Mar 16, 2010

On the Importance of Makeup

I know that there are photographers who revel in the idea that their power over the final image is absolute, that anything that falls short in-camera can be saved in Photoshop.

If that describes you, cover your ears.

I call bullshit.  As photographers who construct images, rather than document the world around us as it already exists, one of the most important skills we can have is marshaling the talents of others and playing director...and two of the most important talents we can have at our disposal are makeup application and hairstyling.  These two things, when done well, can be all that is necessary to elevate a photo from pedestrian to polished and complete.

That model over there to the right, that experienced fashion model from a major agency, that girl in the prime of her life and blessed with genes that most people would gnaw off a limb for, surely she walks into the studio looking like that, right?

Read on, friend.

Taken with a point-and-shoot first thing after she got her coat off.

You can expect the best models in the world to arrive looking like this.  No makeup, hair unstyled, wearing jeans and t-shirts and sneakers.  Usually Converse All-Stars, at least in NYC.  In fact, you want them to arrive looking like this.

Because photography, any kind of constructed photography, is about control.

When a model arrives with makeup done or hair styled, you either have to have them redone or you shoot them as they give up control.  When a model arrives wearing the clothes you're going to shoot her in you have less control over the wardrobe...and it's now got whatever wear and tear it received in transit.

When a model shows up with hair and makeup done, and you have no makeup artist or hairstylist on-hand, you're now committed to shooting it whether you like it or not.  Would you book a model for a shoot sight-unseen?  Get dressed in the morning with your eyes closed?  Cook dinner by reaching into the pantry for each ingredient without looking at what you were ending up with?

Why trust such an important part of your images to the judgment of other people and give up the ability to fix it if it becomes a problem?

In fashion, it's standard to request that a model arrives "clean-faced" and ready for styling: this means showered with clean hair, no makeup, preferably nothing on her skin more than light lotion, nails trimmed and clean, body hair recently-shaved as necessary, eyebrows maintained but not over-pruned.  Everything else will be done on the premises - which is to say that everything will be done on the premises.  Because that way we can not only ensure that it's being done by professionals, but we can ensure that it's being done the way we want it to be.  Control.

"But Simon," you say, "not everyone has the luxury of bringing a swarm of stylists to every shoot! (you spoiled bastard)"

True enough, I say.  Often your subject is doing her own makeup and that's just that.  But the idea still applies - it's important to have these things done in your presence, to your specifications, so that you maintain control over your images.  Whether it's a fashion shoot, a low-budget model portfolio, an actor's headshot, a private request is the same: I'd rather have someone bring a bag of makeup and have to wait the 45 minutes it might take for them to do it at the studio.  Because it's being done the way I know it should be.

One of the parts of my fashion workshops that I enjoy most is having one of my makeup artists, like Anna Webber or Dana Dodson (from the NH workshop), come by and give a primer on collaborating with and directing a makeup artist at a photoshoot.  As photographers, we don't need to be able to do makeup ourselves, but we do need to be able to speak that language and understand what's involved in achieving a certain end result.  You don't have to do it yourself, but you do have to be prepared to direct someone else's doing of it.

I firmly believe this is why I'm able to keep production so simple, retouching so minimal: when you have excellent makeup, excellent hair, excellent wardrobe...well, you're almost all of the way there.  A big part of what's left is just not screwing up.

Another shout-out to Anna Webber and Annie Reynor who did the makeup and hair in these images, respectively, and Bryn Taylor who styled the wardrobe.

1 comment:

Holly said...

I appreciate this blog entry. Thank you. I am just starting out and I needed to read something on the subject of make-up. : )