With a million possible outfit combinations and so many details to look at, choosing what to wear in a portrait photoshoot can seem like a daunting task. A paramount one, nevertheless.

Indeed, poorly selected clothing can really ruin what otherwise is a great portrait, so you really need to plan ahead and remove the last minute stress from the equation. After all, you’ve gone through the trouble of getting to this stage, so it’d be just silly to overlook this element and let it slip.

1    Be comfortable

The overarching rule is to wear clothing you are comfortable in. Not too tight, not to loose. You don’t want to be self-conscious about your outfits, so make sure you feel happy and relaxed and can freely move around.

2    Pick a theme/style

Whatever the session theme is (happy family in the beach, vintage romance for a couple in love, bohemian book lovers, band of rockers, fishing buddies, etc.), it will determine not only the most appropriate clothing style but also the additional accessories and props that should be brought along to the session.

A portrait session is about capturing your character and being able to convey it in an image, and therefore you’ll want to select clothes that are true to your personalities and that make sense for the concept and feel you’re going for.

3    Appreciate the background

Background should always be taken into account when choosing clothes for a photo session. In fact, often the wardrobe for the shoot is actually created AFTER the location has been picked.

A garden packed with colourful flowers, a white sand beach, a muddy country road, a leafy green foliage, a wooden balcony, a rusty rail track, a loud graffiti wall…all of these offer quite distinctive background settings and moods for your portrait, and outfits should therefore be picked accordingly.

In any case, contrast is your friend, and you’ll want pops of colour and patterns in your clothes to stand out against the backdrops of your location.

4    Keep your home decor in mind

If you’re thinking about print finish for frames or canvases to hang on the wall, you need to be conscious of your home decor, and ensure that your portrait’s colour scheme blends well with that of the area where you intend to display your pictures.

5    Coordinate colours

If you think that having everybody wearing jeans and a white or black t-shirt is the best option, you need to think again. It’s decades old, it’s boring, and it removes any individual personality. The best strategy here is to select a colour palette and pick clothing items that go together and align to it.

If high-key is the look you’re going for though (predominance of bright and white tones to convey lightness and clarity), for example in the beach, or in the studio against a white background, then having everyone wearing white is justified.

Ultimately, the goal is to accomplish a harmonious colour mix through the cohesive blend of clothes, accessories, props and background. Don’t match, but coordinate, that’s the key.

6    Use layers and textures

Layers and textures look fabulous in photographs. They bring dimension and depth to the image, and enormously help boost its visual appeal.

Scarves, jackets, skirts/dresses over leggings, sweaters, blazers, buttons, denim, tweed, embroidery details, lace, knits, smocking, ribbons, ruffles, etc…not only will they add visual interest but also they’ll help the picture look more complete. Besides, they provide you with a whole new range of options to add a touch of style and variety for original shots and poses.

Layers and textures, as well as pops of colour, are especially relevant when the colour palette is neutral or soft, or black and white is the look you’re going for.

7    Be selective with patterns

Subtle patterns can look good and add a great deal of personality. You should be selective and use them sparingly though; avoid loud patterns with logos, emblems, graphics, characters, labels. They’re distracting and draw interest away from the main subject(s). We want the focus of attention to be on your girl’s beautiful smile, not on Barney !

8    Don’t forget the shoes

Shoes matter ! They can make or break an outfit. Make sure they’re neat, clean, and go with the clothes and the whole scene. In a beach setting, barefoot is usually best.

9    Accessorize

Additional clothing accessories are another way to add that extra flair of style to accomplish a complete image. Headbands, hats, caps, tights, hair bows, purses, necklaces, jewellery, ties, etc…they allow you to fill-in your outfits with punches of colour and depth, as well as bringing more fun to the shoot by giving you multiple options to play with in your poses.

Subtlety and delicacy are key though, so make sure not to crowd the scene with too many or too big accessories that distract attention away from the subject(s).

10    Add props to the scene

A subtle prop can make wonders for the shot; a chair, a musical instrument, a sporting item, a flower bouquet, a vintage briefcase, a book, a toy, etc…these are elements related to your work, hobbies and interests, which ultimately allow your personality to shine through.

Keep it simple and meaningful. Again, the golden rule is to not overwhelm the photo by too much noise and make sure the prop actually makes sense and fits well with the session concept.

Additional tips

Bring an outfit change

There may or may not be time for a full outfit change, but nevertheless you should bring along additional clothing items, layers, accessories and props for alternative looks and styles.

You want to make the most out of your session, so come prepared and give yourself some extra options.

Watch your makeup

If you wear foundation, ensure that the coverage is even and there are no lines around your neck. Some colour touches on your cheeks, eyes and lips will go a long way towards a sparkling look when photographed.

Beware of high resolution pictures magnifying features, so avoid using very heavy makeup. You still want to look human, not plastic-made.

Arrange your hair

You don’t want to be struggling with your hair being blown by be the wind over your face, or trying to contain your hair volume due to the high humidity, so be aware of the weather conditions on the day and pick a style accordingly.

If you feel the need to trim or cut your hair, make sure you allow a few days before the session so it can grow back a bit and look more natural.

Use a stylist

If you want to look a million dollars in your portraits, investing some extra money in a professional stylist can be worthwhile. It will make a noticeable difference in your look and will lift a lot of weight off your shoulders.

If you’ve done this before, you understand the value for money trade-off I’m talking about here. If you haven’t, a portrait photo session may just be the perfect opportunity to innovate and give it a go.

Beware the season

Whether a light dress and sandals (or barefoot) for a sunny day at the beach, or a jacket, scarf and woolen hat for a cold day in Autumn, make sure the outfits make sense for the season you’re shooting in, and that everyone in the shoot is on the same page.

Be timeless

You may want to produce images you can enjoy and stare at for many years to come, so make sure you select clothes that will endure the test of time. Don’t date yourself by going along with the current popular style…it may be just a passing trend, so be assertive and pick outfits looking at the big picture.

Let your photographer advise you

It’s important to involve the photographer in the clothing selection process. Indeed, they would’ve designed the session concept from your vision and the feel you’re going for, so the photographer is the one best placed to advise on a coherent outfit combination with a harmonious colour palette, one which takes into consideration the background setting and ultimately the colour scheme of the display zone.

It’s in this kind of details where the service of a customer oriented photographer differentiates from one only taking snaps with a fancy camera.


  • Pick a theme/concept and style for it
  • Be comfortable
  • Dress for the season, and be timeless
  • Beware the background and display zone
  • Coordinate colours, don’t match
  • Wear layers and textures
  • Avoid loud patterns
  • Accessorize and use props
  • Pay attention to makeup and hair
  • Don’t forget the shoes
  • Seek advice from your photographer
  • Plan ahead. It can’t be stressed enough; prepare your wardrobe in advance and give yourself plenty of time to think about all of the details of your session.