Have an upcoming photography session and have no idea what to wear?
This is a question I hear all the time. Here’s why: Figuring out what to wear to a photoshoot is hard! While certain things look great in person, sometimes they just don’t translate well on camera. So, when clients come to me with this query, I happily jump in and assist. I want you to love your photos with every ounce of your being.
There are colors to avoid, and ones to embrace. Prints to steer clear of, and others to play with. Should you try and match the colors of your partner? What about accessories? Do you wear the hat, or ditch it? Go with some jewelry, or keep things simple? What about my pet?
I love to style my clients, so they never have a doubt, but here is a quick and detailed guide to help you on your way!
12 Basic Tips on What to Wear to Your Photography Session
Pick a palette of 3-4 colors. Let this be your starting place. I gravitate towards rich, earthy colors complementing the natural elements around us. I often choose pieces that are timeless. Rich jewel tones like crimson, sapphire, emerald, or mustard are often good choices, depending on the look of the landscape. I also often recommend softer colors like cream, butter, grey blue, and sea foam green. Earthy tones such as Olive, sage, copper, and sand are also beautiful.
There are many ways to use the color wheel when deciding what to wear for photos, but one way I love is to use complementary colors. When choosing complementary colors, consider the colors in your location, too. For example, if you know there is going to be a lot of green foliage around you consider a palette of red for your subject’s clothing. I might suggest a soft grey/aqua, but I wouldn’t suggest that color for a waterside session, because you could blend into the sea a bit too much! However, a deeper coral color against the sand could work beautifully, as it is the same tonal vibe, but will make you stand out, and still mesh with your surroundings, to give the whole session an earthy, organic feel! Choosing to dress in complementary colors is a great way to not only make images more visually pleasing, but to separate you from the background.
Don’t be afraid of a little color! You don’t have to go overboard, but picking up bold colors from a more subtle outfit for a pop of color can look amazing. For example, if dad is wearing a plaid shirt, draw one color from it and have one child wear a pop of that color. Keep away from anything that is neon, fire engine red, lime green, or hot pink. These colors bounce, which means they will interfere with your skin tones and bounce onto them when there is any sunshine out, which is something we always want to avoid!
Keep prints minimal. While in real life, prints are amazing, on camera, they don’t always work. A couple of things to keep in mind: Bigger isn’t always better, and too tiny doesn’t do much. Meaning you don’t want to wear a print that will overpower you in a photo. In real life, big prints don’t overpower as much, because we have constant human movement, but in a still image, they can often be the first and only thing the viewer sees. Then you have prints that are too tiny, and they don’t add anything. If they are totally beyond minuscule (think the patterns on some men’s dress shirts), and those can actually be a huge detriment, as the camera can’t translate them well! So, if you’re going with a print, make sure it is large enough for the viewer to identify as a print, but not so bold it is the first place the eye is drawn. If you choose to work with a stripe or a plaid, it’s most effective when used in small doses. Go with something subtle, but present, like the print in the above image!
I recommend finding clothing with a lot of visual interest. Look for clothing tops with lots of texture, layers, and ruffles. Pair these textures and layers with something simple on the bottom. When thinking about texture, choose different ones that will give photos some interest such as lace, corduroy, denim, and knits. Varying textures add dimension and visual interest to your images.I also love loose, flowy, natural fabrics like linen and cottons that will move with you.
Mixing colors and patterns also create texture. The most foolproof way to do this is to contrast pattern size (i.e., a small pattern with an oversized one) while keeping the colors similar. You may also add texture through color. Pile on the rich jewel-tones for a glamorous look, working these colors in small ways into the whole family’s look. Or use varying shades of a particular hue to create a soft but interesting color palette.
Accessories give your photographs that needed punch. They lend pops of color, personality, and interest. Everybody wears them well and they work for all ages. If you want your subject and attire to be the focus of your photos, keep accessories to a minimum. Too many will take away the spotlight from your outfit. If you have an accessory that makes a statement, minimizing your other accessories, as well as keeping your clothing patterns simple, will allow it to stand out. Here are some ideas:
Hats: Hats frame the face, protect the eyes from squinting in full sun, and overall are just fun! However, depending on the session, baseball hats should be omitted. They cause harsh shadows on the face, which no one wants!
Belts, Socks, Scarves and Jewelry: All these things are going to give pops of color, and complete the outfit. They can be unexpected bits of fun, too, like crazy and colorful knee socks on a girl. Striped belts make a boring khaki and polo outfit more interesting. Shiny necklaces give an image a little glimmer and can be a good prop to give to someone who doesn’t know what to do with their hands. Scarves can add color and texture and are incredibly versatile.
Nothing ruins a great shot like a beat-up pair of shoes so leave the Crocs and cross trainers at home. Instead the entire family should don their best footwear for the occasion, or else ditch them altogether in favor of (well-groomed!) bare feet. Heels are not appropriate for grassy parks, but wedges and boots look fantastic. Bare feet or sandals are best for the beach, and boots look best in urban locations. I photograph in homes a lot, so I actually am a big proponent of no shoes. To me, they don’t look right in the setting of home sweet home. Who hangs out on their bed or couch with their shoes on? Not anybody I know! But shoes in other settings can really help support a story. Patterned or colorful rain boots for a rainy day, motorcycle boots to amp up a street casual look, hiking sandals or boots for an adventurous look— the possibilities are endless!
