I’m often asked “What should I wear for my photos?”
The first rule is there are no rules but, your clothing choice should have purpose.
Portrait photography is about you, not your clothes. That said, your clothing should provide some subtle context for the image without being a distraction.
Some choices are more obvious than others; a Business Headshot will typically call for something formal. Where an actor headshot may require a simple t-shirt.
One constant is that you should plan ahead and make clothing decisions well ahead of the shoot date. What you wear should be comfortable and make you feel confident. An outfit you're not sure about will show through in your photos. Trust me.
Here is a quick guide to help you plan your wardrobe selection:
Cover your skin.
Wear long pants, long sleeves, etc. Bare skin naturally draws the eye and will draw focus away from your face. There are exceptions. If unsure, ask me.
Avoid strong patterns, prints or logos.
Clothes should be plain so they don’t distract.
Wear solid colors.
Muted, darker or pastels work best. Earthy colors look wonderful. If you have fair or dark skin, avoid really dark colors.
**Kids can be an exception and can wear bright(er) clothing if the purpose of the image calls for something light and fun.
Don’t wear bright white and dark black.
Unless we talked about it before hand, white and black should only be worn if it ties into the intent or theme of the image.
Formal shirts always work better than casual.
T-shirts and polos are fine for more casual shots like commercial headshots. Collared dress shirts and button-downs are preferred for more formal shots.
For women, v-neck or mock-turtle neck is ok but collars work best for ladies too. A shallow v-neck will have a slimming effect whereas a wide open collar will have the opposite effect. Bare shoulders, plunging necklines and exposed arms are all things that will distract from your face and really kill a good portrait.
Clothing should fit.
Avoid very loose clothes and tops that drape from your shoulders and have no shape. Tops that narrow at the waist will give you shape and will help you look slimmer.
Shoes and socks should be neutral.
Avoid white socks and trendy bright colored running shoes or they will take over the image. The exception is headshots where you can barefoot if you want ;-)
Accessories / Jewelry can add visual interest.
Avoid big, flashy, colorful trendy items and anything that will contrast with your apparel choices. Conservative choices like diamond studs and pearls are timeless and scarfs/hats can be a fun addition to a portrait.
Wear contacts rather than glasses.
This is a personal choice you need to make though. If you are not easily recognized without your glasses you should consider wearing them. If your correction is very strong, this could hurt the image if your face is distorted through your eyeglass lenses. Reflected light in the lenses can usually be overcome.
Hair and Makeup should be kept clean and simple.
Makeup should be neutral and even; pay special attention to eye makeup. Too much can actually draw attention away from the eyes and to the makeup itself. If you plan on getting a haircut, do it at least a week before the shoot.
Be comfortable and make sure you feel good in the outfit.
If you purchase something new to wear for the portrait, try it on or even wear it for a while to make sure you are comfortable with your choice.
Couples / Family Portrait Photography
These same rules apply with one additional and important requirement –your clothing has to relate to the other people in the portrait.This does not mean “match”. The apparel should be from the same season and the subjects should appear they are all headed to the same event. Everyone can wear jeans and a plain shirt from the same color-family without matching. For family portraits, there will have to be some amount of compromise on the clothing (theme) choice, so keep it plain and simple when possible.
Example: Husband and Wife: Husband dressed in a blue shirt and his wife wore a neutral color blouse with a blue sweater to tie them together and communicate “a couple” in the image without matching.
This is your portrait so wear what you want. Portrait photography guidelines are simply suggestions to get the most out of the photography equipment and final image. More times than not, these guidelines work but you have to decide how to present yourself and what you want the image to say about you.