How to be your own makeup artist

First, a note to all makeup artists (MUAs): Please do not get upset about this article or make false conclusions before reading.  This article is not intended to put you out of business–not at all!  I am a MUA myself (and a model) and I know, like almost all models and photographers do, that having a good MUA is very necessary in this business.  Sometimes having a great MUA, like in beauty-pictures, is even the key to creating a good picture!

I did not write this article to underestimate the very important role of MUAs in photo shoots. My intention is to teach models to be their own MUA when one is not available, for whatever reason.

Putting on make-up is something a woman (usually) does hundreds of times in her life.  Like with all routines, it is easy to get stuck.  Maybe on a special occasion, such as a party or wedding, we try something different, but most of the time, we wear the same simple make up styles day after day.

To create an impressive portfolio, it’s wise to include pictures with a variety of make-up styles. So when there is no MUA around, you should not only leave your routine make-up style at home and try something else, but follow these rules for photo shoot makeup, even though they may be against your own “routine” feelings.

1.  Use a quality foundation. No shining!  A shiny face is okay on a holiday-picture, but not in the modeling world!  Make sure your foundation covers up all redness and uneven skin tones. After your foundation is applied, use powder all over (and in between shoots, as well). Have a powder brush and a good powder close by during shoots; make powder your best friend.

2.  Don’t forget to apply concealer under your eyes—it melts some years away (and don’t we all want that?). Always make sure your eye-concealer is lighter than your foundation because it needs to cover the darker skin under the eyes. First, make yourself look like a panda-bear and then blend in the concealer with your pinky-finger.

3.  Consider the type of shoot before applying eyeshadow.  For example, a black and white shoot needs good brown and grey tones (not too shiny) because, after all, color doesn’t make sense.  Also, try to focus on the clothing style, the setting, your own eye-color and the theme of the shoot.  A glamour or fashion shoot needs a completly different color spectrum than a natural or casting-picture shoot. 

Try to pick three colors:

(1) One color on the eyeball—this will be the main color, and you should ensure it’s not too dark (that makes the eyes look smaller). Cover the whole eyeball by using an eye-applicator-brush.

(2) After that, use a darker color to make a small line on the arcade-bow of the eyes with a smaller brush. If you cannot find the arcade bow, feel the bone of your bone structure,  where it starts, that is your arcade-bow.

(3) Above the arcade-bow, use a very light, mostly shiny color as highlighter under the eye-brow.  Blend it all very well! No highways above our eyes!

4.  Pencil in eyes and eyebrows and finish with mascara. Use a black eye pencil to draw lines above and under the eyes (only halfway across–do not “close the eyes,” as that makes them look smaller). Use an eyebrow pencil to tone the eyebrows, and use mascara to finish the eyes.  Try and practice at home using false-lashes.  They can really make the eyes look defined.  It may not be an easy task at first, but once you have acquired the necessary skills you need, applying lashes is actually fun! Needless to say: be very careful with the glue. If you really want to make your eyes look bigger, use a white shade on your lids. Also, make sure your pencils are soft and don’t get yourself wounded (red veins aren’t very appealing).

5.  When the shoot is black and white, never use red lipstick.  Your lips will appear black in the picture.  Use light pink or orange instead. You may look like a clown in front of the camera, but in the black and white picture, you will look much better!

6.  Use blush to create dimension in your face (a picture is just two dimensional). Show your cheeks (accentuate your cheekbones), do not set lines. Blend it all very well with a big blush brush.

7.  Be very critical.  Ask the photographer to show you the first pictures and have him or her zoom in on the details of your face. Try to look at your face as if you were a make-up artist.  Does the make-up suit you? Does it match your clothes? The setting? The colors? The theme?

8.  Consider the setting of the shoot. Are we talking about pictures in a certain (in or outdoor) setting?  Think about actors in a musical.  Their make-up is always overdone. People on the last rows also want to see these people having faces. If you almost disappear from the picture, then go on and make your eyebrows more alive, set the arcade-bow more in the picture, use flash lashes. Pump up the lips by using lip-pencils secretly outside the lip-lines. If we are talking about head-portraits or casting/lifestyle-pictures, than do not exaggerate.

Being your own MUA when you have to be  is all not so difficult if you stick to these rules. I am very sure there are a lot more rules and different techniques/meanings when it comes to make-up. Every MUA has her of his own ideas, visions and skills like every model is used to their own daily routine-make-up.

