Between personal styles, wardrobe limitations, and a room full of opinions, it’s not easy to get everyone on the same page when it comes to dressing an individual or family for a portrait session. That’s why we’ve compiled a description of best practices for communicating with clients about what outfit combinations look great (and not so great) in photos.
In our Mastin User group, many photographers suggest emailing the client ahead of time with a list of guidelines or sharing links to Pinterest boards with outfit ideas and color palates to help clients dress for a cohesive, natural overall look. We’ve pulled suggestions from our community, and researched other methods to bring you a list of client wardrobe best practices. Here are some guidelines you can share with your clients before a portrait session to help clear up any confusion about wardrobe.
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Wear clothes that fit. If you’re tucking, pinning, or squeezing into an outfit, if the outfit ‘rides up’ or down, shows sweat, shows underwear lines or bra straps, or wrinkles easily, don’t wear it. These things will show up in photographs and can be difficult to Photoshop out.
Wear clothes that reflect your style. In addition to wearing clothes that fit physically, wear clothes that you also feel comfortable in mentally. A portrait session is not the time to make a bold fashion statement or try an outfit you’d never wear in public. If you feel comfortable, you’ll look comfortable. If you feel like you’re wearing a costume, you’ll look like you’re wearing a costume.
Dress kids in clothes they love. For family photo shoots, dress your kids in clothes that they love. Mastin User, Natalia Drause, recommends, “Don’t force kids to wear something that they don’t like. We want to keep them happy during the session.” In addition, make sure your kids are fed and bring snacks and treats to keep everyone happy. Schedule your session after nap-time to bring out the sweet, happy nature of your children.
Find Your Color Palate
Choose colors in the same family. For family portrait sessions, Mastin User, Faye Marti mentions, “Husband and wife matching outfits look dated.” You can avoid looking like a 90s blue jeans, white t-shirt family by picking a color palette, instead of choosing matching outfits. Find 2-3 complimentary colors and neutrals and stick to it. Here’s a great color palette you can reference for help, originally shared by Mastin Labs user, Amanda Pregier, on our Mastin Labs Facebook. Amanda says that she shares this palate out with a family before the shoot, and tells them to “try to keep colors in the same family, rather than being matchy matchy.”
Mind your neutrals. When choosing neutrals, opt for a brown tone for a warm color palette, or a gray tone for a cool color palate. Avoid wearing bright white because it will act as a light reflector and will draw the eye to whomever is wearing it.
Add patterns sparingly. Some photographers discourage use of patterns entirely in portraits because they can quickly overwhelm a shoot. We suggest saving patterns and pops of color for small accessories such as scarves, hair bands, belts, or hats. When kept in moderation, patterns can add interesting texture to an image and can bring out the personality of the person wearing it.
Consider Your Environment
Identify your environment color palate. One of the best ways to choose your color palate is to first determine if your photo shoot environment has cool or warm tones. For example, an orchard in the fall has yellow, orange, and red warm tones; a beach in the spring has blue, green, and white cool tones.
Dress for the season/weather. After you’ve thought about the color palate of your environment, think about the clothes that make the most sense in those environments. Dress for the season and the time of day. If you’re too cold or too hot, it will be apparent in photos, especially if there are children involved. For example, the orchard will work best with casual boots, scarves, and layers. The beach location will go better with delicate flowing clothes, lighter material, sandals or bare feet.
Consider your photo display. Lastly, keep in mind the environment in which you’ll be hanging your printed portraits. Consider the color palate of your home and pick a season and outfits that match the color scheme so that when you print the images and hang them on your walls, they’ll look right at home and add to your décor.
Crazy colors and patterns. Don’t wear neon colors. They can clash with one another/the background, alter skin tones, and create color cast on neutrals and skin tones. Mastin User, Georgia Yanez suggests, “Avoid clothing with distracting patterns or thin stripes”. Thin stripes on clothing can look warped and create a crazy optical illusion that draws the eye.
Matching outfits. Matching family or couple outfits look dated and corny.
Distracting items. This includes shiny clothes, distracting jewelry or accessories such as sunglasses. Remove anything that doesn’t add to the outfit, and empty your pockets to keep from wrinkling and bunching.
Branding. Even if you’re doing a casual shoot, avoid athletic sneakers, or distracting apparel with brand names. Avoid logos, characters, or words on clothing. You are not a walking billboard advertisement.
Wearing clothes with minimal coverage. Only show as much shoulder, leg, or neckline, as you’re confident having photo proof of for a lifetime. For example, don’t wear a sleeveless top unless you’re 100 % happy with your arms. If you do wear a sleeveless top, bring something to drape over your shoulders, like a shawl or blazer, just in case the shot calls for it, or it gets chilly. Exposed skin can easily become a focal point, so be mindful.
This isn't an extensive list of guidelines for helping clients make good wardrobe choices, but remember, you’re the expert. You know what will look good in photos, and what you’ll tear your hair out trying to edit in post. The more direction you can give to a family, the better. After your client has chosen a location, day, and time, take as much of the guesswork out as possible. Tell them if their color palette is warm or cool, look up the weather forecast and make suggestions about footwear and layering. Show them examples of photos you’ve taken with other families in similar environments to help them visualize.