Makeup for Television and Photography

smokey eye by little lulu makeup artistry in miamiCommunication is extremely important in deciding the style of the the finish which your makeup must cater to.

In this post we will discuss:

  • The role of the makeup artist in the studio
  • Television scripts and the makeup artist
  • Staying Consistent
  • The role of the assistant makeup artist
  • Studio lighting and its effect on makeup
  • Television terms and vocabulary
  • Special products for television and photography


The Role of the Makeup Artist

The professionals who influence how the actors and actresses appear on camera include: the producer, director, script writer, makeup artist, wardrobe and hair stylist, and lighting crew. The main role of the makeup artist is to counteract the shine and reflective effects that bright lights produce when coming in contact with a person’s skin. Studio lights also tend to wash out the complexions of people being filmed and it’s up to the makeup artist to make sure actors don’t appear ghost-like on camera.

When a specific character or time period is being recreated, the makeup artist is called upon to recreate an authentic and convincing image  for the camera. Special-effects makeup, such as wounds and scars is another specialty of the makeup artist that works for television.

In television, the makeup artist has the advantage of seeing the result of their work immediately whether he or she is on the set or in front of monitors in the control room. Generally, televisions shows are taped, necessitating simple touch-ups between takes. The makeup artist must be attentive to the director’s order and never in a place that can interfere with other members of the crew. It is important to keep your equipment clean and your materials well organized. Always look professional and well-groomed.

Television Scripts and the Makeup Artist

The script for a television episode is what governs the entire production. All the audiovisual details are contained within the document. While in film, the makeup artist must become acquainted with only a single type of script. However, in television, there are many formats and styles to match the different genres of TV programs which the makeup artist must also become acquainted with. Some television programs are make with no script at all- news programs, where field journalists report live on location, is an example. Afterward, through newsroom editing, the team establishes a script.

Soap operas are unique in that there is often a master document from which the serial scripts are drawn. The master document contains details such as descriptions of the characters, professions, personalities and styles, history and so on.

In daily talk shows, each script changes daily. Other models of television scripts are:

Short news segments

The topic of a short taped news segment will be a single theme or event, whether a press conference or the naming of a new head of state. These segments are meant to be informative and objective.

Featured news segments 

On TV programs like 60 Minutes, there might be several 10-15 minute segments. The script for these segments will be more extensive and contain footage destined for voice-over. There is usually a clear, established structure, although last minute changes are common and require the makeup artist to adapt quickly.

Interview scripts

These documents describe the people involved (i.e. moderator, speaker, interviewees), the order in which they speak, the topics and so on.

Reality shows and game shows

The circumstances of reality shows are different and the crew members should always be prepared for the unusual. In reality shows such as Survivor, a team of script writers stay nearby and document the daily routines of the competitors. They then incorporate and further develop the spontaneous story lines when they write their scripts.

Staying Consistent 

For every recurring character in any type of television program, it’s critical that consistency be kept between what the actor wore and how he or she was made up from one episode or shot to the next. If special effects are used, there will need to be an account of where a particular wound was located, for example, and for how long according to the script, the wound shall appear. This attention to detail ensures a realistic consistency within the television program. A wound that miraculously disappears by the next episode of a soap opera, for example, will be noticed by astute viewers.

The Role of the Assistant Makeup Artist

The assistant will be responsible for assisting with the needs of either the main makeup artist, or artists or the actor (or journalist, etc.) being made up. Specific duties vary.

Studio Lighting and its Effect on Makeup

Lighting color

Many different colors of light are used on television sets to create an atmosphere and evoke certain emotions in the viewers.

Orange light will result in a warm, relaxed, intimate environment. Orange light smooths facial features.

Pink light is used to create an effect of flashback or dream sequence. Pink light attenuates lines, folds and creases.

Red light is used to deliver a sense of a variety of environments and settings, such as a cafe or theater. Under red light, makeup practically disappears because red light is stronger than any other color.

Blue light creates an atmosphere of fear and suspense. It is also used for a moonlight effect in night shoots. The effect that it produces in makeup is shadow. It gives clarity, clears up the skin, and improves under-eye circles. Natural variations in skin tone become more visible.

White light has a similar effect to blue light, but makes contrasts even more noticeable.

