Alrighty, it’s almost photo time! You’ve picked your portrait session date; we’ve talked about the schedule, where to meet, and brainstormed photo concepts. There’s a lot going on, and I’m sure you’re thinking, “I’m excited, a little nervous, and OMG, WHAT DO I WEAR FOR MY PORTRAITS!?!??!”
If you’re freaking out a little, that’s okay! Wearing the “right” clothing for your session is pretty important, but it’s not the end of the world if you pick the wrong outfit. We’re still going to take kick-ass images, and we’re going to laugh our way through the whole day.
Now, of course, you reading this and thinking, “Yeah, I hear what you’re saying Mike, but THESE PICTURES MUST BE PERFECT. You don’t understand!!!!” *Inserts exasperated emoji*
I get it. I know your portraits are important to you, and I aim to make your session as seamless and carefree as possible. To help, I’ve built a quick guide for what to wear, so you can look and feel your best for your portraits. These tips are applicable to High School Senior portraits, fashion portraits, headshots, family portraits, group portraits, creative portraits, sports portraits, and really any kind of photography you can think of except boudoir.
So let’s walk through it. What should you wear for your portrait session?
Suggestions for General Portrait Outfits
1. Solid Colors are Better
For portrait sessions, I recommend solid colors because they put more focus on you, the subject. Selfishly, solid clothing also makes it easier for me to edit stray hairs or wrinkles in the fabric. When picking colors, be aware that darker colored clothes will make you appear more slender on camera. If you want to POP out and draw attention, wear a vibrant color for one of your primary pieces: a jacket, shirt, or scarf. For a more detailed breakdown, check out how to pick the best colors for your photos.
2. Avoid Patterns, Logos, Graphics, and Illustrations
Pretty straightforward here, they can be distracting. Also, cameras do weird things with tight patterns and produce a funky pixelation effect. Plus, you may hate that logo/company 20+ years after your session. Don’t ruin a good picture with a bad symbol.
3. Simple is Better
A t-shirt with jeans, a dress, slacks, and a jacket; these are all very clean and easy outfits. The more complex your outfit, the more you’ll be fidgeting with it during the session to make sure it looks exactly right. Keep it simple so you can focus on having a good time during your portrait session!
4. Remove Lenses From Your Glasses
If you usually wear glasses, you should wear them for your portraits. The lenses of glasses make taking pictures tricky, though. Clear lenses will occasionally reflect light, which can be distracting and block your face. Transition lenses not only reflect light, but if it’s bright outside, then they’ll effectively act as sunglasses. If you can, I’d recommend removing the lenses and wearing contacts simultaneously for the best images.
5. Stick With What You Already Own And Love
Be comfortable, dress like you would every day, and you’ll feel at ease. There’s a significant emphasis on being comfortable and relaxed when doing a photo session; I’m telling you it makes all the difference. There’s no need to buy something just for the photoshoot. You’ve got everything you need in your closet.
6. Wear Clothes That Give You Confidence
Select clothing that makes you feel unstoppable when you put it on. I know I always feel confident in my blue-checkered button-down shirt so you can bet I wear it whenever I have a big meeting. If you’ve got a pair of jeans, a shirt, or a dress that makes you feel like a rock star, try to make it part of your ensemble. Dressing confidently helps influence your mood during a portrait session. If you feel confident, it’ll show up in your images.
7. Wear Reasonably Fitted Clothes
Loose, baggy clothing may be the comfiest thing ever, but I’d steer away from it for your photos. Clothing that fits your figure is not only more comfortable to pose, but also looks more flattering.
8. Dress Comfortably
- Dress for the weather
- Don’t torture yourself! If it’s cold out, then wear a jacket and maybe even a sweater. If you’re miserable and uncomfortable, then your face will reflect that in the images. It’s hard to smile happily when your socks are soaking wet. At a minimum, bring the appropriate clothing and wear it when you’re not actively getting your picture taken. If it’s super hot out, try to shoot early in the morning or late afternoon/evening.
