A Makeup Artist Dishes on Working in Photography and Video

A Makeup Artist Dishes on Working in Photography and Video

As a portrait photographer, you’ve probably considered hiring a professional makeup artist to prep your clients. In this first part of a two-part series, a professional makeup artist tells us everything we need to know about making professional makeup a part of our portrait photography offerings.

The first time I hired a makeup artist for a portrait client, I was a nervous wreck. I had no idea how to prepare. Did I need to have a fully lit vanity and a table full of makeup waiting for her? Would my client be comfortable with her and the work she did? Would the artist be comfortable taking direction from me or my client? There were a million questions swimming in my head. Luckily for me, I hit the jackpot with the artist I hired, and she been an amazing part of my portrait work ever since. I recently picked her brain about all these questions and more, and she had some great advice to share.

A Well-Rounded Career

Kim Wood has been making beautiful faces for the past 12 years. What started behind the Mac counter at her local department store evolved into a freelance career that has taken her from local senior portrait work to the pages of Marie Claire UK, and all points in between. Her work has aired on Food Network, Lifetime Television, ABC’s 20/20, and she has been educated by such makeup greats as Maurice Stein, James Vincent, and Danessa Myricks.

Makeup by Kim Wood, Amarillo, TX

Wood is hired by everyone from ad agencies to TV producers, but in the photography realm, it’s portrait work – senior portraits in particular – that keeps her calendar filled. She says that while hiring a professional makeup artist was once only the stuff of actors and celebrities, social media has helped launch this luxury service into the collective consciousness of the mainstream. This can be a boon to portrait photographers when everyday people see that they offer these services to clients.

Indeed, the benefits to portrait photographers of having a good professional makeup artist at our disposal are plenty, and it’s important that the artist understands some of the intricacies of post production, so that he or she can use those skills to enhance that workflow. “It can save them time in post and make the photoshoot a more exciting experience for a client to look back on,” says Wood. The experience of having a professional makeup artist takes portrait work and client experience to another level.

Setting Up A Space For Makeup Application

Wood, as with any good makeup artist, travels with all the product and gear she might need for any circumstance, and while she has worked everywhere from the windy plains of West Texas, to backstage at New York Fashion Week, she does appreciate when a portrait photographer has a dedicated makeup space for her to use. She says the key staples any makeup space needs are a good table near an electrical outlet, and an adjustable, swivel stool. Wood feels that salon chairs aren’t really the best choice, because they don’t position the client high enough, and the foot rests can get in the way.

Makeup Artist Kim Wood works on a senior portrait client.

When it comes to lighting, Wood prefers to keep it simple. “A sunny window is my favorite, unless it’s facing the direct sun,” she says. If artificial lighting must be used, Wood prefers a moveable, single-source, daylight-balanced light to the traditional, Hollywood-style vanity lighting. “It can put off a ton of heat in the summer,” she says of the traditional strips of big, round bulbs. Vanity lighting can also be so bright that it blinds the artist when it is located behind the makeup table area. Instead, Wood suggests you opt for a single bulb on a portable light stand if you’re on a budget, or something like the Makeup Light or Glamcor if you’re willing to splurge.

Lastly, Wood says you should avoid tungsten or fluorescent lighting in a dedicated makeup space. Just as they do in photography, these can cause color problems in how the makeup looks, which can spell disaster if an artist is unprepared or inexperienced.

Outdoor Challenges

So, what if you don’t have a studio, but you want to hire a professional makeup artist for outdoor shoots? If you don’t have a prep area to use, you might have no choice but to have makeup done on-site. Make sure your artist is aware and prepared. Wood says that she has learned to stay ready for any location, which is why she keeps a tall director’s chair in the trunk of her car, so that she can use her trunk as her workspace and her client can be seated next to it. Ideally, you’ll have daylight to use for lighting, but Wood says there are times when she has had to start before dawn or work into dusk, and for those moments, a headlamp, like the ones used for camping or task lighting, can come in handy. “I even wore one during fashion week in Manhattan, where we were working in the dark!” Wood says.

