How to Work With Makeup Artists: A Guide for Photographers

If you’re a photographer, makeup artists can play a crucial role, helping you to bring your ideas to life and achieve your creative visions.

But you may also find collaborating with makeup artists a daunting or challenging prospect. Let’s take a look at some useful tips to help you get it right.

Eye makeup

The golden rule: good communication

Communication Diagram

Choosing a makeup artist

Do your research
All savvy professional makeup artists have an online presence, be it a formal portfolio website or simply an active Instagram page. In either case, these give you the chance to browse their work and compare them with other artists.

You may be seeking a very particular style, or just looking for proof of quality and professionalism. Either way, keep in mind that every artist will be showcasing their very best (and often their most recent) work. Remember too that images can be retouched, meaning the artist may not necessarily have created every look and effect you see with makeup alone.

Take recommendations
Another good way to find a makeup artist is through a recommendation from a fellow photographer. If a photographer whose opinion you trust tells you they had a good experience working with a particular makeup artist, you can feel more confident that your own collaboration with them will be equally positive.

Consider multiple artists
If you have multiple different looks in mind for a shoot, you may need more than one makeup artist. Most makeup artists have the versatility to create a wide range of looks, but if your shooting schedule is tight, you may need two or more to keep things moving.

Some makeup artists work with an assistant who can help with prep work, etc. This may allow you to stick with just one artist even on a busy, varied shoot. Before you consider hiring additional makeup artists, find out whether the one you're hiring works with an assistant.

Natural makeup look
Natural makeup look
Creative makeup look
Creative style makeup look

Do your makeup homework

As a photographer, you may be more interested in how makeup can improve your images than in the makeup itself. However, the more you learn about makeup and makeup artistry, the better your chances of enjoying a successful collaboration with a makeup artist.

Learn about the fundamentals of makeup artistry. Make sure you understand the different products and tools that makeup artists use, and the effects they create. Get to know the techniques and processes of makeup artistry so that you appreciate the work that goes into each look, and how long it takes.

The best thing about learning about makeup is that will help you to know what you want from a makeup artist on a shoot. It will also enhance your ability to communicate your ideas in a way that the makeup artist understands and appreciates.

For example, makeup artists will often provide mood boards and face charts showing their plans for a shoot. The deeper your knowledge of makeup concepts and terminology, the better you will be able to understand these boards and charts, and the clearer feedback you'll be able to give. 

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    Before the shoot

    Establish clear communication
    Once you have chosen which makeup artist (or artists) to work with, it’s time to start preparing them for the shoot. This should ideally involve at least one in-person meeting, plus as many phone or video-call conversations as you need. These meetings may also include fashion and hair stylists. 

    These interactions will give you a chance to explain your plans, describe your creative vision, and establish a healthy rapport. The more comfortable you are speaking with one another, the better the results of your collaboration will be.

    As mentioned above, the makeup artist will typically provide mood boards and face charts outlining their plans. Communicating your feedback on these plans clearly and constructively increases the likelihood of a successful collaboration.

    Provide all the relevant information
    If you can, provide the makeup artist with images of the model or models they’ll be working with on the shoot. Tell them whether or not there will be a separate hair stylist present on the day. Explain the logistics of the shoot: location, transportation, facilities, access, and so on. The more information you can give them, the better.

    Though it can be useful to provide your makeup artist with a mood board, most prefer not to be asked to simply recreate an existing look. Preferences like this vary from one artist to the next, so be sure to ask how they like to work and which resources will be most useful.

    This is another instance where a good understanding of key makeup terms, concepts, products and so on will be very helpful.

    Test photo of model, with mood-boards of different looks.
    Test photo of model with mood-boards of different looks.
    Test photo of model, with mood-boards of different looks.
    Test photo of model with mood-boards of different looks.

    Specify your expectations
    Makeup artists usually stay for the duration of a photoshoot, either to create multiple looks throughout or simply to do touch-ups as the shoot unfolds. Even though the artist will likely expect to stick around (and be paid accordingly), it's always a good idea to clarify your expectations. This will help you both to plan and prepare accordingly.

