Academic beauty: Makeup for author headshots and beyond

 In Clients, Photoshoots

This is one of those blog entries that’s been in the hopper for far too long – it’s been months already since I had this gig! But, better late than never…

This past Spring (yeah, I know!) I had the opportunity to do makeup for an author’s book jacket photo, and really wanted to write about my experience and the makeup considerations for shoots like this. My subject: Margaret Price, an Assistant Professor at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA. (She spent many years working in MA and hired me for her headshots during a trip to a local academic conference, hence our timely crossing of paths.) Margaret has an upbeat and fun-loving personality that keeps her students laughing as they learn, but was understandably nervous and self-conscious about modeling for her headshot.

She really shouldn’t have worried. Maybe it was photographer Lesley Arak’s superior professionalism, maybe it was Margaret’s natural flamboyance, or maybe (just maybe!) it was the fact that she absolutely loved the makeup I did – but she was a natural in front of the lens.

Here’s the look I came up with – polished, natural beauty all the way! – and you can tell from her genuine smile that she was actually having a good time in front of the camera:

I particularly love how relaxed, natural, uncontrived, and HAPPY she looks – and who wouldn’t be happy when they were fulfilling the “publish” part of “publish or perish”? Given her neat-but-casual wardrobe, loosely styled hair and natural smile, she also looks down-to-earth and FRIENDLY. Approachability is not an expected trait in academics, which is a shame considering most of them actually ARE approachable (they have to be; they teach 19-year-olds!) It’s all too easy to seem aloof when you’re actually nervous, so Margaret’s unexpected ease was a joy to behold.

Professors, authors, actors, CEOs… professionals in many industries benefit from having a good, professional photo, and makeup is a big part of making the end result outstanding. Whether you do your own face or hire a pro, here are a few principles to keep in mind:

  • As with ANY photo shoot, be sure to avoid makeup that is photoreflective (read: sparkly). If you have too much mica all over your face you risk looking greasy, washed out, sweaty, or all of the above once the flash hits you. Stick with a natural matte or satin finish and restrict the shimmer to the places you want to highlight (such as eyes, cheekbones, or lips – and not all three at once!)
  • Remember that photography is a 2-dimensional medium, and your face is not. Makeup serves to bring out your features and gives you the opportunity to subtly emphasize your eyes, cheekbones, and lips – anything that would be too monochromatic or muted if left bare in a photo (depending on the photographer’s skill with lighting, that is). While few people highlight and contour their faces in everyday life, photography – especially black & white photography – is the ideal time to make sure that your features retain their shape. (But err on the side of subtlety – too much contour or bad blending lands you straight in 1980s territory! Hey, I never said this stuff was EASY.)
  • A headshot is, at its simplest, you as yourself. Actor headshots, for example, need to accurately depict the person who is showing up for the casting, but there is an “effortless” polish to them. The look should be about your face, not the makeup you’re wearing. My look for Margaret served to unify and brighten her complexion and emphasize her eyes, but she still looks like Margaret.

When in doubt, hire a professional – and that goes double for the photography! Headshots are deceptively simple-looking, but ask any pro photographer – they are among the hardest to shoot. Not only are the subjects frequently “regular folks” (i.e., not camera-savvy models and actors), but wrapping up someone’s looks and personality and professionalism in a single image, sans distractions, with minimal editing, is no simple task. Find a photographer who shoots the kind of photos you need, and find a makeup artist who won’t make you look like someone else!

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