"I've booked my session and I'm excited for the shoot but have no idea what to wear." I hear this all the time. Whether this is your first shoot or your 5th, what you choose to wear to your photo session is just as important as the lighting, posing and location. Wardrobe may seem like a no brainer but If you show up under dressed or completely avoid the guidelines below you could take away from what could have been a great photo. The last thing you want is your clothing to be a distraction.
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The tips below are specifically for portraits, lifestyle and head shots. If you’re doing a fashion shoot these won’t apply to you as fashion is more about wardrobe and less about the model. Just remember there is an exception to every rule. If you decide not to read on just make sure to read this: The most important tip I can give you is wear what makes you feel comfortable and confident. Let me know in the comments below if this article helped you or if there is anything I should add to this list. All photos below were taken by me except for the memes. Make sure to connect with me on Instagram HERE
1. Wear what makes you feel Awesome.
As I mentioned above I will start with the most important tip of all. Wear what makes you feel confident because if you don’t feel confident it will always show on camera. Try your best to follow the rules below but at the end of the day what makes you feel comfortable and confident is the most important. I would rather you break the rules with an outfit that makes you feel amazing than the other way around.
2. Avoid bright colors.
Keep in mind that bright colors like orange, yellow, and red tend to make you look larger than you actually are and bright and fluorescent colors can be reflective and don’t photograph well. If you would like to wear lighter colors I would stick with pastels. Below is an example of great pastel colors to look for. These are great for dark locations like a forest. If the background will be dark than dark clothing should be avoided. This is why you should always discuss location with your photographer before choosing your outfit.
3. Avoid prints, patterns, and graphics.
Again, unless you’re modeling for a brand or making a statement, patterns, prints, and graphics are to be avoided. We don’t want anything that’s going to distract from your beautiful face.
4. Bring options. Lots of options.
It’s never a bad idea to bring more outfits than you need on the day of a shoot. Men: Bring different ties, different shirts, different suit jackets. For casual headshot sessions or actor headshot sessions, bring a basic soft tee and long sleeve shirt. Variety is king and hopefully your photographer offers multiple wardrobe changes. Your photographer should let you know how many outfits are included in your price and if they don’t make sure to ask.
5. Wear flattering clothes that fit well.
I know this one seems obvious but you would be surprised. Wear clothes that fit you well and flatter your figure. If you’re going to shop for an outfit for the shoot don’t wait till the day of to try them on. Ladies: make sure to bring at least one dress to your session. I recommend dresses with a thicker material that will fight off wrinkles better than thin material.
6. Choose clothes that cover your skin.
Arms and legs have a larger surface area than your face which means when they are showing they can take away from the face, to avoid this I suggest long sleeve shirts, long pants, or a skirt that goes below the knee. If your self conscious about your arms and or legs this is the best way to help draw attention away from them and onto your face. obviously this one won’t apply to you if do you want to show off your arms or legs.
7. Go with a narrow neck line.
It’s been said that a wide neckline can thicken the neck in a photograph. I'm not sure this is true but to avoid this I suggest wearing clothes that come close to your neck such as a turtle neck or V-neck top because they slim you down and frame your face and tend to be the most flattering neck lines. However if you have really nice collarbones I would suggest a wide neckline.
8. Wear muted, Jewel, or Earth tones.
I always suggest going with muted, jewel, or earth tones to my clients because they don’t draw attention. The more subtle the better however if wearing something really loud fits your personality better that’s okay too. Below are some examples of muted, jewel, and earth tones I'd look for when putting an outfit together.
9. Keep to solid colors.
As you can probably tell, our main objective when choosing what to wear is to pick clothes that don’t draw attention to itself. Choosing an outfit with solid colors is always a great choice because they’re not overbearing or distracting. I hate to beat a dead horse but I really want this to sink in. Yes black is okay as long as the location isn't dark. Keep in mind darker colors are more slimming than lighter colors.
10. Choose your outfit first.
This is specifically for family portraits so mom and dad it can be extremely helpful to choose what you want to wear first and then build the rest of the family’s wardrobe off of that. Make sure your outfits coordinate but don’t match.
11. Dress for location and season.
When choosing an outfit keep in mind where you will be shooting and what the weather will be like as I said before it’s extremely important that you are comfortable so you wouldn’t want to wear a sleeveless in the dead of winter and you probably wouldn’t want to wear a turtleneck in the middle of summer. Dress for the season. If it’s cool and crisp out make sure to layer up. Pinterest is a great place to look for examples.
12. Have a clothing option with movement.
This one’s really for the ladies. I recommend flowy dresses, skirts, or scarves. These are great for movement shots like dancing on the beach.
13. Jewelry is fine.
A beautiful necklace, set of earrings, bracelet or hat can go a long way as long as they aren't too distracting. And for the men a watch is always recommended. A nice hat works as well for an old 50's vibe.
Hair, makeup, and so much more.
It is perfectly normal to want a haircut right before a shoot you’re paying good money for. But try your best to have it done 2 weeks before the shoot. A fresh cut or fade generally looks better after a week or 2 has passed and you’ll know how to style it just right in case you changed your hairstyle. The day of your shoot is not the time to try a new hairstyle. Stick with a look that you know you like.
Try to cover up any blemishes the best you can but keep your make up simple and minimalistic. You don’t want your photos to look like 90s glamour shots. A small amount of eyeliner, mascara, foundation, powder, concealer, blush, little eye shadow and subtle lip color goes along way. If you'd rather leave hair and makeup to a professional I work with an amazing Hair and Makeup Artist Renée J. Beauty who you can contact HERE
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The last thing you want are dry chapped lips so bring lip gloss, lipstick or lip balm to keep those lips nice and soft.
Typically I have my clients remove glasses for photos but if no one will recognize you without your glasses I recommend wearing them. However a little trick I like to do is having my clients remove the lenses from the frame because reflections in a lens can ruin a photo. This is an old Hollywood trick ;)
Gentlemen, if you are going to show up freshly shaven make sure to use aftershave moisturizer to limit bumps and redness. If you have a beard make sure it’s trimmed and tight.
Keep your nails clean and tidy, this will make a huge difference in photos if your hands are showing. Go with a neutral color that won’t clash with your outfit.
If you take anything away from this article just remember to keep it simple, stick to solid colors so your outfit isn’t the first thing that’s noticed. Flatter your shape, wear something that fits and shows your figure well. Keep it relaxed and natural, your clothing, make up, and hair should be natural and have your hair frame your features. If shooting with a group make sure to coordinate not match, plan your color palette and the vibe you’re going for. It’s best to view the outfits together before hand.
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Don’t wear graphics or distracting patterns. Don’t dress too casual unless the session calls for it, typically a photo session is a special occasion, so wear your Sunday’s best. Coordinate your outfits a day or two before the shoot. It’s easy to think that wardrobe is a no brainer but you’ll be scrambling on the day of your shoot if you don’t coordinate your outfit and decide to wing it. certainly don’t wait until the day of your shoot to try a new outfit for the first time or style your hair and make up a new way for the first time.
Most importantly be yourself. The guidelines above are just that, guidelines. Ultimately wearing what makes you feel comfortable and confident is the most important guideline of all. If all of this is too overwhelming and you would rather just let someone else take care of wardrobe for you I always suggest a stylist. And my go to stylist in the area is The Luggage Cart. Alix is the best Wardrobe Stylist I know. Contact her for a free consultation HERE
Lance is a well known published Portland based Portrait photographer.