Preparing For Your Portraits

Plan Ahead

Your photographer should offer to have a meeting with you to discuss and plan your portrait with you. During that meeting/ consultation, you and your photographer will get to know each other a little better, and he’ll get your ideas about what you want for your portrait. You should talk about color schemes, discuss hair and makeup options as well as the overall look and feel you want in your portraits. A thorough consultation will also help you start planning how to incorporate your portraits in with the other furnishings in your interior decoration scheme.

A Helpful Consideration

At the elite level of sports competition as well as in business, a method called visualization is used with excellent results. It can have a measurable effect in the end results of your portrait session as well. Obviously this will require some serious thinking. Consider who you are as a person, a couple, and, or a family. Condense your description down to one or two sentences. Then consider how you could best portray that “essence of who you are” in a portrait. Imagine what the portrait should look like. Imagine your pose, your clothes, your expression…visualize what it will look like, and the feeling of great satisfaction you will have as a result.

Wardrobe, Dressing For A Portrait

They say, “the clothes make the (person)”. The art of portrait photography is to capture not only the best view, or countenance of the subject, but also the personality and mood. It is a person’s eyes and face that tell the story of their personality. (Include body language in ¾ and full-length portraits). So, the goal of wardrobe in a portrait is to flatter the subject, and influence the mood. To that end, the clothes should be relatively subdued. Colors should be muted rather than bright and loud, and solid colors are usually better than prints. Aloha prints with a color print over a color background are better than those with white over a dark color. Those present too much contrast and will distract the viewer from the subject(s).

Keep in mind that the clothes help to set the mood or feeling of the portrait, so it’s best to avoid the ‘latest’, ‘greatest’, “in” styles in favor of more timeless standards. That is, if you want your portrait to have a lasting quality and value, and not be too dated.

Light tones in clothing, bright and cheery though they are, are not necessary for a portrait to have a bright and cheery look. It is also true that dark clothing will not necessarily present a somber mood. Again, it is the eyes and facial expression that dominate and tell the story.

In photographic portraiture, the fact that light colors diminish shadows produces the result that the figure appears slightly fuller. Also, very light or white clothes can tend to wash out your skin tone. The opposite is true with dark toned clothes: they intensify shadows, have a slightly slimming effect, and skin tones appear deeper.

Here are a couple more tips about dressing for your portrait: loose fitting, long sleeves will draw attention away from your arms. If you feel your arms are too big, or you have blotchy skin or band-aids on your arms, wear long, loose fitting sleeves. An open, scoop or V-neck shirt or blouse will add the appearance of length to your neck, where a crew or turtleneck will give the appearance of a shorter neck.

Jewelry And Accessories

Keep it simple is the best advice here. Remember, the part played by accessories and jewelry, the same as with clothing, is simply to flatter the subject, not steal attention from the subject: you. Unless an accessory or piece of jewelry is essential to the look or feel you want in the portrait, or is something you wear all the time, or has special meaning to you, leave it out.

On the other hand, if something is important to you such as your great aunt’s locket, or great granddad’s walking stick, or plays an integral part of your life such as a stethoscope, or a canoe paddle, talk with your photographer about how to include it in some of your portraits.


Men will tend to skip right over this while women will zoom in…MEN: before by-passing this whole topic, look in a mirror at your face. What color is your skin? How’s the complexion? Circles under the eyes? Are your nose and forehead shiny? You want to look your best in your portrait, and it’s perfectly OK for men to blotter the forehead, put a little powder on for portraits. Even a little lightener under the eyes or blush on the cheeks! Even Arnold, and Steven Segal wear makeup when on camera!

Now, Ladies, just do what you do normally in applying your makeup, as if preparing for an evening at a benefit gala: tastefully a little stronger than for daytime. It’s a good idea to bring all your makeup to the session along with some tissues and cold cream. Your photographer may have some suggestions for color changes or additions.


Real basic here: Make sure your hair is clean and styled the way you want it when you get to the session. And bring your brush, comb, spray, gel, whatever you might need to re-do it! If your hair needs to be cut before the session, have it done at least a week prior to having your portraits made. If you are having your hair styled specifically for the session, have it done just before going to the studio.


Whether your portrait style will be literal or interpretive, if you give some thought to posing before going into your session, it’ll be easier to work with your photographer, and you will look more natural and relaxed in your portraits. In the weeks or days preceding your portrait session be particularly aware of people you see in commercials, movies, magazines, TV shows, at the park, at home, at a friends house. Try to see poses of individuals, or groups, which look good, and portray a quality of feeling or emotion as in a good painting. Imagine yourself or your group in the same or similar pose.

When we see ourselves in a photograph, or portrait, we don’t always look the way we think we do, or should. Fact is all faces are asymmetrical to a greater or lesser degree, and we can present different looks from different angles. It’s a good idea to look at your face in a mirror and ‘practice’ looks that you think are flattering to you. Check your smile from different angles. Look at your nose and chin from different angles. What looks best to you? Work on reproducing two or three looks that you like. When you get to your portrait session show your photographer what you like, and ask for help if you think you can use it. Remember, the lighting your photographer uses wont be the same as you have in your bathroom or hallway where your mirror is, so if he knows what you like, he’ll be able to reproduce it for you with his lighting.