As a professional photographer, one of the most stressful things I hear moms talk about with regard to portrait photography is their angst over outfits and clothing. What I hear from moms almost every day is “Goodness� I want to have this beautiful family portrait but I just don’t know what clothing to dress everyone in! Help! What clothing should we choose to make this thing amazing and really timeless?”
The biggest thing to remember when we are photographing a family portrait is to ask ourselves what is the real purpose of this portrait? The real purpose is to feature what you love: your family. We want to show the personalities, the individual expressions of each of your family members all together in one group.
So the biggest thing we can do in regards to clothing, the biggest action we can take to help reach that result is very simple: use contrast to our advantage. Now contrast is essentially when our eye is drawn to when we very first see an image. Imagine, stop signs are red and white because our eye is drawn to them, we pick up in our field of view easily. Without consciously thinking about it our eye picks up on contrast, millions of years of evolution have wired our eyes to attract to strong contrasts in shade and color.
So how do we use contrast effectively? We want to make the point of contrast in the portrait the skin tone. Because if we make the point of contrast the skin tone, then the first thing you see within a nanosecond of viewing a finished portrait is the eyes and the faces, the expressions and the personalities of this beautiful family. So the easiest way to do that is to avoid contrast in your clothing. This means avoid busy designs, stripes, and contrasting color combinations. Remember we are drawing or making the point of contrast the skin tone. So we want to downplay our clothing a little bit. The easiest way to think about that is to simply dress everyone in a dark color or dress everyone in a light color.
It really doesn’t matter which way you go, both are equally effective. Dark tends to be a little bit more formal a little bit more dramatic. Light tones tend to be a little bit more casual but still can produce a really dramatic effect. So when you are thinking about clothing for your family portrait just be sure that everyone from the smallest person to the biggest person, from the youngest to the oldest, is dressed in the same tone and they’re all in a dark color or all in a light color. It doesn’t have to be the exact same color but a similar tone in the clothing really kicks your portrait to a new level. Try it. You’ll try this, your friends will say “Oh my goodness, the photographer photoshopped you! They won’t know exactly why it is so amazing. But it’s a really cool trick and I highly recommend it!
About the author: Chris Cummins is a Kansas City photographer and owner of Glow Imagery. His passion is creating images that reveal the personalities, expressions and character of his subjects in beautiful images that become family heirlooms for his clients.