Monday, 13 June 2016

Holly Burns - What a makeup artist can teach us about light

When we think of makeup artists and photography, we often think that the two are completely different creative disciplines that occasionally come together to make magic on a beauty shoot. However, what the make-up artists know about how to light and shade a face with makeup can be an incredibly useful resource in our lighting set up and post-production retouching.

Any makeup artist worth their salts studies the human face and is a pro at contouring key areas. ‘Contouring’ is essentially using face make-up to expertly highlight and shade the perfect spots to most flatter the client. They will highlight the areas they wish to emphasise and use darker tones to minimise others. The rule of thumb in any photography is that anything light will look higher (since light usually comes from above) or more protruding and anything dark is recessing away. In beauty, contouring mostly used on emphasising cheekbones, slimming or widening a nose and giving the illusion of a shorter forehead.

This of course, is a very exaggerated image of the amount of makeup an artist will use, however it shows very clearly the places they might want to highlight and shadow.

So what has this to do with us photographers? Well, don’t we use light and shadow to flatter the clients face?

Fundamentally, the key to creating a beautiful portrait is light. Great light gives dimension, contrast and highlights bone structure, Bad lighting on the other hand will make the model look flat, lifeless and uninteresting. In portraiture, we want to add dimension to our 2-dimensional image.

Understanding what is flattering and what should be highlighted and shaded is something all portrait photographers should know. This knowledge is not just handy for creating beautifully lit sets; it also comes into play when retouching. Those of you who know my work know that although I have dabbled in many genres, I am not a fashion, glamour or beauty photographer as I favour the fine art genre, however, I am a freelance retoucher and as such I offer services for other photographers retouching or airbrushing their images for a fee.

My technique

There are so many different ways to change light in Photoshop, however I mainly accentuate light in 2 different ways. I either pick out certain parts to highlight and shade (local adjustments) or I work on the entire image at once (global adjustments).

In the image above I have used local adjustments to add dimension. I have underexposed the whole image and used the selection tool to pick out parts I wanted to highlight, feathered the selection and then pulled the curves upward, in order to lighten the pixels exactly where I want them.

I did this because I wanted to be in full control of the areas I was adding light to. In the image below however, I have used curves again but instead of selecting certain parts to light or shade, I have done it globally, to the entire image.

Here you can see that is there more contrast to the edited image on the right. This has been achieved by adjusting the rgb in an S shape, bringing more light to the highlights and making the shadows deeper. You have probably noticed that the colours have also changed. Using the same technique, but this time isolating each colour, I have also been able to change the colour qualities of light as well.

Quick, subtle changes such as these can really bring life into an image and allow more creative control.

So there we have it, that’s what a makeup artist taught me about light.

Holly Burns

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