but what the heck should i wear? {a guide to choosing the perfect outfit for your photo session}

Casey Brodley for  Oh Joy

Casey Brodley for Oh Joy

If you are anything like me, whenever the time comes to socialize or go to an event, you stand in front of your closet thinking,

"How does one own so many clothes, yet have nothing to wear?"

For me, it's a matter of an outfit feeling "fresh." Sure, I have favorite outfits but I really like the reveal of a NEW look, ya dig? Luckily, since I work from home, I don't have that feeling very often anymore. But I understand it well, and I get the question a lot from clients. I'm here to help.

Now, I'm not writing this to stop you from buying that new outfit (you look CUTE, boo). I'm just here to give a list of things you should consider when choosing your outfit for your photo session.

1. Comfort = Confidence


I wore a really gorgeous gold dress to a holiday party a couple years ago. The material was silky and stretchy but it showed off just a *little* too much curve for my liking, so I wore a pair of Spanx. As the night went on, the spandex slowly curled from my upper thigh to my crotch, forming a rubber band of sorts and cutting off circulation. No matter how many times I went to the bathroom to fix the issue, it kept happening.

By the end of the night it was either a choice of going commando or putting up with the restrictive material.

My point is, everyone wants to look great. But you also want great photos. I'm not saying you shouldn't wear Spanx, or heels, or a bikini, or a suit on a 100 degree day... but...

When choosing what to wear, think about what doesn't look great if you don't feel great: your face.

I realize that some of you reading this may be like Carrie Bradshaw and are able to walk the whole perimeter of Manhattan in heels no problem and then keep going onto Brooklyn because fashion. If this is you: wear them heels, yo. If this is not you, read on.

I usually don't suggest trying out a new look for the first time. For example, I like wearing high waisted jeans, because they make me feel like I have 6-pack abs and there is no risk of anything popping out when I move around. However, if at my photo session I decided to rock my low rise flares from high school, I might risk showing off too much whale tail (man, I'm aging myself here) because I'm used to moving around in high-waisted pants where I don't have to worry about that. Cut to me constantly pulling my drawers up for 2 hours.

It's not cute.

Listen, I'm not saying DON'T wear something you feel fabulous in. The number one important thing is to feel confident. I'm just saying, prepare for comfort. Make yourself a comfort tote that you can bring along: Bring a pair of flats to walk in between locations/shots. Bring a blanket if you have an outdoor session in the cold, or to sit on bare ground. Bring an umbrella in case it rains. Bring a scarf or a sweater for a quick second look. Throw in some chapstick and a water bottle. Bring sunscreen. 

2. Minimize distraction

Not this kind of distraction.

Not this kind of distraction.

When I talk about distraction I'm talking about clothing choices that take away attention from the star of the show: Your face. A portrait, in its essence, is meant to emphasize your face. When I take your picture I don't want anything to distract from what I want everyone to see first: your emotions, your expression, your smile.

So how do you avoid this?

  • Avoid patterns that moire (this includes small, repetitive details like thin stripes, tiny dots, etc)
  • Avoid big logos (unless it's related to what you want to say in the photos e.g. a wedding date or cute saying)
  • Avoid very low cut shirts
  • Avoid clashing colors

3. Movement

These two also took tip #5: they wore the same outfits that they wore on their first date.

These two also took tip #5: they wore the same outfits that they wore on their first date.

I'm going to make you move around, so make sure you choose clothes that you can easily move in! Flowy outfits can make really dramatic shots, but ultimately I want you to be comfortable enough to twirl, dance, walk, run, jump, squat, hug, piggy back, swing, fly... ok, maybe not fly. But you get it.

Make sure you can move around in your outfit, or you might be all:


Or, just own it like Regina George.

4. Color

When an outfit and a location coordinate, magic happens.

When an outfit and a location coordinate, magic happens.

I recommend to always choose color over black or white. When you wear only black, a lot of depth is lost and you end up looking like a vacant hole of black abyss. Pure white and you can risk seeing through it. I also just like color, thank you very much. Color brings personality to any photo. 

Or, maybe you're like me and just own a lot of things without color (my closet is full of gray and black so I can slip into the shadows like a phantom when I work). I recommend keeping your style, but maybe adding in an accent piece like a statement necklace or a bold scarf. Check out color palettes on Pinterest for inspiration on how to coordinate with anyone else in the photo, to avoid clashing patterns and colors.

Don't forget to think of the whole picture, so it helps to choose locations that compliment your outfit choices.

5. Significance

These ladies nailed their outfits.

These ladies nailed their outfits.

This is a kind of obscure suggestion but it can add a lot of, well, meaning, to your photos. The couple in the black and white photo above wore the same outfits they wore on their first date. They also did similar things they do on dates, like eat ice cream and walk along the beach.

Significance of an outfit will mean something different to everyone. Maybe you wore the same shoes when you got a promotion, and they just make you feel like a badass. Or maybe your fiance has a favorite shirt and you decide to wear it in a boudoir photo. Or maybe your newborn just seems comfortable in only a diaper, and you want to remember this moment in his life when it's socially acceptable to wear that in public.

Once you think you have your outfit, take it for a test drive before your photo session. Wear it out to dinner one night, or while doing laundry. Is it still in one piece afterwards? Do you still feel awesome? Do you wish you bought five more of the same outfit so you could wear it as a uniform in real life?

If the answer is yes, you have your winning ensemble. If the answer is no, go through the above tips and figure out what didn't work for that outfit, and what you can add or subtract to make it perfect.

I hope this helps!