Let me offer one last piece of advice: learn from MUAs every time when they do your face.  Think about the good make-ups, the outstanding make-ups, even the bad experiences. If one day there is no MUA around, do not panic. First, communicate with the photographer and then go for it!



Maria started modeling at 43 and now works all over Europe. She also trained as a makeup artist. Maria is the mother of two children and lives in the Netherlands countryside, close to the German border, where she owns a small horse breeding-farm.

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29 Responses to “How to be your own makeup artist”

  1. January 12, 2013 at 7:45 am, Eli said:

    You do not look like a model. Great advice thank you!


  2. December 29, 2012 at 7:23 pm, taiba25 said:

    i am not a MUA but this was great!


  3. July 09, 2012 at 12:46 am, liv said:

    OMGOODNESS this articleand that makeup attempt NO COMMENT


  4. June 26, 2012 at 1:26 pm, Joy MUA said:

    This is all basic information. Like Daone66 said, sure you can tell someone how to apply makeup, however that doesn’t mean you can do it well. And yes there are MUAs that may do makeup that you DON’T like, but sometimes it’s not about what you like. It’s about the look that is to be portrayed in that image. Sometimes, I’ve had concepts that were looks that don’t make the model so pretty, but the project called for that look. Then sometimes, you just end up with an MUA that isn’t all that great. However! as an MUA, I can tell when a model does their own makeup, and it usually doesn’t transfer well on photo. There are TF MUAs out there, I being one of them. It’s all in taking the effort to look. I had a shoot where I had 6 models assigned to me but one had REFUSED to have their makeup done. She claimed her mother was a hairstylist and taught her how to apply makeup. Because she threw a fit, the photographer, decided to allow her to do her own makeup, and gess what, she then regretted it. Her makeup looked different than the other girls, her foundation didn’t match the rest of her body, floating heads are unattractive….so you know. Her eyeshadow was not blended, she was using too small of a brush to try to blend. There was a lot of photoshop to be done. Yes, there probably are models out there that can do makeup well, but if its for your portfolio, why not take the effort to find a good MUA to help you achieve the best images you can possibly get.


  5. June 07, 2012 at 1:21 pm, Gia Lee said:

    Hi, I used an M.U.A. twice time in all the yrs of shooting; About 5 yrs now. I said to myself. Never again will I pay for an M.U.A. unless it was free or I wanted one for a high fashion shoot. I know a lot just from yrs of putting on my own make up. After reading this, I did get some great tips. So, I want to thank you, I have a shoot tomorrow and I will use what I have learned  Also reading the critical comment below is upsetting, as you are only trying to to give your knowledge, by passing it on. I am 40, and I got some great tips.   Thank You~ Gia


  6. December 18, 2011 at 10:14 am, Anonymous said:

    This is only really basic advice and doesn’t talk about selecting the right shades, hiding ‘flaws’, changing eye/lip shape etc. Photography often uses really harsh lighting so you need more makeup and definition than you first realise. Great for the amateur but a makeup artist (and there are some out there who will work T.F.P.) will take it to the next level with makeup that is expertly applied and completely hygenic.

    N.B.: The makeup with the gold eyelashes is truly awful. Not a dig, just my professional opinion.


    • January 06, 2012 at 7:35 am, Colleen - MUA said:

      I totally agree! I’m a professional mua also, and there is a whooole lot more behind makeup then what most (almost all) people think. Personally, I wouldn’t trust any one who isn’t trained to do professional makeup. It’s a lot more difficult to correct the lip line, line the eyes, apply falsies, blend shadows, and conceal dark circles, etc, than it looks! and yes, that makeup with the gold eyelashes is DREADFUL and is exactly why you need a professional! (I’m also one of those artists who is willing to do T.F.P.!! so there is no excuse!! lol)


      • June 07, 2012 at 1:30 pm, Gia Lee said:

        Oh, well maybe I should have put in my casting call “seeking a T.R.P .M.U.A. for my shoot tomorrow.


