A Tale of Two Cities: Professional Hair & Make Up and Photography in Egypt

Would you like to book a professional family photography shoot in Egypt? How about getting a few boudoir and couple images too? Do you want to know the best way to arrange professional make up in Cairo and Alexandria? Would some make up artist, hairdresser and photographer recommendations be helpful too? If so, read this blog post detailing our pursuit of the perfect Instagram image in Egypt.

Is Professional Hair & Make Up and Photography really worth it?

Only you can decide whether it's worth taking time out of your Egyptian itinerary to pose for family photographs. While cell phone cameras are improving every year, and selfie sticks and self-timers allow families to take brilliant pictures of themselves, the results of a few hours with an experienced photographer will be much better. Furthermore, the affordable nature of professional photography in Egypt, and the existence of myriad stunning locations, makes it an ideal place to have a photo shoot. If you decide to go for it, looking your best is important too. Although more expensive than photographers, hair & make-up (H&MU) artists in Egypt are still cheaper than their European counterparts.

A Tale of Two Cities

Veterans of three professional family photo shoots, we researched Egyptian photographer and H&MU options six months before arrival. Initially we decided to only hire a make-up artist in Alexandria, and focus our pursuit for a perfect Instagram image on the city of Cairo. Seemed to us having a professional photographer there would be more likely to produce the goods. However, two weeks before we arrived, our Alexandria make-up artist asked if her friend could take some shots of Miras for website and social media promotion. It turned out her friend was a professional photographer, so I asked her to tag on a family photo shoot at the end of the make-up promo shoot. Therefore, totally unexpectedly, our professional make-up and photography experiences became a tale of two cities: Alexandria and Cairo.

Lily Nayel Make-Up in Alexandria

A quick Facebook search of available make-up artists in Alexandria made booking Lily Nayel very straightforward. Attracted by her dramatic, vivid make-up style and relatively affordable prices, we exchanged a couple of messages and sent a small deposit to save the day. In addition to make-up, Lily suggested blue contact lenses, which I felt might be a huge mistake. However, Miras immediately loved the idea, since she had seen her idol Kathryn Bernardo wear such lenses many times before. Who was I to get in the way of feminine power and beauty?

The day itself couldn't have begun any worse. Refused entry to the hotel, Lily called us from the Hotel Triomph's lobby. The hotel manager did not want Lily and her assistant inside our room, especially when I admitted to booking her on the internet. After a short discussion, he was persuaded they were whom they said they were but told me to watch my money regardless. Unnerved enough by the hotel's objections, Lily's disapproval of our down market choice of lodgings left me questioning whether this was all such a good idea after all. Thankfully, once she got set up, things started rapidly improving.

Lily clearly took her make-up extremely seriously and had mountains of different eye shadow pallets, eyeliners, foundation, lipstick and more. Primarily to go live on Snapchat, she had brought an assistant along to film everything with an iPhone. I, too, filmed the different stages (see film highlights below). At the heart of all this attention was a sweet Siargao Island girl, who relaxedly sat still for the whole session. While I'd watched Miras get made-up before, Lily was the most thorough and professional make-up artist I'd ever seen in action. In particular her ability to place false eyelashes without any hesitation or reapplication really impressed me. The final result pleased us all and revealed the true power of make-up: Miras was under there somewhere but looked more like an Egyptian princess.

Boudoir and Make-up Moments with Marwa Ragheb Photography in Alexandria

Working with a female photographer certainly has its advantages if you want certain types of shots. Wearing a risque, deep plunge dress, Miras would probably have felt uncomfortable with a male photographer. An Egyptian blessing in disguise, Marwa Ragheb began taking photographs in the final stages of the make-up and finished off Lily's promotional shots with a few close-ups. Once she'd finished the promo shots, she asked me what kind of photographs we wanted. I showed her a picture of a major Filipina influencer pensively lying in bed heavily made-up. Somewhat shocked, she said 'Oh, you want a boudoir-style shoot'. I told her I wanted a few boudoir moments, some intimate couple captures and a few family shots too. She said she was more than happy to do all three.

Although Miras still felt a little nervous, she rolled around on the bed in a variety of pensive, sexy poses as Marwa clicked away using a combination of natural light and flash bounces off the ceiling. Lily's stunning make-up, combined with Marwa's fashion photography approach, gave a real sense of glamour to the proceedings. Midway through the shoot, Marwa paused and showed me a few of her favourite captures. Looking more like an Arabian popstar, Miras had successfully transcended her island beginnings. And that was the whole point of these boudoir moments!

Family and Couple Moments with Marwa Ragheb in Alexandria

With Miras' solo portraits safely on Marwa's memory card, it was time to bring me onto the bed for a few intimate couple moments. Marwa asked us to kiss, talk, look into each other's eyes as she clicked away. Next we moved into the hallway and inside the classic old-fashioned lift for some more into the lens styled portraits. While the old guy on reception didn't seem too happy, we only inconvenienced our fellow guests for five minutes. Finally, Marwa asked Raf to join us in the hallway where we kissed, hugged and played with him just to ensure we got a few candid family clicks too. Like all photo shoots, we felt relieved when it was over. It's always a bit stressful posing in front of strangers but usually worthwhile when the results arrive in your inbox.

