Planning the Proper Clothing for your Portraits

Styles fashion and in portraits. Some people prefer to wear their every day clothes for their portraits to convey who they are at this point in their lives. Some choose to wear very stylized clothing with a mix of colors and patterns to show the current fashions. Traditional portrait "rules" recommend that you wear something timeless because the portrait should be about you, not what you are wearing. In the end, the choice is yours. But, I think it's important to understand the "rules" before you break them.

Creating a Work of Art

The first step in planning your portrait session should be deciding where you will hang your finished portrait. This will help you determine the style and color of clothing that will coordinate best with the decor in that room.

Consistency is Key for Group Portraits

When only one person is in the image, they can have quite a bit of freedom in what they wear and it won't affect the success of the portrait as much as it will in a group portrait. When you're planning a family portrait, the first decision should be whether it's going to be a formal or casual image. Obviously if one person is wearing shorts and flip flops and the rest are in formal wear, the portrait is going to look inconsistent and all the attention will be drawn to the person whose clothing doesn't fit the style.

Color Coordinate Group Clothing

I often hear people say they don't like portraits where everyone wears matching clothes. However, there are benefits to having everyone in similar colors or at least similar tones. When a group is all wearing the same solid it dark or light...the attention is drawn to their faces and not the busy pattern or bright color that one person might be wearing.

When you introduce several competing patterns and colors in a portrait, the image becomes busy and the faces tend to blend in with everything else. Dressing in neutrals such as black, gray, tan, navy, etc. can help create a timeless portrait that you'll enjoy hanging in your home for years after the trendy colors go out of style. If you prefer a more colorful look, I suggest selecting a palette of three or four colors and having each person wear at least one of the colors to tie everything together.

Keeping the Focus on You

Again, the rule of matching colors also applies to the type of background you choose. This is more in reference to studio sessions. If the tone of the clothes matches the background, it helps to "blend" the bodies into the background. This doesn't mean you'll appear to be simply "floating heads" in the portrait. It means that if you would like to hide a few pounds and keep the most important feature...your the highlight of the portrait, you'll want to follow this rule.

However, if the portrait is of your child or you're a high school senior showing off your style, then wearing something bold and bright against a white background, for example, can be very effective.

For those interested in slenderizing, remember that dark colors tend to minimize, while light colors seem to add weight to bodies. For that reason, it's recommended to wear darker clothing below the waistline. This also helps prevent attention being drawn away from the face.

Avoid Short Sleeve Clothing and Short Pants

Another traditional portrait rule is to wear long sleeves and long pants. When it's 90 degrees outside, it's hard to convince high school seniors to do this, let alone an entire family. And I completely understand. I have taken many cute portraits of girls in sleeveless dresses and spaghetti strap tops. However, be aware that bare upper arms even on thin girls can seem to add the appearance of weight. It's a lot of skin competing for attention right next to the face.

The same logic applies to the argument for long pants. The more skin showing, the more it detracts from your face.

Proper Necklines for a Portrait

Comfort is a key factor in choosing what you wear for your portrait. You want to be able to move around without feeling constricted or fearing that you'll bear more skin than intended. With that in mind, some necklines are more flattering and frame the face better than others.

In general V-neck tops slim the face better than a wide boat-neck top which tends to thicken the neck in a photograph. More mature females may prefer the look of a higher neckline or the addition of a scarf.

Spot Clothing Problems Before the Session

Finally, lay out all the clothing onto a bed. Shoes, socks, stockings--everything should be included! Then, take a careful look at the collection. If your eye goes to any one item in particular, you can be certain the same thing will happen in a photograph. That item should be changed.

Eyeglasses Glare and Transitions Lenses

There are various tricks of the trade that I can use to minimize glass glare in your portraits. However, I cannot guarantee that it will be totally eliminated. Non-reflective lenses, of course, are a big help. Better yet, sometimes it’s possible to borrow a matching set of frames from a retailer without the lenses. This is particularly helpful if you have thick lenses that distort the outline of your face. You may also simply wish to remove your glasses to avoid extra retouching costs. Also, please be aware that if you wear transitions lenses for an outdoor session, the lenses will darken and your eyes will not be visible through the lenses. While I can lighten the lenses a bit in retouching, you will still have the reddish tint of the transitions lens.

Simplify Your Hairstyle

While long bangs may be in fashion, keep in mind that hair falling over your eyes will prevent light from getting into them. And as someone once said, the eyes are the windows to the soul. They are the most important part of your portrait. Hair that falls forward every time you tip your head can be fun for a shot or two, but may drive you crazy by the end of the session.

Makeup Should Look Natural

I believe every woman has natural beauty. If you don't normally wear makeup, it's not a good idea to wear a full face of makeup for your portrait session. If you do, chances are you won't be comfortable with how you look in the final portraits. However, a little makeup can enhance your natural beauty, define your features and keep you from looking washed out. So, you may want to consider wearing a little foundation, cheek color, mascara, lip color and most importantly powder.

If you normally wear makeup, it is recommended that you apply it 20% darker for your portrait session. But, don't go overboard with bright eye color or it may detract from your natural eye color. Most importantly, make sure all your makeup is well blended to create a natural look.

It's Your Portrait, Your Choice

Now that you know the rules, you can decide which, if any, you prefer to break and you'll understand the trade offs. I hope this information makes planning for your portrait session easier and results in portrait you'll enjoy for years to come. If you're still not sure what to wear, bring several outfits and I'll be happy to help you choose.

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