What to Wear to a Portrait Photo Shoot?

The #1 question I get asked by clients when planning a portrait session:

“Any suggestions on what I/we should wear?”

Here’s what I tell them:

As a rule (and there are always exceptions to rules), simpler is better.

What is the purpose of the portrait? If the purpose is to show off your cool threads, then by all means, deck yourself out. But if you want the focus to be you as a person, then here are some suggestions:

  • Wear something that makes you feel like you look awesome! If you feel uncomfortable with how you’re dressed, you will not exude the confidence you want in front of the camera.
  • Darker colors are more flattering and slimming. Pretty much a general observation is that people look better in dark colors than they do in light ones.
  • Solid colors are less distracting and help people’s eyes focus on your face. Avoid busy patterns or stripes.
  • Vertical lines are also slimming – think pleats or long jewelry.
  • Interesting necklaces can pull attention away from your midsection, but also away from your face. Just use wisdom here…
  • Women: wear heels. It makes you look slimmer and sexier as well as reducing the inclination to slouch.
  • Don’t wear clothes that are too tight – they make you look fat.
  • Sleeves usually look better than sleeveless or short sleeves. (If you’re not convinced, think of Grandma’s jiggling arms).
  • For a family portrait, make sure the colors coordinate and that one person’s outfit isn’t going to make them stand out from the rest. I personally like black, red, gray or blue, brown, pink combinations.
  • Think about where you’re going to hang the prints. Make sure the color choices won’t clash with the décor.

What do you do when your client has just informed you that the family will all be wearing neon green and hot pink polka dots with huge gold belts?

A great place to start is suggesting that you have a planning session. Go over the goals for the portrait:

  • What will it be used for?
  • Where will it be displayed?
  • Does the clothing choice mesh with those goals?

Or you could say, “Sounds nice. I’m going to go ahead and send you some guidelines to use when choosing the most flattering clothing for a portrait. Give those a once over before you make your final wardrobe decision.” You can use the above tips to create your own list to send clients.

If they’re still excited about their less-than-flattering clothing choices, take the pictures. Just don’t use them in your portfolio!

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