Proper clothing selection can make the difference between a personalized work of art and "just another picture". Here is an example of how a little bit of planning can improve the look of your portraits. The first time I photographed this family, no one had time to coordinate the clothing. The next time I photographed them, the clothing was dramatically different. Which one would you rather display in your home? (Yes, the little red headed boy in the center of the first image has now grown up to be a tall young man.)
For many, deciding on clothing may seem like a daunting task and there is an over abundance of advice on the Internet about this very topic. You will be happy to know that it doesn't have to be complicated. The basic goal is to choose colors and outfits that do not overpower the people in the images. Ideally, clothing should:
- Make people the main subject
- Flatter subjects and help them look their best
- Portray a sense of solidarity with the right blend of individuality
- BONUS POINTS: Choose clothing colors that coordinate with overall home decor and rooms where you plan to display the portraits
Black and white are often too harsh for most people, but these muted, medium tones of blue, grey, purple, beige, brown, rust, and green ALL blend well together.
The Plan - Three Simple Steps
Don't go out and buy the same turtleneck for everyone in the family -- That "matchy-matchy" look is dated. The new trend is to BLEND a couple of colors and avoid high-contrast combinations. Just follow these 3 simple steps for clothing selection:
- Choose Two Medium Tones. Start with a palette of two muted, medium tones from the sample above. If you must add a darker or lighter colors, I recommend adding EITHER one OR the other, but not both. Otherwise the overall result seems unplanned and disjointed.
- Select Solid Color Clothing. Bold patterns, stripes, logos and graphics are pretty distracting and tend to take the "finished" look of a professional portrait down a few notches. Simple, classic clothing will give your images a timeless feel. Who wants to notice the Nike or Gap logo before your adorable child's smile?
- Add Textures and Layers. Let everyone show their own personality with layering (sweaters, vests, jackets), different shirt styles, and a variety of fabric textures. This keeps family members happy, while adding dimension, pizzazz, and richness to the overall look. Pull colors from one outfit to the next and split up the colors differently between your subjects. Avoid having the girls wearing one color shirt and the boys wearing another because it will look like a uniform.
More Clothing and Styling Tips for your Portrait Session
These tips are not essential, but will help your portraits look even better.
- How to Look Thinner. Are you sensitive about your weight? Lighter bottom add pounds, but darker bottoms (navy, dark grey, chocolate brown) will make hips look thinner. Longer sleeves are more flattering than short cap sleeves. Wearing the same tone on top and bottom tends to lengthen and slenderize your body visually.
- Satisfy the Non-Conformist in the Group. Choose clothing for the most difficult (picky?) person first. Build the other outfits around what that person is planning to wear.
- Add Interest with Accessories. Accessories give a more "complete" look to your image. Remember that a tiny amount of accent color (scarf, simple jewelry, hair accessories or hat) will enhance your photograph; A large amount (like a bold shirt without a sweater layer to tone it down) will make that person the focal point of the portrait.
- Avoid Sparkly Things -- Sometimes, the light reflects off shiny jewelry and causes a distracting glare. Sparkly makeup photographs in a different way -- it looks like you have tiny black spots on your face.
- Wear dark shoes AND socks. Did you realize that white socks will show when you sit down and become an attention-seeking beacon in your image? You eye is automatically drawn to the area of most contrast in the photograph. Footwear matters.
Ready-Made Color Palettes
The following color palettes were originally designed by Drake Busath and adapted to our clothing guidelines. Notice how all the tones in each color grouping offer variety, yet coordinate well together?