Not sure what to wear for your upcoming photo shoot? Don’t worry, I’ve got you. In this post we’ll talk about what you need to consider when choosing outfits for a photography session. These tips are the “30,000 foot view” ideas that will help you look and feel great. Check out more of the blog for specific outfit inspiration!
Everything in photography revolves around the face and eyes, while hands are next. In fact, studies have shown that the face and hands are the first thing our eyes with will search out the instant we view a new photograph, and the first thing we’ll critique when we are deciding how we feel about the image.
It makes sense, then, that we consider the face as the most important part of the image and build around it. Consider your eye color, skin tone, hair style and start to choose things that compliment without distracting from the face. For example, in your family photo you might want to wear simple gold earrings rather than something super chunky. For girls a simple headband might be less distracting than a huge bow on the top of the head. Shirts with wild patterns or a huge logo on the front will also distract from the face, so choose simple or solid colors. See where I’m going?
When choosing clothing, it’s important that the garment is comfortable and fits the body well. Comfort and Fitted is key! Let’s start with comfort -if you (and especially your kids!) are wearing something that doesn’t fit well, is itchy, or uncomfortable it will show in the photo. This can be super frustrating if you’re the parent dressing a picky kiddo, so give yourself time to find an outfit that matches but is also comfortable for them. I always think back to that family photo where my mom had just bought me a new pair of white patent leather shoes and they pinched the back of my ankle with every step – I could barely walk! Needless to say you can see my frustration in the photos!
When I say “fit” I really mean “FITTED.” If you only take one thing from this article, it should be that you want to wear an outfit that is well-fitted to the body. Shirts with collar lines that are crisp and fit nicely against the skin are key. Shirts and pants that are more fitted and don’t have fabric sticking out give the body a nice shape. Loose fabric like cowl neck sweaters, oversize shirts, un-tailored pants, or large puffy vests give the illusion of a larger body frame, which is never flattering. A classic mistake I see often is with guys who wear a button down shirt that is too big (they bought a large but they are really a medium) – the shoulder seams are half way down the arm and there is way too much fabric puffing out around the mid section. Or women who choose a poncho-style sweater that looks too boxy and large in the photo. Don’t hide behind a large piece of clothing! Rather, find pieces that show clean lines up and down the body. A belted dress, fitted shirt tucked into form-flattering pants, and clean neckline will look neat and pulled together. A tailored button down shirt under a crew neck sweater always looks good. Dresses that are belted or tied at the waist can then flow freely from the waist down, that’s where it’s nice to have a little flow in the fabric. Loose folds of fabric, especially around the neckline or mid section of the body, will look sloppy or make the body look bigger than it is.
One final thought on this: When posing the body you want to see space – like the space between an arm and the waistline. I often tell folks that in my retouching it’s much easier for me to tuck in a little extra “muffin top” (and Mom’s I’ve got it too 🙂 than to try and fix a messy oversize sweater.
COLOR vs PATTERN
I think when people first ask “what do I wear” – color is the first thing that pops to mind. What color?! Here are a few simple ideas about color:
1. Solid Colors first. You can’t go wrong with a shirt or sweater that’s one solid color, no matter what that color is. Going back to Tip #1 – the face should be the most important element in the photograph, so sticking with a solid colored garment can really accentuate this. Texture is a great way to give a solid color some interest – so maybe a cable knit sweater, a subtle lace or herringbone texture is great.
2. Choose a Color you love and like to wear. So if your closet is filled with navy and blue colors, you obviously feel comfortable in this color so it might not be the best choice to “try out” orange! Look around your house and you’ll tend to see that maybe you are a neutral color person, a “pop of color” person, or a black & white person
3. Think about your surroundings. If you are outside, it helps to choose a color that will match the surroundings! If you want photos by the lake, wear blue, cream or white. If you want Fall photos, maybe this is a good time to choose golden yellow, dark green or tans. Spring at the Arboretum? This is wonderful for pale pinks, light greens, muted yellows and baby blues. If you are outside in the winter, this is a great time to wear a pop of red. If, on the other hand, you are in the studio you could try anything but jewel tones are great as well as black/white, whereas a black shirt outside in the fall doesn’t match as well as navy/charcoal/dark brown would. You can also think about this in reverse; as in if you’d like to wear your favorite black blazer, what type of background would support that look? Probably an architectural backdrop with clean lines rather than out by the lake.
COLORS AND FAMILY PHOTOS
I plan to write a whole series of blog posts about this, but when it comes to matching colors in family photos this is certainly “next level” to just dressing yourself for a headshot! Here are some “color tips” when you have a group of people:
1. HUES and UNDERTONES: If you were to think of “dark tones” “mid tones” and “light tones” this can really help. Chose one and use that as the base for most outfits. For example – light tones mean that Dad wears a light blue shirt, son wears a light heather grey, Mom wears a light pink with a pattern, and daughter wears a light grey or light blue dress. Everything is light toned. If you wanted “dark tones” this could mean that Dad wears a Camel colored blazer, son wears a charcoal grey sweater, Mom wears an emrald green dress, and daughter wears a dark brown or camel colored dress. Everything is darker deeper tones.
2. BRIGHT OR BOLD COLORS: The brighter the Color, the less of it: If all five of you are wearing bright red shirts, that might be overkill. Try instead having the smallest kid in bright red and the others in dark grey. I love the look when Mom finds a fun patterned long flowing dress that might have a pop of a brighter color, but then everyone else is in more neutral colors within the dress. One pop or pattern that doesn’t compete with another pop or pattern is best. Or put the daughter in a pop of bright jewel teal blue but have others in a more muted blue or grey.
