Makeup for Wedding Photography: 5 Tips to Look Your Best

As a photographer, semi-reformed beauty junkie, and (amateur!) makeup artist, I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time, but was never quite sure how to frame it. Was it going to be a DIY makeup post? General tips for looking camera-ready? Just a list of all the products I’ve bought in the past that didn’t work?? (RIP money….)

This post will hopefully cover all those things, revealing what I’ve learned as a photographer AND as a bride who did my own wedding day makeup without regrets.

Your wedding day makeup should differ from your everyday routine for two reasons: 1) You need your look to last all day, 2) You’ll be more photographed than (probably!) any other day of your life. That being said, you can apply the below tricks to an engagement shoot, headshot session, or any other situation where you’ll have a camera following you around. Whether you’re DIY-ing your wedding day makeup, trusting a friend, or hiring a professional, enjoy my tips for looking your best in photos!

Makeup for Wedding Photography: 5 Tips to Look Your Best
  1. Prep Your Skin

Drink a ton of water the day before your wedding - I’m talking a whole gallon! If you’re not already an avid water-drinker, try upping your intake the whole week before your big day. I bought one of those fancy-looking glass drink dispensers (for like $10 at Walmart), floated some lemon slices and mint leaves inside, and stuck it on the counter of my parent’s kitchen the week before my wedding. My mom and I set a goal to try to empty it by the end of every night. Avoiding salty foods and too much alcohol the day before your wedding will also help minimize any puffiness, so skip the wine at the rehearsal dinner - there will be plenty of time for toasting on your big day!

Use your favorite scrub or chemical exfoliant the night before to even out your skin’s texture and eliminate any dry patches. I’ve used masks and toners with glycolic acid for years - it gives you a glow without irritating sensitive, combination skin. My current favorite is a glycolic acid toner from The Ordinary - it’s a steal at $9!

Note about puffy eyes:

Under-eye bags are one of the things I’m continually fighting - I’m prone to seasonal allergies and generally look like I pulled an all-nighter no matter how many times I snooze my alarm. If you really need to target puffy eyes, or if you’re worried about a lack of beauty sleep the night before your wedding, stick some under-eye masks in the refrigerator and pop them on your face first thing in the morning. There are a ton of brands out there, but I really like Honest Hazel’s eye gels, and IntensivEye collagen treatments. Definitely don’t try any product for the first time the morning of your wedding- test it out weeks in advance in case your skin reacts poorly.

Makeup for Wedding Photography: 5 Tips to Look Your Best

2. Check, Prime and Set

Using a makeup primer under foundation, and a setting spray on top of your finished look can be the key to makeup that lasts through tears, multiple cheek kisses from relatives, and sweaty dance floors. But if you’re choosing these products yourself, check the ingredient list first. Flash photography can light up certain foundations, primers and setting powders, creating a white or ghostly cast on your face. Products that contain SPF are the biggest culprit, but anything containing zinc or titanium dioxide, silica, or mica can cause this effect. If you can’t picture what I’m talking about, check out photos here and here.

If you’re working with a makeup pro, chances are they’ll use tried and true products to make you look good, but if you’re going it alone, do a test run on any product you’re unsure about. Some flash photos from a Christmas party circa 2015 saved me from using a so-called “HD Studio Primer” on my wedding day - you can’t always believe the marketing!

My recommended primer for flash-safe photo perfection is Smashbox Photo Finish. For makeup that lasts all day (in spite of rain OR 90 degree weather) I swear by Urban Decay’s All Nighter spray.

Makeup for Wedding Photography: 5 Tips to Look Your Best

3. Contouring - friend or enemy?

Personally, I think it’s possible to contour without looking like Kim K. Done correctly, contouring can make your face appear thinner in photos by accentuating and defining your bone structure.

I tried stick, liquid, and powder contouring options (RIP more money….) before finally settling on the Lorac PRO Contour Palette. The velvety powder formula is SO lightweight and more blendable than anything else I tried.

If contouring just isn’t your style (or those diagrams freak you out,) highlighting alone can be a goof-proof way to add dimension to your face. The highlighter included in the Lorac palette is what I used on my wedding day, but if you want an even more natural, dewy highlight - Glossier’s Haloscape is my current fave. It’s the perfect amount of shine for everyday OR special occasion wear.

Makeup for Wedding Photography: 5 Tips to Look Your Best

4. Easy on the Powder

In my teens and early 20’s, whenever I felt my forehead or nose getting “greasy”, the answer was to reach for a dry powder compact and dab on another yet another layer of makeup. Forehead “shine” and minor skin imperfections can be softened and corrected in editing, but it’s almost impossible to bring back natural-looking skin texture if it’s hidden under caked on layers of powder, concealer, or heavy foundation. Additionally, powder can cling to the teeny tiny hairs on your face, making them more defined and visible (especially in HD video.) Dewy, well-moisturized skin is “in” for 2019, and as a photographer, I can get behind this trend! If you’re a bride who struggles with oily skin, or you anticipate high temperatures on your wedding day, grab some blotting sheets for your emergency kit, and put your Maid of Honor on official shine patrol. Sheets like these from Clean and Clear will absorb extra oil without disturbing your makeup or turning your skin into a flat matte mask. I try to keep some in my camera bag for brides (and grooms!) during all my Summer weddings!

Note about editing: Ask your photographer about their retouching policy! Every photographer handles this differently, and if you have strong feelings about Photoshop one way or another, be sure to tell them. I’ll typically only retouch skin imperfections when they’re obvious or distracting, but I do my best to address any insecurities my clients have specifically mentioned to me. Retouching is included in some photographer’s packages, while others will charge for additional edits, ask your photographer about their philosophy and make sure you’re on the same page.

Makeup for Wedding Photography: 5 Tips to Look Your Best

5. More is More

Final tip - and probably the most controversial - you need to go a *little* heavy-handed on makeup for professional photography and videography. Darker makeup on your eyes and lips will help define your features and make them pop on camera. Makeup can add much-needed contrast that keeps your expression visible in wide or faraway shots. When it comes to photography it’s actually easier to end up looking flat and washed out than it is to “overdo it”.  

Obviously you don’t want to look like a stranger on your wedding day, and a shimmery glam look is clearly the wrong choice for someone who mostly just wears chapstick. If you prefer a more natural look, ask your makeup artist to use browns and charcoals to define your eyes rather than stark black. Trial runs, (at home or with a professional) are going to be crucial in determining the right balance of how you look in person versus in photos. Consider coordinating your makeup trial with an engagement session to get a preview of how you’ll look on your big day, or just ask a friend to snap a few pictures in various lighting scenarios.  All this to say, be comfortable, look recognizable - but don’t be afraid to play up the drama for your wedding day look.

Those are my tips! If this was helpful, or if you have burning, unanswered questions about eyeshadow - leave a comment below and tell me!

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Emma is a wedding and portrait photographer serving the East Coast and the world beyond. She lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her husband Mark and her puppy Hildy. The things that make her happiest include slow weekend mornings, live music, Mexican food and Netflix comedy specials. She is endlessly fascinated by the uniqueness and the beauty of every person she photographs. Read more about Emma here!

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