Social media has changed the way we look at make-up. It’s opened up a world of ideas and made the mystery and artistry of catwalk looks something that everyone can try for themselves. And the numbers bear this out – the beauty market is booming, with celebrity make-up artists (MUAs) such as Charlotte Tilbury and Huda Kattan launching their own brands and becoming household names. However, it’s a fiercely competitive market, with brands, MUAs and photographers working together and separately to gain attention on social media.
And while YouTube has taken tuition to a new level, Instagram is the place that stops beauty lovers in their tracks. It’s a format that relishes detail, finds impact in close-ups over long shots and has been the catalyst for the trend in high detail ‘macro’ shots of aspirational make-up looks. But, as we know, social media scrutiny is real and everyone is a critic, so something as seemingly simple as posting an image of a classic smoky eye takes exceptional skill and expertise. Evely Duis is a fashion and beauty photographer based in the Netherlands and describes her practice as ‘pursuing perfection’, which is a spot-on summary of such a complex art. “In beauty everything has to be perfect and on point,” she says. “It’s not only the make-up artist or the model, but a combination of everything.”
The disciplines that bring such shots together may appear quite separate, but nothing works unless everything is achieved together. “It starts with an idea,” she explains. “I work with a few make-up artists and it’s important to know how they work and they quality of their work. Because if the quality of the make-up isn’t perfect then it costs me so much more time in post-production.” And while there is something of an assumption that most beauty photography undergoes heavy editing, Evely is at pains to stress that actually this is incredibly counterproductive – for her, editing is a long and arduous job, and she would prefer to do the bare minimum. For the MUAs she works with, heavy editing also reflects negatively on the quality of their work. “When the make-up is really good, it might take an hour to edit the picture. If it’s so-so, then a lot longer. For some clients, I might need to produce thirty images in a day and there isn’t a lot of time afterwards.”
The model you work with also makes a real difference to the outcome, particularly when today’s big trend is for skin to have a ‘dewy’ finish, with plenty of glow. While there is a movement towards skin positivity and being proud of your natural skin, presenting highly skilled make-up techniques on camera requires an excellent ‘canvas’. This high-glow look has great impact on camera but can be unforgiving. “In the 90s and 00s it was popular to have a matte finish on skin, but when you see it now, it has no depth and isn’t dewy or healthy,” explains Evely. “What we see right now is skin that really glows – almost sparkles – and for this you really need to have mostly flawless skin because it shows up everything.”
It’s definitely a delicate balancing act: “glow – but not too much. You don’t want the model to look sweaty. It also has to be on exactly the right places, so that any retouching is limited.” While still not ideal, it’s far easier to retouch a stray hair than repair a make-up issue. Evely also uses a clever combination of lighting (“one main light and one fill light from beneath to fill in the shadows”) to get the most out of the make-up and the model. Then she takes really close shots with her 85mm lens and Canon EOS 5DS. “I frame it a little bit more so that I can crop it afterwards. On Instagram it’s 4x5 and a normal camera size for print, so I make the shot a little bit wider and crop it later.”
Patience is most definitely an essential quality for teams working on high-end beauty looks. Shoot day logically begins with the most natural look and builds from there. Even so, the initial prep, hair and basic make-up still takes a couple of hours to complete. The look is then gradually added to and adjusted. For Evely, the extreme attention to detail and time spent before she even lifts her camera is absolutely critical. “It takes around one to two hours to get the variations of the looks. It’s a lot of time, but means you have it in the shot.” Finally, the complex and riskier elements come towards the end of the day. Bold lips, for example, are always applied in the final stages of the shoot because they stain and slip ups are incredibly hard to resolve.
The same with glitter. “When you work with glitter, everything is glitter,” she laughs. “It’s hell.” Besides finding its way into everything, when photographing glitter at extremely close range it can be unpredictable and reflects light in many different directions. It’s near-impossible to find consistency and it will usually need editing. “Everything is moving and I’m focusing on the model. If there’s one piece of glitter that is over exposed, it’s not a problem. I can Photoshop that.”
This kind of photography is a definite niche and a big part of Evely’s job is to stay on ahead of fashion trends, through her own exposure and research, and her network of trusted MUAs. It can be the difference between an ironic twist, channelling subtle influences or just looking out of date. “You have to know what is in style. It’s no problem to do a retro look, but it has to be a modern retro look.” She’s noticed that photographers working in other genres often don’t understand the context of ultra-modern, high fashion make-up looks and, to them, the current trends in contouring, colour correcting and strobing on skin sit uncomfortably. But in Evely’s world, it’s absolutely on point. After all, it’s these experienced crews of close-knit creatives that are setting the direction for faces in fashion.