Trick #1: Wardrobe for Portraits

“1. Ask for wardrobe advice. Your portrait photographer can tell at a glance what colours will look good and what photographs well.” – 10 Tricks

With a single portrait, a portrait of one person, you don’t need to concern yourself with co-ordinating outfits within a group (can be a nightmare). What your portrait photographer will appreciate is choices so if you can pull about 3 different tops, a couple different jackets (depending on the season), neutral bottoms (jeans, neutral pants, skirt) and an assortment of accessories that would be best.

In the 365 Portrait project I had a model, Heather, do just that.

“I have spent hours trying to figure out what to wear”, she said – opening the hatch of her car to reveal a pile of shirts, scarves, and pants. Off near the corner of her trunk was a plastic container of jewelry. “Can you choose for me?”

“Delighted!” I said.

This is the best scenario. The client has pre-chosen a selection of things that they are comfortable wearing so no matter what I chose it would be all right with her. All I had to do was to consider the portrait environment and the subject’s colouring.

This is what she brought:

1. print top, small print, neutral colours with small berry coloured flowers
2. dark moss green sweater
3. neutral, beige coloured, textured sweater
4. cream buttom-up shirt
5. moss green coloured t-shirt
6. scarf of cream, green and berry (!)
7. small and large jewerly
8. dark jeans
9. light ripped jeans
10. a selection of shoes

Here is what I chose:

first, the scarf which we would put on at first and then take off for her to hold loosely in her hand

second, the green coloured t-shirt with the neutral, textured sweater

third, the dark jeans (light ones are too trendy and will date the portrait – as in “way to be 2015, Mom”, said in 2020)

fourth, medium high cropped boots (a medium heel forces a arch into the back and also makes people stand a little taller to compensate for the feeling of falling over)

finally, I chose small gold hoops for sparkle but not very noticeable.

Her portrait environment was a fall field full of rose hips and tall reddening holly with forest behind her. The colours of her outfit were all in the field. She had red hair and was wearing a rich, berry shade of lipstick. She was taller than me and very beautiful.

Here she is:


Here is your wardrobe list:

In your planning meeting we will discuss your location. The exact colours (we will choose a colour that will either be represented in the environment or will stand out against the environment – one feels peaceful and one feels vibrant) will be based on that discussion. But do like Heather did – bring a variety of clothing. In the Mother’s Day Portrait Sessions, we’ll be shooting for an hour, so 2-3 changes are appropriate and will give you variety.

1. a solid top or two in “the colour” and in a neutral (black, grey, cream, white -black and white can come off as harsh, depending on the light and the layering and in a natural setting, green can feel like a neutral)
2. a print (tiny print, no logos) top with “the colour”
3. a neutral layer, texture is good
4. dark bottom – jeans, pants, skirt
5. a variety of accessories and shoes.

Expect your portrait photographer to make quick choices. Once you have pre-selected items, your professional should take about 30 seconds to choose 2-3 full outfits (so don’t bring anything that does not fit you or that you secretly hate).

Two Rules of Thumb: the portrait viewer’s eye will go to the areas of greatest contrast – the contrast between your iris and the white of your eyes and between your lips and your teeth should be contrasting naturally. But imagine that you are wearing a white dress with a thick black belt. No one will be able to tear their eyes away from your tummy, you might as well comb your hair straight over your face. Second rule of thumb is similar to the first – long pants and long sleeves photograph better than short since there are less light sources – every limb and hand is a light source, bouncing light into the camera. Your face is a light source too and that is the one that we want to see most. Please don’t have your arms and legs competing for attention with your face.

Published by photographykelowna

Graduate of New York Institute of Photography, I have worked as a photojournalist, wedding photographer, portrait photographer and photography teacher. I live in the mountains in BC, Canada.

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