    Establish your terms
    One more important thing to establish in advance is the terms of your agreement. Who is paying the makeup artist – you or the client? What is their fee – is it flat or based on an hourly rate? How many looks will they create for you? What files will you send them once the project is complete? These and other details should all be discussed before the shoot takes place.

    Collaborating 'for trade'
    Some collaborations between photographers and makeup artists are done ‘for trade’. These projects typically include various other parties, such as models, fashion designers, stylists, hair stylists, and so on, all of whom are looking to build up their portfolios and so are happy to collaborate for little or no payment.

    By working together on a shoot, each visual artist benefits from the others' expertise, and emerges with new images to add to their portfolio. This arrangement can work very well – as long as everyone is on the same page. (Did we mention clear communication yet?)


    During the shoot

    Make them comfortable
    Once the day of the shoot arrives, you should so everything you can to make the makeup artist feel welcome, valued and comfortable. This means providing a clean and tidy space for them to work in. Ideally, this space would be close to a window for natural light. If there’s no available natural light, make sure the space is adequately lit with studio lighting.

    You should also provide a table for the makeup artist to lay out their kit, plus a seat. The optimal chair would be an adjustable swivel stool so that the artist can position the model at the right height in order to work comfortably. It’s also important to make sure the artist has access to a power outlet. If they have asked you to provide a mirror, be sure to do so.

    If you’re working on location outdoors, you should do your best to provide as many of the above items as possible. Think too about providing blankets, umbrellas, parasols and so on to ensure everyone is as comfortable as possible. Alternatively, consider setting up an indoors location nearby where the makeup artist can prepare the model pre-shoot without having to contend with the weather.

    Providing blankets

    Allocate sufficient time
    Though you may be eager to start shooting, its vital that you give the makeup artist as much time as they need to do their work properly. Rushing them risks undermining their abilities. Worse, it is disrespectful and may lead to bad vibes on the shoot.

    Photographers are used to female models spending time in hair and makeup before (and during) a shoot. But many forget that male models need prepping too. So if you’re shooting a male subject, remember to allow time for them to sit with the makeup artist for as long as is necessary.

    Provide real-time feedback
    Here it is again: good communication. Though few people enjoy receiving feedback on their work before it’s finished, it can be very helpful in this case. Why? Because if the makeup artist is on the right track with a look, positive feedback from the photographer will encourage them to keep up the good work.

    On the other hand, if you as the photographer have concerns about what you’re seeing, it’s much better to voice those concerns (sensitively and considerately, of course) sooner rather than later. That way, the makeup artist won’t waste time and energy completing a look you don’t want to shoot.

    Hair and Makeup being done on model

    After the shoot

    Settle payments promptly
    Hopefully it goes without saying that you should settle any invoices you receive from the makeup artist promptly. If you have any concerns or queries, don’t simply withhold payment. Instead, use those excellent communication skills to clarify the situation!

    Share the final images
    Once you have finished any post-production work, share your final images with the makeup artist in whatever form you agreed on. Make sure these are high-quality files that you would be happy to have your name on – this makes it more likely that the makeup artist will feel the same.

    One thing to note: some makeup artists don’t want retouched images in their portfolios, preferring instead to showcase the effects they achieved before you move your shots into Photoshop. Again, this is hopefully something you have clarified in advance.

    Credit the makeup artist and any other collaborators
    Whether you’re posting your images on Instagram or publishing them in a slick fashion magazine, be sure to credit the makeup artist and any other collaborators appropriately. Tagging them in your social posts will give those posts more reach and get your images in front of more eyes – win win! 

    Social media posts


    Some photographers find working with makeup artists comes naturally to them, with their collaborations always going according to plan. If you feel less sure about this kind of teamwork, just remember to communicate clearly and considerately – if you can do that, everything else will follow.

    If you’re a photographer or makeup artist (or both!) with tips to share on making these kinds of collaborations count, feel free to share them in the comments!

    Want to learn more? Explore our classes on Makeup Artistry.

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