During my pre-session phone calls with clients, I get the same question over and over again: what should I wear for a photo shoot? It is important to plan out your clothing carefully because outfits can make or break the picture. Choice, however, can easily become overwhelming. Even having planned dozens upon dozens of photo sessions, every time it comes to having my own photos taken, I still turn to the list of tips that I give my clients. And now, I’m sharing those tips with you.
Comfort comes first
My main objective is to capture genuine emotions and interactions. A mom in a mini-skirt and high heels is less likely to play with her children or get messy. You want to remember in twenty years from now how happy you were together as a family; not how great you were at styling your kids. If jeans are your favorite clothes to wear, don’t force yourself into a tight dress. Pick the attire that will let you move freely and be carefree!
Theme or not
Personally, I prefer keeping it casual and focusing on your emotions. Themes, however, can be fun and set a playful or romantic mood. Favorite movies and characters, eras or props - the inspirations and possibilities are limitless. If that’s what your heart desires, by all means, go for it! But, keep things simple within your chosen theme. A theme should just provide context; the focus is still on you looking good in your photographs, being natural in the context, and loving the overall result.
Keeping it simple is best.
Wear clothes you love
It’s all about being who you truly are. Instead of going out and purchasing four new sweaters, I recommend pulling your favorite outfit out of your closet. Everyone has a go-to look that fits perfectly, makes them feel fabulous and reflects their personality at this stage in life. Wearing clothes you love and feel great in makes a huge difference on camera. If you’re hesitant about your choice of attire, it will definitely show. I would much rather you be confident.
Match your styles to season and location
Having outfits that suit the location is crucial. In an urban location busy with objects and people, opt for plain, light or vibrant solid colors. This will help you stand out amidst the hustle and bustle. You can also dress up a bit with a pair of cute heels and a fancier dress than you’d normally wear to match the bustling vibe of the city.
With beautiful Canadian seasons, however, my preference is with more natural environment. In this case, choose something casual such as a maxi dress and flat sandals or boots.
Whether you decide to go with a romantic-casual or a dressy-sharp look, layer it. Layering can help a great deal with tying in the styles and colors. It also helps to be prepared to any kind of weather – which can be quite unpredictable in Ontario in general, and Toronto in particular.
Coordinate colors instead of matching them
Pick a color palette of 2-4 colors and mix them up as much as possible. A good place to start your family outfit planning is to pick one item of clothing with a few colors (like mom’s or daughter’s dress) and pull colors from their outfit to dress and layer everyone else.
You need to coordinate, not match, when deciding what to wear for photos. Unless it’s your thing, most families don’t wear matching outfits in their everyday lives, so that may not be the kind of memory you want to preserve. Make sure your outfits complement each other in terms of style and color, yet stay true to yourself.
Choose one of the following color suggestions:
Muted and light colors Keep it simple and clean. My work is more about the emotion and connection and less about the style. Subdued colors, solids, and muted patterns work well for that both in a family picture and in an individual outfit. Earthy tones, muted gem tones, monochrome, beige, and taupe are great examples. My personal favorites are white, ivory and any light neutral colors. These will make you stand out more from the background and will also naturally bounce light to your skin. If shooting in-home or on a hot summer day, babies and toddlers look adorable shirtless and diaper-only.
Pop of color I love showing joy and happiness in my photos. Adding cheerful colors to the mix of neutral tones can complement the happy and joyful mood. You don’t have to go overboard with color pops: stick to one or maximum two bolder colors to liven up a muted palette. For example, if dad is wearing a plaid shirt, draw one color from it and have one child wear a pop of that color.
Monochrome Dressing monochromatic to match your location can make for interesting portraits. As crazy as it sounds, blending in with the background puts the focus on the face and forces the viewer to break down the details in the photo.
Complementary colors When choosing complementary colors, consider the colors in your location. For example, if you know there is going to be a lot of green foliage, consider red or orange clothing. Dressing in complementary colors is a great way to make you stand out from the background and make your images visually pleasing. Using the color wheel is a great tool to help you decide which colors will go well together. The colors that are directly opposite from one another in the color wheel are considered complementary: yellow and purple, for example. These two colors can be used both in the location and your attire and the results will be beautiful!
Mix solids and patterns
Mix patterns and solids to create visual interest in photos, but be careful! It’s easy to go from tasteful to horrible with clashing and/or distracting patterns. To be safe, choose smaller ones that won’t pull attention away from the main subjects, and use only one patterned piece of clothing per group.
Thinking about texture, choose different ones that will give photos some extra interest while not distracting from faces: lace, corduroy, denim, and knits.
Wear clothing that flows
My best tip for amazing photos is to wear something that flows. A long, flowy dress photographs beautifully for so many reasons! Flowing in the wind and with your movements, it creates leading lines and dynamic images; it flatters all shapes and sizes, and it allows you to grab on to it - which helps keep your hands busy.
Same goes for skirts, scarfs, shawls, cardigans and any light loose fabrics.
Let hair move
I recommend leaving longer hair down to showcase movement. Since I mostly shoot outdoors where we have wind and breeze, perfectly kept hair will not happen – but hopefully, you’ll see the beauty in it the same way I do. If you need to style your hair, try to avoid tight buns and sleek ponytails.
Keep your make-up natural
I fiercely recommend for women to stick to your tried and proven go-to look and to keep it basic. Having foundation and powder is mandatory, as nobody’s skin is perfect; it saves me time in post-editing and increases your chances on getting your photos delivered sooner than promised. Everything else is optional based on your personal taste. If you feel the need to experiment, do so in advance to make sure you will like your look on the day of the shoot.
Any kind of prints, logos, text or large geometric patterns These look extremely distracting, and after a few years likely outdated. Even if your 5-year-old is madly in love with their Captain America shirt, think if you want to look at that photo 10 years later and see an advertisement for a Marvel character.
Blacks Most people love this slimming timeless color - but it looks flat in photos. If you must wear something black, make it a secondary color and liven it up with some light items or color pops.
Neon colors Vibrant greens, yellows and pinks look unnatural and cast weird shadows on your skin. You don’t want to find out how reflective your face is!
Horizontal or vertical stripes Stripes, especially horizontal, make you look wider. Should I say any more?
Items in your pockets Get your phone out of your pocket (Especially you, guys!). Trust me, you don’t want your pockets to bulge. Also, double check to make sure all items (keys, wallet, etc.) are out.
These are my personal suggestions for what you should wear for a photoshoot. They help me achieve the kind of photos you see in my portfolio. Some of the points above are widely accepted and agreed upon in the photography world, while others may spark passionate disagreements between photographers. After all, photography (like any art) is subjective. Experiment and figure out what works best for you!
Is there any particular advice you found helpful? Or did I miss something? Let me know in comments.