CHOOSING PROPER OUTFITS FOR YOUR PORTRAITS & COORDINATING YOUR OUTFITS IN GROUP PORTRAITS IS VITAL.
I want your portraits when made by me or someone else to be images that you love in every way. I want them to embody you, and I want you to be proud of them and how beautiful your family is in them. Many elements are coming together in each and every photograph to create that image and to help it have the right atmosphere and to have a clear message- and these factors will scrutinized over the years to judge an image’s timelessness and strength and greatness.
With portrait photography, the focus and most important part of a portrait is the person(s) in that image- their expressions, their gestures, their orientation and relation to each other, and their clothing choices. Clothing can have powerful effects on an image to hurt its quality but also its timelessness. Here, I wanted to make a few notes (my opinions) on clothing choices and why I suggest them for portraits (and some choices I recommend AGAINST and why). I want you to have a simple time selecting your outfits for your portraits, and I want you to feel confident in your choices.
For my portrait shoots, I encourage you to bring multiple clothing/outfit combinations (because we will use multiple locations and multiple scenes, but also just for choice variety prior to our shoot). I want to give you multiple options for scenery (and with each scenery change- the option to change outfits)- this helps in many ways, but my goal is to make a Storybook for you using the images from your session, but the diversity of outfits also provides more options for choosing your Wall Art and smaller prints.
GENERAL OUTFIT RECOMMENDATIONS: “Appropriate outfits” is probably not the right choice of words, but your images will be heirlooms, and be in your family forever. Patterns, especially heavy and dramatic patterns, powerful colors, and logos/artwork are often better excluded from your portraits- logos and artwork make the images feel dated; while spotted outfits, striped outfits- “busy” outfits should be avoided for their impact in being attention grabbing- as well, stripes (especially horizontal stripes) on women tend to make a woman look less thin. Again, there are exceptions, and I want this information to help you make a more confident and informed decision in choosing the outfits for your portrait sessions. An outfit can have a pattern and color, but it tends to be better that that pattern and those colors not “scream”, and that they be somewhat subtle. Finally, the colors and tones that you choose need to be complementary and NOT conflict severely with the location/scenery/colors around you. I will put together a visual guide at the bottom of this page to show common complementary color mixes.
THE FORMAL IMAGES: As a beginning thought- your clothing should reflect you, and I am not opposed to clothing that is less formal, but for a Wall Art sized image, you will likely be much more pleased with it if it has a more formal appearance and atmosphere- with that I recommend solid semi-formal to formal clothing with neutral or dark coloration (bright clothing- whether white or a bright/vibrant color may become a dominating and even distracting element in the images). I recommend long sleeves, long pants legs, and long dresses/skirts- too much visible skin such as your arms and legs will compete with your face and be a distraction (especially in large prints). I recommend at least being able to cover to your knees and to your elbows.
SHIRT/TOP: I favor dark or “tone-neutral” choices. My favorite colors tend to be “dark”- such as black, navy blue, rich (dark) forest green, dark gray- outside of that, crème colored, soft browns. In my opinion, generally avoid stark white or hyper-colorful clothing (most of time) because of how powerfully those choices will dominate the photographs.
PANTS: Jeans have become commonly worn in portraits and they look great if they are a darker tone and they feel casual-formal, but for a more formal choice, khakis are great (again avoid too bright of a tone).
WOMEN AND GIRLS: I again encourage bringing multiple outfits (3 to 6 for variety) and options for matching to various scenes/locations. Use your own personal preferences, but I tend to lean first toward dresses, preferably solid colors (or nearly solid). My first choices/leaning is to dark tones: black, blue, purple, pink, crimson, green (forest); then, light tones: crème-white, tan, soft brown, soft blue, pink, purple, spring or lighter green. Stripes (especially horizontal) add weight to women. Spotted, flower, or other patterns are fine (much better than stripes), but be cautious that the patterns and graphics on the outfit are not extremely large, extremely busy, or extremely colorful- if so, they will be an attention magnet and could negatively impact the portraits. Too much skin (legs and arms) competing with your face is a potential problem. Any accents or accessories to the outfit (like hair bows, a flower for the hair or as an attachment to the selected outfit, as well as belts, and jewelry are all of course encouraged. Too much jewelry or too many accessories could easily become a minor problem. With any dresses or shirts that wear loosely or “baggy”, a belt (or multiple to choose from) is so beneficial; belts in some rare cases might be a bad thing (with certain outfits), but most of the time they bring a feeling of completion to an outfit.
SHOES: It is all personal preference, but many people go bare foot in portraits, but that depends on safety, comfort, and personal preference- I lean toward a brown or black tone shoe. Avoid tennis shoes, there may be exceptions, but definitely avoid fluorescent and hyper-saturated colors. Sandals can be a good option for casual portraits of girls and women, but I avoid sandals on men.
OUTFITS FOR TWO OR MORE PEOPLE: Try to stick to “complementary” color choices (or colors that match and work with both the scene but also create a unity and similarity between everyone in the photographs). Communication and making sure that everyone has chosen outfits that connect everyone together is vital- if one person is wearing an outfit that separates them from the group and makes them the focus of the photograph, the resulting photographs will not be nearly as satisfying, and they will certainly suffer visually from incoherence and disjointedness- some clients choose a guys’ outfit and a girls’ outfit from a particular clothing maker and everyone buys that outfit so that the clothing matches in the portraits. Whether the portraits are couples portraits or family portraits, the most important thing is that those in the photographs are connected to one another and that they look and feel like a cohesive group- then above that it is necessary that the clothing does not take the attention off of the people wearing it (by being busy or mismatched/inappropriate for the particular scene/location.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Again, use your personal preferences and choose what you like- these are portraits of you and your family and they should reflect you and your personalities. After we have decided on whether we are shooting in the city or a natural area or another place, and we have discussed the colors of our scenery/locations, then work to choose colors that will be in relative harmony with that scenery (especially if we shoot in a natural area); an outfit that is completely at odds with the scene you are in will become the only thing that is paid attention to in the photographs- complementary or analogous colors are recommended. Avoid stripes or busy patterns. Bring multiple outfit options- we will be sure to have a place nearby where you can change between locations and scenes, but 3 or more outfits are recommended. Choose shoes that will work with the outfit, though you will likely go barefoot. Solid colors and clothing that is long sleeved and long legged is preferred- likely it will be rolled up, but arms and legs that are too dominant in an image will pull the attention off of the faces of those in the images. I want you to look your very best in your portraits; I want you to love your images; and I want your portraits to have a timeless quality to them whenever possible- considering your clothing choices is the first step in ensuring a high quality end result in your portraits.