You just booked your photo session for a special season in your life. Maybe you’re engaged to your high school sweetheart, maybe you’re pregnant for the first time, or maybe you just started a business and you want the world to know.
Whatever the occasion, you want the photographs to be the best representation of you and this meaningful occasion.
As a photographer, it’s my job to help my clients translate their vision into styling that will do just that. You may not be my client, but I’m here to walk you through the process that will result in images you’ll cherish forever!
Before we even begin talking about outfits, colors, and accessories, let’s do a little brainstorming, shall we? Think about what you want your images to say. Do you want professional, yet welcoming branding images? Romantic, ethereal engagement images? Fun and timeless family portraits? This thought process is crucial to getting the look you want out of your photographs.
Take the words from your brainstorm straight to Pinterest! For example, search for “fun timeless family portraits” or “romantic summer engagement photos.” Scroll through the results, and start pinning the looks you like to a new inspiration board. You’ll have lots of ideas for outfits, colors, and accessories in no time at all.
Not a “pinner”? No problem. Scour your favorite magazines or print out photos you see on the internet that you resonate with. There is no limit to where we can find inspiration!
General styling tips
Okay, now it’s time to start choosing your outfits. Before we get into colors, let’s touch on some basic styling tips for the overall looks you should go for.
Dress it up!
Whatever the reason for your photo shoot, it’s a special moment! As far as I am concerned, there’s no such thing as “too dressed up” for photos. There’s a reason all of the celebrities show up on the red carpet donning the most figure-flattering gowns and suits. Most of us know of one or two dresses that set our figure off in the best light—I highly recommend wearing one! Dresses tend to complement all of our best features and photograph beautifully. Dressing up also goes for the guys—a tailored suit or shirt will always look better than a pair of cargo shorts (please don’t let him wear those).
Layered looks, especially for men, add class and interest to an outfit. Adding a blazer, a tie (for him) or necklace (for you), or a sweater has a way of pulling an outfit together and making a look more polished.
Flattering all of your features
Most of us probably have an area or two that we are self-conscious about. Without stressing and without negative self-talk, be honest with where those places are, and choose pieces that will complement those areas well. If you’re worried about how your arms will photograph, a three-quarter length sleeve is a great elongating option. Don’t want to accentuate your midsection? Choose a structured top that accentuates the waist and maybe a statement necklace to bring the attention to your face. There are tons of ways to complement your natural beauty in ways that honor all of the parts of your body.
I am not at all a heel kind of girl, but there’s no denying, they elongate our legs! I wore heels in my engagement photos and brought flats to change into for walking in between locations. I love how tall and classy they made me look!
If a regular heel is out of the question, go with a low wedge, a strappy sandal, or pointed flat. All of these will still add that length we’re going for while looking put together.
Styling by occasion
I always recommend choosing two outfits for engagement shoots—one formal and one casual. This will give you an opportunity to show your personalities and relationship in a couple of different ways. For the formal look, I often recommend a maxi or midi dress for the girl and a jacket for the guy. With the casual look, I like to tell my clients to go for something they would wear to a nice restaurant. A shorter dress or skirt and blouse for the girl, and nice slacks, a button up, and maybe a sweater for the guy (depending on the weather).
Keep it professional! A tailored suit, a classic blouse, heels or polished flats are all great options to showcase you and your work. You can always choose a couple of outfits for these sessions, too: one a welcoming business casual and one with a little more of a professional feel.
For family sessions, I recommend choosing looks that you would consider your “Sunday best.” Dresses for the girls, slacks or nice khakis and collared shirts for the boys will always photograph beautifully and have your family looking their best.
When it comes to colors that photograph well, I always recommend light, muted tones. Not only does the camera love them, but they keep the spotlight on you—not your clothing. Try to avoid very bright or bold colors as they draw the attention away from you and can even cast unflattering colors onto your skin. My favorite colors to photograph are light pink and blue in conjunction with lighter neutrals like heather gray, cream, cognac brown, and white. Plus, these softer colors will photograph beautifully in any location—outdoor or indoor.
If you find a piece that you like that has a pattern, make sure it’s a larger pattern. Try to avoid very small florals, stripes, or polka dots, as they tend to cause distortions in the final image. Plaid and pinstripes, too, tend to be a bit of a distraction from the subject—you!
Coordinate, don’t “match”
When planning a session with multiple people, and thus multiple outfits, I usually recommend starting out by choosing two dominant colors and then mixing those in with alternating neutrals. For example, in your engagement photos, if you choose a light pink dress, have your fiancé choose another dominant color, maybe a navy blue jacket, and then he could wear a white button-up and light pink pocket square to tie in with your look. The options are endless, but focusing on coordinating colors rather than matching ones will make your images look polished and cohesive.
Accessories and props
This is where you can take your images from good to amazing. These accessories and props will make your images instantly look more editorial and interesting. They also give you something to play with during the session, making it a little more fun! Try one of these out or think up your own:
- A bouquet
- A hat
- A basket of flowers
- A blanket
- Your pet!
- A computer or your products for branding images
- A cup of coffee
- A flower crown
- A statement necklace
- A bicycle
- A picnic setup
Hair and makeup
I always recommend my clients get their hair and makeup professionally done. Professional hair and makeup photograph so well, plus it removes the stress of getting ready on your own. Hair and makeup artists know what will translate well on camera. Even if you’re not much of a makeup girl, like me, you’ll be so glad you went professional. When I got married, I loved how I looked in my photos. My makeup artist kept my look very natural, all while enhancing my features. She brought life and pop to my eyes, cheeks, and skin tone in ways I know I would never have been able to.
If professional hair and makeup isn’t an option, there are a few tips I can recommend that ensure a look that photographs beautifully.
- Apply your makeup in natural light if your photos will be taken in natural light. This will ensure you are seeing in the mirror how it will translate in photos.
- This should go without saying, but use a foundation that matches your skin tone. In addition, always be sure to blend it down your neck. There’s nothing worse than having your face be a different color than the rest of you.
- When it comes to color, use softer tones and blend, blend, blend. A super dark eye shadow or very prominent blush may take away from your natural beauty if not done right. So I always advise caution when it comes to color on the cheeks and face.
- Choose a long-lasting lip color.
- Set everything with powder to keep things in place and absorb any extra oils.
Oh, and a few more things
Skip the spray tan! Trust me, your natural skin tone photographs beautifully. It can be difficult for us photographers to color-correct your images when your skin looks a little more orange than normal.
Finally, make sure you steam or iron the clothing you’re going to wear! There’s nothing worse than a massive wrinkle across that brand-new dress or shirt. It can be a hassle, but truly makes a difference in the final images.
So, there you have it—the styling advice I give to all of my clients when planning their photo shoot. Follow these tips for photos you’ll love!