1. Techniques

The Challenge of Clothing Choices for a Family Portrait

Intro by Skip Cohen

While it might seem incredibly basic, there are still so many of you who struggle with giving clients advice on what to wear for a portrait sitting. Well, relax, here’s some great advice from one of the finest family portrait artists in the industry, Michele Celentano.

If you’ve ever attended one of Michele’s workshops, then you know the energy and passion she puts into everything she does. She always walks the talk and today’s post may just help a few of you figure out one of those sidebar challenges in working with “Mom” on a new family portrait.

Remember too, based on an old Kodak study, which I don’t believe has ever changed, women make 98% of the purchase decisions to hire a professional photographer in the portrait/social categories. So, the more fun you make a portrait session for “Mom” the more excited she’s going to be to work with you again and again. And, the more she’s going to refer her friends to you!

By Michele Celentano

One of the things I find that stresses mom out about having portraits created is clothing. Clothing is an essential key element when it comes to family portraits. The game has changed quite a bit in the last few years. For a while, many photographers including myself suggested that everyone wear the same color and no patterns. Solid dark colors were best.

The ideas behind keeping it simple were:

  • The clothing should not compete with the subject’s faces.
  • Patterns can be distracting
  • It’s easier to have everyone in the same color

For traditional portrait photography, trendy clothes and colors could eventually date the portrait and since fashion styles change photographers didn’t want their clients looking back on the portrait in ten years and think to themselves…“What the heck were we thinking with that outfit?”

Simple and classic would always stand the test of time….except when it gets boring.

And…it did start to get boring, especially if you had clients come back year after year. Families would want their yearly portrait to have differences besides the ages of the children. Change of location of course – but a change in clothing and colors started to become necessary.

Now that clients have more choices when it comes to clothing it can be hard to coordinate everyone.  Too many colors or patterns can be really distracting and take the focus away from the subjects.  Some moms are fashion savvy and some moms (like me) are not.

Here are my top 10 tips to help when designing the clothing palette for a family portrait session.

  1. Choose color palettes that work well together.
  2. Suggest a solid color and add patterns and colors that blend with the main color. Gray as a base is wonderful because you can put almost any color with it.  Gray and black – Gray and yellow or pink or green.
  3. Younger children can handle brighter colors and patterns. Parents in coordinating solid colors are fun without being overly distracting.
  4. Don’t go crazy trying to encourage something that doesn’t seem comfortable for your subject. If after talking with Mom, the husband doesn’t like to wear pink – don’t push to get him into a pink shirt.
  5. Accessorize – suggest hats and scarfs for the kids – it will show some personality and let them have fun too.
  6. Suggest neutral tones to jewel tones. Cream/Ivory with burgundy or royal blue can be a great combination.
  7. The number of subjects in the portrait plays a role in how many colors you add. For larger groups, up to 3 colors work best. It can be very distracting if you have too many colors with a lot of people.
  8. The location can also play a part in deciding the color palette of your portrait. The beach lends itself to blues, coral, yellow, cream or pastel colors. Fall foliage may work well with dark green, brown and cream tones.
  9. The room in the client’s home where the finished portrait will be displayed can be the inspiration for the clothing choice. For example, if the room is in earth tones a well-done portrait can pop color into the room.
  10. Have fun and encourage mom to express the family’s personality with style and color.

Keep in mind dressing too trendy can look dated quickly and you want your clients to enjoy their family portraits for many years.

I always let my clients know if they are unsure they can send me pictures or stop by with what they are considering. Some clients buy new clothes – my suggestion is to buy/bring more than they need and we can put the right combination together at the session. Leave the tags on and return to the store what we don’t use.