When we (everyone, not just professional photographers) look at photographs, our eyes tend to go to the lightest part of the photo.
When a photo is a portrait of a person (or a group of people), the photographer wants your eyes to go to the face(s).
So, a photographer taking a portrait will want your face(s) to be the lightest part(s) of the photo.
This means no white or very light colored blouses or shirts. Even for business portraits, men should select a shirt with at least some color, e.g., blue oxford cloth. People with very dark complexions might want to consider deep colors like black.
When picking clothes, remember that simple is good. Go for the classic, avoiding trends that will make your photo look dated in six months.
Avoid clothing with pictures, writing or large logos unless the pictures, writing or large logos relate specifically to the photos. In other words, no Budweiser tee shirts unless this photo is for a magazine story about binge drinking; no Disney shirts unless this family portrait is in front of Cinderella Castle.
Loud colors, busy patterns, bold stripes, big plaids, polka dots, tank tops, mini skirts, and clothes that are baggy–or too tight–all call attention to the clothes, not the wearer. Best to avoid them. No short shorts past grade school, please.
Neon-colored clothing is popular right now, especially in children’s clothes and shoes. Please avoid neon if at all possible. It often prints an odd shade and even a single orange shoelace draws attention away from your faces.
When considering dresses for very little girls, remember that they often don’t sit with their legs together or their panties completely covered. If your little girl tends to sit with one leg bent up, you might avoid dresses. Or at least have her wear bike shorts underneath so if her undies are in the photo, no one is bothered by it.
Many photographers take portraits from above your eye level to hide double chins or wrinkled necks, and to minimize extra pounds. However, from this angle exposed cleavage is only enhanced. So women, please know that low necklines might be even more revealing in final photos. If you aren’t happy about your arms, neck, etc., wear a scarf or sleeves to cover them.
Avoid any sudden (and potentially unflattering) changes immediately before the portrait– no tanning booth visit or new hairstyle the week before your portrait.
What colors work best? Generally speaking, darker clothing will be more slimming than very light colors, but the best color for you is based on your own skin, eye and hair coloring.
You probably know which colors or outfits consistently bring you compliments, so go with the proven winners. Ask a family member or friend for an honest opinion.
If you are having a family portrait, you’ll want to coordinate everyone’s clothing to avoid a visual train wreck. I remember when I was young, our family had a portrait taken at Olan Mills. The four of us all picked out our clothing independently and the final product was a clash of patterns and colors.
You might decide to wear matching outfits (e.g., navy turtlenecks with khaki pants), or you might be more subtle, coordinating clothes around a common color theme. If you’re a Pinterest user, please take a second and look at my “How to dress for a portrait session” board, where I’ve pinned a variety of clothing collections, each one built around a few colors. Remember, you don’t have to dress matchy-matchy, but instead you can pick out individual pieces that go very well together when you stick to a controlled color palette.
Don’t forget to consider your shoes and socks. Group portraits are often full-length, and you may not be able to hide your feet.
Wrinkles are difficult to remove effectively in photoshop, so if you’ve picked an outfit that wrinkles easily, iron it and then don’t put it on until the last minute.
A word about glasses: Folks who wear glasses only part of the time are encouraged to remove them as glasses catch all sorts of reflections which aren’t easily removed in photoshop. Remember to remove them 15 or so minutes before the session to give any little marks on the bridge of your nose time to go away. If your glasses auto-darken in sunlight, bring another pair that doesn’t. Or don’t wear them at all. If you must wear glasses, your optometrist might be able to lend you a pair of empty frames that match your own.
About ladies’ hair: Often our hair looks “big” immediately after it is washed and styled, so if you wash and style your hair on the day of a portrait, do it early in the day to give it time to relax. Day-old hair holds a style better than just-washed hair.
Men who tend to have five o’clock shadows should plan a quick shave before photos taken late in the day.
If you have a lazy eye, ears that always stick out in photos, or another feature you don’t like, be sure to mention it to the photographer. We can often pose you in a manner that eliminates or minimizes certain features.
And, get a good night’s sleep the night before to avoid bags or circles around your eyes.
More important than even your clothes, however, is to bring a great attitude to the portrait session. If your body language says “nervous,” the best-looking outfit in the world is not going to save the shoot. And, the session will take longer as the photographer tries to loosen you up and elicit a smile. If you are totally relaxed and your eyes and smile are genuinely friendly, your portrait will be friendly and the session can end sooner!
If you find yourself ill at ease in front of a camera, take ten minutes (well, 13 actually) and watch this wonderful Ted Talk about how to bring your best self to a photo session.
Postscript: Following these simple guidelines should ensure that your photo doesn’t end up on AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com