The clothes someone wears affect how they look, how they feel, and how others perceive them. This is especially important when it comes to portrait photography – you’re creating an image and the choice of clothes is a big part of that. As a photographer, you need to carefully consider what your subjects are wearing. They may be wearing their own clothes, but you, and more importantly the lens, will be able to see them objectively. Always ask the subject to bring along a few different outfits – you will appreciate having options later on. Here are things to bear in mind for portrait shoots:
Clothes can be key
In everyday life, first impressions count. It may sound shallow but how a person dresses tells you a lot about who they really are. In a portrait, this is even more important as it’s a snapshot, a single moment captured in time that represents somebody’s identity. Whether it’s professional work with a model, or a commissioned portrait, you need to bear in mind what the image will be used for. Is the image for advertising purposes? If so, what does the client want from the picture? If it’s a personal portrait, ask the subject how they want to come across. Do they want to look formal, respectable? Do they want to look fun? Do they want to appear as their everyday selves, relaxed, casual, friendly, or do they want a stunning, edgy portrait that will blow people away? One more important question: Who’s going to see it? Is it their friends, their family, business clients or a prospective marriage partner? These are questions you need to be asking. Whatever look you’re going for, the clothes need to match. Be creative.
It’s all about comfort
If you can get your subject to relax, you will get a much more natural portrait. When shooting someone, you don’t know that this can sometimes be tricky, but if they’re comfortable with what they’re wearing, it helps. People perceive themselves in a certain way and are used to dressing and standing in a certain way. To get a shot that truly reflects someone’s personality, you need to make sure what they are wearing matches up with their own self-image.
The flip side of it is that people may be too used to dressing in a certain way. And how they look on camera may not be the same as how they think they look in their head. Or they may just be set in their ways, and not making the most of their potential. As an outsider, you can see possibilities they may never have considered. With the right outfit, you can bring something out in someone that they may not have known themselves. Sometimes, by taking your subject out of their comfort zone, you can get a fresher image. So it comes back to context again. Try both approaches, work with your subject. Let them be comfortable. But don’t be afraid to choose something you think suits them better, and see what they think of the result.
Collared shirts or T-shirts?
The difference between a collared or collarless shirt or T shirt is not just that it makes somebody more or less formal. Collars can frame a person’s face in a way that T shirts don’t, and make them look totally different.
When photographing men, a collar can be very flattering, though t’s not always the right way to go. But you should always consider it, to get the most you can out of the image. In certain situations, a collared shirt can also work well on a woman. Although it’s a completely different look from a more feminine outfit. As a general rule for both sexes, collars look powerful; T shirts are softer and more relaxed.
Plain, dark clothes can bring out someone’s features
People want to look their best, and your subject may want to be photographed in their best, most colorful and patterned clothes. Some people understandably want to project an image of success and opulence in their portraits. However, this can look terrible on film, confusing the image and distracting the viewer’s attention from the person wearing them. When asking the subject to bring a choice of outfits, remind them to bring a dark or plain option. A simple top or a tee, especially black, or even a veil, does not distract the eye, and so the focus is drawn to the subject’s face.
Find your style
When building up a portfolio, you need to show you can be flexible and do a variety of work. And it’s also important to find a style of your own. This will attract customers to you on an individual basis, because you are offering something that others don’t, and could also see you getting work for marketing or fashion shots. It’s up to you, really. It could be soft, natural shots that bring out people’s personalities, or edgy, powerful portraits with contrasting shadows and colors. Whatever your style, the clothes you choose to photograph people in are a big part of it. You need to choose carefully for every single portrait, to give the customer the best shot possible. Would you rather they look themselves – or look incredible? You will get more satisfaction from your work if both you and the subject are happy with the portrait. So do what you think is right.
~Text: Zahid H Javali
~Photos reproduced with Creative Commons license from Trey Ratcliff