What should I wear to my portrait session?

What we wear is such a wonderful expression of who we are as an individual!  Many of us put extra effort into our appearance on the day of a photo shoot (including this photographer, haha…but that’s a subject for another post).  I love helping clients style themselves, finding outfits that not just reflect their personal taste but also make them feel comfortable and beautiful.

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Once I know a client’s personal style, I work with them to find portrait locations that reflect their taste.  I had an inkling Marisa would love the Palace of Fine Arts – and it proved to be a beautiful match!

Because most of the work I do is on location, I encourage my clients to think about where they would like their pictures taken, and how their clothing can help them harmonize with, or stand out from, the environment.  I recommend selecting outfits that allow you to do both – which is easy to do with the flick of an accessory or two.  Read on to learn more about this technique as well as other fun wardrobe tricks!

Today I’m featuring images from a summer session I did with the lovely Marisa Sergi, reigning USA National Miss California Golden Coast and CEO of RedHead Wine, to demonstrate…

Jessica’s Top 10 Wardrobe Tips for Portrait Sessions

1. Start with a “solid” foundation.

In a portrait session, the focus is on YOU!  Patterns and intricate details, while very nice on their own, take the spotlight off of your face, expressions, and location, all of which are important in communicating your story.  I encouraged Marisa to select solid colors that complemented her hair and complexion (for a redhead, a rich green like this is a natch) and then bring accessories to add variety.  For full-body shots, a neutral colored shoe is a sound choice, especially when your outfit is colorful…but don’t be afraid to go bright if that’s your style!  For the best balance, just make sure that if the accessories are colorful, the clothes are neutral, and vice versa.

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When I saw Marisa’s green dress, I knew this lush garden setting would be the perfect way to harmonize her outfit with the background and draw focus to her face.  However, it can go both ways: Look below for examples of how a neutral backdrop switches the focus to her green dress and pose.

 

2. Be bold!

I’m a big fan of bright colors.  When photographing clients outdoors, where hues are usually subdued, a pop of saturated color  can really set my subject off from the background.  It doesn’t take much…a scarlet scarf, turquoise tie, or chartreuse shirt can do it.

For Marisa’s vineyard session, I knew she wanted to feature the California state flag.  To complement the flag, make her pop from the background, AND add a little patriotic flair, I encouraged her to layer this gorgeous blue coat over her white dress.  You can do this too by bringing a bright accessory or two to your portrait session.

Be bold with it – and have FUN!

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I love how the rich blue color of Marisa’s coat contrasts with the state flag – and gives this image a patriotic nod, to boot!  Speaking of boots…it’s always a great idea to have a pair on hand for outdoor portrait sessions. 😉

 

3. …but be prepared to be subtle.

As much as I love love LOVE color, I also understand the value of backing off on it to achieve a more nuanced look.  This is another reason why starting your portrait session in a solid base (in the example below, a neutral one) can work so well.  When the light started to fade into the soft, golden sunset glow, I asked Marisa to ditch the blue coat and strike some poses in just her white dress.  I loved how her outfit complemented the subtle colors and warm tones all around her, really emphasizing the calm feeling in these last moments of the day.

Oh, and I got to wear her blue coat for a few minutes.  Score!

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The bright blue coat worked beautifully earlier in the session, but would have detracted from the soft mood of this picture.  No one says you have to wear the same thing all session long.  Variety is the spice of life, let’s mix it up!

4. Consider the season.

Time of year is an important variable to consider when choosing your portrait session outfit(s).  What you would wear to the lake in October  is probably quite different from what you would wear to the beach in June, or to a ski slope in January.  Consider not just comfort when selecting your clothing, but also the seasonal colors and fabrics that are important to you.

Marisa’s San Francisco shoot was on the first day of summer, and the forecast was for sweet sunshine, so we knew that some carefree styling was in order!  Her choice of a yellow sundress was right on point for the time of year.  With each new setting – casual Baker Beach, formal Palace of Fine Arts – we mixed up her wardrobe to really capture the look and feel of the location.  No matter how different each outfit was, the mood of each is unmistakably “summer”.

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Lucky us!  One of the locations on our shoot list was a cable car.  Although there were other nice cars to pick from, this yellow and red one matched Marisa’s outfit to a “T,” so we rolled with it (ba-dum-dum).

5. Consider the reason.

How do you intend to use the images?

  • A holiday family session might have everyone wearing matching silly sweaters or an accessory (scarf, hat, gloves) in a matching color to communicate fun and good cheer.
  • A spring maternity session might have mama-to-be in a pastel dress with a crown of delicate flowers in her hair, evoking the tender beauty and femininity of becoming a new mother.
  • A fall harvest session for a winemaker might have him in a casual shirt, jeans, and work boots as he tends to his grapes in the vineyard, speaking to his down-to-earth and hands-on approach to his career.

No matter what the reason, I really enjoy helping my clients pick just the right outfit to fit the intended use of their pictures.

