Every morning, we all get up and get dressed for the day. Some of us may stand at our closets and ponder what to wear, trying on a million different things. (That would be me). Some others may just quickly grab the first thing they see. Some of us love this process, and some of us loathe it. But all of us participate in this daily act of styling ourselves. The same goes for choosing a great photo session wardrobe.
As photographers, it is important to understand that sometimes the art of styling your subjects can elevate your pictures. It really can. Photo session wardrobe can go hand in hand with conveying your photographic style.
Photographers are drawn to different styles. Knowing what your fashion sense is and how to make it work for you in your images will take your work to the next level. Knowing how attire can affect your storytelling will highlight your creativity and unique voice.
You don’t need to be a fashionista or have champagne taste. You definitely don’t need to be an ‘it’ girl. But you do need to put some thought and care into styling. Doing so will take your photos from blah to RAH!
Here are some dos and some don’ts (but more dos) for planning a photo session wardrobe.
There are definitely some rules to using fashion to its greatest potential in photographs. Let’s start with some YESSES. These are the things I always recommend when asked what to wear for photos:
1. First, here are the dos
Say YES to timeless and classic pieces, like:
- simple dresses
- button downs
- baby rompers
- pea coats
- ballet flats
- brown knee high boots
YES to trendy items. But, keep trendy items to accent pieces or small parts of the photo session wardrobe. And if possible, keep them timeless, too — like animal prints, military-inspired pieces, sequins, wrap dresses, patterned clothing, little black dresses, etc. If you have a child who is totally into the trends of the year, try to steer him/her into choosing a trendy accessory item, like a headband, scarf, or hat, so you can remove it at some point in the photo session and get a few classic pics, too!
YES to mixing patterns. Checks, plaids and stripes are all okay to include in your photo session wardrobe! Keep them on a smaller scale if you are trying to style a group. You don’t want loud patterns to take attention away from anyone but play with the large scaled patterns if you are trying to make a funky, loud, and colorful portrait of an individual!
YES to keeping it real. I have never gone out and bought something special for a photo shoot and I tell my clients they don’t need to either. I can guarantee you that there is already something in your closet that will work perfectly for your photo session wardrobe. Keeping it comfy is key, too. Anything stiff and too formal will translate so in the picture, especially for kids. Keep the dresses and boys clothes in soft cottons or flannels. Not only will they be more relaxed in these types of items, but these materials photograph better, too. They don’t get wrinkled or look too starchy, know what I mean?
2. Now for the don’ts
I hate to be negative, but some of these nos can really break a picture. There are not many rules here, but the ones I have picked I consider important to follow. Here goes—
NO logo wording on clothing. No “GAP,” “Old Navy,” or “POLO” splashed in huge letters across a shirt. Sorry, but this is never okay. When shopping for your family, just stay away from this trend all together and you will never have this issue. If consulting with a client on what to wear for photos, please make sure you bring this up. It can truly ruin a photograph. Your eye will go straight to those words, therefore deeming them the most important part of the picture!
NO to newborns in uncomfortable clothes. Sorry, but little newborn babies in starchy, frilly, or detailed outfits just don’t photograph well. And no jeans! Babies don’t wear jeans. These outfits make baby drown in the material and they can easily get lost in the photo. Keep babies in a simple onesie or soft cotton rompers for photos. Also, make sure that all of baby’s clothes fit perfectly. I stress this to my newborn parents. Sometimes I even suggest sizing down in their onesie if they have just grown into that next size because usually that new size is still too big on them.
NO to matchy-matchy. Just no. A group of people in all the exact same outfit is boring, strange, and very 1995. Right? I don’t think this needs much more explanation.
Don’t forget the accessories for your photo session wardrobe.
Accessories give your photographs that needed punch! They lend pops of color, personality, and interest. Everybody wears them well and they work for all ages. Here are some ideas and what they can do for your photograph:
Hats frame the face, protect the eyes from squinting in full sun, and overall are just fun, fun, fun! You can also use them to strengthen and/or tell your story better, for example putting a baseball cap on the boys if you are shooting a baseball themed image. Wouldn’t a boy in a Cubs hat at a baseball game make your image that much stronger? Now you know what team the boy is cheering on! This image of my daughter was made stronger by giving her my hat to wear before I snapped this frame. It frames her, distracts the viewer from the background and gives the photo some juxtaposition… a little girl in a big fancy hat chowing down on a cheeseburger!
Belts, socks, scarves and jewelry:
All these things are going to give pops of color, and work to completing the outfit. They can be unexpected bits of fun, too, like crazy and colorful knee socks on a girl. Striped belts make a boring khaki and polo outfit more interesting. Shiny necklaces give an image a little glimmer and can be a good prop to give to someone who doesn’t know what to do with their hands.
I photograph in homes a lot, so I actually am a big proponent of no shoes. To me, they don’t look right in the setting of home sweet home. Who hangs out on their bed or couch with their shoes on? Not anybody I know! But shoes in other settings can really help support a story and can be an important part of the photo session wardrobe. Patterned or colorful rain boots for a rainy day, cowboy boots to pair with a feminine dress for that awesome prairie girl look, motorcycle boots to amp up a street casual look, boating shoes to lend that extra dose of preppiness… the possibilities are endless!
I love all things glasses: sunglasses, reading glasses, movie glasses, weird glasses. Glasses can be so fun to work with. Big sunglasses are so fun on a little one and on a sunny day can help eliminate squinting and raccoon eyes from harsh shadows. Tortoise eyeglasses can make a library story way more interesting or be the perfect thing to pair with a school day theme shoot or a really preppy session. No movie picture is complete without the free 3-D frames that are handed out. And weird and silly glasses can make for some exciting shots, too!
