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What to Wear for a Photo Shoot: Clothing for Portraits

What to wear? It’s an age old question. One that never goes away. And what to wear for a photo shoot even gets harder. Two weeks ago, Santa brought my oldest daughter, Zoe, ten BILLION outfits from across the globe.

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Knit sweaters, lace sweaters, casual sweaters, fringed sweaters…if there was a sweater being made, she got it, in addition to thousands of jeans, leggings, skirts, cords, leg warmers, earmuffs, coats, camisoles, yoga wear and basketball shorts. She got so much clothing that it literally took her four hours just to try it all on.

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Today I walked in to her room, and she was sitting, surrounded by said mountain of clothes, crying. When I asked her what was the matter, she looked up at me with huge, tear filled eyes. “I have nothing to wear,” she said.

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Well, imagine trying to coordinate your family for your all important family photo. Of course everyone wants to look great, which mercifully precludes every single person wearing the dreaded blue jeans and white men’s button down shirts. All black or all white are nice, but they’re kind of passé. So I’ve started going with the thought of cohesive without being too matchy-matchy.A while back,during the blue jeans and white shirt era, one of my clients asked me if she could put her children in baby blue and lime green.

My head almost exploded. I was going to say no on principle, but she was a good client, and pretty adamant about those colors, and I’m here to tell you, they looked great!! So I started going on a color and style exploration. What looked good? What I found is that everything can look good, as long as you keep the patterns to ONE member of the family, and honor what looks good on you, personally. Even blue jeans and white shirts. Below, everyone in the Stubblefield family is honoring their own body type and personal preference and wearing the kind of white shirt that they like and they’re rocking the shot.

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Senior Photo Session

I remember a long time ago I was scheduling a High School Senior photo session, and the question came up as to what to wear to the shoot. I told her to bring about five or six different outfits, and the kid brought six kind of smelly dirty white t-shirts. Crew neck. She never felt different in any of those shirts. There wasn’t a memory, or a story that went with any of her outfits, and while the shoot went well and she looked beautiful, it was lacking a certain depth. There wasn’t much to be done that day, but I’ve learned my lesson, that’s for sure.

I am all about Senior Pictures, they are one of my favorite things to shoot, and I adore it when they bring all different kinds of crazy outfits and props that truly express them; so now this is my usual schtick: “bring something casual, that you hang around in every day, like your favorite sweats or a casual jeans outfit, then something you would wear out to lunch with your friends, like a little skirt and cami, or a sundress and flip flops, and then something that you might wear on a date, like a more evening type dress, or nice pants and a nice shirt, and then like a prom or homecoming dress.

Then I tell her to bring her favorite outfit no matter what it is, and no matter if her mom likes it or not, as well as bringing her mom’s favorite outfit, no matter how she feels about it, because it gives them both bargaining room, as well as anything that showed any activities that she does if she wanted to show them or anything that just screams “bring me”. I’ve said the same exact speech to hundreds, if not thousands of seniors, and they all totally got it, and they’ve brought everything from swimsuits to mermaid outfits, ski wear, soccer uniforms, princess dresses with miles of tulle and everything in between. Usually about six outfits will do it; They’re tired after that.

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Here is the fabulous Kailin, in her sundress, casual jeans and date night dress. She loves flowers and balloons, and that’s what she brought to represent her lighthearted spirit.

Babies and toddlers

Even though my personal taste runs toward the wild, crazy and different, you can never go wrong with classic looks for babies. Hats, baby bracelets, silver rattles, family heirlooms, traditional smocked dresses, matching bow, white tights and Mary Janes can never go wrong, as evidenced by the beautiful Miss Madeline. That way, you can also crop in and have a tight shot with just the bow and dress, and it’s perfect.

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

A lot of times, stories will come out about who bought the baby the outfit…beautiful clothing is a right of passage for most babies…and their parents. Some of these little outfits will be remembered for ever, and the little girl will keep them for her own little girl some day. It’s a big deal. Don’t underestimate it. For boys, classic sailor suits are always good. Try to get the shot of them in the more formal or more meaningful outfit to them first, then you can always get the blue jeans or overalls shot.

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

There are few imperatives in photography, but this is one of them. Tell your family to look in the mirror before they go out in front of the camera. I know that this should be a given, but it’s not. Anything that you hate about your body will be magnified in a picture. Check the jiggle in your arms, hang tags, deodorant stains, holes, rips and tears, stains, clothing wrinkles, the muffin top and, um, muffin outside-of-leg-top. Ladies, check your cleavage and skirt length. Move around. All of my clients who are physically able to will stand, sit and lay down during every session.

Don’t wear necklaces that can easily slide out of center, unless you’re willing to move it back into place every single time. Men, check your collars and zippers, and for that matter, shave your neck, pluck your ear hairs, and do whatever you do to your nose hairs to make sure they don’t poke out during the photo session. Make sure that babies are freshly changed and don’t have any spit up or boogers hanging around.

Please send me your outfit wins and fails to barb@barbstitzer.com so that we can figure out what works and what doesn’t and why. Let’s get better together.

Barbara Stitzer

Barb Stitzer is an award winning Master Photographer living in Hudson, Ohio with her husband, her teen, Zoe and her tween, Tenley. She creates beauty and memories worldwide. Feel free to find her on Facebook or check out her website.
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