3. COLOR GROUPINGS: Complimentary Color Families: Pinterest is a great resource for color groupings! Look up “color pallettes” and you might find a unique combination you may not have thought of, like pale pink and mustard yellow.
4. TAKE A STEP BACK: Put it together on the bed: Take all the outfits and lay them down on the bed or couch. Now take a step back and blur your eyes a little so that all you see are shapes and colors. Sometimes that can help you see if it’s balanced or make that choice between the one shirt or the other.
CLASSIC vs. TRENDY
This is a great topic and one I’d love to explore with you. Do you want to look trendy, or do you want to look classic & timeless? I think there’s certainly an argument for both!
CLASSIC & TIMELESS: Here are a few classic and timeless styles below. When I think of Classic and Timeless here’s what I mean; simple clean lines in the outfit, muted solid colors including black/white, navy, cream, camel or charcoal. Simple jewelry and natural makeup. Think Audrey Hepburn, Kate Spade, and Vera Wang suits for guys. I think this is a wonderful look for a few different reasons. First, in a headshot scenario you might want to use this for the next five years on your LinkdIn profile so you’re going to want to look timeless. Otherwise in two years you might start to look outdated and “so 2021” to those looking at your profile! Another great use for classic & timeless images might be when you want a really artistic looking family photo on the wall. White T-shirts and Jeans never goes out of style and that large canvas on the wall will blend beautifully when your decor changes.
ON TREND: Trendy also has it’s place as well. Sometimes you want to celebrate a certain style or trend that you love and it’s ok that this “screams 2021.” For example the family outdoor bo-ho picture style is very on trend right now. I get lots of young families who want to rock this look, and I love it. Another place I encourage trendy is in senior photos. It’s ok to dress with a style you love wearing right now, because it helps capture the essence of what it was like to be a high school senior at this moment in time. If you are doing headshots and you happen to work in an industry that celebrates artistic expression or is up-and-comming, it’s a great idea to have a personal style that’s more in line with current fashion trends.
Whatever you choose just make sure everyone in your group has gotten the memo so it’s a cohesive look in the final image.
Start with the end in mind, pay attention to the details, and plan our session accordingly so we can create a gallery of images you’ll really love and an experience that is easy and stress-free.
Here’s a quick story for you: When I first started my photography business, I was exclusively photographing homes. One of my early projects was for a designer who had just staged a model home for the builder. It was lovely and she needed images of her design for a new website. Without asking many questions I jumped in and photographed what I thought would look good. After I delivered the images, she came back with questions like “did you happen to get a close-up of those barstools at the island, I wanted to showcase the colors in a new proposal” and “I wanted to use this image of the living room as a banner but it looks weird when I crop it wide and short, did you happen to get one from further back?” Hmm, whoops I didn’t have either of those images. In fact I had spent 20 minutes really fine-tuning a lovely image of the entryway that she probably didn’t need as much as she needed that shot of the barstools. However since we hadn’t talked about that ahead of time, I didn’t plan for it and the outcome suffered.
Now recently, after a few years in this game, I was approached by a large non-profit to photograph some of their executive team. Before I even stepped foot into the shoot that day, we knew the location and had chosen outfits to match, had booked professional hair and makeup for several of the women, I knew where in their marketing materials they needed images and what those crop dimensions were, and how each headshot would fit into the larger company profile. The outcome was amazing and everyone loved the photos.
We need to start with the end in mind. I encourage you to take some time and think about why you are even willing to pay for a photo session in the first place. Let’s have a discussion first so I can ask lots of questions before we shoot. Trust me, a 30 minute or one hour session goes quickly. We only have so much time together and I want to make sure I am getting the images you love and will use. My mother’s adage of “proper prior planning prevents painfully poor performance” rings true in photography. You might just be thinking “I need an updated family photo this fall” but let’s dive deeper than that and really plan for our outcome. When we can both spend a little time preparing and knowing what we are going to shoot, how we are going to shoot it, and what the final product should look like we’ll likely get far better results.
If you are looking for a gallery of wall images in your living room that showcases both the family together and each child individually, I need to know that before we start so I can take a little time during our session to capture each child in the same spot so it looks cohesive on the wall. If the colors in your living room are mainly grey and green, we might even want the family to dress in those colors so the photos will match the decor. See how helpful this type of outcome-based thinking is to the final product? We might not know all the answers up front, but having some ideas gets us closer!
Bonus….When we plan our session around the outcome, it’s easier to decide what to wear.
RANDOM TIPS THAT MIGHT BE HELPFUL
1. HAIR – Ladies, if you have long hair and are taking outdoor photos it’s best if you can give it some curl or bend. Stick straight hair, when it blows in the wind, can look messy. On the otherhand, curls and waves, when blowing in the wind, look fantastic.
2. BRING YOUR SHIRT TO A TAILOR – If you buy a Target white button down shirt and get it tailored, it will look like an expensive shirt in the photos and you’ve only paid like $20 more. Clothing that is well fitted can take years and pounds off in a photo. Just sayin..
3. LESS STRESS = BETTER IMAGES – Parents, this one is for you. When we arrive at a session stressed out, frustrated, and dreading the next 45 minutes it’s going to show in the images. Stress or fear comes across as tension in the body, worry lines across the forehead, “dead eyes”, awkward hand positioning, no connection with others in the photo, and on and on. There’s a lot I can fix in photoshop, but I can’t fix these things! Instead, try and have a little discussion on the car ride over about your favorite photo of yourself and a parent from childhood and why you love it so much. It’s a great reminder that we take photos because we want to remember the good times and our best selves. We want our kids to remember that we tried hard, loved unconditionally, and gave everything to be good parents. If we can have a light-hearted attitude and joyful time together it’s really going to give your images that essence of love and joy. It will give you images that look more like YOU.