Dressing for Photographic Success: The Keys to Making the Most of Any Portrait

Dressing for Photographic Success: The Keys to Making the Most of Any Portrait

Whether it’s for acting headshots, family portraits or just a photoshoot for fun, getting ready for a session or shoot can be a stressful ordeal. As a portrait photographer, I receive many questions from clients regarding what clothes they should wear, how their hair should be done, and what they need to bring to the shoot. I’ve broken down the information I normally relay to clients into sections of helpful tips for photo sessions.

Clothes

The best advice I can bestow is this: bring several outfit options to your shoot. Different colors, different styles, different patterns - whatever you think you might need. Many say it’s best to stick with solid colors as they’re more slimming and less distracting, but I disagree. Portraits are supposed to show your unique personality, and your clothing should reflect that. Wear what you want, but try to avoid logos and graphics on your clothing, as they can become distracting.

In this picture, you can see that each girl photographed has a distinct style.  Each subject chose her own outfit and was comfortable with her decision, which made for a smooth session.
In this picture, you can see that each girl photographed has a distinct style. Each subject chose her own outfit and was comfortable with her decision, which made for a smooth session.

For certain types of pictures, different outfits might be more appropriate and suitable, especially if you’re taking headshots. With headshots, the focus is supposed to be on your face and upper torso, so pants and shoes matter less. Darker colors suit subjects better for headshots as they are less distracting, but the subject of the photo should wear a color that complements his or her skin tone and hair color. In full body shots, it is important to make sure your shoes match your outfit and aren’t too distracting.

Accessorizing is another important aspect of dressing for a photo shoot. You don’t want to go overboard with the accessories, but wearing too little may leave a noticable absence.  In the previous  photograph, different levels of accessorizing are displayed. Model 3 kept the accessories to a minimum, with just a pair of statement earrings. Because of the bow detail on the front of her shirt, a necklace would have been too distracting. Model 1, however, could do with a simple necklace to draw attention to her face, which should be the focus of the portrait. Model 2 also kept the accessories simple with a belt and a crochet dress. Model 2 also wore simple earrings not visible in the selected photo.

The most important thing to keep in mind when getting ready for your photo session is to wear what makes you comfortable. If you’re uncomfortable in what you’re wearing, it will show.

Here we see the same model pictured in two different portraits. In the first photo, the model isn’t wearing any lip color, but she is in the second. The lip color accentuates her lips and gives more dimension to her face.
Here we see the same model pictured in two different portraits. In the first photo, the model isn’t wearing any lip color, but she is in the second. The lip color accentuates her lips and gives more dimension to her face.

Hair and Makeup

Go simple, and stick with makeup that you usually wear.  You want your picture to be an accurate representation of yourself, not an overly glamorized version. You can also save money by doing your makeup yourself, rather than visiting a makeup artist. This will make your pictures more authentic. When applying makeup, it is important to accentuate your lips with gloss or color for definition to avoid appearing washed out in your photos.

As with your makeup, your hair should be in a fashion that you would normally wear. Again, you want to look like you in the photos!

Families

The sisters in the photo don’t match completely, but they are wearing the same style of dress and have matching hairbows. They coordinate, but don’t match.
The sisters in the photo don’t match completely, but they are wearing the same style of dress and have matching hairbows. They coordinate, but don’t match.

When dressing families, you want to match, but without going over the top. The days of wearing all-white or black shirt and jeans are over. Pick one or two colors that each family member can incorporate into his or her outfit as an accent. It’s subtler, and this way each family member is still able to express his or her own specific fashion style. Coordinate, but don’t match. As with single portraits, avoid logos and graphics or distracting designs. When people look at your photos, you want them to be focusing on you, not what brand your clothes are or whether that’s a dragon or an alligator on your son’s shirt. Make sure you are wearing shoes that go with your outfit, and don’t go overboard on the accessories.

When kids are involved, bring along their favorite toy or book to the shoot. It gives them something to do and makes for cute candid pictures.

Selecting a photographer

At your shoot, don’t be afraid to goof around and have fun! Your candid photos may end up better than your posed ones.
At your shoot, don’t be afraid to goof around and have fun! Your candid photos may end up better than your posed ones.

Many people head to the expensive, well-renowned studios to have portraits taken. While this can certainly produce wonderful photos, you may run into issues with scheduling, and the shoot may be expensive and impersonal.  Instead, ask around. Try to find a local photographer - even a young one!  Their sessions will be much more personal, and their creativity and knowledge of unique locations will provide more dynamic photos (sometimes for a fraction of the price!).

The most important tips overall for getting your photos taken are to be yourself, wear what makes you comfortable and don’t be afraid to have fun. Some of the best photos are taken in the most unexpected places and fashions. Have an open mind with your photographer, as the good ones really do know best. Don’t be afraid to try something unexpected or new. And most of all, have fun!