What to Wear for Senior Photos (or Any Other Photos, for That Matter!)

If there’s any question photographers get from every client come senior photo season, it’s, “What should I wear for my pictures?”

And for good reason! For many young adults, senior photos are the first pictures they’ve ever had taken professionally on their own terms. Which would be fine and all—if the final images were just going to hang sit on the ledge over the fireplace in Grandma’s house. But these photos are going to be published in the yearbook! They’re going to go home with possibly hundreds or thousands of other students, and then be looked upon many years into the future.

It can be a lot of pressure.

After taking senior pictures for students at Dover High School, Oyster River, Spaulding, Marshwood, and many other high schools in the southern-New-Hampshire-and-Maine area, I’ve come to few conclusions about senior photo attire. Here is the list of tips I offer students when we’re down to the wire and the clothing issue comes up.

Number One: Consider your location.

Most of the photos I take these days are outside. The out-of-doors poses many obstacles when you’re planning to have your picture taken. The short list includes: wind, water, sand, dirt, tree roots, loose rocks, humidity, blinding sunshine, thorns, poison ivy, and bugs. Not that any of these should deter you from taking photos outside!

Basically, think about what you’re okay getting dirty—because you might get mud on your shoes or your photographer might ask you to sit on a fallen tree or even on the ground. Think about what’s going to be comfortable—because in the fall, the temperature can be very unpredictable, and you may need to peel a layer off or add one on. And if you’re a girl, think about wearing spandex shorts under that dress—because you never know when the wind is going to kick up!

wear something comfortable for senior pictures
what should I wear for senior photos

Number Two: Wear what you’re comfortable in.

The obvious thing that occurs to most seniors when having photos taken is to wear something nice. The images might end up being framed around the house or stuck to Uncle Mike’s fridge; they might be used for your graduation invites or unexpectedly thrown into a slideshow at some senior banquet or other function. So you want to look presentable.

At the same time, though, make sure you look like you. It’s going to be much harder to relax for the camera if you’re wondering if you’re sitting right for these pants, or whether you tied the scarf in a way that doesn’t look like you’re trying too hard. Most importantly, you really don’t want your clothing to draw more attention in the photo than you do. Casual clothing is perfect if it means the person wearing it gets to shine.

Number Three: Take your yearbook into account.

If your yearbook is black and white only, steer clear of wearing really dark colors, especially if you’re using something like pine trees for the background, or any other shadowy backdrop. On the other hand, if your yearbook is in color, it may be wise to avoid really bright colors that may not translate well when printed (like neon pink or lime green). Patterns can be okay as long as, again, they don’t distract from your smiling face!

Number Four: Avoid props.

For the same reasons that you want to wear something you’re comfortable in, you want to avoid using props.

Occasionally I’ll have a client who wants to bring a flag or an instrument or a baton or a pet along for their photo. I can see the argument for each of these. Props can add a little bit of a story or dimension to an image. They can give you something to do with your hands or make you feel a little more like yourself.

In the end, though, props tend to make for distraction, and can be used as a crutch. Even having your dog in your senior photos can take away from people really seeing you. Props can also be very difficult for your photographer to work into your images organically. If you feel very convicted to bring something along, consider letting the photographer take a few without the prop(s), too, once you’ve warmed up to each other. You might be surprised how much you like having options.

Number Five: Know which outfit is your Plan A.

This is my last tip.

You might be totally comfortable changing clothes in the back seat of your car or behind a strategically-placed tree, but that also might not be an option. Plenty of locations have somewhere that you can change—but probably more than half really don’t. So if you want to wear more than one outfit for your photos, choose your location wisely. Otherwise, know which outfit is your home run outfit, and start out in that one, in case it turns out that you won’t get the chance to swtich.

All right! That about covers my tips for what to wear for senior photos. If you’re still looking for just the right location, see my parallel post, Choosing the Best Locations for Senior Photos, and if you’re looking for a photographer, be sure to read How to Find the Right Photographer for Your Senior Portraits. Ball is in your court! Go forth and take great photos.

Alexis Paquette

Hi! My name is Alexis. I’m a web designer and photographer for creative professionals. While I’m based in New England, I travel and I accept work from all over the world from both small and international brands!