What to wear for a formal portrait.

Formal Portrait

Portraiture has challenged artists from the times of the pharaohs and beyond.  During the renaissance, portraiture was rediscovered and refined by masters such as Rembrandt and DaVinci.  Master oil painters spent days, sometimes months, capturing the life and likeness of their subjects.  In photographic portraiture, the camera only records the light reflected from the subject.  It does not capture the life or dimensional likeness of the subject.  It only records a still, lifeless, two dimensional representation of a living, three dimensional person.  It is up to the photographic artist to breathe life back into the image, and recreate the likeness that is the true essence and personality of the subject.  What a person wears to the photo session is an important element in the final product.  Here are some tried and true guidelines for your formal portrait that will help your photographer create the best image possible:

  • Your face, especially your eyes and mouth, are the most important elements in your portrait.  Therefore, bring clothes that bring more attention to your face.  Wear dark, or subdued solid colors that compliment the color of your eyes.  Cool colors (greens and blues) help make your flesh tones appear warmer, thus livelier.  Wear sleeves.  Avoid exaggerated V-neck or exaggerated turtlenecks.
  • Wear a long dress or dark hose for full length shots.  Be sure your shoes are clean and shined.
  • Avoid trendy clothing for your formal portraits.  If you have a favorite look, let’s save it for the casual portraits.
  • Bring several sets of clothes.
  • In a group, everyone should wear (more or less) the same colors.  In a portrait, the viewer’s eyes are directed toward the areas of most contrast (including color contrast).  So, if everyone is wearing similar colors, the viewer will be directed toward the people and not the clothes.  Color also ties the individuals together as a group, and maintains color harmony within the portrait.
  • Wear a little more makeup than you are used to.  The camera flattens you into a still, two dimensional image.  This makes you appear heavier and less alive.  A little more makeup (especially when applied by an experienced portrait makeup artist) is essential for a great portrait.  Use powders and avoid a glossy look on the skin.  Use an eyeliner and a little bit bolder lipstick, but not so bold as to overpower your eyes.  Be sure your nails are freshly manicured.
  • Wear your hair as you normally would for a formal dinner with friends.  A natural look is best.  Avoid too much hairspray or gel.  Men should get a haircut about one week before your sitting.
  • Wear smaller, simpler jewelry.

Most importantly, relax and bring your sense of humor.  I will never tell you to smile, but I will expect a genuine laugh or smile at all my stupid photographer jokes–regardless of how bad they are!