September 12th 2015

I often get asked by clients "what should I wear for my portrait photography session?"  The advice that I give them is 'be comfortable', and 'be yourself.'

3 Tips for your Portrait Photography Session - Wellington Portrait Photograher

This advice is based on my belief that the best photos are captured when people are relaxed.  I have found this to be true for both portrait photography, and also wedding photography.  

'Be comfortable' and 'be yourself' also has implications for other ways you can be prepared for your portrait photography session - I'll talk about that later.  But first up, what to wear for your portrait photography shoot.


I do wonder whether some photographers overemphasise nice clothes and stunning hair in portrait photography.  I believe it's the genuine smiles and natural relaxed poses which flow much more easily when people are comfortable, and at ease, that contribute to a good portrait photo.

When we look at a photo, we pick up on the subtle cues of how relaxed and comfortable the person is, particularly if we know the person in the photo.  I wonder if that's why so many people warm to the candid approach to photography, because it captures a 'genuineness' and 'relaxed-ness'.  And it's that 'relaxed-ness' that we pick up on, even if we are aware of it only subconsciously.

So my first point is wear clothes that you are comfortable in, clothes that make you relaxed.    

That being said, there are some technical tips around 'what you should wear' that can be helpful to know:

  • Its often good to wear something that will contrast with the background that you are being photographed against  (see the image below).  For example, if you are going to be photographed on a white background, don't wear white! (unless that's the effect that you are after)
  • Try not to clash with others you are being photographed with.  I would suggest you stay within the same colour pallet - blues and greens, or reds and browns (see the image below).  I wouldn't recommend everyone wears exactly the same as that can look cheesy and twee.  
  • Be careful with patterns - it can produce trippy moiré patterns.  Moiré patterns are caused when the parallel lines in striped fabric are overlayed with a second set of parallel lines.  

What to wear at a portrait photography session - Portrait Photography Wellington

The Pilkinton brothers showing how it's done - looking relaxed and wearing similar colours that contrast with the background


It's not only good to think about what to wear to a portrait shoot, it's also helpful to think about what to bring.  I think this is particularly true for family portraits or children's portraits.  But can also be true for older kids.  Bring along a favourite toy or instrument, a favourite hat or even a significant book.  It's yet another way to make people relax and be themselves so that the smiles flow and the true personality of the subject breaks through and is captured in the photo.  This is especially in a photography studio that can be strange and austere.

Bring a toy to your portrait photography session - Wellington Portrait Photographer

Blue showing the Lego Mixel that he designed.

But I think the same is true for adults as well.  Taking along your favourite chair to the portrait shoot, or your favourite coffee mug, for example, may help you relax into portrait session.  


When is the best time to have a portrait photography shoot?  You guessed it - whenever you will be the most comfortable and relaxed.  As adults we can manage this better, however, for kids the time of day can have huge implications on being comfortable and relaxed.  It's also worth pointing out that if the kids are stressed out, the adults will be too and you can kiss those genuine happy smiles goodbye!

When doing family portrait photography with young kids, I suggest that the family comes as soon as possible after the littlies have woken up.  This means the kids are more likely be to be able to stay bright and happy.  

Making sure kids aren't hungry also helps.  When photographing babies I will often suggest to the mum we have a break while she feeds the baby.  But the same is true for people of all ages - we don't perform as well on an empty tummy.  

Wellington Baby Portrait Photographer

Happy baby (not hungry, not tired) = relaxed parents! 


I hope this has been helpful.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below.  I would love to hear from you!


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Tags:   Being comfortable and relaxed make all the difference to a successful portrait photography session.