Whether you are a follower of the latest fashions, or perhaps you really never put much thought into what you are wearing, or maybe you are someone who is somewhere in-between, choosing the right outfits for you portrait session is something that should be carefully considered. You want to look your best, but your favorite outfit may not be the best choice, photographically speaking.
A few of the things that can affect your choices might be; will you be photographed inside or outside, are the final photos going to be in color or black and white, what kind of light will the photographer use hard light or soft light, are you doing a full length environmental portrait or a close-up studio head-shot? Choosing the right pieces of clothing will help set the mood of your portrait, it can also help make your portrait become a timeless image, while some fashions can become dated quite quickly, which dates the portrait.
When I create a portrait I may want to be able to convert/output some of the images to black and white photos, so I can give my clients more choices. Generally lighter or darker tones work best overall, for both colour or black and white portraits. Middle tones also called average tones (think of a neutral coloured medium grey tone somewhere in the middle between black and white) are totally fine for colour photographs, but can become flat or even muddy in black and white photos.
Personally, I do prefer darker toned clothing in my portrait photographs, especially in portraits that are framed more closely on the portrait subjects face, for example if it is a tighter crop like a person’s upper body or even closer like a head-shot. The reason for this is simple, people’s eyes are naturally drawn to lighter tones in images. The dark tones add a weight to the photograph which naturally draws the viewer’s eye to the subjects face.
Textures and patterns
Working in Milan as a fashion photographer had taught me a lot about photographing different fabric types, textures, and patterns. Certain fabrics can be very challenging to photograph and should be avoided for your portrait session. Moiré pattern is an unpleasant effect that can happen in digital photographs when the fabric being photographed has small closely grouped repeating patterns. Examples of fabrics that can be problematic are fine check patterns, high contrast pinstripes, herringbone, and houndstooth. Even some synthetic fabrics with a fine texture can cause this effect.
While most higher-end digital cameras have special filters to reduce moiré it can still occur, and the problem is it can be very difficult to see on the camera’s display and may not even be visible at all until the image is displayed on a larger computer screen. The easiest way to avoid moiré is to not use fabrics with small repeating patterns, instead wear natural fibre clothing, with medium or larger patterns or solid colours.
Shiny or muted material
Very shiny fabrics like silk or satin can look fantastic in certain lighting, creating a more rich feeling to the photograph. It can also distract the viewer’s eye from the real subject matter, your face. I love working with shiny materials but it can cause hot-spots in the photograph, a hot-spot is when the light is reflected directly into the camera off of a shiny surface. When you look at a photograph that has a hot-spot your eye is drawn to it automatically and can distract from the face in the image. Muted materials like solid coloured cotton are more ideal for portraiture as they don’t distract from your face.
To be clear I am not saying all shiny fabrics are problematic, not at all, in fact, it can look amazing in photographs. I just prefer to make that call after I see the clothing in-person since some items just won’t work in a portrait. When you are shooting fashion you light and showcase the clothes, but when you are shooting a portrait you light and showcase the person’s face.
Fit and finish
How your clothes fit and the condition they are in will make a massive difference to the final quality to your portrait. Choosing the right pieces that fit you well will make you feel more confident in front of the camera. Choose clothing that is not too tight or too baggy as both will not look as good as clothing that fits correctly.
The condition of the clothes is also very important as the camera will see every flaw. Pilling, wrinkles, loose threads, stains, missing buttons, and discolouration are all things you need to look out for when you choosing what clothing to bring to your portrait session. Ideally, the clothes you choose should be in very good to excellent condition, clean and freshly steamed or ironed.
Dress up or dress down
Your personal style is a part of your character, so if one of the only times you have worn a tie or a dress in public in recent memory was at a friend’s wedding then keep it casual for your portrait. You want to feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible for your photo-shoot. Dressing up or dressing down it is up to you, you can mix it up and do both if you like. Just be sure to wear what makes you feel good.
Inside or outside
On the west coast of Canada in beautiful British Columbia, the weather can make shooting portraits challenging. Thankfully here in Victoria, BC, we have many more sunshine days compared to other west coast towns and cities. It may not seem like it some days, but Victoria BC, averages about 308 sunny days a year, which is really quite good.
When you are shooting inside you are working in a controlled environment. I can control the light, the temperature and the objects and the space you are being photographed in. Generally, there is more setup time shooting inside, but it is also easier to control how your clothes will look when having your portrait made in a controlled environment.
Portraiture in outdoor environments, especially in and around a city as beautiful as Victoria does allow for more possibilities for creating beautiful portraits. Even on overcast or drizzly days if you know how to use the environment. The downside to shooting outside is the lack of control you have of the elements. Wind, rain, high or low temperatures, and heavily overcast days can make for less than ideal conditions for portrait photography.
Using the outdoor environment and its elements in spontaneous ways can yield great results. Just be sure to dress for the type of weather and for the location you are in. If you are at the beach, for example, expect it to be windy and a few degrees cooler than inland. If it is a cool day but you want to wear something lighter be sure to bring a warm coat to wear between shots.
- Avoid most clothing that has any outward branding/logos.
- Clothing with small closely grouped repeating patterns.
- Clothing that falls in the mid-tone range.
- Ill-fitting outfits.
- Clothing that is highly reflective.
Make sure to bring
- Clothing in very good to excellent condition
- Natural fibre cloths, like cotton or wool.
- A range of outfits to choose from.
- Clothing that is clean and wrinkle free.
Consider this guide on what clothing to bring to your portrait sitting as an overall best practice suggestions. Gleaned from decades of photographing all types of people in all types of clothing. If the clothing you are wearing during your shoot is not problematic then less time and attention will be needed for the clothes, and instead, I will have more time to focus on you and your poses, the lighting, and on capturing your best expressions.
Even while following my guidelines if you do have any trouble with deciding if something is going to work well for your portrait please don’t worry about it, instead just bring the item(s) to the shoot and I will have a look and tell you if I think if it will work or not, it is better to bring too many outfits to your portrait shoot then not enough. Following my suggestions will make your portrait session go much more smoothly and in the end give you many more great photographs to choose from.