• Neena Majumdar

How to pick the perfect outfits for portraits

You look at a picture of someone and your eyes are directed everywhere in the frame except the face of the person. If it's all about the outfit, makeup and hair then it's not a portrait. A portrait is like a sneak peek into the personality of the person at the moment that they are photographed. So, if a viewer is distracted from that vision, it can't be an effective portrait. That's why a lot goes into removing distractions for creating strong portraits.


Indian school kid uniform portrait
It's all about the face.

How do we steer away from these distractions and make sure that the focus is on “who” and not “what” is seen in the image? Do clothes have a role to play in this? Let's find out.


Here are 12 tips that can help you in choosing the best outfits for your next portrait session.


1. Keep it simple and classic


The rule of thumb is to keep it simple and classy for timeless portraits. If we keep this in mind, the styling becomes much easier. Utmost care is taken to look for minimalistic outfits as well as accessories that can never take the attention away from the face.


Portrait blonde model simple classy
Keep it simple.

2. Solids above anything


Solid colours look the best with portraits as there are no prints and patterns, competing for attention. For the same reason, avoiding clothing with graphics and logos is a good idea for grabbing unnecessary attention in the frame.



3. Small prints vs large prints


Patterns and prints attract the viewer's attention first when they look at the image. Moreover, they might cause an optical illusion when viewing the photographs digitally. If for some reason, you do want to include prints in your outfit, make sure you are choosing small prints over large prints. Not only do small prints look classier and inconspicuous but they also render a smaller frame for your body.


Maternity portrait lying on grass park
Small prints are a better choice than large prints.

4. How much skin to show


Most professional headshots are done so that only the skin of the model’s face and the neck is visible. That’s because whatever extra skin is visible is going to garner the attention of the viewer toward that part of the frame.


Pick your outfits carefully so that the neckline hugs the base of the neck, for example, a turtle neck, crew neck, collared neck and a tight V-neck. The sleeves should be ideally long or three-quarters. Choose full pants instead of shorts in case you are also taking some full-body shots.


Black and white portrait Indian model female
Picking appropriate outfit for a successful portrait is tricky

5. Monochrome and colours


Neutrals are your best bet for portraits. But if you fancy a particular colour, you can use it for the whole outfit and create a sleek look. The trick is to mix different textures and fabrics for monochromatic outfits.



When mixing outfit pieces of different colours, try to limit yourself to up to three colours. Also, pay special attention to colour combinations by consulting the colour wheel. Complementary and analogous colour schemes are visually striking. You can even pick one pop of colour with a neutral palette.


6. Dark vs light colours


Dark colours tend to make you look smaller and serious. On the other hand, light colours make you look bigger but give a fresh look. Knowing these pros and cons can guide you in picking the right colours for the portrait session.


7. Colors vs backgrounds


If using natural light, make sure that the colours of the outfit would create some contrast with the background of the shooting location. By picking a different tone of the same hue or different hues altogether, we can rest assured that our model would stand out from the background.



(One of my biggest pet peeves is when the outfit colour seeps into the background colour such that the edges of the person can't be seen. But there is a way to fix that. We can use proper edge lighting and vary the distance of the model from the background of the same colour.)

8. For group portraits


How do we select outfits for a couple, family or a group portrait session? Having a common theme in mind helps to build an outfit mood board, be it casual, semi-formal, formal or traditional wear. The next challenge is picking the colours. The defining elements of colours for outfits are mentioned in point 5. To summarize, having a colour palette of not more than 3 colours, gives some direction in choosing the right outfits.



One pro-tip is maintaining the tonality of hues. This means sticking to the same level of brightness for all the colours. Try not to mix bright colours with dark colours.


9. Just the right size


The perfect dress is the one that fits you. Wearing outfits that are too small or oversized for you might look distracting in portraits. So, pick tailored outfits that flatter your body without making you uncomfortable.


10. Crisp condition


Taking extra care of the outfits a couple of days before the portrait session can save you from unprofessional-looking images. Check that the outfits are clean, unstained, and ironed or steamed. Wrinkle-free fabrics can be a good option too for a polished look. If you sweat a lot, pick the fabric accordingly and a change of clothes, just in case.


Indian male model portrait forest glasses
Wrinkle-free fabric and ironed clothes give a polished look.

Preparing your outfit choices ahead of time and during the shoot can save many hours spent clone-stamping out the stains and spots, and smoothening the wrinkles during post-processing.


11. Accessorizing


Top stylists say that when you are about to leave the house, look at yourself in the mirror and remove one accessory. In the case of picking accessories and jewellery for portraits, less is more. Keep it classy and minimal. Pick one piece of jewellery for the torso, either small earrings/studs or a simple elegant necklace. A classic watch looks elegant for the wrist for both male and female models or a simple bracelet does the trick.




12. For kids and teenagers


What if I say that all the above points are invalid when photographing kids and teenagers? With children, it’s better to show their personality through their dresses, toys, props, and accessories.



Teenagers try to communicate their opinions through outfit choices. So, it’s best to give them the liberty to wear whatever they feel like for the photography session. After all, it’s all about the person in the photograph!


Did you learn something new today? Comment below.


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