Tips and tricks for styling your photo session wardrobe.
The following few ideas can make some of the ideas listed above even that much better! I am sure there are a thousand more out there that I am not thinking of, but here are a few I keep in my back pocket when photographing my kids or clients:
- Any long sleeved shirt looks way cooler if the sleeves are rolled. Want to make it even better than that? Add a bracelet or watch at the wrist.
- Need an instant face framer? Pop those collars! I personally love that look and am forever tugging my kids and husband’s collars up. The poor souls.
- Got some cool shoes that deserve a better spotlight or want to highlight bare piggies? Roll the cuffs!
- Tuck in shirts on the little ones to give waists shape and to give the outfits a more finished, neat look.
- Have a client who is confused about what color scheme to go with? Tell them to look around their home and notice the colors there. Is their house light and airy? Then they should go with softer colors so the photographs blend in beautifully with their surroundings. Same idea for somebody who loves brighter and bolder colors in their house. Here is a client who had the right idea!
- For client work (especially for those clients who are not so laid back), a little girl in dresses and skirts should have some sort of undergarment covering up diapers and underwear.
- Have a clip in your camera bag to pin back shapeless shirts on moms. Have bobby pins ready to pin back bangs that are growing out. Have hair bands on hand to put up a quick darling topknot or two darling pigtail buns on girls to change up the scene. It can make a big impact on getting a different look with little to no effort.
- Bring large thin scarves to shoots to use as an accessory. They can be wrapped around two people to form a frame and create a really sweet connection. They can be used to play peek-a-boo or to create an awesome movement shot by using it while running or playing a parachute type game.
- Be ready to do a quick change before shooting if the clothing is just adding nothing to your story and, in fact, making it weaker. For example, here I saw my daughter brushing her hair after school in her ugly maroon uniform. I quickly made her change into this white nightgown because it blends beautifully with the colors in her room AND makes more sense to the story. Brushing her hair is something she loves to do before bed every night. Hence, the quick decision to do nightgown instead of regular clothing.
- Whenever you can, use textured clothing to create beautiful photos. A little boy in a velvet blazer has much more impact than a boy in just a regular cotton one. Think angora, chiffon, suede, leather, tweeds, and wool.
- Look for opportunities for the clothing to create a strong photograph. Here I noticed the repetition of the green leaves in her jumper, the reflection of trees in the washer and in the plants on top.
- Use wording on clothing to tell awesome stories. These photos do all the talking!
Where to shop for your photo session wardrobe:
Our world is essentially one big store everywhere we turn and so many choices. So which stores can you find the best clothing pertaining to what we talked about here? Here are some of my favorites and what they offer and what their price points are (refer to the key for pricing info):
- $ Bargain finds
- $$ Not cheap, but do-able
- $$$ Paycheck blown
Nordstrom Rack: Nordy Rack has some great finds and carries some solid brands, like Peek and Tea. (Side note: Peek is awesome for finding shirts with cool quotes). They also have some amazing shoe racks. And their clearance racks can blow your mind sometimes. I won’t shop full price, like ever, so to the Rack I often go. $$
Janie & Jack: Oh my goodness, the wonder of Janie and Jack for those very special pieces that are classic and timeless and precious all rolled up in one. Beautiful coats, 50’s inspired swimwear, fedoras, capelets… the list goes on and on. But you pay. A lot. $$$
Crewcuts: Okay, I will admit it here, I am a Crewcut fanatic. I just can’t get enough. It’s fun, spunky, colorful, stripy, glittery, sassy, modern but classic. I am just such a fan. I never ever buy this stuff full price though because unfortunately it is quite pricey. It pays to subscribe to their mailing list for notice of sales. They have really solid sales quite often, like 40% off clearance. Really awesome! But regular priced stuff? $$$
Target: Yes, I am a sucker for Tarjay, too. But you know why? Because they tend to rip off Crewcuts! I can’t tell you how many times I have bought something JCrew inspired from there and tricked other Crewcuts fans. It’s the best. $$
Boutique Consignment Stores: I am a huge consignment shopper. I believe recycling clothes is best for the environment and best for my pocketbook. I seek out the stores where the least expensive brand they accept is Gap. It saves me time sorting through a lot of junk and some of the brands I find are amazing, like Marc Jacobs, Burberry, and Vince. This stuff isn’t marked cheap, but the condition the clothes are in and the quality of the pieces make it worth it. $$
Garage Sales: Dig and you shall find. $
Once Upon a Child: This is a chain store consignment store. If you dig here, you can come up with just as amazing brands as boutique consignments. I have found many Crewcuts, Janie and Jack, and Matilda Jane for practically pennies. Great place for accessories, too! $
Aritzia: I love this place for it’s modern, yet simple clothing with really beautiful, neutral palettes of color. $$$
ASOS: Awesome online store for all different types of trendy clothing. You can find everything from shoes to coats to party dresses. They offer petites, too! $$
Boutiques: Boutiques can be awesome for finding those special one-of-a-kind pieces. But again… $$$ (sigh)
And for same reasons stated above:
Nordstrom Rack: $$
H&M/Zara/Forever 21: You can find awesome accessories for women at these places! $$
Boutique Consignment Stores: $$
My favorites for Men:
Target (Merona Brand): $$
Nordstrom Rack: $$
Banana Republic: $$-$$$
Urban Outfitters: $$
I hope some of these ideas and thoughts help when pondering: “Whatever shall I wear?”
What are your ideas, tips, tricks, or favorite places to shop for photo session outfits? I’d love to hear!
Happy shopping! Whoops, I mean shooting.
More help for choosing a photo session wardrobe:
Photos by Erin Konrath