Because the weather is often less than ideal, Wood carries with her a blanket for her client to use, and she enlists the help of an on-set assistant holding a reflector or scrim to block the wind when possible. She also suggests avoiding lip gloss when working in the wind, because strands of hair tend to become stuck in it, which can cause a messy streak across the client’s face when they try to extract it. An umbrella also comes in handy in case of rain, and also as a block to keep the sun off her client. In case she finds herself in an area of rough terrain, Wood keeps herself hand-free and able to move with agility by carrying her products and tools in tool pouches on a belt around her waist.

Working With Photographers

Wood says her single largest challenge with working for portrait photographers is time. While the talent in a commercial or production setting has likely already been prepped when she arrives, Wood says that portrait clients are a bit different. She is more than likely meeting the portrait client for the first time, so she must be quick to assess the needs of that client before she can begin work. “I must dig quickly for their personal perception of what beauty is, what they expect, what they like, what they hate, what they are comfortable with, and if their expectations of the desired outcome will be realistic.” She says these details are not always easy for the client to express, so she carries laminated charts of several go-to looks for clients to choose from.

A peek inside a makeup artist's kit.

Skin preparation is another time-consumer, especially when the client does not follow a regular skin-care regimen and is in need of extensive exfoliation before makeup can be applied. Wood prefers to communicate with each client before the day of the shoot, so that she can prepare them for what might be their first time in a makeup artist’s chair. “I have a prep sheet to email them so they are prepared ahead of time, and this opens up a communication for me to build a lasting relationship with the customer going forward.”

Another challenge Wood faces in the portrait studio is making clients comfortable with themselves and happy with the look she achieves for them. Many times, the client struggles with confidence, nerves, and self esteem, and part of a makeup artists job is to make them feel relaxed, beautiful, and confident. “It’s more than just making them pretty. There’s a ton of psychology involved.”

Working With Television and Video

Wood says working in film is quite a bit different than working on the set of a portrait photographer. The pace is often faster and more energetic, and the looks are not usually as glamorous as those found in portrait photography. And while she loves doing film/television work, it is not without its challenges, particularly with expectations on time and budget. Many times the talent is male, and although it may seem like the men don’t need the in-depth prep and attention to detail that women do, Wood wishes more producers would recognize that the men take time, too. She says that men still need redness neutralized, and often need hair on the neckline, ears, brows, and nose trimmed. Hands often need to be matched with faces, and it takes time to carefully remove shine from a bald head. “Makeup that is required to look like it’s not makeup is time consuming, because it occurs in many very sheer layers.”

Makeup on all of the participants elevated the look of this family portrait.

Wood says video/film work presents its own challenges because of the long hours involved, the many people on-set, and the constant changing of just about everything involved in shooting a film or television show. One thing she recommends for any film shoot is to be sure there is plenty of hydration, nutrition, and a first-aid kit on site.

So how do you know that a makeup artist is “the one” when it comes to hiring one for your studio? In part 2 of this 2-part series, Wood gives us expert advice on what to look for when hiring a professional makeup artist for your own portrait work. Stay tuned, and in the mean time, check out more of Wood's work on Instagram and Facebook.

Jenny Edwards's picture

Jenny Edwards is a portrait photographer based in Amarillo, TX. She specializes in family and generational portraiture, as well as fashion-inspired portraits for high school seniors.

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" Wood says you should avoid tungsten or fluorescent lighting in a dedicated makeup space. "



'Dishes'? You meant 'dishes out'? And I'm not even a native speaker.....

It's a fairly common idiom meaning to give information, not readily available.

Yes it is. And the idiom is "to dish out", not "to dish".

I would agree with you but then we'd both be wrong! ;-)
"Dish out" is correct but "dish" or in this case, "dishes", is also correct, if idioms can be considered correct. And I'm a native speaker, although I don't always recognize some of the stuff people say these days. ;-)

Fairly common usage.

I love good makeup artists. Especially if they are also assistants doing behind the scenes videos, fixing hair between shoots, holding reflectors if needed.

Also it's important that the makeup artist doesn't kill the mood by being negative or pessimistic. Some know how to make good small-talk and fill silence without being annoying.