What to wear to a photo shoot.
The topic I am most often quizzed about as a professional photographer is what to wear to a photo shoot. What colours are most flattering? How can I avoid looking heavy? Should I wear dark colours or light? What should I avoid? Plains or patterns? Long sleeves or short? Shoes on or shoes off?
I’m so glad you ask these questions, because it makes it a whole lot easier for me to produce beautiful, cohesive photographs that you’ll love, and that won’t date. While there is no definitive answer on what to wear, I offer the following guidelines:
- WEAR SOLID COLOURS. These provide a distraction-free contrast to the face and don’t overwhelm the image. Avoid stripes, florals, bold logos etc as they can make the photo look too busy and detract from the subject’s face.
- FOR GROUP PHOTOS, it looks best if everyone is wearing SIMILAR TONES. This doesn’t mean that every person should wear a white shirt and blue jeans (in fact, this can look a little cheesy), it means that colours should work together so that no single person stands out from the group or looks larger than any other.
- MID TONES such as denim blue, pink and beige work well for colour family portraits. Dark colours such as charcoal and navy are striking and look great in black & white photos, putting emphasis on the face. It’s worth bearing in mind that, in a group shot, anyone wearing a lighter colour than the rest of the group, or a pattern, will stand out and look larger than others.
Bright colours can be striking, especially on little children and against darker skin, but too many brights in one image can clash and create confusion.
- WEAR AT LEAST 3/4 LENGTH SLEEVES. Like most, this is not a hard and fast rule, but bear with me. In photos, bare arms tend to look larger than they really are. Again, in a group photo, bare arms stand out and draw unwanted attention to that individual. If you have fabulously toned arms and want to show them off, then by all means go sleeveless.
- SHOES OR BARE FEET? This one is all about location and context. I’m a huge fan of bare feet, and wherever possible I like shoes to be removed. For beach shoots, it’s a no-brainer. Sitting cross-legged at home on your sofa or bed, it’s shoes off for sure. Children playing outdoors? Well, that depends on the season and the rest of the outfit. Mostly, it’s common sense. For group shots, again, one pair of white Nikes will stand out like a sore thumb in a sea of dark shoes.
- CONSIDER THE LOCATION AND SEASON. Bear in mind the setting, and what style of clothing suits the location. At home on a formal settee or flight of stairs, you’ll look amazing in your lacy frock and heels with your hair styled up. But, unless you’re trying to look ironic, heels and tulle look ridiculous at the beach. Ditto with over-styled hair, accessories and make-up. Think about how you would normally dress to visit this location, and then take it up a notch – just one!
Also, take into account the season. Pastel blues and pinks are lovely in spring or summer but might look out of place among stronger autumnal colours. Photographers love grey against the face, because it doesn’t throw a colour cast, and is a benchmark for colour correction in post-processing. In the picture below, the grey is a neutral contrast against the skin and allows the warm autumn colours in the background to tell part of the story. The texture of the wool and the girl’s body language also tell us that it was a cool day.
- KEEP ACCESSORIES TO A MINIMUM. Again, it’s about keeping emphasis on the face and avoiding distraction. Accessories and themed clothing (eg kids’ Disney clothing) date quickly and they will date your photographs.
- SOMETIMES, BREAK THE RULES! During a recent photoshoot, one young man was very attached to his hat. His parents wanted him to remove it, worried that it would date the photos (quite rightly so – they had probably been reading this page 😉 ). In the end, we came to a compromise: some shots with the hat on, some with it off. And you know what? The kid was right! I love the shots with his hat on. He was such a natural in front of the camera, and his hat was very much part of who he was – creative and far more stylish than I could ever hope to be. In black & white, the image is timeless in spite of the hat … maybe even because of it.