Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Clothing dilemma: What to wear when being photographed

I really hate that feeling you get when you see an unflattering photo of yourself.  The ones where your upper arm looks as big as your head, or you went from looking normal to 8 months pregnant literally in a flash.  As the fiance and I gear up for engagement photos next month, this topic has become very important to me.  Seriously. 

This post is a collaboration with my former coworker and a great photographer - Zoe Dennis of Zoe D Photography in Plano (Dallas area).  She's offered some great tips on what looks best in a photo, and I'm supplementing them with outfit options.  We'll also cover what to avoid, and how to dress the men and kids who will star alongside you in the pictures.  This is a long post, but we hope it will be helpful the next time you're planning a photo shoot.

Things to consider

The most important part of a photo-friendly outfit is silhouette.  Although a good photographer won't make you look 10 pounds heavier, the right outfit certainly helps.  If you have a large bust, it is important for your top or dress to fit close to the body underneath so that you don't look larger than you really are.  Drapey tops that look great in person can make you look like you're shaped like a pumpkin.  Not flattering.  On the other hand, you also need to make sure that nothing is too tight and there are no muffin tops or bra bulges that would be noticeable in a high quality photo.  The photo below (taken by Zoe) is an example of how great a defined waist can look and how accessories make the outfit unique.

Silhouettes I plan to try are wide leg pants with a fitted top (to emphasize a small waist), full skirts (to hide thighs completely) and v-neck tops (to draw attention to your face and make you look leaner).  The dress below would really pop in a photo, as well as create a nice shape thanks to the seaming under the bust and the flared skirt.

What Colors look best on you?
In general, jewel tones are a safe bet and make for a vivid image.  No mater what color your skin tone, there's probably a saturated color that makes you look great.  (Be sure to add a little more makeup than usual to make sure your features don't get lost, though)  Pastels tend to wash people out and black or white tops make it hard to tell where your arm ends and your waist begins.  You should also avoid small stripes or graphic patterns since they can appear distorted in photos.  The options below are all from The Limited and cost under $30 (and look very similar when lined up together...)

What do you want your look to be?
Generally, you want to look like the best version of yourself in a professional photo, which means you should still be recognizable!  A good guideline is to pick two outfits: One you'd wear to dinner with friends at a nice-ish restaurant (think dark jeans and a slighty trendy top), and another dressier one that you'd wear to a party (a dress and cute heels).

However, you don't want to try too hard to be trendy and appear dated when everyone sees the photo on your mother's end table four years from now.  Accessories like scarves and statement jewelry are a great way to look current and add interest to the outfit without making the picture scream 'I was taken in 2010 at the height of the nautical trend'   I think the options below from Ann Taylor LOFT are interesting and would look great with a solid top or dress.

For the men in your photos
If you're having portraits taken with your husband/fiance/man in your life the two of you should wear complimentary colors, but not try to match.   If you're wearing a cool color like green or blue, then he could wear a lighter shade or something in the same color family like gray.  In general, men can wear dark jeans and a button down shirt or polo and fit in with whatever outfit his better half is wearing.  I think the couple below (also photographed by Zoe) look like they belong together, but not like they are wearing their best outfit and trying not to mess it up.

The overall goal is that the two of you should look like you're going to the same place.  However, as tempting as it may be to go pick out a new outfit and his dress shoes, you want your man to look like himself in the photo as well.  That means if he wears Converse 99% of the time (as my future husband does), just go with it. 

If you have kids...
The days of posed photos of kids in their best clothes, awkwardly smiling in front of black background, are over.  Now, the best photos (in my opinion) feature kids being themselves.  Don't pick an outfit that makes your child's face the least noticeable thing in the photo.  Crazy prints and shapeless dresses or sweaters will not photograph well, even on a small body.  The solid color and pattern guidelines also apply to kids clothing, and if it's a family photo, their outfit should be in the same color family as Mom and Dad's.  If your photo session allows, bring a casual and a nicer outfit for some variety as well as some props like favorite toys, capes, skateboards, hats or anything else that is part of your kid's life.  One of my favorite photos is of a little boy wearing khaki shorts, no shirt, rubber boots, and a Superman cape - as he does every day.  I also like how the siblings below are wearing the same style of outfit, but are not necessarily dressed up.

I hope this was helpful for those of you planning to be photographed in the near future.  If I've left anything out, please comment and let me know!


  1. Love it, Haley! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this! I'm sharing with all my Zoe D. Photography fans on Facebook too. :-)

  2. I'm really impressed with your writing, Haley. I'm glad you guys were able to team up!

  3. Perfect Timing! Kyle and I are taking our engagement pictures next weekend and I am shopping today!!! Thanks Haley!



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