Before I got into the web design game, most of my freelance income came from photography. And one question I got from 90% of my subjects was, “What should I wear?”
While there are some ways to answer this question that would apply to anyone’s situation, a few tips apply particularly to personality-based brands. In the 8 tips below, I’ve included 3 of my go-to’s for everyone, as well as 5 tips that apply particularly to brand sessions.
Tip #1: Wear Color.
This tip basically comes down to a scientific fact: Black absorbs light, and color reflects it. When you wear color, you send lightwaves out for others to see and perceive, and since human beings are drawn to light, they’ll be drawn to you. You’re also much more likely to be happier with the way you look in photos if you don’t seem to be cast in shadow in them, which it might seem like you are if you wear black.
Similarly, white, which does reflect light but isn’t really a color, can either come across harshly in photos or wash you out. So if you want to be safe, wear color! Consider jewel tones if you’re unsure what colors work best for you. These are “tertiary colors” and tend to look good on a variety of skin tones. If you don’t care for jewel tones, a midtone blue is often a safe bet!
Tip #2: Wear makeup.
In real life, we’re three-dimensional. We move around, we emit energy. We express ourselves not only with the look on our face but also our body language and laughter and words.
Most of these things are lost in a photograph. All we get is one millisecond, frozen in time, represented in the way our camera detects the light in that moment. The result is always flatter and far less life-like than we think it will be.
In order to inject some of that life back in, you can manipulate where the light will reflect off your face, and what the onlooker should be drawn to look at first, by dabbing some concealer under your eyes; brushing your cheekbones with rouge; biting your lips a little or rubbing them with tinted gloss; and brushing on some mascara. Although in real life it may be more makeup than you’d normally wear, you’ll look in the pictures more they way you perceive yourself in everyday life.
Tip #3: Choose clothes that show your shape.
This is a hard one for many folks, but again, it’s a good tip for anyone having a photo taken.
If we are self-conscious about our shape or body weight, our first instinct is to conceal our bodies, and we usually do this by wearing muted colors and looser clothing.
Both of these instincts fail us in photos, because muted colors look flat (which can also make our bodies look wide), and looser clothing won’t let as much light through the “holes” when we move (meaning the space between our arms and waist as we make gestures, or between our legs as we walk). When light can’t pass through, it just makes the clothing we’re wearing appear as one big block (which, again, makes us look wider).
Thus, if you’re about to have your picture taken, you should turn your instincts in this area on their head, and choose clothing that you don’t feel tremendously self-conscious or uncomfortable in, and which fits you properly. This will allow you to look your best in the final photos.
Tip #4: Know the mood you want to evoke.
Whatever you sell is intended to give your customers some sort of power, control, or calm over their lives. Therefore, you want to think critically about what your customers want to feel, and what you can wear that will subconsciously help them in that direction. For example, if your customers rely on you to make them feel motivated, you might want to wear an invigorating color like orange instead of the soothing blue you like most in your closet.
Additionally, in some cases, you want to be conscientious of the gap between your professional and personal life. If you’re a hipster, local-brewery type person in your personal life, but your ideal clientele is upper-middle-class brides, you’re not likely to make an strong connection with your client when wearing a fat black-and-yellow plaid flannel and purple hair in your brand photos. Perhaps a simple, colored dress or suit is more likely to do the trick.
Tip #5: Dress 15% better than you normally would. No more.
This is only a rule of thumb, but it’s definitely true if you serve a local, in-person audience.
If your workdays primarily consist of working from your laptop in yoga pants, you don’t want your brand photos, which are often the first place future clients see you, to depict you in your trendiest ensemble and accessories. Why? Because if a client or potential client ever accidentally runs into you in a coffee shop, you don’t want them to feel surprised and misled that you’re actually a much more casual personality in real life.
On the flip side, you do want to look clean and professional, since as we mentioned earlier, photos are flat and leave a lot of your creative expression open to interpretation. So wearing your most flattering jeans in lieu of yoga pants, and a cute tee instead of your husband’s sweatshirt, will be more on par with your authentic self, while still looking clean and professional.
Tip #6: Be conscientious of your patterned pieces.
If you’re just having some headshots taken, pairing a bright, floral skirt you absolutely love with a simple top isn’t going to do you much good, as the skirt won’t show up in your photos; you’d need a full-body shot for that. On the flip side, if you wear a patterned scarf around your head and tie it on the top (like Elsie Larson often does), it might be distracting in headshots but super cute if shown in context with the rest of your outfit. So think about your shot list, and what’s going to show and what isn’t.
Also, it’s helpful to know that certain kinds of patterns photograph better than others. Mid-sized, classic patterns with just 2 colors often photograph really well–think very simple plaids, mid-range polka dots, or thick stripes. However, eclectic patterns, like picture prints, embellishments, or patterns with three or more colors are often very busy and will cause your viewers to look away from your face.
Tip #7: Wear jewelry that reflects light.
If you sell all-black or all-wooden jewelry in your business, then this tip isn’t for you. However, in general, this principle makes for a good rule of thumb.
This goes back to same idea behind color science. When you as the subject of an image can reflect light, you can signify approachability and adventure. This makes a good case both for working with you and for following along with whatever journey you’re going on. Also, just think for a moment about group photos and who always looks great in them–I bet you picture friends and family with big, bright smiles, shining hair, maybe even dangling earrings. Light, light, and light. What can you learn from this?
Tip #8: Bring light layers that will allow you to use your images over a variety of seasons.
Many young personality businesses need to make a single brand shoot last a whole year. It can be helpful to choose clothing items, then, that will look as appropriate in autumn email blasts as they did in spring Facebook posts. One secret for this? Light layers!
Adding a jean jacket and a pair of sunglasses to an outfit instantly makes it look more summery (as does shooting at golden hour!). Pulling your hair up into a ponytail, layering with a 3/4-sleeve cardigan, and tucking a flower behind your ear can make a photo look like it was taken in springtime (as can shooting in front of some greenery). Tossing on a scarf and carrying a cup of coffee is going to make your photos look like they were taken in fall. You get the idea.
What layers can you add or peel off of the outfits that fit the previous 7 tips that will make the images more versatile throughout the seasons?
Hello! My name is Alexis.
Coffee lover, day dreamer, foodie, and creative. Currently working and living in New Hampshire, I’m an eclectic mix of forward-looking and completely old-fashioned.