Outfits can make or break a photo shoot. No matter how beautiful your photos are, if the outfits aren’t right it can affect the look and feel of the photographs.
I wouldn’t have said this before, but now I know from experience.
Before each photo shoot, I send my client an article and encourage them to read it. I then ask them to send me some of their outfit ideas so we can discuss their choices. The client plays the most important role in the photo shoot, and so while I offer advice on what to wear, I also like to tailor their photo shoot to match their preferences and personalities.
Here are some factors that help my client and I come to a decision on the right outfits for a successful photo shoot. Naturally, the outfits need to be right for the client. But they also need to be right for you as the photographer.
Type of photoshoot
Chances are you already know this from the booking and/or your niche (if you have one). But in case you don’t, here are some photo shoots you may be asked to do:
- Family (immediate family, perhaps with a couple of grandparents added)
- Children (just the kids, sometimes with cousins included)
- Siblings (brothers and sisters or multiples e.g. twins)
- Three generations (e.g. grandmother, mother, daughter)
- Engagement, love shoot or couple shoot
- Newborn or babies
- Valentine, anniversary
- Activity-based (sports, event, themed)
- Clan (bigger family shoots to include extended family, several families together)
- Birthday, cake smash
- Lifestyle (usually more informal)
- Portrait (usually more formal)
Type of client
From my experience, clients generally fall into one of two types: styled or casual.
Styled clients think about every detail of their shoot including:
- the look and feel they want
- the color scheme, location, and any props they want to use
- makeup and accessories
- the final outcome of their shoot in terms of products and what they do with them.
Casual clients just want some memories captured, usually showcasing their usual attires and what they do as a family. They’re not too fussed about location or outfits, they just want lovely photos of their family or themselves and have the digital files stored safely so they can print them whenever they want.
In both cases, I still try to get together with them to discuss their outfits and plan the photo shoot.
Theme or no theme
When it comes to themes, the possibilities are limitless. But I always advise my clients to narrow it down to a handful of choices and keep things simple within their chosen theme. For me, a theme just provides context. The focus is still the client looking good in their photographs, looking natural in the context, and loving the way they look in them.
Keeping it simple is best.
Location of the shoot
Rather than talk about differences between studio and outdoor locations (which are pretty obvious), I want to focus on what’s important when choosing outdoor locations to fit a client’s outfits and vice versa.
If they’ve put a lot of work into choosing outfits (and perhaps props), a location that provides a simple but effective background will work best. So having outfits that suit the location is crucial.
If you’re shooting in a busy location (e.g. city, market, funfair) where you can’t avoid being surrounded by people, I’d suggest plain, non-printed outfits. This will help you isolate your clients so they’re still the focus amidst the busy setting. When I shoot in these locations, I sometimes blur the background or drag the shutter to blur everything but the client.
If the location is a park where you can find a quiet spot and use trees, foliage or sky as the background, then they can wear florals and busy patterns. You can isolate them by blurring the background when shooting so you get creamy bokeh in a very shallow depth of field.
You can also do silhouettes. This works well if they’re wearing outfits that are similar to each other (e.g. simple jackets or trench coats).
Here are some other locations you could choose:
- a brick wall (or any textured surface) large enough to be the background
- large murals
- an old building
- a row of pillars that would work for background.
While I try to minimize stark contrast within the outfits themselves, I try to maximize the contrast between the outfits and the location. In other words, plain outfits in busy locations and busy outfits in plain locations.
Time of the year
This is pretty self-explanatory, except I want to add one word: options. I encourage my clients to have a change of outfits in case they want a different look. Some take up the offer, while others don’t. The weather in the UK can change quite dramatically. In autumn and spring, we can have all four seasons in one day.
So during this time, I encourage my clients to dress in layers. If the sun comes out they can take a layer off. If it rains we can do some shots with an umbrella. If we’re suddenly plunged into winter, we can add a couple of layers for a cozy look in a cafe, complete with hot chocolate topped with marshmallows.
But make sure you factor the weather, outfits and any activities (boating, cycling, etc.) into your shoot so you don’t run over time.
You may have been told you should have a niche, and shoot only within that niche. That’s a nice ideal, but it isn’t true (or easy) for everyone. Sure, some people may not be your ideal client. But if they like your pictures, want you to photograph them and will pay you for it, would you turn them down?
And while you may not showcase their photos on your blog because of the niche and brand you’re trying to build, if they don’t mind then why not do it? Yes, the photos in your portfolio, on your website and in your social media messages will help you attract those ideal clients. But here I’m talking about those who want you to photograph them regardless.
General outfit advice
Bearing all of this in mind, here’s my general advice regarding outfits.
Classic: Timeless style, chinos, khakis, beige and blues, nature-hues, pastels, shirts, and simple dresses.
Florals and prints: Just florals, or an eclectic mix of prints and patterns. Pairing them with stripes can also work sometimes.
Colors: Keep them complementary as opposed to completely matching (e.g. all white shirts and blue jeans). Avoid stark contrasts such as green and orange/red together, and yellows and purples juxtaposed. Complementary colors are more like warm tones (yellows, oranges, pinks, warm red and even warm greens) together and cool tones (blues, purples, greens) together. But an explosion of bright colors could also work, although I’d shoot it on a plain background or setting.
Consistency: Avoid extreme differences (e.g. one person is wearing a casual knitted chunky sweater and the other is wearing a nice silky dress). It can be quite jarring. Black and white is another combination that’s too stark a contrast unless it’s done intentionally.
Dark, light and bright: Darks for adults, and lights or brights for small children. Do it the other way and the adults will dominate the scene and draw the viewer’s attention, while the smaller people will disappear.
We all have our own personal preferences and styles. These are mine, but if you have other ideas for your photo shoots that’s okay.
If you have any other helpful advice, please share it with us in the comments.