Contour and highlight for photography | No filter needed
How to contour and highlight for the camera
One look at Instagram or the pages of your favorite beauty magazine tells us the contour and highlight craze isn’t going anywhere any time soon. There’s tons of blinding highlighters on the market for an otherworldly glow as well as myriad shades designed specifically for a sharp contour. While you can have fun with the look and go as intense or subtle as you’d like, there is a certain method to it for the camera. Choosing an orangey bronzer, bringing the contour too close to your mouth, and going too light -or- heavy handed are some common mistakes. If you are going to be photographed, you want to make sure everything is on point since the camera will pick up any goofs and exaggerate them.
I tend to be very light-handed with makeup and I’ve had to teach myself to bulk it up for photos. You can think you’re wearing enough in daylight but snap a photo and look barefaced. The camera can wash you out as well, so contouring is a must to add definition back into your face.
How to do it right
For my skin type I stick with powder products, but if you’re dry you can use a cream or liquid and add powder on top for depth. Color can be tricky. Some makeup artists prefer to use a purply grey color but I think this can look unnatural. You want it neutral so you don’t look orange but not so cool it looks ghoulish. I would err on the warm side personally, since photos can wash you out, worst case you’ll get some extra color. I like using Sombra by Alima Pure. Other popular products are this and this.
The first thing you want to do is study your face. Notice where shadows fall and light reflects. Anything in shadow is minimized and recedes; anything in light is emphasized and comes forward. This is a good rule of thumb to remember for enhancing your assets and camouflaging parts you may not be as happy with.
One thing I always do when I know I’m going to be photographed is contour my nose. This counteracts any distortion from the camera, especially if you’re taking a selfie, using a smartphone or lower quality camera. Take your contour powder on a pencil brush or any pointed brush and draw two lines down the sides of your nose. The closer the lines are to each other, the slimmer your nose will look. I have a somewhat wide nose so I always apply some on the tip and sides of my nose. Blend this out well with a dense brush so there are no detectable lines.
For cheekbones, I like to start at the hairline in line with my ears and on an angled brush slowly bring the color down into my cheekbones. Make sure you blend into your hairline so it looks natural. The angle should point towards the corner of your mouth. Don’t extend it past the middle of your cheeks. I only bring it down to the hollows of my cheeks.
Take a larger powder brush and blend it out so there are no harsh lines. This is a good trick to slim a wide face.
On that same powder brush use the excess to contour your jawline. I like to stick to the sides of my jaw rather than underneath my chin so I don’t get a line of demarcation. Unless you have a very small forehead, sweep the color across the top near the hairline in an arc or halo shape. Don’t get too heavy handed with this part since hair – especially dark hair - can already cast a shadow on your hairline in photos.
Now for the fun part, the highlight. Except we’re not using any rainbow glitter unicorn stardust highlighters today. Sorry to disappoint :) For most people, a matte or satin highlighter is much more flattering. On camera it will look natural and seamless rather than a stark highlight.
Brighten up your undereye area with a good concealer (I like this one). You can go a little heavy with this and apply it in an upside down triangle to brighten this area. For my face, I like to use a foundation one to two shades lighter than my skin tone. If you want to use a liquid/cream, make sure you follow it with a powder to set and avoid shine on camera. On a dense buffing brush, concentrate foundation in the center of your forehead, down the bridge of your nose, and chin. Then set with transclucent powder like this one. This will blur the center of your face on camera while the rest remains dewy and fresh. This is one of my favorite tricks to photograph well.
You can also use two foundation shades but instead of mixing them try using the darker one on the outer portions of your face (jawline, sides of face, hairline) and the lighter in the middle of your face.
Always highlight your brow bone as well. This gives an instant brow lift and looks gorgeous on camera.
Now go in with a highlighter like Mary-Lou Manizer and highlight the high points (cheekbones, décolletage, cupid’s bow.)
The end goal of this is adding contrast and definition to your face since you lose a lot of definition in photos. Darkening your lashes, brows, contours of the face while brightening the high points and center will up that contrast and make you look more defined in photos.
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