How Pinterest Will Help You Pick Clothing for Portraits

It’s always tough to decide on what to wear for portraits, add a group to the equation and there are a lot of questions about how to match. Here’s a sure-fire method to easily select your next photo outfits.

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Cover image from HGTV.com

I was just in a conversation with a client about clothing options for family portraits, and she admitted that her initial plan may have been a little tacky. It may have been because of the grimace on my face. My emotions are silently on my sleeve. I can’t help it.

Her plan was to do jeans and black tops. That’s, like, super matchy-matchy. I don’t even think the Brady Bunch was that corny. Sorry for my brisk opinion, but if you like the khakis-and-white-shirts-on-the-beach photo, then you go for it. I’ll even photograph it, but I will prod your ribs the whole time.

If I had it my way, every family photograph would be more than just the family and their faces. It would be a pleasant mix of colours in an appropriate background (studio or location) that is fun to look at as a piece of art, before getting closer and acknowledging the family, their interactions, emotions and activity. If you want to avoid the bland, lifeless look but are afraid of mixing things up, then I hope this article helps you out.

One of the most useful tools I have when planning sessions and outfits is a book on interior design — it has hundreds of colour palettes in it. There it is, there’s the secret. Colour palettes are the bomb. Take that knowledge bomb over to Pinterest or even a Google images search and you will have an endless list of possibilities for colour combinations. Stick around here for a few more tips, though.

How to Pick and Use a Clothing Colour Palette

Consider your surroundings: If you are going to be photographed in a studio, what is the background colour? If you have a choice, what colour matches your walls best, or wherever you might like to have the portrait? Assume it’s on your wall: What colour palette contains the colour of your wall? Your background colour would be one of the other base colours in that palette, one of the less alarming ones that still stands out from the wall. Your clothing would then be a mix of the other colours in the palette.

If you are being photographed outdoors, what are the surrounding colours? Are they predominantly environmental? Then find a palette that matches the season, like the autumn colours in this image that I found simply by searching “Autumn Colour Palette.” Like before, your clothing colours are a mix of the other colours in the palette.

How Much of Each Colour to Mix: There are a few different ideas that I have seen in imagery online. For me, I like; when accents are kept to accessories like scarves, hats, bracelets, shoes and the like, and act to connect each person together; when the base colours are reserved mostly for the backdrop and maybe a large clothing item (shirt, sweater or pants) and the mid tones are predominantly the clothing colours.

In this session (by another talented photographer,) I feel that the girl’s yellow pants are the only accent in the image and they demand too much attention. Otherwise, the colours were well balanced and it’s a wonderful session.

Here’s a copy of an email I used to send out to clients with some more information on selecting clothing…

This is just some information that I’ve compiled from a few different sites about dressing for a photo shoot, and also an image of a colour palette for autumn.
The websites I’ve used are at the bottom, if you want to go digging yourself, but I’ve summarized what I think are the most useful points in this email.
Looking forward to our session!
– Avoid too much detail in the clothing, like busy patterns. Keep it simple, it’s about you, not your clothes!

– Have a look through your closet before you go shopping for new clothes. Comfortable is a very good look for photos!
– Fitted clothing is much more appealing than baggy
– Bring a few outfits, and accessorize! Sunglasses, jewelry, watches, different shoes and the sort help make a simple shoot classy!
– Vivid colours are best, watch out for the washed-out cottons
– Simple geometric patterns are great, but thin, tight or small patterns tend to confuse the eye — especially in digital photos!
– Avoid logos, unless you like the advertisement look!

Sometimes a Perfect Photo Situation Falls Into Your Lap

I did a great thing, as a photographer, and I hope that I can have many more of these moments and master them and condense them in order to have higher value shoots that work out so very well.
It was all wrong up until the finish. I even threw in a creepy phrase, as I’m apt to do, to add in social faux pas to the mix.  Strike three.

I get a call as I am, if I remember correctly, sitting in studio at my employers’, editing a family’s outdoor shoot photographed by one of the regular girls at the studio. 

