Clothing Guide for Great Portraits

Here is a short guide that you can copy, edit, print and handout to your clients before a session. It is very important to let people know what looks good in a portrait, it sure makes our jobs that much easier.

Clothing – General

  • Earth tones are best for outdoor portraits.
  • Try to bring at least three changes of clothing.
  • You should have one dressy outfit. Make sure clothing is clean and pressed.
  • Next is casual dress—typical clothing is the idea.
  • If you have special interests (sports, music, hobbies, cars, etc.) you’ll want something to show that interest. Bring hats, scarves, jewelry that is part of your “look”.
  • Coordinate your outfit from head to toe. Keep the tonal range of clothing in the same group; don’t mix lights & darks in the same outfit.
  • Darker clothes minimize body size.
  • You should normally choose tones that are at least slightly darker than your skin tone, no matter what color you choose.
  • Simplicity is the key to a successful portrait.

Clothing which is simple in design, even though it may seem boring will make your portrait more powerful and not look dated in a few years. Strong, exciting colors and patterns will tend to dominate and take attention away from the person in the clothes. Also, the strong primary colors, such as bright red, can be very dominant and detracting unless you have had your colors done and particularly suit them. It is best to use grayed down versions such as burgundy instead of red, or brown or rust instead of bright yellow. Cooler tones, like the colors in the blue family, can be particularly universal and attractive if you are in doubt about your best colors. This is because they tend to recede and give the skin tone a warmer glow in portraits. Blue jeans are always popular, and actually photograph quite well.

Hair: You should wear your hair in your regular style. Do not try a new look for your portrait! Guys should NOT have a fresh haircut. If you need a trim, have it done about a week before.

Your hair should be clean and fixed the way you want it. Look closely in a mirror. Have a valued friend critique. There is little that can be “fixed” after the fact. If hair is to be done professionally, meet with your hairdresser beforehand and discuss your “look” and how to achieve it. Hairdressers and makeup artists are great assets for your portrait. Many arrange for them to attend the portrait session. Bring hairspray and your comb/brush to all sessions.

Shoes: A nice pair of dark shoes also reproduces well on film if your portrait session will include the feet. Please bring shoes that are appropriate for the clothing you will be wearing. Tennis shoes with a suit may be a fashion statement, but it will probably look pretty dated in just a few years. If you plan to have more than one change of clothing, please ensure that you bring shoes (and socks or stockings!) that go with each planned change of clothing so that we are able to do full length pictures of each outfit.

Makeup: Keep it simple. It is better to use too little than too much! The center of interest is the eyes. Apply eye shadow lightly and with care. Use two applications of mascara, top and bottom. Wear other makeup as usual. Be sure to bring your makeup in case touchup is necessary. There are several cover-up and makeup on the market that will help hide any imperfections.

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