Preparing for Your Portrait

At Len Grinke Photography, our goal is to capture a portrait in an artistic and flattering way. However, this cannot be accomplished without your help. The selection of proper clothing for your portrait is a critical factor in the preparation for a successful portrait.  Clothing that enhances the portrait by directing attention towards the face of the subject.  It could be the difference between a very successful portrait and just another picture.

When you are finished selecting your wardrobe, spread all the clothing out; shoes, socks, stockings (darker hose please) — everything should be included!  Then, take a careful look at the selection.  If your eyes are drawn to any one item in particular, you can be certain that the same thing will happen in a photograph and that item should be changed.  It can be very helpful to bring a couple of options so that if something is just not working, then it can be changed.

Please make sure to do all your preparations at least one day before the portrait. Trying to pick out clothing, makeup, hair style, can become very stressful, particularly when you combine it with a fast approaching time deadline.

The first thing to consider is location of the portrait when considering clothing style. Environmental portraits, such as in a park or at the beach, will lend themselves better to casual style clothing. Having the men all dressed in suits would just not work. If you are thinking of a more formal style portrait, then consider having your session taken around some architecture.

Studio portraits have a little more flexibility in terms of being casual or formal. I tend to take a more of a minimalist approach to studio portraits by not having a lot of distractive elements in the portrait. This allows  me to focusing more on the subject, controlling mood and style with lighting rather than setting.

Long sleeved clothing is a must!  For casual portraits, it is equally important to wear long pants instead of shorts.  When arms and legs are exposed to the camera, they will become focal points taking attention away from the faces, reducing the effectiveness of the portrait. Clothing should fit properly, nicely pressed and be of timeless style. Fad-type clothing can quickly date a portrait so I recommend avoiding it in favour of something a little more conservative.

A portrait, whether it’s an individual or a group, is about making the faces the main centre of interest. This is done by making them stand out the most – making them the highest point of contrast. This means that the portrait must have an overall tone. The tonality of the subjects clothing and the surroundings in which they are placed need to coordinated. We can even take this one step further and consider the tonality of the room where the portrait is going to hang. Once the location of the portrait is decided, it is a little easier to decide on the tonalities for the clothing. Warm toned backgrounds (browns, etc.) will suggest warm toned clothing while cool-toned backgrounds (blues/grays/blacks, etc.) will suggest cool toned clothes. Darker backgrounds are usually a better choice over light backgrounds. It allows the subject to wear darker clothing, helping to blend the bodies with the background, so that the faces are the most important part of the photograph.  Dark colours also have a tendency to slenderize the subject. Light colours have the opposite tendency and will seem to add weight to the bodies.

For formal portraits, the colour of the clothing should be toned down.  Clothing below the waistline should be darker than above.  Otherwise, even light jeans worn below a darker top could easily attract attention to the lower part of the body and away from the face.  Wearing lightly coloured shirts and/or blouses under a dark jacket work well, while bright colours will draw attention away from the face.  Wear darker colours in favour of brighter colours. Try to avoid prints and any kind of pattern, no matter how small, because they will become a distraction.  Neckties should definitely be toned down in colour with minimal pattern. Horizontal stripes should be avoided. For beach portraits, most of the time, it is a good idea to dress in light coloured clothing so that the bodies will blend with the light-coloured sand.  White or pastel clothing work great.  Light coloured shirts and jeans work well, too.  Light coloured shirts with beige pants are even better.  Dressing in all light tones can be very effective in this type of environment. Remember to dress everyone in the portrait similarly.  You have to blend the bodies of everyone together so that the faces stand out.  This is imperative, particularly in a group portrait.

A wide-open neckline tends to thicken the neck in a photograph.  On the other hand, a neckline that comes up to the base of the neck, like a turtleneck or a v-neck top, will thin the neckline and frame the face beautifully.  With a collarless blouse or sweater, a scarf loosely tied around the neck also helps to frame the face beautifully.

Hairstyles should be the way you normally would wear it.  Minor adjustments to stop hair from creating distracting shadows on the face can be taken care of on location.  Makeup should also be applied normally. If you would like a professional makeup artist to do your make up, one can be arranged at an additional cost.

Eyeglasses can be worn, with a few precautions.  Non-reflective lenses will help reduce reflections.  Photosensitive glasses that change colour in sunlight should be avoided. They prevent the eyes from showing in the portrait, hiding much of the character of the person. Better yet, sometimes it is possible to obtain a matching set of frames without any lenses.  This is particularly helpful, if your lenses distort the outline of your face.

  • Simplicity is best
  • Fitted clothing tends to work better than loose clothing
  • Solid colours are best. Avoid large or bold patterns and bright colours. They draw attention away from the face.
  • Long sleeve dresses and shirts are recommended They draw attention away from the arms and focus on the face. (short sleeves are acceptable for infants and small children.)
  • Coordinate your attire from head to toe. Since some of the images may show you in full length, it is wise to select appropriate shoes and socks as well.
  • Darker clothing tends to minimize body size, and light tones tend to emphasize body size.
  • Necklines are important. A vee or scoop neck is best if your neck is short and your face is full. A higher necked garment is more flattering if your neck is longer and your face is slender.
  • Dress everyone in a similar style of clothing. For example, do not mix casual and formal attire.
  • Keep the tonal range of the clothing within the group the same. Do not mix light and dark values. Save patterns for accents like scarves and neckties.
  • White or light pastel clothing, shoes, socks, pants or dresses look best against a light background. Save stronger colours and patterns for accents.
  • To assure a successful portrait, it is best to bring along some additional clothing choices.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink a good amount of water for at least three days pror to the session. This will help to keep your skin looking its best.

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