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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