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.

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!

Photographer’s Opinion

Oh, the struggles of appearance. Does the photographer’s opinion about your appearance hold any value?

What do you do when you love a photo of a person, but they hate it? A photographer, especially one in the first few years of their business, has to post often to develop interest, and mark their skill. Not only that, but how can you let your client walk away with a sub-par photo? Well, it’s their choice and how they want to look is up to them… I suppose.

“My smile looks too goofy, the expression is too big, I don’t like the furrow in my brow…”

It was a fantastic photo. I think she should have been walking away with that one. Instead, she chose a very safe, somewhat blank, doll-faced expression.

Why are people so uncomfortable with being real?

Honestly, it is a joy to look at that photo, and I think any other person would think the same. It was another business photo for a woman involved with sales/distribution… To be honest I forgot specifically what she said. The photo she chose is just fine, I’m sure it will work well towards her ends, but I don’t love that one.

Another session, a friend of mine, I haven’t even finished editing. Every photo I showed her from it she didn’t seem to like. I haven’t shared any of the photos, either. I would love to add them to my portfolio, but she was so dissatisfied with them that I felt it would be a breach of our contract: “For consideration received.” I wouldn’t be very considerate, posting a photo that they hate.

One that I liked was a just-before-laugh, slightly open-mouthed smile. So slight! Beautiful light in her eyes. She doesn’t like the expression. Another could have been on a fashion magazine, if she had the clout. Kind of a doll-faced expression. I feel like I put three hours of touch up into it. She doesn’t like it. Always the expression.

Another challenge for me is my photo cull. I will see a photo from a family shoot that I would never want displayed in my portfolio. It’s too soft, there’s a background detail that gets in the way, colours are clashing, who knows, but the kid’s expression is so awesome! So real! So fun! I know the parents would like it, and I’m torn as I hover over the “delete” key.

They almost never buy those photos, but I like to show them, at least.

Another frustrating scenario is the person that likes every photo you take of them. They are just so infatuated with themselves that even when their expression is so obviously unattractive, they love it!

I suppose there is a certain type of person that I like working with. Right in the sweet spot of comfortable with their appearance, but not afraid to mention critical details about their preference. The too hard is endless frustration, but lessons learned. Too soft, an easy sell and an uncomfortable feeling in my gut. Every photo shoot should be somewhat of a challenge, I wouldn’t be doing my job if they weren’t, but some have simply been impossible and I’m at a loss for how I could have done better.

There’s no convincing some people.