An Aside: A Very Irregular Lady, Indeed

I say “regular girl” because my studio is across town, but I cover shifts all over the city. Also, it is seemingly rare for a man to work under this employer, perhaps because of all the work with children and negative stigma and all that. When the DM starts the weekly meeting, she says “Good morning, Ladies.” As such, I must be a lady, just not regular to this particular studio.

The call is from a man inquiring about professional business photos, to update his Linked In. I’m very confident with single subjects, and I spoke to him, in my opinion, a little too “buddy-buddy.” Strike one. Luckily, he was comfortable with me and ok with the price.

On account of my lack of wits, I forgot to mention our hours of operation. Strike two. He came on my lunch, while I was out banking. Luckily, he wasn’t upset when I came back. He walked around, did a little shopping, and came back to me at my best: with a full tummy and all the patience in the world.

An Aside: Business Photos

I’ve always been so frustrated with these things. I once got 3 – 5 people all at once, on their lunch, expecting a miracle. One of them was oddly photogenic. The office “pretty girl.” Everyone else was a challenge and desperately needed a different environment, or more time.

The “pretty girl” could have probably had a more “real” photo as well, but in comparison to her companions it was a work of art. They all joked about how great hers looked, and I noticed she was very self conscious when she should have been flattered.

The leader of the group was one with magical, disappearing eyes. Every time she smiled and focussed on the camera, her eyes squinted and went black. Her, I wish I could have spent more time with because her dissatisfaction with the photography could have been scooped out of the air. She was far too polite and said nothing.

That experience was a serious blow to my confidence with headshots.

I worked with him from, I believe, a standing pose into a far more relaxed stool-top with leg support pose. That’s typically my base for business and seniors/grads. That’s where I get their “Money shot.” I always try out a standing pose, though: some people are fantastic standers. Myself, like so many others, not so much.

Visible is only a 3/4: from about elbow or mid bicep to head with plenty of lead and about 1/4 of the frame of background at top to avoid the photo looking like an ID. An elbow resting on the knee raised by the support brings his shoulders up and forward a little, making him seem more full-bodied, but relaxed.

We figured out the pose, we were both in agreement upon review that it was a good one. The only problem was in his eyes. He didn’t have a true enough expression.

“The only problem I see is in your eyes. Let’s recreate this and see if we can fix that,” I quipped, knowing that all too often people are too damn polite to say whether they don’t like something.

He’s a salesman. I read about marketing and sales and the interactions related. I’m a photographer: we wear many hats.
As he was getting into position, I asked him about some of the best clients he’s ever had. Who was it that he wanted to work with, was my question. What was his ideal? He told me a story of some clients that he was very happy with, and you could see it in his face when he came to a rest. A perfect smile. A perfect headshot.

It’s the same feeling I used to get when I finally landed a trick on a skateboard. Y’know, before I gave up being a delinquent and went straight into grumpy old man.

I believe a great portrait photographer is a great conversationalist. Someone of that nature, in that career, must have a very large ammo bag. Talking points can be as fleeting and inconsequential as viral Facebook posts, but the photographer must control where the content leads — to what emotions. Also, trivial conversation like that can fall completely flat with a person who doesn’t have time to prattle. Seems it’s a delicate balance, and a fair bit of luck.

I was incredibly lucky with this man. His demeanor was perfect, even in the face of things that many others are frustrated by he seemed patient. Stowed it somewhere, maybe. I was lucky that we work in similar fields. Further, I was lucky that I was reading Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port. My question was basically derived from chapter one, and it made that man an incredible photograph for his profile.

He liked it so much that, when it was all said and done with, he admitted he thought the price was high, but after experiencing it with me he wasn’t  upset by it

Thank you, James Michael Taylor of Outlaw Photography (I’ll mention him here because he’s way too far out to be competition) for sharing that resource in one of your emails. Though a small success, you’ve helped create a golden staple in my career. Looking forward to more of our conversations.