- Match your surroundings
- Unless you live for irony and juxtaposition, a tux and a ballgown do not fit well with a forest. Personally, I freaking love it. If you’re shooting in downtown Atlanta, then dress it up a bit. And if it manages to snow, then don’t be afraid to layer it up with a jacket, vest, or sweater!
- Match your activity
- This goes along with the above tips – if we’re trekking to the top of a mountain, you may want to leave the heels or all-white kicks at home. At the same time, if we’re going to a farm or field, don’t be afraid to pull out the jeans and cowboy boots!
9. Longer Sleeves Are Better
Long sleeves seem to work better for photos, in my opinion. Too much skin can be distracting from your face. And even if you have thin or toned arms, long sleeves tend to make all arms look better.
10. Avoid Ripped Jeans or Clothing
Unless your personal style encompasses ripped jeans or you’re doing a model shoot where holey clothing is the look, try to avoid clothing with rips, tears, or holes. Depending on your pose, these can look unflattering.
11. Mind Your Underwear
Something to keep in mind is the color and fit of your undergarments. If you’re wearing a white shirt, ladies, don’t wear a hot pink bra underneath it. Double-check your outfits with your selected undergarments of choice to make sure nothing is visible. The safe option is to go with nude-toned garments. Guys, make sure your boxers don’t bunch up underneath your pants. It could look odd or suggestive.
12. Mind The Neckline
When selecting a shirt or top, be aware of how it fits. Most of the time, you’ll want to avoid that plunging neckline that shows off any cleavage. I’d also make sure not to wear a loose turtleneck or a shirt with a collar that’s too loose or too tight.
13. Bring Multiple, Diverse Outfits
You should always have multiple outfits ready for your session. Your photographer may notice something that makes one piece better than another or an outfit that’s a better fit for a specific location. Try to do variations in lengths, textures, and colors. I also recommend bringing outfits that are a mix of casual, formal, and in-between. It’s wise to have multiple outfits just in case you spill something or brush up against some dirt or paint. Back-ups are handy.
14. Minimize Jewelry
Jewelry can be a big distraction from you, the subject. I typically recommend not wearing any jewelry, but if you do, try to wear pieces that are small and minimalist.
15. Take Stuff Out of Your Pockets
Guys are the worst offenders here. Take your phone out of your pocket and put it into a separate bag. Phones create weird bulges in pants pockets and are not flattering at all. Keep the focus on your face!
What to Wear for Women’s Portraits
16. Layers are Great
Layers like jackets, scarves, vests, and sweaters are great additions to an outfit because they add texture and dimension. They’re subtle pieces that can add touches of your personality and style to your portraits
17. No Spaghetti Straps or Strapless Tops
Strapless or tube tops may look flattering in person, but they tend to make your shoulders look wide in photos. Keep this in mind depending on how you feel about your shoulders. Also, avoid wearing spaghetti strap tops because they make hiding bra straps impossible. Sleeveless works great but keep some material up there.
18. Avoid Shorts
Same deal as sleeves. Something about exposed elbows and knees makes them tricky to pose well. This rule isn’t rigid, but something to consider.
19. Avoid Pure Black or White
These colors are excellent; I just suggest adding a bit of texture to them.
20. Bring Hair Ties or Hair Clips in Case of Wind
There are few things more annoying on a photoshoot than the wind blowing hair all over the place and ruining all the hard work your makeup artist put in. Hair clips, bobby pins, and a hair tie (as a last resort) will make pictures in the wind more manageable and keep you looking put together
21. If Wearing a Dress, Have Leggings Handy
This isn’t necessary, but leggings can keep you comfortable in cold or windy weather while wearing a dress. As a bonus, they can add a fun flash of color too!
22. If Wearing Heels, Bring a Set of Comfy Shoes Too
If you plan on wearing heels for your images, I suggest changing into them when you get on location. After 45 minutes of standing on your feet, you’ll be grateful for a pair of sneakers, especially if you’re walking between locations. Change back into your comfy shoes until it’s time to shoot again.
