Only if necessary

I generally recommend doing things only if they need to be done. And one of those things is a make-up artist (a “MUA”). You can be pretty sure that TV producers, for example, would not use make up artists if they were not necessary. But they are. Witness:

Make up artists do not just fix blemishes. They also shape the face so it is suitable for the shoot. Here’s MUA Melissa Telisman doing her thing:

And here’s what that results in:

Glamour and perfection without “photoshopping”, which I am not a fan of. Vut make-up is not just for glamour; not at all. I recommend a MUA and a hair stylist for corporate shoots, too, especially—but not only—if women are involved. If TV shows do it, you can be sure it is necessary, and not a luxury.

Incidentally: do we need the entire person in every shot?


Decidedly no. You get a much more intimate feeling when you do an extreme close-up (an ECU, in movie terms). Try it; experiment in your next shoot and do some shots like the one above. You’ll love them.


Before and After

Here’s the power of a make-up artist: “before” and “after” shots of Liz Medori:

Now of course you will notice a few things. First: on the left we have done nothing to make the image look good. NO make-up, but you will also notice the lack of a background light, the lack of a friendly expression, no fan for the hair: while this is not a deliberate “let’s make her look bad” shot, it’s certainly not a “let’s make her look good” shot!

The photo on the right has all those things and a little post work, but in regards to that post work, I want to emphasize “a little”. I do not like to “Photoshop” (Lightroom, really) the heck out of someone to make them look like something they are not. I never, ever do any liquefying, or anything like that; only minor fixes of skin contrast, fixing of temporary blemishes, and so on.

So what we did on the right:

  1. Lit the background
  2. Better expression
  3. Used a fan on the hair
  4. Fixed minor blemishes
  5. Decreased “Clarity” a little (skin-tone contrast, if you will) – but not by much. -15 to -20 is a common setting for me. Much more and it gets obvious, porcelain dolls, and while some photographers love that look, I would rather see people the way they are.

A rule of thumb: if any alteration to a person is obvious upon seeing it, I do not like to do it. I am not fan of the “Portrait Professional” ads that show people made into something completely unlike the way they actually look.

Anyway – the make-up is the major difference: thanks to Melissa T. for doing make-up, and to Liz Medori for modelling.



Zombies ‘R’ Us

Last night I held a little zombie party. And that prompts me to tell you about the importance of two things in photography.

One is the make-up artist (the “MUA”), who is present at many shoots. Without one, you are limited. You cannot, for instance, change anyone into a zombie, like this:

Or this:

Here’s Melissa, last night’s MUA, working hard on making me ugly (not all that difficult, according to some):

But even for simple shoot, a make-up artist can be essential. Why does professional photography involve so much time (each make-up job took over an hour, in two parts: make-up, then blood and wounds) and money? Because doing a professional job takes real effort, knowledge, and time. Accept the extra expense and do it, next time you have a shoot that needs a professional look – whether that look is beauty or zombie. Same thing, for a good Make-Up Artist.

The second thing is post-processing. While I do what I can in the camera, some things cannot be done there. Like the “Walking Dead” look in these pictures. Here’s Melissa, the Make-Up Artist:

So to get this look I quickly created a Lightroom preset, which I call “zombify”. That makes image 1 below into image 2 below:

Lightroom “Zombify” Develop Preset, by Michael Willems:

  • Temperature 6150K (with my studio flashes)
  • Tint -44 (my version of “Walking Dead Green”)
  • Exposure +0.5
  • Contrast +12
  • Highlights +7
  • Shadows +11
  • Clarity +65
  • Vibrance -42
  • Sharpening 80
  • Noise Reduction 20
  • Post-crop vignetting -27 Highlight Priority

Do those settings (tune to taste), then save as a new preset and you are all set for Halloween. You’re welcome.

The Angel of Death is watching.

Enjoy your Halloween, later this week.


Come to me for a little Lightroom coaching, and I’ll set up your Lightroom structure professionally while we are at it, too.

MUA? What MUA?

Why do photographers need a make-up artist (a “MUA”) at a shoot? What does a make-up artist do? I thought that might be worth a few words today.

First of all, a make-up artist does make-up. D’oh.

Make-up is important for everyone – ask a TV producer: who ever appears under the cameras without make-up? Almost no-one. Richard Nixon lost an election because of his unkempt appearance.

Right, Michael. But surely young models, who are not Richard Nixon, do not need make-up? Right?

Sure they do. Even Angelina Jolie (or fill in your dream person).

Let me illustrate that.

Below, Angelina’s skin photographed close-up with a modern DSLR and a 100mm lens:

A wall. Photo Michael Willems

Not Angelina. Photo Michael Willems

Okay, maybe that is not Angelina’s skin, but you get the idea. No-one is perfect – people are people. Young and old, male and female: we all have pores, freckles, blemishes. Young models are, well, young, so they also have acne. The dream angels you see in Vogue have been photoshopped. They’re called “dream” for a reason.

So that is one reason you need a MUA: to fix flaws. So that the photographer does not have to spend hours in Photoshop or Lightroom “fixing” them.

And then the MUA does hair. Straighten, brush, whatever it needs: the MUA knows, and keeps a look out during a shoot.

Once all that is done, a very important function is to match the mood with the look. A good MUA knows how to do this. And to match the make-up and hair with the outfit: this too is very important. The MUA talks to the creative director and the photographer, and helps create the perfect look.

A further reason is to help with things in general. A shoot is always hectic and an extra pair of hands is great. And an extra pair of eyes. Runny eye shadow? Non-glossy lipstick? Hair in the way? The MUA keeps a close lookout for these things.

I would say that the final reason is one of the most important: a good MUA makes the model (male or female, young or old) feel good about themselves, and confident in their abilities. Feel great, feel beautiful, feel like a million dollars – and that translates to looking great.

To illustrate all that, here’s one more shot from Sunday’s workshop:

Evanna Mills, photo by Michael Willems

Evanna Mills (photo Michael Willems, Make-up Liz Valente)

Side note: I have been asked why we use young women as models in the workshops. Do we just like photographing young women?

Sure we do. But you would be surprised how little the photographer actually cares about the type of things he shoots. That is, you can have the same amount of fun shooting women or men, young or old; shooting jewelery or forests, shooting products or buildings. Old men are just as great as young women, creatively speaking. But models, most of whom are young women, are a good choice for several reasons.

One: they get paid to be there and they are very patient. Two: they have infinite energy. Posing all day takes it out of you. And three: they know how to pose for the camera. Finally, most importantly, they are not afraid. A good model is unselfconscious and will not worry for each shot how they look.

And the MUA reinforces that confidence.