longer to put together.

That's why it's important that your MUA is happy chatting to people and putting them at ease. They should be able to talk at length, instill confidence in the model, but also get on with the job. They equally need to be happy sitting on the sidelines once the actual shooting gets underway and let you do your part. 

If you're not much of a talker yourself, it's even more important that there is someone on your team who can fill that role.

Do They Get Your Vision?

This is perhaps the least easy factor to pin down and define. Working together with another creative for the long run means you have to get along artistically.

When you offer a brief or a moodboard to your makeup artist, are they able to create something that matches your vision? When you don't have a specific idea in mind, can they invent something that is somehow exactly what you wanted? That's the magic that makes a partnership like this really work.

Ask yourself if you can trust your makeup artist with a creative challenge. Someone who can follow an example exactly is fine, but to push boundaries and paint new visions, you have to have an MUA on your creative wavelength.

These factors will be strong elements to consider when looking to partner with a makeup artist as part of your business. If they tick all the boxes, they might just be the perfect fit, but if they fall short, you should not be considering tying your careers together.

Are there any other factors you would personally think of when evaluating whether to work with a makeup artist again?

Rhiannon D'Averc's picture

Rhiannon is a copywriter, photographer, author, and fashion magazine Chief Editor based in London. She focuses on fashion stories and portraiture, with the occasional dash of motorsports and landscape photography thrown in for good measure.

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Completely agree with everything.....but....unfortunately that perfect makeup artist can also end up being unavailable at times...(the better they are the more likely that is too) ...and cancelling a good shoot because you dont have makeup...well thats not great either. As hard as it might can take time...but you really need 2 or 3 of them that fit all of the above! Ive definitely had my share of fantastic...and ones I wouldnt call again if my life depended on it.

Written like it's the makeup artist who should be asking those questions of a photographer....

You do a need a few if you don't want to be basing your entire schedule around them. Most important things for me are being able to rely on them getting the job done to time and making the model comfortable and confident. Amazing how much difference a garrolous makeup artist can make to the mood and nerves of a model. Personality goes a long way here.

I started body painting before photography, at first I was looking for mua to work with, especially in SFX, and then I didn't find anyone who was sufficiently available to describe my delusions to him. So I got started and I think I'm doing well.

It's amazing how many makeup artists don't plan for different skin colors. Many black models will bring their own makeup with them because they're so used to makeup artists who don't have anything close to their skin tone.

Such a relief when you work with someone who is actually professional and prepared for all skin tones.