What to Wear for Men’s Portraits
23. Plain, Heavy Cotton Shirt or Polo Works Great
I’m a big fan of guys wearing business casual for their portrait sessions. If you’re after a more relaxed look, a plain shirt or a polo will work great. Make sure your shirts are a heavier material to avoid wrinkling and seeing any skin underneath.
24. Jeans or Casual Trousers Look Best
Jeans are pretty universal and go with almost anything. They’re an excellent base for most outfits. They can look super casual or semi-formal. A casual trouser like beige jeans or even a pair of slacks is perfect if you want to dress up a bit.
25. Avoid White Button-Down Shirts
White button-down shirts are a staple for most business settings, but they’re boring for portrait sessions. They also look super uptight. Button-down shirts are great to wear for portrait sessions, but go with something not white!
What to Wear for Family Portraits & Groups
26. Match Formality of Partners
For couples, families, and groups, try to dress up as much as the others. If one of you is in a suit, it’ll look weird if the other is in jeans and a t-shirt. I prefer a semi-formal or business-casual style at a minimum for group portraits.
27. Use a Similar Color Palette
Try to have everyone in the group wear similar color tones, such as all neutrals or all-natural tones. This will make everyone in the group look cohesive and like they belong together. If one person wears something different, like a highlighter orange shirt when everyone else is wearing muted blues, then all the attention will go to that individual. Try to be cohesive. Oh, and leave the matching white shirts and jeans at home, please.
What to Wear for Brand Portraits
28. Dress For Your Clients
If you wear suits to your client consultations, then I would not recommend wearing a t-shirt for your brand session. It creates a mental disconnect with your audience, and as we all know, clients work with people they trust. There are moments when you’re not client-facing in your job, and you may want to look relaxed and casual, but try to keep it within reason. Make sure that the pictures people see on your social channels reflect who they see in person. What you wear on Instagram should be what you wear for your portraits.
29. Colors Should Pair With Your Brand
That electric pink shirt should probably stay in the closet if your brand is primarily muted blues and soft off-whites. You can dress strategically to pop out from the background, but try to wear a color palette that sticks to your brand.
BONUS – How to Prepare Clothing for Your Session
30. Test Your Outfits Before The Session
There’s no point wearing something if you can’t walk in it. Test out the clothes you want to wear for your portraits before the session. Stand, sit, kneel, and walk. Make sure you can do all of that. And check that nothing pops out (bra straps) or that you can see any undergarments.
31. Launder and Iron Your Clothes
Nothing feels better than a clean and comfy shirt. Get rid of any wrinkles or minor stains and show up in clothes that look 100% mint.
32. Bring Clothes on Hangars
Keeping your clothes on hangers will minimize wrinkles and help you sort through the pieces when looking for the next outfit during your session. Plus, it keeps clothes off the ground.
33. Don’t Wear Session Clothes While Traveling
If you can help it, wear an outfit in the car you won’t be wearing for your portraits. It’ll cut down on wrinkles, or crumbs and spills from that last-minute Starbucks run.
34. Game Plan Your Clothing Changes
If you plan to wear multiple outfits for your portraits, work with your photographer to figure out where and when you’ll change your outfits. Especially if you’re shooting on location, bathrooms are not easy to come by. It really helps to know what coffee shops you’ll stop at for a tea break and to use their bathroom to swap clothes. You’ll keep your clean clothes off the ground, get a refresh, and remove any chance of flashing random passerby.
Ask Me! If you’re totally lost, send me pictures of the clothes you’re considering, and I’ll help you build out the wardrobe for your session. I’m happy to help in any way I can to make sure your portraits are perfect.
I hope this was helpful! Some of it may seem obvious, but I believe the little things are what make or break an experience. If you have any other suggestions based on your prior experience or more detailed questions – Contact Me.
This post was updated 07/30/20