For Marisa, the reason was to promote her bid for the 2016 USA National Miss title.  This of course required that we feature her pageant sash and crown.  Without these two key accessories her photographs, while strikingly beautiful, would not have communicated her intent as clearly.  And who doesn’t like to wear a crown now and then?

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It’s OK to let your accessories do the talking!  I like how this sunset image of Marisa’s crown clearly captures the essence of  being California’s “Miss Golden Coast.”

6. Less is not always more.

Know this: I will NEVER judge you for packing too many clothes!!  As long as you don’t judge me for packing too many cameras…it’s all about being prepared.  Go ahead, I have extra trunk space. 😉

Because Marisa and I had talked ahead of time about her styling, she came to the session with a bag packed full of great outfits, and we were able to quickly generate many different looks for her.  She didn’t wear everything,  and that’s A-OK.  Sometimes we changed her styling on the fly, and having extra clothes on hand gave us the flexibility to adapt her look to each location we were shooting in.

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7. And then again…with grooming, it is.

Less is NOT more with clothes, that’s for sure.  I’ve got your back on that one!  But when it comes to hair and make-up, a softer hand is often better than a heavier one.

So your hair has a chance to “settle in” and you have time to practice styling it, plan to get your hair cut no less than 2 weeks before your portrait session.  Whether you are a man or woman, a fresh manicure with clear or neutral polish is a nice touch, especially if we do close-ups of your hands (next to our eyes, our hands are the most expressive part of our bodies, and I feature them in most portrait sessions.)  And ladies, wear the make-up you are used to and comfortable wearing.  The day of your portrait session is not the time to try out purple eyeliner or coral red lipstick!  Stick with what you know, and if in doubt, go natural.  Lastly, don’t forget to bring some styling products along for touch-ups during the session.  I’m great at holding a mirror, BTW.

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A sunset session is the perfect opportunity to channel your inner sun god(dess).  I schedule many of my portrait sessions for this time of day because the light is so flattering.  Marisa chose make-up in neutral colors and warm tones that accentuated, but didn’t dominate her features, and it worked great!

8. Be comfortable!

I always advise my clients to bring layers and comfortable shoes, especially if we are traveling between locations or shooting at the end of the day.  The more comfortable you are, the more relaxed you will be, and your photographs will reflect this.  Marisa had some beautiful heels to wear with her dresses, but she also packed a pair of flats for walking around the city.  Additionally, she had a warm blazer to put on when the San Francisco fog rolled in (as we knew it would).  A comfortable client is a happy client!

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Never underestimate the importance of a warm jacket.  Not only will you be more comfortable, but it adds some extra variety to your portrait session wardrobe.

 

9. Go with the “flow.”

And by flow, I mean fabric.  As in fabric flowing in the breeze…  Ah, that’s one of my favorite things!  And there’s no surer way to infuse a photograph with a sense of life and energy than to capture the wind.  There’s a reason why fashion photographers always have a shop fan or two on hand.

Even if there isn’t enough wind to blow a feather, the illusion of motion can be created with sheer, lightweight fabric – a silk scarf, gauzy linen pants, or chiffon dress will dance on air with just the slightest movement.  These fabric choices are especially nice for beach sessions, where ocean breezes are a given, but will really work anywhere.  All you need is air.

Oh, and silk scarves are about the smallest thing to pack – so go ahead, stuff a few in your bag!

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Even without a breeze, the illusion of motion can be created  by pulling lightweight fabric through the air.  Doesn’t it make this striking pose look even more dynamic?

 

10. Call your photographer.

Never underestimate the importance of a fashion consultant and confidant!  That’s what every good photographer is.  It’s our job to listen to your ideas, hopes, needs, and yes, even your insecurities and fears so that your photography session is an enjoyable and comfortable experience that produces photographs that you absolutely LOVE.

I repeat: it’s our J-O-B.  It’s what you are paying for!  So please, pick up that phone and call.  Let’s talk it out.  I want your images to be just as stunning as you do. 🙂

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You are not alone in this!  Ask your photographer for wardrobe assistance.  And if they can’t or won’t help…find another photographer.

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Jessica’s Top 10 Wardrobe Tips for Portrait Sessions:

  1. Start with a solid color as your foundation,
  2. be bold with color but…
  3. balance it with neutrals,
  4. match your style to the season, and…
  5. match your style to the reason,
  6. when selecting outfits, the more the merrier, but…
  7. with personal grooming, less is more…
  8. pack comfortable shoes and layers,
  9. incorporate lightweight fabrics for energy and intrigue, and…
  10. always feel comfortable consulting with your photographer.

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Future Client: Being a creative professional, I encourage personal expression and want you to show your true self.  But, I also know that things look differently behind the lens.  For you to get the most out of your portrait session,  I recommend you consider the aforementioned tips when selecting your wardrobe.  And by all means, if you want some guidance, reach out to me!  I’m here to help.  And boy oh boy, do I LOVE to do it.

That’s it for me.  Now don’t you have some serious shopping to do??

Cheers!

Jessica

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