        • August 26, 2012 at 3:04 pm, CamiAnn said:

          I do agree that having a professional MUA would be ideal and the best as I am definitely not an expert at what you guys do so beautifully, but I have put out casting calls for MUA’s for TFP shoots and not one has replied to me and like most, simply cannot afford to hire one at this time so I do my own makeup most of the time. I would love to work with a MUA, but they just don’t seem to respond. I had one MUA who was provided at a TFP shoot and I gave her a nice tip even though most had not. I e-mailed her after she gave me her card and didn’t hear back from her, so it gets frustrating sometimes when you try to get a MUA and no responses. So thank you, Maria, for writing this article.


  7. November 20, 2011 at 1:20 am, Cherry said:

    some good tips here. we can’t all afford MUAs and don’t all have friends in the industry who can do it for free or at a discount. $75 for makeup every time I have a shoot is way out of my price range, so I usually do it myself. there have been times i have paid $75 or more and really hated the way the MUA made me look, too…at least when you do it yourself you have control over the look.


    • June 07, 2012 at 1:36 pm, Gia Lee said:

      Hi Cherry, I have had the same experience using an M.U.A.and the  Hair stylist was terrible!! She ruined my shoot in my opinion. I tried fixing my hair and make up myself . That was an experience from hell!!


  8. November 13, 2011 at 8:29 am, Miss Sarah Marie said:

    Wow great article, lots of stuff I never even think about. I need to spend more time on my make up before shoots. 😀


  9. November 07, 2011 at 6:05 pm, DainHMaschile Inc. said:

    thx..very helpful.


  10. November 07, 2011 at 5:27 pm, Kem87 said:

    I already do my own makeup in all my shoots! I actually prefer it as I know what looks work best for me then some stranger putting on makeup for me! However when I do get a break from my own makeup is a quite a relaxing thing! I couldn’t LIVE without makeup!Lol


  11. November 05, 2011 at 9:13 pm, JTEXPHOTO said:

    Helpful! Thank you <3 I usually have an MUA, but when they are not available I need to rely on myself!


  12. November 05, 2011 at 6:19 pm, Jessykah said:

    This is a fantastic article. 🙂 very helpful.


  13. November 04, 2011 at 5:58 am, Maggie said:

    A lot of this doesn’t apply to certain eye shapes or brow placements…


  14. November 04, 2011 at 4:03 am, Anonymous said:

    Not sure anything is posted here that people don’t already is always best to get a Mua because it takes a skilled hand to do can tell someone to put on eyeliner and if they are inexperienced it will be shaky to thick to can say what foundation but it still takes experience to make sure it’s not blotchy or even the right color in some cases..ALOT of woman don’t blend eyeshadow well or know what colors to use or how to again if your going to do professional pictures let a professional do your makeup for the best outcome


    • November 06, 2011 at 4:37 am, ARose89 said:

      Not everyone has the ability to hire a makeup artist, especially newbies. There have only been 2 or 3 shoots when I’ve had a MUA, and it wasn’t my choice to have one there for those. My photos where I do my own makeup always come out great. And what if the MUA cancels and there is no MUA to replace her? Cancel the shoot? I don’t think so!


  15. November 04, 2011 at 1:10 am, Caroline Josephine said:

    Wow thank you so much for this! I sometimes have to do my own make-up and I’m shocked to see how much of this I’ve been doing right 🙂 Can’t wait to incorporate some of these other tips into my make-up in the future.


  16. November 03, 2011 at 9:27 pm, Pcandrc69 said:

    Hi can you advise me on how to cover the scar on my forehead please x


  17. November 03, 2011 at 6:33 pm, Makeupbym said:

    Very helpful :0 Thanks so much 🙂


  18. November 03, 2011 at 2:51 pm, Steef said:

    Mooie meid, creatief ook nog-:)!!


  19. November 03, 2011 at 2:48 pm, Steef said:

    Mooie meid….-:)!


  20. November 03, 2011 at 2:14 pm, Boriana Jeleva said:

    I found this very helpful..thank you!


  21. November 03, 2011 at 4:10 am, Anonymous said:

    Thanks so much! I’ve been having a lot of difficulty with this, as I don’t know my way around make-up at all! lol


  22. November 03, 2011 at 2:29 am, Monicallyn01 said:

    I found this very helpful..thank you!


  23. November 03, 2011 at 2:28 am, LisetteAntoinette said:

    someone still need the basics so good that you posted this:)


  24. November 02, 2011 at 10:39 pm, Sylchavez said:

    Great advice!!!


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