Dressing for your portrait.


Probably the question I am asked the most by clients is “What should I wear for my session?”

Other than choosing a location, one of the most important decisions you will have to make is what you want to wear. Whether you are having your portraits done in studio or on location, here are some things to consider:

Make Sure you are Comfortable

When I say this I mean it in a couple of ways. Firstly, I literally mean that your clothes should be comfortable. Your clothes should fit you well. If they are too tight you will not be able to relax. I want you to be able to breathe and feel at ease. Also tight clothing can make some poses very uncomfortable. If your clothes are too short, again we will have to be very careful with poses and the same goes for tops that are too low-cut. If you don’t feel comfortable in the clothes that you are wearing this will show in your portraits.

On a side note here, whilst skinny, low-rise jeans are fashionable, they can pose serious posing problems. I cannot tell you the number of senior sessions where I have said something like “OK, now just sit down and bend your leg like this,” only to hear the response “I can’t; my jeans are too tight!” I am not saying don’t wear your skinny jeans because I know that you want to wear them. I am just suggesting that you bring a second outfit in which you can be more flexible.  For the record – I love the casual skinny jeans look for High School Seniors!

Not only do I want you to be comfortable in your clothes, I want you to be comfortable with your clothes. You want your portrait to show who you are, so if you are usually a jeans and T-shirt person, you probably won’t feel comfortable in a suit and tie and vice versa. So wear clothing that you love. Your clothing should reflect your personal style and personality.

Selecting an outfit that reflects your personal style is always a great idea
Selecting an outfit that reflects your personal style is always a great idea

Note to High School Seniors: If Mom wants a photo of you in your suit and tie/ ball gown, let her have it – you can change outfits as much as you want to, so you will be able to express your style as much as you want to.

Note to parents of High School Seniors: Nine times out of ten, your favorite photo of your senior will be one where they have chosen their own outfits because that is the one that really shows who they are and will be a lasting reminder of them in that important year!

Remember, I do not limit the number of outfit changes for your session, so you can choose as many different looks as you want to. You can go from casual to formal and anything in between. Bring anything from your jeans to your ball gown/tux!

You may love that T-shirt with the big logo on it now but……

So, you have a favorite T-shirt. It’s bright yellow with cartoon characters on it, or carries a huge logo. It may be your favorite T-shirt now, but give it a year and it will probably be in the Goodwill bag!

It is always best to avoid T-shirts and clothing with large or brightly colored logos and graphics, not only because of the issue mentioned above, but because busy graphics draw the eye away from the subject of the photograph – YOU!  These are your portraits and we want the center of attention to be you, not the picture on your shirt..


Again,  I am not saying don’t wear your favorite T-shirt, but do bring an alternative outfit.

Checks and patterns and stripes OH MY!

The best clothing items for portraits are plain block colors. Small checks, busy small prints and  thin stripes can cause what is called a “moiré effect.” This is where the pattern looks as though it is moving and makes the person looking at the image go cross eyed!

Square shirt patterns

On the other hand bold patterns, large checks and bright and colorful stripes take the attention away from you and draw the viewer’s eye to the pattern so if possible avoid them too!


So now you are looking at these suggestions and thinking, “so I should just wear something really plain and boring?”  Well, not exactly! As I mentioned above, the most important part of a portrait is you. Ideally plain clothes are best, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t dress them up with accessories. The reason that the accessories don’t draw the viewers eyes from you is that they are small details and rather than becoming the main focus of the photo, they  complete your look.

Choose a great scarf, some cool jewelry, a hat, a jacket, great shoes, a watch; anything to dress up your outfit.

A great scarf, some jewelry and a cool jacket dresses up jeans and T-shirts!
A great scarf, some jewelry and a cool jacket dresses up jeans and T-shirts!

The Right Fit

I know I said that you should be comfortable in your clothes, but at the same time you should try to wear fitted clothing. “Fitted?” I hear you cry, “I can’t wear fitted it will show all of my lumps and bumps!” I don’t mean “tight,” I mean “shapely.

We all do it, we wear loose clothing to hide lumps and bumps (I am guilty of wearing clothing that doesn’t have a waistline!) When we are moving around it’s fine because the clothes move with you and we can see that there is a body shape underneath the clothing. However, when you stop moving and stand still for your portrait, all the camera sees is the width of the fabric and it will make you appear larger than you are.

So, avoid loose or bulky clothing; the looser the clothing, the larger you will look to the camera. The more fitted the clothing, the slimmer you will appear. I know this is counter-intuitive, but trust me it’s true!

Don’t forget your feet

One of the most neglected areas of the body when it comes to dressing for portraits is the feet.  Remember that your feet will be in the photo too, so clean your shoes and choose a pair that flatter your feet. For ladies, wear a heel, it will elongate your lower legs!  Avoid, white sneakers and white socks. Again, because white is so bright it will draw the attention to your feet. If you have ever seen a photo of someone wearing dark jeans and white shoes you will know what I mean. Their feet look twice their normal size!

For the Ladies

Ladies, even if you normally don’t wear make-up please consider wearing some for your portrait. I am not asking you to put on a full heavy mask, just a little mascara, blush and lip gloss will do.

Have your hair done!

For the Gentlemen

If you are usually clean-shaven, make sure that you shave just before heading out for your session. If you normally sport a beard, try to have it trimmed and neat for the session.

Do not have your hair cut just before a session. Have it cut about a week beforehand, so that it has grown back in a little for your portraits.

What’s a Good Color to Wear?

The best color to wear is the color that suits you the most! Look through your closet and see which color you have the most of (excluding black or white), that is probably the color that suits you the most and probably the one that will look best in your portrait.

Family Sessions and Coordinating Your Outfits.

Coordinating your clothing is important in a family session. You need to avoid clashing patterns and colors otherwise the portrait will look busy and messy.

The most important thing to decide when coordinating outfits is the overall style of the session. Do you want to be smart or casual, whimsical, romantic or just fun? Of course you can choose more than one style if you are planning on outfit changes.  It is a good idea to consider your location when choosing your outfits. Typically, if you are on location in a rural setting casual outfits are best. Having said that , it doesn’t mean that you have to rule out outfits based on location. Sometimes the juxtaposition of dressy clothes and casual location can work very well.

Ciara (14)
A rustic, rural background paired with a beautiful dress or tux can work very well!

It is always a good idea to coordinate colors. This does not mean that everyone has to wear exactly the same colors. You can choose a color and have everyone in different shades of that color; choose a color and have everyone us it in different ways, for example have the color in an accessory. Alternatively pick a color palette and mix and match the colors, trying to stick to less than three different colors and making sure that none of the colors clash.Mielke (22)

Variety is the Spice of Life

The more outfits you bring, the more variety you will have in your portraits. Bring a great mixture of clothing and accessories that you can mix and match.

Before your session

Before you come to your session, give your clothing a trial run at home. Take out the outfits that you want to wear and model them in front of the mirror.


Avoid silks and satins that will show moisture marks on hot days

Avoid linens and fabrics that crease badly

It’s a lot to think about, I know, but what it really boils down to is wearing the outfit that you feel you look best in and trying to avoid patterns and logos that will draw the attention away from you.


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