Thursday, 20 December 2012

On... faking photogenia

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article for the utterly divine magazine TATLER about the art of being photogenic, or 'faking photogenia' as I called it to myself (nb, 'photogenia' is not a word). I found out how non-slebs like you and me can take a great photo, do a great pose, and generally, be the sexiest thing on celluloid. (Is it still celluloid? Probably not. Sexiest thing... on a digital screen. On Facebook. Whatever.)
Perhaps because I’m not a journalist, I just happen to write things now and again for magazines, I take this shit very seriously. I spent hours – days! - researching and testing different products that Tatler sent me from Tom Ford, Smashbox, MAC, Dior, Cover FX, Darphin, Stila, etc, and researching photography make-up secrets, grilling my make-up artist friends, searching for celebrity tips, and even asking the make-up pros that I always make friends with (uh, stalk) at MAC Pro stores and Bobbi Brown counters to give me makeovers that I’d then test under flash and natural lighting. No. I am not kidding.
But, in the end, most of the detailed make-up tips had to be cut from the feature. Tragicallah. So here they are. I figure everyone needs to know how to take a better photo, especially at Christmas when the world is full of parties, hangovers and lurking iPhones just waiting to snap you unawares and tag you in the morning.

Step one: skin.
Firstly, a warning: slapping on a thick mask of (insert name of thick pancake foundation of choice HERE) is the No.1 mistake of cameraphobes. You might think it’s giving you a more even complexion, but actually, it absorbs light, making your face look like a whitewashed bungalow: broad, opaque, uninteresting.

You want your skin to look luminous.

Think Botticelli's Venus.  Think organic non-drinking vegan yoga instructor on a juice fast. Think post-coital, you know, when the sex was really seriously good, and afterwards you go to the bathroom and look in the mirror and think, 'God, I am gorgeous, I’d bang me if I was him, too'. So put the Estee Lauder DoubleWear down, stat.
Not many of us wake up with perfect skin, at least, not if we’re leading interesting and socially-fulfilling (ie, sleepless and booze-filled) lives. But you can give yourself a head start: if you have dry skin, cut down on wine and citrus fruits, and take extra Vitamin E and Flaxseed Oil supplements. Darphin sent me a bunch of lovely stuff, particularly the Camomile Essential Oil Elixir, which leaves your skin smoothe, plump and happy, like a well-fed baby after a bath.

If you have oily or combination skin, one of my very good friends swears by her Clarisonic and good old Cetaphil. And if you’re really hungover and your face is just eating your makeup so no matter how much you put on, you still look like shit, then try the REN Glycolactic Peel followed by a nice facial massage with Trilogy Rosehip Oil. Then have a little sit-down and a coffee and a nice big wedge of buttery toast because, let’s face it, you’re probably exhausted just having read this far.

DiorHydraSkin Pore Refining Perfecting Moisturiser is AMAZING. I would never have bought it, I've never really used Dior skincare products before, but Tatler sent it to me, so I gave it a churlish try and then my make-up went on flawlessly that I almost wept. I also tried about eleventy Smashbox primer products they sent over and couldn’t get anywhere with them, and MAC Prep and Prime just seemed like a very sloppy gel moisturiser. But this HydraSkin stuff is the shit. (I am sure Dior will be just dying to use that line in their next press release. “This HydraSkin stuff is the shit.” Gemma Burgess, not-very-well-known writer who dabbles in beauty just because she can.)
Next, luminiser.

Dab a pea-sized blob of MAC Strobe Cream (best for beginners and the tube never runs out), Make Up For Ever Gel Uplight in 12 (amazing but hard to get in the UK so order it from the wonderful and not-dodgy-though-it-looks-it StrawberryNet), Benefit SunBeam (small bottle, very very annoying design as you have to use a q-tip to get the last third out), or Shu Uemura Stage Performer Instant Glow (divine, thick, long-lasting,) in the middle of your palm. Using your index finger, smear your product of choice on your face from the outside top of your eyebrows, down around your temples, in over the top of your cheekbones towards – but not touching – your nose. Do you taste my flavour? Sort of a ‘?’ shape. (Or reverse ‘?’) Then blend, blend, and blend some more. (When I write this stuff, I can hear my make-up artist friend's voice in my head, and she's Scottish. So I am writing with a slight accent. She was visiting NYC last week and we had a discussion about how to say 'our', which I say normlly (I think), and she says 'ooo-wer' and Fox, being Irish, says 'ARGH'. Anyway, back to makeup.)
The right luminiser makes you – duh - luminous, not sparkly, sweaty, shiny or sheeny. There are so many new and wonderful luminisers to choose from now, so don’t just slap on that chunky glittery one you bought for a New Years Eve party four years ago because you will come out looking like you work at Cirque de fucking Soleil. Those are my favourites, you may prefer others. Oh, and a heads-up: I was sent Burberry Fresh Glow and RMS Living Luminizer to try, they are both raved about by all these make-up blogs who are probably hoping to get more free stuff, but I found them both crappy: thin and quick to wear off. (I will never lie to you about make-up, kittenpants.)

Next, apply a light coverage foundation like Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation or Giorgio Armani LuminousSilk to your ruddiest areas. For most of us, that’s the chin and around the nose. With a tiny lipbrush, dab RMS “Un” Cover-Up or Laura Mercier Undercover Pot over any pimples, dark spots or tiny broken blood vessels.  By using very little foundation, and targeting everything on a blotch-by-blotch basis, your skin will look flawless, not fake.
Lastly, lightly dust a translucent powder like MAC Blot Powder or MAC Prep and Prime Transparent Finishing Powder on the parts of your face you dont want to be too glowy / shiny - nose, forehead, chin - for a genuinely flawless airbrushed-yet-natural finish. Here, another heads-up: I was sent Smashbox Photoset Finishing Powder, I found it very white and unnatural. There's also a Make Up Forever HD Finishing Powder that has the result of making you look like this in photos.
Avoid. Who developed that powder? They look like they've been troughing cocaine, FFS.
(An aside: if you’re absolutely convinced that you NEED a full face of thick foundation, then nothing I say will stop you, I swear some people are psychologically addicted to the shit, but who am I to talk? I don’t leave the house without eyebrows. So when you’ve finished trowelling it on, please fluff a little compact powder luminizer – like MAC Soft & Gentle, or BECCA Nymph in the aforementioned ‘?’ shape. The result won’t be as gleamingly perfect, but it’s better than no luminiser at all.)

OKAY! Your skin is now perfection.
Step two: contouring. I say ‘contouring’, you say ‘aging third-rate drag queen’. Or ‘Boy George’. But no! We’re not reinventing your face, we’ll simply be accentuating your already divine bone structure in three key areas: cheekbones, forehead, jawline. Hurrah!
Look at yourself straight-on in the mirror, preferably under a horrifyingly strong overhead light, and suck in your cheeks. Take a moment to pretend you are Marlene Dietrich. Take another moment to wonder why you have never actually seen a Marlene Dietrich movie, because you probably should, and while you’re at it, a Greta Garbo movie too, seriously, because that’s like, a grown-up thing to do.

The MAC 138 brush is the absolute best brush for contouring and the 'official' contouring brush from MAC does not come close; the shape of the 138 makes it literally impossible to apply too much product and it blends as it applies. Swirl the brush in a soft grey-brown-matte shade (with no orange, red or shimmer) like MAC Harmony or Kevyn Aucoin The Sculpting Powder or, if you’re very pale like moi, the Urban Decay single eyeshadow in Naked, and apply in small, light strokes from the sucked-in hollow of your cheeks up towards the middle of your ear. Remember, you’re accentuating a shadow, so it goes under your cheekbones, not on them. Then sweep the brush up the side of your forehead above your temples, then from behind your ear to your chin along the underside of your jawline, blending down into your neck.

Contouring isn’t hard, but it will make you look draggy if you’re not very careful, and it is a skill you need to practice to perfect. Keep checking with multiple mirrors in different lights, and blend with extra translucent powder if you feel you’ve gone too far. Feeling contour-confident? Check out the Tom Ford Shade &Illuminate palette. It’s a cream, not a powder, and takes a little more skill to apply and blend, but it’s the Dom Perignon of contouring and illuminating products. Once you’ve tried it, everything else is stale cava.
The rest of your make-up should be subtle, not dramatic, so the camera sees you, not your maquillage. A pinkish blush like Bobbi Brown Pale Pink, a neutral lip like Chanel Avant Garde, Shu Uemura eyelash curler, lashings of Dior ShowLash mascara. For bigger, brighter eyes, replace undereyeliner with a smudgy swoosh of taupe eyeshadow, and smudge a baby-fingerprint of thick gleaming cream product like MAC Pearl Cream Base or NARS The Multiple in Copacabana on the inside corner of your eye, just below and above the arch of your eyebrow, and just above your top lip. I don’t know why this makes you look better, it just does.

Warning: watch the too-thin or too-dark or too-arched eyebrow, the too-heavy liquid liner, and most of all, step away from the YSL Touche Eclat. It’s a highly reflective highlighter pen, not an undereye concealer. In photographs it grabs all the light, giving you a weird reverse-panda look, completely with tiny beady panda eyes. Trust me on that.

Voila. Everything I learned about faking photogenia, in one epic post. Now throw on some make-up, get out there and take some fabulous photos, you little scamps. If you want to read more tips about the perfect pose, and the science behind what makes someone photogenic, then (gratuitous plug) pick up Tatler in March.
Oh, and by the way. Google automatically gives me the US links now that I'm living here, but obviously you might live in the UK or Australia or India or Germany or Austria or you know, anywhere. So here are some links to sites that deliver LOTS of makeup brands for free internationally:,, Strawberrynet will even wrap the products as gifts, so if you live in one of those annoying countries that taxes you for international deliveries, you can claim it was a gift. Nicely played, Strawberrynet.





1 comment:

  1. It's entirely possible that Nicole was snorting coke... that would give a reason for her marrying Cruise, after all.

    I'm not at all photogenic. I was told a few days back that I resemble Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins. After looking him up, I can see the resemblance.