Hair & Make Up

Hair & Make Up

Professional photographers often use telephoto lenses and long camera-to-subject distances (2-5 metres or more) in portraiture. It can make people seem to be slightly older, less attractive and larger or fatter than they appear in reality. This can lead to a strong flattening effect. Historically, this flattening has required highly skilled interventions by make-up artists to restore sculpture and naturalness to faces fattened by telephoto lenses or uniform lighting. Since the early days of b/w movies and TV, the solution has been contour makeup.

These photographs were both taken from about 3 metres away (with a telephoto lens of 2.5x magnification) and with flat lighting to even-out the illumination. The left image is without makeup and has clearly flattened the model’s cheekbones while making her eyes smaller than they would appear in reality. Contour makeup in the right image has compensated for this loss of sculpture by adding shading gradients and highlights to emulate the effects of sculptural side-lighting. The result is an image that has the appearance of being taken from a much closer distance,  enhancing both sculptural and aesthetic balance.*

Until recent years, this type of sculptural makeup seen here has rarely been seen outside of professional studios and in the real world. Models and actresses have often complained about being “caked” in makeup on set and were reluctant to venture out into daylight with this amount of contouring. Heavy makeup in the real world was often seen as attention-seeking or “advertising” and sometimes could have very negative connotations. But the selfie generation has rejected those concerns and is now happy to take this experiment out onto the streets.

Contour makeup is designed to best seen with uniform professional lighting from relatively long distances and reproduced by 2D photography. However, telephoto lenses have other effects that require consideration. They can make ears stick out and look far more prominent than they appear in close-up. They also will allow more of the sides and top of the head to be seen, which can also make a “big hair look” seem oversized and unbalanced compared to the same hair seen at much closer distances. Decades of professional make-up artistry have had to balance the widely varying demands of the client, the model and technical constraints in order to deliver a satisfying result. The many solutions they have evolved were inevitable because it is highly unlikely one or two makeup solutions will be satisfactory for all circumstances. Pre-testing in  like-for-like photographic conditions is the only way to ensure that when a specific look is required, the make-up approach selected is up to the task of delivering it in widely different circumstances. The good news here is that if a “less is more” philosophy is chosen by the make-up artists, digital post-production tools now offer the ability the correct for lower colour saturation and flat lighting in ways that were impossible until very recently.

Wide-Angle Lenses. The larger eyes with narrowed nose and sculptured cheekbones seen in the right photograph above are a innate feature of wide angle lenses. So they may be useful in counteracting flattening effects when contour makeup is inappropriate.  Also, if a character were required to age for a specific role, camera tests of them with wide angle lenses (from a high angle) should be investigated to see if it gives a relatively youthful look without strong makeup. As ageing is required, camera and make-up testing should establish if photographing from further away using telephoto lenses is helpful. It should widen the appearance of necks, waists and wrists etc while making the eyes and nose seem much smaller.

*It is important to note that the contour lighting seen in the image above may well look too extreme if photographed with orthostereo 3D. The underlying sculpture of the face would be clearly visible, but the face would look “caked”  with seemingly unnecessary amounts of contour makeup. So the 3D image would reproduce much of what was seen with direct vision (the “caked in make-up” look), turning a pleasing 2D effect into less pleasing experience in 3D.

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