Hadeer Elbastawisy Make-up in Cairo

Just like Lily in Alexandria, Facebook made booking Hadeer Elbastawisy surprisingly simple from overseas. Attracted by her interesting make-up style, relatively affordable prices and location in Giza, we exchanged a few messages and sent a small deposit to book both make-up and hair-styling on the morning of our Pyramid photo shoot.

Hadeer had made it pretty clear she didn't want to do the make up in our hotel (due to poor lighting), so we hired a driver to take us to her obscurely-located salon early in the morning. Upon arrival she took one look at Miras and said her face didn't need extreme make-up and she would keep it relatively simple. Forty-five minutes later, Hadeer finished her Cairo street-style look with a bright pink lipstick and called the hairdresser, Michael Dahab, to see if he was already on his way. While he and his assistant turned up half an hour late, they didn't waste anytime setting to work on Miras' hair, quickly putting in some pretty serious curls to everything but the fringe. Ahead of schedule, we exited the windowless salon and immediately felt a gust of wind. Sadly, on the one day we needed calm weather, a mild sand storm was about to descend upon an unsuspecting Cairo, and this was just the beginning.

Penguin Photography at Giza's Pyramids

After seeing her work with families in Cairo online, we contacted Caroline from Penguin Photography six months before arrival. She suggested two location shoots: early morning at Khan el-Khalili and sunset at the Pyramids. While Old Cairo sounded great, Giza's Pyramids were the dream to attempt an epic lost in the desert capture. However, on the day, the weather had other ideas. The wind gusting across the highway on the way back to Giza was already way too strong to expect much more than debacle. Moreover, the wind continued to increase in strength into the afternoon and a mild sandstorm engulfed the Pyramid complex by the time Caroline drove us towards the entrance gate.

Despite the weather, crowds of people and tour buses queued in a ridiculously long line for their chance to see the Pyramids up close. Consisting mostly of local Islamic tourists, Miras obviously stood out like a sore thumb with her makeup and attire. Honestly, I just wanted to turn round and go home. However, once we'd actually paid and were into the complex things got a little bit better. In particular, Caroline's car and knowledge helped us get somewhat out of the wind and away from most of the people.

She began with a series of family captures, moving onto some couple moments and a few solo captures of Miras. Sadly, the wind buffeted Miras' hair so much that her super curly hair was reduced to a tangled mess. As usual Raf took it all in his stride and he loved banging the drums Caroline had brought for him to play and watching the tornado-style wind sweep around unsuspecting tourists. Meanwhile, I really just wanted it all over since I already knew the shots I had dreamed of were simply impossible in these adverse circumstances. To her credit, Caroline maintained calmness and professionalism through the session and managed to get some surprisingly good captures. Her Arabic came in handy too in order to rebuke a few overexcited Egyptian boys who wouldn't leave us alone. The final nail in the coffin came when local police refused us access to the look out where we'd hoped to try for some desert shots. As the sun sunk towards the horizon, our Pyramid photoshoot debacle was over and for that I was truly grateful.

Penguin Photography in Khan el-Khalili

The next day, unable to arrange a Cairo makeup artist, Miras woke up pretty late and spent just five minutes slopping lipstick and eyeshadow onto her face. While she knows how to apply makeup quite well, it takes her two-three hours to do it properly. Therefore, she didn't quite look her best by the time a pre-booked driver picked us up for the short run over to Khan el-Khalili.

Caroline arrived moments after us, parked her car and led the way on foot through the entrance. The cool air, empty streets and light winds contrasted starkly with our sandstorm experience at the Pyramids. It made the photo shoot a relative joy as we wandered along empty cobbled streets and through narrow alleyways. Caroline knew the area so well and picked out all the choice locations for solo, couple and family captures. She even arranged breakfast at a cafe overlooking famous Al-Hussein Mosque, where she continued to snap a few candid shots of us tucking into falafel, eggs and Arabic bread. From here we drove up to the Citadel for some final shots both inside the mosque and with panoramic Cairo behind us.

Penguin Photography Shoot Highlights

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Follow in our footsteps

– Check our 9 Tips for your First Family Photoshoot for general advice on selecting a photographer, clothes, posture and more, if you decide to hire a photographer in Egypt.

– If you want to hire Lily Nayel, our make-up artist in Alexandria, send a message via her Facebook page. She's truly an artist and well worth hiring if you want a professional make-up look. She charges approximately US$70 for make-up and an additional US$25 for coloured contact lenses.

– If you want to hire Marwa Ragheb, our professional photographer in Alexandria, send a message via her Facebook page. Marwa is an excellent glamour and family photographer with a great eye for detail. Her English is superb too! She charges from US$60-US$120 depending on which of her packages you choose.

– If you're looking for a friendly and talented make-up artist in Cairo, contact Hadeer Elbastawisy via her Facebook page. She has her own studio in Giza and can arrange a hairdresser if you want a truly special look.

– Unfortunately Penguin Photography recently closed the family photography part of the business. Check google or Facebook for alternative photographers in Cairo.

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