Getting Ready for Your Portrait Session: What to Wear Tips

The number one question I am asked before a portrait session is: “What should I wear?”

What you wear to your session has a significant impact on the look of your final portraits. I am asked by almost every client for wardrobe tips and I am happy to discuss your wardrobe with you individually prior to your session, but there are some tips I find myself telling every single client, so I've compiled them here for quick and easy reference.

Remember the Three Cs

Comfort: Select clothing that is comfortable and that allows you to move freely (constrictive clothing can make you look stiff in your portraits). Wear clothing that is machine washable (especially important for sessions held outdoors, where you might be sitting on the ground and extra important for sessions with children).

Color & Pattern: Select colors of clothing that compliment your eyes and skin tones (blues, greens and grays work great for both men and women and lavenders, reds and pinks look great on girls). Avoid solid bright white without texture (it tends to wash out skin tones because it reflects so much light and will also take on color casts from surrounding colors like green grass, or bright colors worn by others in your photos). Watch out for very bright colors like bright orange and highlighter pinks or yellows (these colors will reflect on your skin in the outdoor light). Also, consider the season in which you're having your portraits made for color inspiration.

Do not wear clothing with tiny prints (polka dots and gingham), or thin stripes. The camera cannot pick up the distinction in these small patterns and distortion can occur. This distortion (the technical term is "Moire") is nearly impossible to remove in the editing process and often results in the stripes looking multi-colored, jagged, or circular. Teeny tiny dots can also cause this problem. We recommend avoiding these types of small prints and patterns in clothing for portrait sessions. Larger plaids, chunky gingham, and thicker stripes generally do not result in the moire affect.

Coordinate: For sessions with two or more people, select clothing that coordinates, but doesn’t match exactly. Pick two or three complimentary colors and work those in to each person’s outfit. For family sessions, matching outfits can work great for young children, but for older children, pick a couple of colors and try to incorporate them into each child's outfit.

Tips for Ladies

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Accessorize: Bring a couple accessories (a scarf, bracelet, necklace, earrings, or hat) that fit your personality to help vary the look for each outfit during your session. Are you a minimalist when it comes to fashion? No worries! A streamlined, classic look always works too!

Check your nails: Check to see if any filing needs to be done and if polish is chipped. Chipped polish will stand out in a portrait. If nails are painted, make sure to give them a fresh coat of polish before your session.

Hair & Makeup: Professional hair and makeup can make a huge difference in your final portraits. If you choose to have hair and makeup done prior to your session, be careful of straying too far from your natural look. Keeping makeup and hair simple and classic will keep your portraits timeless.

Bring Extra Outfits on Hangers: Most sessions allow for more than one outfit. Hang extra outfits on hangers so that they will not wrinkle during the session.


Tips for Gentlemen

Shave: Unless you want a five o’clock shadow in your portraits, be sure to shave before your session. Stubble will be more visible in portraits than it is to your eyes.

Check your nails: Check that nails are clean and neatly trimmed. Give them a quick pass with a nail file if necessary.

Avoid White Socks: White socks usually stick out like a sore thumb in portraits. Be sure to bring socks that blend with your shoes and pants. If you will be wearing flip flops with shorts for one outfit and socks with jeans for another outfit, wear your flip flops outfit to the session so that you don’t get sock lines on your legs (they're hard to edit out).

Bring Extra Outfits on Hangers: Most sessions allow for more than one outfit. Hang extra outfits on hangers so that they will not wrinkle during the session.

V-Neck vs. Crew-neck Undershirts: If wearing an undershirt under an open-collar button down shirt, be sure to wear a V-Neck style undershirt instead of a crew-neck style. Crew neck undershirts tend to pull attention away from the outer shirt because they are white. Crew neck undershirts that show in your portraits cannot be removed in post production.


How Many Outfits?

Most sessions allow for more than one outfit, but time to change outfits does count towards your session time, so keep in mind how long it will take you to change when selecting your wardrobe for your session. Also, the more outfits you have, the less final portraits you'll have of each outfit. The type of session affects how many outfits can comfortably fit within the session time. Below is a wardrobe guide per session type.

Engagement Sessions: 2 Outfits Recommended

Most engagement session clients elect to incorporate two outfits into their session, one that's more dressy and another that is more casual. Many times ladies opt to change outfits entirely, with the guys changing only a shirt, or adding a sport coat to create a different look out of one outfit.

Family Sessions: 1 Outfit Recommended

Most families, especially those with young children, choose to have only one outfit for their session. This ensures a cohesive look across all portraits taken during the session and leaves more time for shooting.

Senior Sessions: 2 to 3 Outfits Recommended

Most seniors choose two different outfits for their portrait session, one that is a little more dressy and another that is more casual. Others opt for one of their outfits to showcase an extracurricular activity/interest (ballet costume, sporting uniform, props that reflect an interest, etc.). Since only one person participates in a senior session, there is more time to change clothes and get a variety of portraits in each outfit, so some seniors choose even up to three outfits for their session.

Last But Not Least...

When selecting your wardrobe for your portrait session, remember that these are your portraits. You should select an outfit that you like and that you feel good wearing and that you will want to see yourself in when you look at your portraits in one, five or 10 years. Be true to yourself and your sense of style. Clothing is a way for us to express our personalities, so keep this in mind when planning your wardrobe for your portraits.

Need More Inspiration?

Still unsure about what to wear for your session? Don’t hesitate to contact me! I am happy to help you figure out your wardrobe. I often have clients text or e-mail me pictures of their outfit options ahead of their session. Also, be sure to follow me on Pinterest for "What to Wear" inspiration.