I love bare-feet photos, they bring such earthy and natural feelings to images. If you decide to go without shoes, make sure feet are well-groomed. Polish is nice, but not necessary if you prefer a more casual look.
6. Hair & Make-Up
One of the most dreaded makeup blunders in photography is when the flash bounces off your subject’s foundation causing her face to appear to be a completely different color than the rest of her. One of the main culprits of this is foundation with sunscreen. So if your session is indoors, avoid any foundation with sunscreen. The rest of the makeup should be slightly bolder than what is worn for your everyday look. I suggest making sure there is definition on the eyes, cheeks and lips because these features tend to fade in photographs. Avoid harsh, garish colors or overly trendy makeup looks. Berries, reds, corals, plums and pinks are your best picks for lips and cheeks, and choose deep jewel tones or natural colors, such as browns and grays for eyes. Beware of doing a very dark, smoky eye, as it may cause the eyes to look like they are sunken. Try using a powder to eliminate shine. Of course, an appointment with a professional makeup artist is a fun and pampering way to kick off the day of the photo session!
The ideal way for your clients to wear their hair is in the very best version of their natural, everyday looks. Of course you can always pamper yourself by investing in a professional blowout. For kids, pick simple, flattering styles that will last the duration of the session without requiring too much fuss. If the little girl’s hair always ends up in her eyes, small bow or clip to pull it off her face. Make sure little boy hair is well-groomed, but not so neat and slick that he is unrecognizable. Men, if possible, should be clean-shaven, unless they wear a beard. Sorry guys, stubble does not photograph well. Treat hair accessories as you do any other accessory, and keep balance in mind. A standout hair accessory, whether it’s a wide colored band for mom or a large flower hair clip for a girl, means keeping other accessories to a minimum.
7. Coordinate, but Don’t too Matchy-Matchy With What You Wear to a Photoshoot!
Remember in the 90's when your mom wanted everyone to wear white button-ups and Levis? We don’t need to do that anymore. As a couple or family, never forget that while you want to coordinate, you never need to be wearing the exact same colors, patterns, and definitely not the same outfit. You can have on similar tones, coordinating tones, or just the same sort of vibe!
8. For the Ladies: Outfit choice…
If you wear a dress, make sure it is one you will be able to hike around in easily. Not something that is so tight and tailored all the way down that you can’t move much in it! I also love when the skirt of the dress catches in the wind. When that breeze catches some flowy fabric, it is nothing short of magic! A flowing skirt also helps translate movement in images, and since I will probably capture some photos of you having fun, running, and being playful, it is a great way to help convey this!
I often send my female clients to either: Anthropologie, Free People, Bohemian Traders, Vici, Asos, or Amazon for pieces! Keep in mind, a killer pair of jeans, t-shirt and some rad accessories are a great vibe too! Make sure to get a fresh coat of nail polish before your shoot or go bare.
9. For the dudes…
A lot of guides don’t talk about what men should wear to a photoshoot! Crazy right? Well, here you go– You can’t go wrong in something classic like slim-fit, grey pants, dark khakis, or darker jeans, and a tailored button-up. Or, if your vibe is more free and less buttoned-up, opt for a cool t-shirt under a leather Moto jacket with some boots! I love when my male clients show off their personal style. I also never mind a fitted t-shirt and some rad jeans. Just make sure it coordinates with the outfit of your partner! I often send my male clients to either: Asos, Banana Republic, J. Crew, Huckberry or Amazon for pieces!
10. For the Kids
Avoid dressing children in clothing that will make them look like a small adult. Babies and toddlers look adorable shirtless and in just a diaper. Tuck in shirts on the little ones to give waists shape and the outfits a more finished, neat look. I really adore rompers and flowy dresses.
11. For the Pets
Yes, pets need to be styled too. If you want to add an extra touch, have the collar to mesh well with your outfits. Neutral leashes work best. Please let me know if your pet requires any of the following: gentle leaders, choke chains, pinch/ prong collars, etc. it will be hard to remove digitally. We can discuss options if they are absolutely needed. Avoid harnesses as the cover too much of the dogs body and cannot be digitally removed. For more on styling your pet, check out my blog "How to Prepare For Your Pet Photography Session".
12. Be YOU!
At the end of the day, what to wear to a photoshoot is all about who you are and how you feel. I am forever telling my clients: “Make sure you feel confident in your outfit, because if you don’t, it will show in your images.” It’s important to go into your session feeling as stunning as you are!
bonus: If Your still struggling...
Think of a theme.
If it suits the session, choose a subtle theme to incorporate into your photo session. The theme can stem from a location, a particular family interest, or even from the clothing itself.
Try a few of these ideas:
Snow whites: layered clothing in shades of white with fur accents
Fall: jewel-tones, tweeds, corduroys, and leather
Vintage: muted, dusty colors of mauve, gray and blue in flowy natural fabrics
English country: flower patterns with vintage bikes, classic tweeds, etc.
Neutral: colored outfits against a very boldly colored wall
Black tie: formal looks on a white couch against a very simple background