Fear not: you’re about to become an outfit pro.
Choosing outfits for your photo session can be a daunting task. Unfortunately, the outfits that most people choose based on their gut instincts do not look the best on-camera. In this post you’ll learn the most common pitfalls that people fall for, including style, pattern, and colour choice. You’ll also learn how to ensure you and your loved ones look great in photos!
If you’re short on time and just want the cheat sheet, scroll to the bottom of this post. It’s waiting there for you!
The Golden Rule
It all boils down to this: don’t dress like a threat, and don’t dress like food.
We share parts of our brains with distant ancestors who relied on their eyes for survival. Our ancestors needed to be able to identify two things with lightning speed: threats such as predators, poisonous plants, and insects; and food, the ultimate survival aide. Over millennia their brains adapted to make them very good at registering threats and food, and we inherited those intelligent neural designs. Though we don’t live in a survival scenario, our eyes still snap to something that matches those descriptions and remain stubbornly fixed on them. This creates an alarmed and curious “what’s that?” response.
What’s wrong with photos that make you feel curious?
Great question! We want to be curious and interested in the photographs we hang on our walls, don’t we?
Yes, we do want to be intrigued by our photos, but we don’t want to be alarmed and stressed out by them. The alarm centres in our brains, our reptilian survival brains, are responsible for the secretion of stress hormones like Adrenaline. Research has shown that adrenaline actively shuts off our higher brain centres, those responsible for social connection, long-term planning, and rational thought.
In short, if you’re stressed, you’re not going to feel the safe, warm fuzzies we want your photos to ignite. You also won’t feel connected to the people in those photographs, nor your future with them, which is probably one of the top reasons you’re hiring a photographer. Don’t rob yourself of that value!
What 2 things do threats and food have in common?
Patterns and Bright Colours.
Threats and food often have patterned appearances. The most obvious example is a fierce leopard covered in a spotted coat. Food also usually has a patterned appearance. Think of a blueberry bush: small, tightly packed leaves dotted with bundles of juicy berries. Any tight, repeating pattern is an immediate distraction. Stripes, checkers, spots, herringbone, plaid, etc. all create a stress response and fixate our attention on the source of the stress. Ditch the plaid, colour-block instead.
The reason that bright colours don’t work is two-fold. Bright colours, such as punk-rock pink, firetruck red, neon orange, and poison yellow are only seen in the wild in two places: poisonous creatures like snakes and insects, and some foods, which are often also poisonous. We’ve been over this: avoid looking poisonous or like you could be a berry.
The other reason we should avoid wearing red and orange is that modern camera sensors just don’t know what to do with those colours. They come out looking glaringly bright. Since our skin typically has red and orange hues as well, your photographer will have a heck of a time toning down that bright orange blouse without also sucking all the colour out of your skin (rendering your complexion akin to a zombie’s.)
Now that you know what not to wear, what should you wear?
If you only read the top half of this post, you would be 80% of the way to a perfect outfit. But if you want to dial that 80% up to an A+, keep reading.
We’ve covered that busy patterns and glaring colours are a no-go. Instead, opt for neutral tones or subtle colours. Cool colours, such as pale blues and faded greens, are always a good option. Whites and blacks are striking without inciting a stress response. Colour blocking, wearing two colours that alternate their way up your body, is a great way to create an intriguing fit without jarring that stress response.
Colour blocking, wearing two colours that alternate their way up your body, is a great way to create an intriguing fit without jarring that stress response. Blue shoes, black pants, blue shirt, black hat.
Coordination is Key
Since most of the time we have our picture taken with other people, it’s important to coordinate our outfits.
Remember: coordinate, but do not match.
Only wear matching outfits if it’s a work or school uniform. That’s because a work or school photo is meant to communicate uniformity. But wedding, family, and couple photos should communicate authenticity and collaboration. In short, avoid matching.
Coordinate instead, like people who are connected to each other and good at communication. Denim is a great example: often everyone in the family will wear jeans to a fall family session. That’s fine. But mix up the wash! Smooth dark wash, light surfer wash, distressed jeans with tears, a fresh pair without rips. You get the picture. Create some rhythm with your outfits. A band comprised of soloists is exhausting to listen to, likewise, an uncoordinated couple or family photo is hard on the eyes.
Lastly, dress on a similar level. Don’t wear a suit if your spouse is wearing a sundress. Jeans and a button-up shirt would fit the vibe better. But don’t be afraid to dress it up, either!
The Outfit Cheat Sheet
- Avoid busy patterns
- Avoid bright colours
- Especially avoid neon orange and firetruck red
- No logos or graphic tees (unless your photographer says yes!)
- No sunglasses (unless everyone wears them!)
- Colour blocking harmonizes a whole outfit
- Neutral tones make for a sharp look
- Go for subtle, pastel colours
- Coordinate, but don’t match
- Wear what you feel awesome in
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