The most common question I get before a photo shoot is “What should I wear?” So I asked Catherine Montalbo, a San Francisco-based certified image consultant for her guidance about wardrobe for photos. The questions posed here are some of the questions I am asked most often, followed by her answers.
I have a photo shoot coming up, what should I wear or not wear?
The number one thing you should NOT wear is something that you are not comfortable in. If you are uncomfortable in your clothes, this will be very apparent in your photos. This isn’t the time to experiment. What you want to convey in your photos is the best version of your authentic self, so wear what will represent the image you want the viewer to perceive. Unless you are someone who needs to be photographed in a costume, uniform, or outlandish outfit, wear clothes that will not distract from your face, which should be the focus of your photos.
The number one consideration is to wear clothes that fit you well. Not too tight, not too loose. There is a tendency for folks who are overweight to wear baggy clothing, thinking it camouflages the excess weight, but the opposite is true: it will make a heavy person look heavier. And too-tight clothes are rarely appropriate.
What’s the deal with solids? I wear a lot of patterns.
I am also a lover of patterns and prints. I pretty much wear a print every single day of my life, in some form. But the camera has a difficult time dealing with prints and patterns, and with some prints the camera creates what is called a moire pattern, which is a wavelike pattern that is nearly impossible to retouch out. Also, prints and patterns can be distracting and can dominate in a photo, and detract from your face, which is the main attraction, not your clothes.
This is why it’s best to wear a wardrobe with solid colors in a photo, especially on the upper half of your body. If you are not sure which colors flatter you best, then wear the colors in your eyes or your hair. These will always look great on you. As an option, wear the complements (or opposites) of those colors. For example, someone with brown eyes will look amazing in deep violet or purple.
Complementary color matching can be somewhat tricky, so if you aren’t sure, have your colors analyzed or stick to your hair and eye colors. Avoid skin tones on the upper half of your body because they can make you look washed-out if you are fair-skinned, or with darker skin, they will prevent your face from being the main focus. (See the photo below of Julie Bauke of The Bauke Group.)
Do you have any tips on jewelry?
I love jewelry and love to wear a lot of it, but for a photo, simple is best. I usually scoff at the Coco Chanel quote about taking one thing off before you leave the house, but it’s a good mentality for when you’re taking a photo. So unless you are a belly dancer who’s being photographed in her costume, keep your jewelry simple so as not to create a visual distraction.
Should I go casual or dress up?
This is going to depend on what you are trying to communicate in your photo. Are you a ballroom dance instructor? Better dress up! Do you make your living working on the land, as a farmer or rancher? Dress the part with pride! Are you a teacher? A suit and tie might seem intimidating and inappropriate, so wear the best version of what you normally wear in your profession. If you aren’t sure, dress a little better than you think you should. And bring several outfits to your photo shoot so the photographer has a few options.
Does it matter if the shot is indoors or outdoors?
The same rules and guidelines apply whether it’s an indoor shoot or an outdoor shoot.
My favorite color is black, is that ok?
Contrary to conventional wisdom, not everyone looks their best in black. In fact, it can be dreadful on many. Those with lighter skin, hair and eyes will have those features overpowered by black. So unless it’s part of your uniform, costume, or specific “look” you are trying to achieve, avoid wearing an all black outfit. Many of our customers are astonished how great they look in jewel tones like purple, teal, medium blue, green and magenta, especially on a white background. See the photo of Amy at the top of the article as a good example.
Do my shoes matter if it is a headshot?
Your whole outfit matters, even if it’s a head shot. If you’re wearing a tux and sneakers, or a ball gown and flip flops, there is going to be a disconnect in your mind, whether you are aware of it or not. When you are having your photo taken, you are playing a part, even if that part is yourself, and a vital aspect of playing a part is wardrobe. This is why actors have dress rehearsals in full costume: to become that person, head-to-toe, inside and out.
Any other wardrobe guidelines for my photo?
Avoid very bright colors because they will invariably detract from the main focus: your face. They can also make you look washed out unless you have very strong coloring in your hair, skin and eyes. Go for medium tones and jewel tones.
If you wear glasses all the time, do wear them in your photograph. And make sure the frames are in a color that flatters your coloring, and in a shape that flatters your face shape.
And I hope it goes without saying that your wardrobe should be clean, pressed, and in good condition.