Prospective professional portrait prep and pontification, please.
January 15, 2014 2:30 PM   Subscribe

How can I get the most out of a portrait session at a department store studio? I am looking for a "professional" portrait to be used in bios and marketing stuff, and am looking for advice on specifics to ask for (or avoid), both from the photographer and from the makeup counter beforehand.

My professional photos are woefully out of date. (Data miners of my posting history here can probably figure out why that's hilarious.) For speaking engagements and other professional activities, I've been using an assortment of cropped selfies, ugh.

I'm trying to do better on the cheap -- my days of access to a big firm marketing budget are long gone -- so I grabbed a Groupon for a session at a department store portrait studio. (It comes with a disk and copyright release, which is nice.) I was thinking of wandering over to the MAC counter at Macy's an hour or so before my appointment and asking for help with makeup.

My usual make-up routine for work is, uh, pretty much nothing other than lipstick/gloss.

I understand that for this type of service, the MAC counter will expect me to purchase some product (and I'm fine with that). Besides making the appointment and saying something along the lines of, "I have a portrait session at the department store in a few hours. It's for business publicity stuff. I usually wear very little makeup so I'm really shooting for a look that will photograph well, but isn't too much of a departure from my day-to-day appearance. So, understated, with a solid layer of translucent powder?"

Is there anything else I should specifically be asking for?

And for the photography session, I'm kind of assuming that it'll be like a lot of family photo sessions with stock poses and such. Is there anything I should look for or specifically ask for (or avoid) during the session?

This sort-of came up a while ago but those answers focused more on finding a photographer.
posted by QuantumMeruit to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Peter Hurley, a well-known portrait photographer, has shared two posing tips for subjects that have been widely discussed in the photo world. Their usefulness to non-models who have no experience posing has been debated, but many people have said they did find them helpful so I figured I'd share them in case you're interested:Good luck with your session.
posted by cribcage at 2:44 PM on January 15, 2014 [10 favorites]

Find examples of headshot poses or images you like, and bring them to show the photographer.

I'm a photographer and the general public lacks the vocabulary to explain what they want, especially for something like a portrait of themselves, so bringing print outs and saying "I like ____ in this one" will be a huge help and make the most of your time.
posted by bradbane at 2:55 PM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would want to ensure that the photographer will do some judicious retouching, since there will always be some imperfections to iron out.
posted by yclipse at 2:56 PM on January 15, 2014

I think asking for a natural, understated makeup look is the way to go. Just be clear that you don't wear makeup daily, and that this look is for portraits you're having taken, so it needs to photograph well. I could go into a discussion of the finer points of makeup, like using a foundation that doesn't have physical SPF in it (because it photographs poorly), using subtle contouring on the face, or avoiding certain colors based on your coloring, but it's best if you simply trust in the makeup artist.
posted by gumtree at 3:03 PM on January 15, 2014

I'd steer well clear of MAC, and Sephora, especially for a professional portrait. Their employees wear so much gaudy makeup. Try the Bobbi Brown or Clinique counters instead. Unlike a hairdresser's hair, I find that the makeup counter artists' own makeup is usually a very good indicator of how they will do your makeup.
posted by thebazilist at 3:12 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think your makeup experience could vary greatly, depending on many variables. However, you can almost certainly count on your "photographer" to be someone with minimal experience and control over the image they are creating. My understanding of these portrait studios is that its set up to be a push-button operation. I do not think you'll have a lot of say in posing, etc. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but I think this will be an instance of "you get what you pay for". So, no harm in giving the cheap route a try but if you want something specific, its worth hiring someone who actually knows what they're doing.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:57 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I hired a photographer to do portraits for some friends and I, and also a makeup artist to do makeup, and one of the things she recommended was that everyone arrive at the appointment having thoroughly moisturized their face earlier in the day. Apparently it makes a substantial difference in how the makeup sits on your face. So, a couple of hours before you go to wherever you get your makeup done be sure to moisturize your face.

It's also worth noting, if you're not ordinarily a makeup person, that many salons do makeup application, and it's not that expensive. It might not be much more than what you'd have to buy at MAC or Sephora, and you'd have the added bonus of having someone doing your makeup who really wanted to make you look great in photos rather than someone who wanted to sell you stuff, especially since the stuff you might want to buy for everyday use is not necessarily the stuff that will make you look good in photos.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:20 PM on January 15, 2014

Oh and as long as they're not busy and you're not taking them away from other potentially-paying customers, you don't have to feel guilty about not buying anything at the makeup counter. Ask them for a list of everything they used on you, and for their card (if they don't foist it on you unasked), tell them you want to walk around in the makeup, show your husband, whatever. They might be a little pushy but it's not a big deal. Just like you don't have to buy clothing you try on in a store.
posted by thebazilist at 12:00 PM on January 16, 2014

So I had my makeup and photo sessions today.

I was really happy with these two shots, which I got in hi-res and will most definitely be using professionally.

I was really pleased with my experience and the result I got from the MAC store. I did a walk-in, and the MAC artist was really awesome and helpful. She listened to me when I talked about going for an understated look that photographed well. I thought the matte foundation she used was a bit heavy and she lightened it up. I wasn't sure about the lipstick shade at first but I think it photographed well. "Trust the professional" seemed to work. Had to buy $50 of stuff, which wasn't a big deal for me.

Photography-wise, the photographer didn't really "direct" me. She was responsive to my questions. It was clear that her usual routine was pretty much "stand here" . The Hurley jawline video was helpful for me, I think; I also found a few other Youtube videos talking about posture and some other things that seemed helpful. I think I would've gotten decent photos without trying to emulate some of what I had seen, but I think overall I got a better result from taking that initiative.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 8:38 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Those shots look great. Congratulations! I'm glad the session worked out for you.

Thanks for the update.
posted by cribcage at 8:57 PM on January 29, 2014

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