DIY Makeup for headshots tutorial

2 Oct

I don’t consider myself an expert in much (hence the How Not To feature), but I am pretty good at research. So when I decided to do my own makeup for my headshot with the talented and highly sought Karen Rooker, I dove right in. Three hours of web searching, two trial runs, and a Sephora consultation later, I concluded that there’s no definitive tutorial out there. What follows is the wisdom I’ve gleaned from a variety of sources and my own experimentation. (I wrote down my products and colors, and if you happen to be a redhead with blue eyes that might actually mean something to you).

These techniques are with the classic commercial acting headshot in mind, but the basic principles would work for any photo session–engagement, family portraits, etc.

First and foremost

One to two weeks before, cut and color your hair. I don’t recommend doing a headshot with a spankin’ new ‘do, because you probably won’t have gotten the hang of styling it yet. Give this makeup tutorial a trial run in case you need to change colors or buy anything new.

Two days before, wax anything you wax on your face (eyebrows, upper lip, etc) so the redness will be gone by D-day. Also, start teeth whitening. I used a CVS brand whitening gel pen that you simply brush on and let dry. You can do it up to 4 times a day and it produces noticeable results in two days. And it was only $13 as opposed to $50, so.

Night before, go to bed at a decent hour. It doesn’t have to be alone—a  little hanky panky never hurt the complexion. Just sayin’.

Morning of, put on your moisturizer and sunscreen. You want to give it plenty of time to soak in. Apply eye drops to brighten the whites of your eyes if needed (I used a special cosmetic eye whitener called Collyre Bleu, but plain ol’ Visine works). Don’t wait until after doing your eye makeup or you will be sad.

Don’t bother cutting out alcohol, caffeine, sugar, or salt the week before. Some photogs advise doing so, but I’d rather be infinitesimally puffy than miserable.

Set up

Find a spot next to a window for natural light, especially important if your shots will be taken outdoors, as most are now. Set up all your makeup and tools, a mirror, and any reference pictures you’ll need, and have makeup remover cloths handy. Also a tall glass of water (to help flush the salt and caffeine you didn’t cut out).

Time: My entire prep took place during T’s two hour nap, and that includes a shower, doing the hairs, and finding pictures on the internet in addition to makeup application. Not too bad!

The nitty gritty


Apply a couple squirts of makeup primer all over the face, neck, and any part of the décolletage that your chosen outfit reveals. Start applying where pores are biggest—for me that’s the little patches of check right next to the nose. Dab another ½ squirt on the eye area. Gently, now: lawd knows we don’t need any more redness there. I used Revlon Photoready Perfecting Primer and Eye Primer + Brightener. (Although, on reflection, the eye primer wasn’t really necessary.)


Call me a rebel, but I highly recommend doing your eyes first, before the face. Then if any stray shadow dust or liner escapes, your foundation and concealer routine will take care of it.

  1. Brighten. Line the water line (the inner rim of your lower lash) with white. You can even add a tiny dash to the innermost corner. I used Aveda eye shadow in Snowbird applied with a very thin, stiff, eyeliner brush. Make sure everything is super sterile so you don’t get a stye.
  2. Shadow. Use a palette with at least four neutral colored shades that are matte. (Shimmer makeup? I’ve seen it look great in pictures, and I’ve seen it look greasy in pictures. Your $300 photo sesh probably isn’t the time to take that gamble.) I chose four matte browns from this massive Eyes Lips Face palette that I got for $10 at Urban Outfitters. It’s no Chanel, but it did the trick.  I always use my fingers to apply shadow and save the brushes for blending.
  3. Follow this diagram (pinned from for applying the eyeshadow. Use a heavy hand—photographs lighten everything two shades. 
    1. Lightest color goes all over the lid, all the way to the brow.
    2. Second darkest shade covers the outside half of the lid. Start applying in the corner and blend towards the center so you don’t end up with a hard line.
    3. Use the darkest shade to make a sideways U on the corner of the lid. Try to make it look the same on both eyes. It’s not as hard as it looks—just think “crease, line, crease, line.”
    4. Blend the second lightest shade into the crease. Start on the inside corner and blend outward, so you don’t cover the dark you just did.
  4. Eyeliner. Again, I used a shadow as a liner with my handy dandy liner brush (hence the cleansing clothes). I took a dare with a bright blue from Covergirl Eye Enhancers quad in Tropical Fusion to make my blue eyes pop. I hear bright purple looks good on baby browns (green or hazel eyes, sorry, no clue). If you don’t want to use a bright, then try brown or smoke, but avoid pure black, which is too severe on almost everyone. Line the outer half of the eye. Start with the thinnest line you possibly can and build from there if needed. Don’t wing it too much—this is for an “every day/please cast me” look, not a night on the town. You don’t have to do the bottom line, but if you do, only take it halfway in. Any further will make your eye appear smaller.
  5. Mascara. I have an awesome trick for making your eyelashes look curled (my lashes are either not long enough or shaped too weirdly to fit in an actual curler). Do one quick all-over coat. Then hold the wand at the base of your lashes and pull up a tiny bit: hold for 5 seconds. Pull it up a tiny bit more to the middle of the lash: hold for 5 more. Pull all the way to the tip and hold one last 5. As you know, I don’t think mascara brand makes much difference, but a new tube always seems to work best. And use black—even if you’re blonde. I used Maybelline Lash Stiletto Voluptuous in Very Black, which has one of the only curved brushes that has ever made sense. (Some people use fake eyelashes, which do indeed look good on camera, but only go there if you’re a pro at putting them on).
  6. Eyebrows. Almost all eyebrows, but especially the light ones of most blondes and redheads, need some emphasis in pictures. I used Avon Perfect Eyebrow Pencil in Medium Brown, which has a brush at the other end for blending. Color in the brows against the direction of hair growth. Brush brows back into place gently so as not to create redness in the area.

