Tips to Dress Subjects for a Professional Portrait

A good photographer knows that a timeless photograph begins with a consultation well before the session. The consultation provides the chance to explore the client's vision for the portrait, and it is also an opportunity for the photographer to guide the client to wardrobe and style choices that will help contribute to a classic image.


While pattern and strong color can create dramatic effects, subtle solid-colors and less obtrusive patterns will create less of a distraction from the subject's face. Dark colors in studio portraits, draw the viewer's eye up and towards the face. Encourage families and groups to pick a single, unifying color scheme. Emphasize the importance of keeping tone -warm or cool - identical.

Clothing Style

Trendy clothing will date the portrait very quickly and should be avoided. Styles should be simple and flattering. Long sleeves, for example, keep the focus on the face, especially if the subject is heavy-set. Turtlenecks and higher necklines or subtle v-necks are also more becoming. Clothing should fit well without gaps or bulges. As your business grows, you may find it convenient to keep some extra clothing on hand to offer the client option of a mid-session change if they suddenly decide they are unhappy with their first or only choice.

Hair and Makeup

Encourage classic hairstyle choices, especially ones that do not obscure the subject's face or cast long shadows. Again, trendy styles will very quickly detract from an otherwise classic portrait.

Makeup is an absolute necessity, but it should not take center stage. Unless the portrait is a glamour session, makeup should be used sparingly and primarily to camouflage imperfections and define features. As with clothing, trendy colors should be avoided. Colors should complement the subject, not preserve a fad.

Brides understand the longevity of their wedding day photos and are increasingly making a trip to the stylist and makeup artist a part of their preparations. If you are not a professional makeup artist, or if your studio cannot afford a stylist, encourage your client to include a visit to their stylist as a part of their picture day schedule.


The client's outfit choice should flatter them and, above all, make them feel comfortable enough to relax in front of the camera. These decisions are very personal, so if the client wants to wear a favorite T-shirt, work with that choice, even if it diverges from popular portrait wisdom. Tailor the lighting and backdrop to flatter the client or group and their wardrobe choice.

Finally, prepare a brochure or tip sheet that the client and family can take home from the consultation. A tip sheet that includes sample images cannot only serve as a checklist, but also a source of inspiration.

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