A Make-Up Artists Guide To Lighting

As a Professional Make Up Artist, I understand the importance of lighting and know how to use it to my advantage. It’s something I have always took notice of, but recently realised that a lot of other Make-Up Artists and ordinary individuals doing their own makeup, simply don’t pay enough attention to!

Understanding shadows & light placement

So for example let’s say you only do your makeup in front of a bathroom mirror & have spotlights all over the ceiling. They’re shining light down on you creating shadows on the lower half of your face, meaning the top half of your face will appear brighter & lighter in colour, and the bottom half appearing duller & darker. This may cause you to overcompensate with makeup, using darker bronzer across the top & lighter powders or foundation on the lower half of your face.

Now imagine that you’re doing your makeup in the same bathroom with the same overhead lights, but you also have a light on/in or around your bathroom mirror. This has a cool toned bulb in it and is shining directly towards your face. You won’t have the same shadows being cast from the spotlights above, meaning the overall distribution of light is far more even.

Cool Toned / Warm Toned

When applying your makeup in front of a cool toned light, you are more likely to over-warm your face. This means you will probably select a warm toned foundation, apply more bronzer than usual and opt for golden tones and warmer colours such as orange, red & yellow. This is because the bright white bulb is draining the colour from your face. If you were to use the correct colours for your skin tone, your face may still look grey, ashy or washed out under that lighting, but when you go out into natural daylight you would most likely be orange!

The same principle applies when using a warm toned light, such as a table lamp, to apply your makeup, but the effects are switched. You are more likely to use a cool toned foundation, ashy bronzer and not add enough warmth to your face causing you to look perfectly fine in front of a warm toned light, but appear washed out and pale in natural daylight.

Light Intensity

The intensity of the light also affects the way we do our make-up. Sitting in front of a window with the blinds partially closed, being in direct daylight/sunlight or using an artificial light will all change the appearance of our skin tones and the colours we apply to our faces. 

When sitting in front of a window with the blinds partially closed the tone of the light is the same as it would be outside, but the amount of light hitting your face is far less than being in direct sunlight or daylight. The light will be a lot softer, but may not show up imperfections or differences in colour as accurately as it would be when outside. 

Being in direct sunlight or bright daylight will give you the most accurate representation of how your makeup will look when you step outside. You will be able to adjust the colours and tones you use to reflect the type of day it is outside (if it is sunny & bright ensuring the face doesn’t appear washed out or ashy, if it is grey & cloudy being careful not to over-warm the face). However if you are going to be spending a lot of time indoors, or are attending a party where the lighting will be dim, you may need to switch up how you apply your makeup again! 


Another type of lighting which has gained a lot of popularity over the last few years is the use of an artificial light, mostly a ring-light. With most ring-lights you are able to control the intensity and the colour tone the light produces, making it a perfect piece of equipment for ensuring your makeup is perfect for any set of circumstances! 

Ring-Lights are extremely popular with Make-Up Artists, Hairdressers, Beauticians, Lash Experts, Nail Technicians, etc. This is because the light picks up on small, detailed work that is sometimes missed by natural daylight/flash photography, it also picks up on the vibrancy, tone and colours used, making these look even more intense than in real life.

Using artificial light is great, but it should not completely over-take the use of natural daylight! Something that only looks good in front of a ring-light is pointless in the Hair, Makeup & Beauty industry, as clients will remember how they looked in real life, not how they looked behind the ring-light.

One Comment

  1. Andrea

    The best trick to identify the perfect foundation with cool undertones is to understand the difference between the various undertones. Typically, if you have warm skin undertones your skin looks yellow, golden, peachy or orange. Alternatively, if you have cool …

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