There are good arguments for doing this step after foundation (like you might not need as much), but I think doing concealer first makes for a smoother, more unified look. I recommend a skin matching formulation (my pick: Rimmel MatchPerfection 2-in-1 concealer and highlighter in Light) to cover both eye circles and other imperfections. Otherwise you’ll need two colors: a lighter-than-skin-tone one for under eyes, and a close-to-skin-tone one for the etcetera. Pat it gently on any area of discoloration and blend.


Again, make sure the formulation is matte, unless you want to look like the poster child for marathon runners. If you’re like me and have freckles you want to feature, pick something either liquid or power based (in the color of the skin under the freckles). Otherwise use a full coverage cream. I hear that Makeup Forever has an HD foundation specially formulated for being on screen, but I just used my good old Bare Minerals in medium. Apply starting at the nose and chin (where we need it most) and blend out, using a brush, a wet sponge, or your fingers. Apply to your neck and chest as well, if they will show in the picture.

Cheeks and Contour

Shadow and highlight. I used Revlon Photoready Sculpting Blush Palette in Peach (peaches look better thank pinks on most redheads), which comes complete with highlight and shadow colors. But you could use a bronzer as a shadow and any one of the many highlighters on the market now (pink or gold are softer looking than white). Don’t use that silly brush that comes in the compact—try a foundation brush, a concealer brush, or just fingers.  I simply followed this picture, minus the stripe over the eyelid, but PLUS highlight on top of the collar bone and shadow underneath it. Again, use a heavy hand unless you’re using actual stage makeup (Remember, most street makeup is much more lightweight than it needs to be for photo and video). Blend.

Blush. Squinch your cheeks up and blend your blush onto the little apples with a densely bristled blush brush. Use a powder blush; creams and gels will look too shiny, and stains are too hard to control and blend. I decided I needed a bit more oomph, so I topped my peach blush from the Revlon palette with Bare Minerals All Over Face Color in Glee.


Almost done, I swear.

Liner. Pick a liner to match your natural lip color, not your lipstick. I used L’oreal Colour Riche Liner in Forever Rose. Lightly line the very outermost edge of the lips. Then use my secret trick for long lasting lipstick: color in your whole lip with the liner.

Lipstick. I’m all over this new dual lip trend, so I put NYX in Margarita (a pinky peach) on my top lip and Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick in Siren (a bright coral) on my bottom lip and SMACKED! Berries or corals look best on camera (as opposed to red or pink), and there’s one for every skin tone. Whatever color you pick, make it bright and bold. It will look much more subdued on camera. Don’t believe me? Try a few on and take pictures with your phone or point-and-shoot.


Finish with a generous and girly dusting of loose powder with a giant powder brush all over your face, neck, and chest (don’t use a compact or you’ll cover your contouring). Forgo translucent, which can look chalky, and pick a neutral or even yellow based color, like Airspun Powder in Naturally Neutral. Go ahead and powder over your lips too (add one more lipstick coat right before the shoot). Everything will last longer! My makeup looked the same at 10 PM as it did in this picture!


Gloss would go on very last, right before the camera starts clicking. I decided to skip gloss, even though several sources recommended it. I thought it would make my look a bit too made up, and I was going for next door neighbor. But if your character type is the vampy vixen, definitely do a dab of clear gloss on the fattest part of your bottom lip.

One last note:

Throw all your stuff, along with a hand mirror and some makeup remover-soaked cotton swabs in a bag with your outfit changes and hairbrush. Rather have it and not need it than need it and…well, you know.

Hair words of wisdom:

Don’t bother with the back, it won’t show.

Clothing words of wisdom:

Wear your most comfortable pair of underwear.

Micellaneous words of wisdom:

Don’t wear sunglasses on your way to the shoot. They’ll put dents in the bridge of your nose; besides, might as well get used to the sunlight so you won’t squint as much.

I’m sorry I don’t have step by step pictures. I was racing against the clock (well, against my kid’s napping stamina). And my camera blows anyway. But here’s one of the shots (unretouched) so you can see how it turned out.

(Note: I chose this shot specifically to  show the makeup–for advice on choosing a shot for your acting submissions, ask someone much wiser than me, like your acting teacher or the Dalai Lama).  Better book Karen while you can, her calendar fills up quick!



6 Responses to “DIY Makeup for headshots tutorial”

  1. katylove1990 October 2, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    You are gorgeous!! Thank you so much for all these tips =) Please check out my beauty blog as well ^-^

  2. Ryuji August 11, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

    Thanks for a very nice article. I’m a professional headshot photographer, and I wrote a similar (but much shorter) headshot makeup tips because a lot of people don’t have a clue yet don’t want to hire a professional makeup artist. Your page is now linked from mine because it has a lot of good info. Good luck in your acting career, as well!

    • Carrie October 6, 2015 at 11:28 am #

      Thank you so much for this wonderful article! I too am a redhead and have children – and therefore limited time. Really appreciated your little tips like don’t wear sunglasses on the drive down. Things like that made this really helpful. Thanks again!

      • janielyoung October 9, 2015 at 4:49 pm #

        Thanks for the comment Carrie, so glad you found it helpful!


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