By far, one of the biggest questions I receive when booking a new client for a photo session is, “What should I wear to a photo session?” What you wear makes a huge difference in the over all look and feel of your final images. It is definitely worth putting in a little extra effort to select outfits that you will be happy with when looking at your photos for years to come.
Throughout my years as a photographer I have learned so much. And one of the things I have learned is that clothing makes or breaks a photograph. When I first started taking photographs I didn’t realize how much the wrong outfit can ruin a photograph even if everything else is “perfect.”
After a couple (ok maybe many) failures, I finally caught on. I then quickly learned that if I was actually going to take photographs for money then it was my responsibility to do as much as I could to educate my clients on what to wear to a photo session with me.
The first thing I suggest you consider when you are deciding what to wear to a photo session is COLOR. If your session is going to include more than one person (a family or couple) then pick two or three colors that coordinate well and intersperse them throughout everyone’s clothing.
Many people prefer bright, bold colors which is ok as long as they complement each other. Consider picking one brighter, dominant color and then one or two softer colors to balance it out. Pick colors that are going to “go well together” and not clash. Clashing colors are going to be distracting and if you are showing off your new photographs you want people’s eyes to drawn to the faces in the pictures first, not the brightly colored, clashing clothing.
I am a big fan of neutral color palettes because they are simple and tend to go well with everything. If you decide to go for a softer, neutral palette then this can easily be accomplished by selecting different shades of the same color. For example, a white dress with dark grey boots and a light grey sweater. It adds variety to the image and breaks up the colors so that you don’t just have a blob of one solid color in the middle of your photo.
You do not have to match!
Very rarely have I seen this concept turn out well. When I say match, I don’t mean matching colors that compliment each other and go well together. When I say match, I mean everyone wearing the exact same outfit…either all the same color shirt and same color pants (as in white t-shirts and jeans) or literally all the same color (think black shirts and black pants). What ends up happening is your photographs are all just one big blob of color in the middle, or blobs of two different colors – a line of white on the top and a line of blue jeans on the bottom.
One of the keys to a good photograph is to make it visually stimulating enough so that it is pleasing to the eye, but not so stimulating that the eye gets distracted and does not know where to focus. When everyone in the photograph matches in simple colors the eye gets bored quickly. I’m all about simple colors, but there has to be diversity.
A note about patterns:
Patterns can make or break your photos. When choosing patterns think subtle. Bright, busy patterns are going to distract the eye away from the faces in your photos (which should be the first thing the viewer’s eye focuses on). Subtle patterns, however, can add some nice variety (think a soft paid as opposed to large polka dots) to your images. If you are going with a pattern then it can be nice to have one or two people carry the same pattern in their outfits and then the rest of the groups’ colors can pull from that.
Do NOT wear a bunch of distracting patterns. And when I say distracting patterns I mean big bold stripes, or any pattern that has a lot of bright colors and distracting designs. A subtle paid is just fine. Like I said above we want to give the eye something that is somewhat stimulating but we do not want to overwhelm it! This also includes anything with logos or number on it. You don’t want someone looking at a shirt in the photograph before a little kids smiling face.
When I say texture I am referring to different types of materials such as lace, chunky knits, ruffles, ribbons etc. Wearing clothing with different textures adds beautiful depth to your images. Clothing with texture gives the light something to “reflect off of” and will give your photographs dimension.
When you are planning what to wear to your photo session think layers! Layers are great because they can be removed, adding variety to your images. Wear a chunky sweater over a beautiful silk top. Half way through the shoot you can remove your sweater and have a entirely different look underneath without having to go change! You get to have two different looks in your photographs.
When dressing children I love to see clothing with flow. Children are always moving and their clothing should reflect this. I can never get enough of ruffly sleeves and twirly dresses!
If you want to take your photos to the next level then accessories are your best friend. Jewelry, flowers or barrettes in the hair, hats, scarves, jackets, vests, and ties, all make wonderful additions to your photographs. Just remember not to let the accessories overwhelm the subject. We don’t want an image with so many accessories that our eye has a hard time finding the subject immediately. We want the faces to stand out and the accessories to show off the unique personalities of the subjects.
Be sure to REMOVE any distracting accessories. I can’t tell you how many wrists with hair ties around them I have had to edit out in photoshop before I learned to tell people this BEFORE I took their photograph. This goes for watches too! Unless your watch completes your outfit in some way then take it off because it is only going to be distracting in the final image.
As a side note
I always like to ask clients that wear glasses if they would like to remove them for the photographs. I personally wear glasses but I don’t like to be photographed in them (most of the time) because they cover up my eyes (which is one of the most important parts of the face, which is the most important part of the photograph – most of the time). Glasses can also reflect glare from the surrounding light which can sometimes be difficult to edit out later. But I know that for some people, their glasses are a part of their unique style and they may want to keep them on for the photograph. So just remember to think about this when you are planning what to wear to your photo session!
Think about bringing a few subtle props to further enhance your photographs. Keep them simple, but meaningful – maybe a small bouquet of flowers for a little girl to hold, a favorite book, or a much loved stuffed animal. Try to remember to coordinate these props with your overall color palette. You want to be sure that your props look as if they belong in the photo. I have my own props that I bring to my photo sessions, but I always love it when a client brings something from their home that has real meaning to them and will be treasured when looking back at their photos.
Shoes matter! And so do socks! Choose shoes and socks that go well with your color palette. The right shoes complete your outfit. Please do NOT wear athletic shoes. They are bulky, usually multi-colored and often have distracting logos on them. That’s like three NO NOs rolled into one. And don’t forget about socks either! I usually always like to take a mixture of standing and sitting photographs of my clients and usually when they sit down their socks tend to peak out. You don’t want to spend a lot of time putting together a fabulous outfit only to have it ruined by mismatched socks sticking out.
WHERE DO YOU PLAN TO DISPLAY YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS?
Think about where your images are going to be displayed. Are you going to be hanging these images in your blue living room or your daughter’s lavender bedroom? Choose clothing that you know is going to go well with the decor of the room in which you will be displaying your photos.
Or, you might have different considerations if you are having photographs taken for a christmas card or a child’s birthday invitation. You might want to dress in seasonal clothing like christmas sweaters for your card or a party dresses and balloons for a birthday invitation.
DRESS FOR YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Do not wear clothing that does not coordinate with your surroundings. A little boy in a cowboy boots and a hat is going to look much better in a hay field than on a city street. You don’t want to look “out of place.”
Always consider where you are having your photos taken and dress accordingly. If you know that you are going to be shooting in an urban setting then that white dress and pretty white heels might work just fine, but if you are going to be shooting in nature and trampling through a field then I suggest you bring along some boots! Because those white heels might get muddy and ruined and you may not want to sit on the ground and stain your white dress.
WEAR TIMELESS CLOTHING
And last but not least I always like to encourage clients to consider wearing clothing that is timeless. I don’t want you to wear clothing that will make your photographs look dated in years to come. No one wants to look back at their photos and cringe at their clothing choice or hairstyle. Now I will say that this is definitely a personal choice and some people like to go with all the latest trends and styles because it gives their photographs a time stamp. Everyone knows when they are looking at a photographs from the 80s because of the subjects clothing and hairstyles. You are the best judge of what your family likes best!
So there you have it! Now you know what to wear to a photo session. If you are planning to have your photograph taken and you simply don’t know what to wear, these guidelines are your roadmap to picking out a successful outfit. Good luck and I hope this guide was helpful!