How to Apply Makeup for Pictures

by Lilly Wallace ; Updated September 28, 2017

If you've ever wondered why your makeup doesn't look as good in photos as it does in real life, the reason is that some facial features tend to be "washed out" by photography while others tend do be emphasized. In order to look your best in photos, you should adapt your makeup to a more photo-friendly version of it. However, since lighting is what makes your makeup look different, you should make some adjustments depending on whether you are going to take photos indoors (likely with flash) or outdoors (with natural light).


  • If you have oily skin, invest in an oil-absorbing face primer. This is not only a primer that contains ingredients to prevent the skin from looking greasy, but it also helps to hold the makeup in place all day. Apply the face primer on your T-zone (forehead, nose, around the mouth, and chin) before applying your foundation and concealer.

Indoor Photo Makeup Tutorial

Conceal Dark Circles, Redness and Imperfections

Concealer is one of the most helpful tools in photography because it temporarily covers redness and blemishes so that the skin looks more even. Any skin blemishes should be covered with a concealer that matches foundation.

Choose an under-eye concealer that is only one or two shades lighter than your foundation and mix it with your foundation before applying it. Some under-eye concealers have light-reflecting properties that works well in real life but tend to look too bright in photo.

Apply a Flash-Friendly Foundation

Many foundations these days contain SPF from physical sunscreen ingredients, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These ingredients reflect the light and show up as a white cast with flash photography. Avoid foundations containing SPF and opt for one without SPF, or with a low SPF (15 or less).

Unless you have very dry skin, opt for a foundation with a matte finish, which makes the skin's texture appear more even, blurring pores and other imperfections, while also offering more coverage. Most foundations with a matte finish contain oil-absorbing ingredients that help to prevent the skin from getting oily. Oily skin tends to look even more oily in photos, with the pores looking enlarged.

If you have very dry skin, you may want to use a foundation without a matte finish and then apply powder only in selected areas of the face that may look shiny in photo.


  • Apply foundation to your neck, too. A mistake that becomes particularly evident in photos is applying foundation only to the face, which emphasizes the difference in color with the neck, (unless the foundation matches the neck color). Blend a little foundation onto the neck and make sure that no edges are visible.

Define Your Eyebrows

Whether you have full or thin eyebrows, keep in mind that photography tends to wash them out. Eyebrows "frame" your face so they are a facial feature that should be emphasized. Define your eyebrows with a powder or with a pencil making sure to fill in any gaps/bald spots, and pay special attention the the tail, which is the part that tends to "disappear" in photos.


  • Fill your eyebrows with a color that is one shade lighter than your hair if you are a brunette, and one shade darker if you are blonde.

Line Your Eyes

After applying a wash of a soft color all over the lid, such as a taupe color, you may line your eyes to modify the eye shape slightly. Eyeliner can look very flattering in photos, but make sure to keep the line as close as possible to the lash line, and wing it upwards slightly for a more elongated eye shape.

Emphasize Your lashes

Thicker, curled lashes make the eyes appear bigger and more awake, so curl your eyelashes with an eyelash curler and apply a few coats of mascara. Make sure to start at the roots of the lashes with the mascara wand before coating them as it gives the appearance of fuller, thicker lashes.


  • If your lashes are naturally straight and short, use a waterproof mascara; it holds the curler better and longer than water-based mascara.

Add a Pop of Color to Your Cheeks

Bright blushes can make you look overdone in real life, but they photograph very well because they mimic a natural, healthy flush. Do not be afraid to use something brighter that you normally would, like a bright pink or coral, but make sure to blend the edges very well so that they do not show up as too harsh in photos.

Define and Fill in Your Lips

Lip liner is a great tool to perfect your lip shape. Whether your lips lack pigmentation in certain spots, or they are unevenly shaped with one side higher than the other one, you can change the shape slightly and make them appear fuller, more defined, and more even. Start with defining the natural contour of your lips, and then proceed with any correction that you may need. Follow with the application of your lipstick of choice.


  • To make your lips appear fuller, add lip gloss at the center of upper and lower lip.

Finish With Powder

Powder is a key product because it prevents the skin from looking oily, which is very unflattering in photos. Whether you have oily skin or dry skin, your T-Zone will probably need a little powder to stay matte. While silica has excellent oil-absorbing properties and effectively keeps the skin matte all day, it may show up as a white cast in flash photography, so be sure to choose a silica-free translucent powder.


  • Posing tip: Lower your chin and turn your head slightly to the side for a more flattering headshot.

Outdoor Photo Tips

Makeup for outdoor photos requires less adaptions than for indoor photos. The most important thing to keep in mind is that natural light magnifies makeup and emphasizes any makeup misapplication. Here are a few tips on how to get it right:

  • Less is more. Natural light can be very unforgiving and emphasize excess product sitting on the skin. Apply your makeup in natural light, in front of your brightest window, in order to prevent excess product application.
  • Use softer colors. Dark colors can look very dramatic if not carefully and expertly applied. Use soft eyeshadow colors.
  • Take it easy with the shimmer. One product that you might want to avoid all together is highlighter, unless it is a subtle one with low or no shimmer at all. Shimmery face products tend to make the pores look enlarged and emphasize oily skin. Low shimmer eyeshadows are okay, if strategically applied in the inner corner of the eye, on the brow bone, and on the center of the upper lid. Avoid glitter.
  • Use cream products instead of powders. Powders can look very obvious and aging in natural light, so opt for cream products instead, especially if you have dry/mature skin.

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About the Author

Lilly Wallace is an Italian certified health and nutrition coach. She writes about beauty and wellness on her website GenuineGlow.com. Passionate about skin care, nutrition and fitness, she loves to inspire her readers to pursue a healthy, eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle.