Wanting to learn more about the art of photographic makeup I enrolled in a makeup course with the Academy of Freelance Makeup (AoFM) in London. The course I chose was called the Masters Certificate in Professional Makeup.

This is a two week full time course or part-time over six weekends. It is made up of two smaller courses – the Creative Certificate in Makeup and the Freelance Certificate in Makeup. Both of these courses can be taken separately if you only have three weekends or a single week available.

This is actually a very intensive course and to receive your final certificate you need to attend every day. Each class is taught by a working professional makeup artist. These makeup artists have worked on music videos, London and New York fashion weeks, professional photo shoots for major magazines and television. So immediately you know that you are learning from some of the best artists around.

I did this course over the six weekends to fit in with my usual work schedule and yes it was very intensive. The first three weekends therefore covered the courses for the Freelance Certificate which I will describe in this post.

Day One


The first day consisted of an introduction to the course and AoFM itself plus you were given a set of makeup brushes to use and take home. To be honest this was quite a nice starter set and I am still using many of these brushes today (though I have added to the set). But it did mean that to get started I was not hunting for “so-called” beginner sets which fall apart when you use them.

Our introduction included health and safety – highly important when you are making over a number of people. It is so important to keep your brushes clean!

We were a nice small class of only 8 people and the structure of a day would be that the instructor would discuss the look to be achieved. They would then use one of us participants to demonstrate the look. We would then all pair up and practice the look on each other. So plenty of time to actually try out the looks as this is a very hands-on course.

Natural Makeup

The morning was spent demonstrating how to do a natural makeup look. This included how to clean up a face from left over makeup so that you had a perfectly clean base. We then learned how to moisturise – and the different types of moisturiser to give dewy or more matt looks.

Finally we were shown how to match up foundation color to skin tone especially with yellow and pinker tones in the skin. So it is not just a case of the darkness of the foundation but whether you need a pinker or a more yellow/beige base.

Then came practise on each other. Surprisingly a very clean natural makeup look is actually more difficult to achieve than a noticeable makeover. The reason being that no-makeup looks need to look as though you are not wearing makeup when you actually are. Therefore you need to be aware of the skin tone of your subject and to match the foundation exactly.

All the makeup was provided and there was quite a bit of famous named makeup.

Red Lip Smokey Eye

The afternoon was spent being shown how to create a smokey eye. For this we used MAC Blacktrack which is a gel eyeliner which had to be placed on the eyelid and then quickly blended. As this product dries so rapidly the secret was to place a clean line of this on the eyelid and then very quickly blend.

You then needed to build up the intensity with multiple applications of blacktrack and very quick blending. For more depth you then add a little black shadow and kohl. And blend, blend, blend is the secret.

I loved doing the eyes but found the lip a little more tricky. We were shown how to make sure that the lip liner was symmetrical (much trickier than it sounds) and how to fill with red.

Day 2

The Art of Eyebrows

Day two’s instructor was Barbara Carranza who is a complete eyebrow expert. We learned how to create the perfect eyebrow and how to measure brows to get the perfect line. I never knew eyebrows were that complicated.

We learned how to pluck brows correctly. For me this was a horrifying experience and you may laugh but I had never ever plucked my brows before (and I haven’t since). I think I have a low pain threshold. Everyone else was merrily plucking brows whilst I was cringing and squeaking. I think everyone else’s brows were used to the sting.

We then learned how to apply makeup to the brow in order to correctly show the shape and window the face correctly.

Glamour Makeup and False Lashes

This was lots of fun. We watched a demo of a glamour eye makeup ala Dita von Teese. So there was use of five colours plus eyeliner. It was interesting to see how eyeliner flick was done correctly. And the finish was a matt red lipstick.

We were then shown how to apply both single fake lashes and also strip lashes. Single fake lashes where very interesting as you could see how different sizes were added at different parts of the eyelid. And how you blended them to the base of  your real lashes.

Again we all paired up to try these looks. And you needed to pair up with different people than the previous day so that you got an idea of how to work with different skin tones. This was great fun as I love doing a more glamourous eye. But again it was interesting to see how difficult it was to make the eyeliner flick symmetrical on both eyes.

I must admit after just the first two days I had learned quite a lot and was by now rather tired. Days were quite long and sadly I was travelling each night for almost three hours to get home. I probably should have stayed in London overnight. Luckily I have since moved so travel will not be so bad for my next course.

Day Three


Contouring is a pretty hot topic thanks to the likes of Kim Kardashian. Todays instructor was Valentina Creti who had worked for a number of large fashion magazines.

We were shown how to contour properly for different face shapes and how to highlight. The goal was to show how difference shadow and light made the face more three dimensional. You could make a fatter face look thinner and square faces look more oval.

This was actually a lesson that resonated for me. As a photographer I usually use a combination of lights to achieve the same effects that we were trying to create with makeup. This was great as I could improve my lighting in order to achieve these effects as well.

We were also able to try contouring using different products with Valentina showing the different results by using powder contouring as opposed to creams. And again the secret is to blend blend blend as otherwise it just looks as though you have a dirty line running from your ear to your mouth.

aofm-freelance-certificate-in-professional-makeupDay Four

Photographic Makeup

Probably not surprisingly this was my favourite day. We had Barbara Braeunlich as our instructor for photographic makeup. The premise being that we needed to learn how makeup altered under different photographic lights. She started with showing us a range of pictures and asked us to say whether the contouring was makeup or lighting based. I managed to get all of these correct but again that was due to my studio background and I had been practicing with using lighting for contouring for years,

We also saw how different makeup would then look in black and white. Therefore what you might think was a very vibrant makeup with different colours would just look like one tone and no vibrancy in black and white.

So we then had to come up with an idea for a photographic makeup look that would look good in colour but also in black and white. Therefore we could now use our own creativity and for this I practised with some very geometric shapes as I decided not to use a makeup look to copy but instead “wing it”.

Day Five

Bridal Makeup

Everyone else in the class was looking forward to Day 5 as this was bridal makeup. Quite a few people in the class wanted to actually do makeup for weddings so this was perfect for them. Not surprisingly this was not my favourite day as I much more prefered the photographic and more creative makeup days.

Louise Dartford was today’s instructor. There was a lot more theory with this class as well. We needed to think of things such as what time of day was the wedding, what flower colours were in the bouquet, where was the wedding taking place, what time of year was the wedding taking place. We also had to think about how many people were in the wedding party and would need makeup done.

She discussed the importance of the makeup trial before the wedding when you could try out different makeup looks and colours with the client. This meant that before the day you knew what makeup looks to do to match with the colour theme for the day.

We then had a demo of typical bridal makeup with two different eye looks and then in the afternoon we tried this out ourselves. This is one makeup that at the time I was not very good at. I was much too subtle with my colour choices so that the makeup seemed too natural. Therefore, I needed to go for deeper colours and be a little more creative with the colour choices.

I have seen that since this time a couple of people from the course I have kept in touch with are actually doing a lot of wedding makeup. And they are very good.

Day Six

Fashion Makeup for Catwalk

The last day of the first part of the course had come very quickly. Day Six was going to focus on fashion makeup and the instructor was Yin Lee who has extensive experience of catwalks and fashion weeks.

She showed how to do an exact match of foundation to skin tone and how to get this base completely correct. A flawless base also needed concealer so that your skin tone was uniform throughout your face. Much trickier than you would think.

She had devised a makeup look for us to try with a very geometric eye shape using Mac Blacktrack and a red lip. Her demo showed how a very professional makeup artist could work quickly to perfect a look. She could just take one look at a person’s face and immediately choose the right tone foundation. And she showed us how to mix foundations to get the exact tone we needed.

It was then our turn and this was definitely not as easy as it looked. Doing the base of the face to make sure that the foundation tone was exact took a little time to do. And we had to make sure that the face was properly moisturised for that perfectly smooth finish.

As the eye design was so geometric this was also tricky to do as it needed to be symmetrical. As faces are not perfectly symmetrical we had to work hard to get the eyes looking perfect especially since Blacktrack dries very quickly. The finishing touch was the red lipstick. This though was a perfect trial if you are interested in fashion makeup as there were so many techniques to do in a short period of time.

The final part of this trial was when Yin Lee lined everyone up to see how the looks matched against her demo. And even though we all used the same shade of lipstick etc no-one completely matched her look. This was a valuable lesson for catwalk makeup where the makeup usually needs to look identical on each model. Even lipstick shades will look slightly different on each person so you need to learn how to slightly change the tone for the person you are working on.

We learned we should have taken photographs of the demo. As otherwise we were not matching the colours and contours exactly. Yin Lee also explained how hectic catwalks are and the speed we would need to work.


Sadly that ended the first six lessons. I and a couple of other people were continuing on for the next course, the Creative Certificate in Professional Makeup. However some of the people from our course were only doing the Freelance Certificate in Makeup so were leaving after this day.

This was a very extensive three weeks and very tiring if doing it in conjunction with a full time job. They do offer this course as a full time six day course though.

Overall the instructors were excellent. They were very knowledgeable and all of them are working at the top of the business. Most were actively working on magazines, tv, film and video. Too many makeup courses that I saw in colleges were taught by people who were not actively involved in the business. It was therefore great experience to learn from people who had made this their career.

I found that college courses were too orientated towards working in a salon. I tried one of these courses before but they were focussed on uniforms and working for other people. Whereas the AoFM courses are more orientated towards the freelance side of the business. Their courses are also aimed towards fashion and photographic makeup.

The Academy of Freelance Makeup itself has produced a very good section of lessons for this course. The studios had ample natural light and supplies. While the class sizes of 8 or less people meant ample time to try out looks and ask questions. Everyone got attention from the tutors.

My one complaint was that though we were sometimes given other manufacturers makeup to try out. More often than not popular shades had run out. Sometimes too many bottles were empty.

Overall, I enjoyed this course and wish I could go back and do some of the lessons again. There was just so much information to digest in a short period of time.

I will continue with the next six days for the Creative certificate in a further post.