Film speed

The speed of the film is a measure of its sensitivity to light. The speed/sensitivity influences how makeup appears on film. Speed is denoted by ISOs, named for the International Organization of Standardization.

Films of low sensitivity (12-80 ISOs) are among the more challenging for the makeup artist to work with as they register all kind of details. Untreated pores and fine lines will be evident, putting the responsibility of a perfect finish on the artist. Low-sensitivity films also result in high contrast.

Films of moderate sensitivity (100-200 ISOs) are used more often and produce a lifelike, realistic image.

Films of high sensitivity (400-3200 ISOs) are easy for the makeup artist to work with. They reveal very little detail and disguise most imperfections These films are used for artistic expression and produce images with a grainy, vintage look. As for the makeup, you must amplify it.

Intensity and quality of light

The illumination can be more or less intense, hard or soft, cold or warm. These terms relate to the quantity, contrast, and hue of light.

Direction of illumination

Frontal lighting is becoming less used because it leaves the face totally flat. It has the advantage of smoothing out wrinkles. Makeup should enhance the curvatures of the face with technical shading.

Back lighting produces the opposite effect of frontal lighting. Light aimed from behind the person obscures the face and only shows the silhouette. As in the previous example, the ambient light serves to smooth, and according to the intensity of light, the face will remain in greater or smaller degrees of semi-darkness. the makeup will vary according to the type of back lighting:

  1. Absolute back lighting: the face is not seen.
  2. Back lighting smoothed by ambient or ambient light of low intesnity: the makeup must be in a satin or luminous finish.
  3. Back lighting smoothed by ambient or ambient light of high intesnity: this light increases the intensity that influences the face, clarifying the tones.

Top lighting is cast on the individual from above, as daylight would be. The illuminated zones correspond to the higher and prominent parts of the face which already receive more light. These facial features will project shadows on less illuminated zones. The makeup artist will highlight the face to correct the distortion that is caused, compensating and balancing the zones of light and shadow.

Under lighting is located at a point below the individual. The more illuminated zones will be those of the lower parts of the face, which will receive greater intensity. The shadows are projected upward, producing a spooky effect.

Side lighting illuminates only one side of the person. In makeup, you must keep in mind the intensity of the light for color selection and textures.

Television Terms and Vocabulary

Aerial or crane shot: The camera offers a perspective of the scene from a certain altitude. This is usually done by elevating the camera with an aircraft or large crane. This is not to be confused with the overhead shot, since aerial can be shot overhead or not.

Overhead shot: The shot in which the camera is placed, by means of a crane or other technical system, directly above the action.

Cut-away shot: These shots are intended to be filler for video or film. For example: if an interview is being taped, shots might be taken of objects on the table, the screen of the interviewee’s computer, etc., to be incorporated with the actual interview during editing.

Datum shot: The shots that offer the viewer a reference that permits one to orient oneself in relation to the action being shown.

Subject shot/ Point of view: A shot that allows us to see the action through the eyes of the character. The point of view or POV shot.

Special Products for Television and Photography


Pancake foundation works with a damp sponge and gives full coverage.

Pan-stick makeup covers with a creamy texture.

Liquid foundation contains oils unless labeled oil-free. Liquid foundations are ideal for heavier coverage or/or combination skin. the makeup artist should carry several shades from fair to warm.

Cream foundations provide full coverage and can function as concealers.

We can use makeup foundation to correct imperfections in skin that will be photographed:

  • To correct face shape, use darker foundations, being sure to blend well into the skin.
  • To correct red zones, use green or yellow-tinted concealers or cream foundations.
  • To correct dark spots or under eye darkness, use orange-tined concealer or cream foundations.
  • For sallow skin, use orange, yellow or translucent foundations.


Orange powders give luminosity and good tone.

Translucent powders clarify. They have no color, but can look ashy on warmer skin tones.

Yellow powders even red tones and brighten the skin’s complexion.

Now that we understand many things about photography and television, make sure to check back next week for a general guideline on how to create makeup for photography! Subscribe to my blog for e-mail updates.

6 thoughts on “Makeup for Television and Photography

    1. Thanks love! Yes understanding lighting matters when you’re a makeup artist but an amazing photographer really amplifies your work since a lot of it tends to get lost in translation. 🙂

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