Portrait Tips

Great portraits don’t just happen. They are the result of preparation on both sides of the camera. Your portraits will reflect the thought and effort you put into them.


Your face should be the focal point of your portraits.  Therefore simplicity is the key with clothing. Solid clothing — items without patterns and stripes — work best. Classic clothing styles will stand the test of time and keep your portraits looking fresh for years to come. 

Stripes and bold patterns make people look bigger and wider.  Dark colors are slimming.  Dark to medium tones like brown, burgundy, blue, and black always photograph well. Solid light colors can also look nice, but they tend to draw attention away from your face.

For family groups, it’s important to coordinate colors in the same tonal range so that no single family member stands out because their clothing is too bright as compared to the rest of the group. Also, coordinating colors has the psychological effect of showing closeness in the family. 

For really contemporary family portraits it works great to have everyone wear the exact same colors, usually all black, all black & white, or all jeans with matching black or white shirts.  This usually includes wearing the same style pants, shirts, and even shoes.  A wonderful variation is to break the rules with the children.  For instance it looks fantastic to dress a baby or young daughter in all white while everyone else is in all black.

Another thing to consider when selecting colors is the location of the final marquee print. If it will hang in a specific room you may try to incorporate the color scheme of that room into your clothing choices.

The style of clothing is also important. Short skirts and shorts make posing more difficult. Long, flowing dresses, jeans, and khakis make better selections.  Unless you are a model, sleeveless shirts are typically unflattering in portraits of women.

Layer clothing. Take a page from the playbook of J. Crew, Abercrombie and the Gap.  Use this simple technique to build visual interest.

Texture and more texture. Play up smooth skin by introducing lots of texture.  A knit scarf, corduroy jacket, or ripped jeans all contrast wonderfully with smooth skin.  For babies a knit cap and solid color knit blanket help their skin look silky smooth.

Shoes & Socks. Because shoes often show in portraits, ensure that your shoes compliment your clothing. However, blue jeans and bare feet also look great. Consider dark socks instead of the eye-catching white ones.

With every rule there are exceptions. It is great to include a few flirtatious shots in an evening gown, halter top, or muscle shirt.  Of course you should also include your team jersey or ethnic outfit, but it is best to think of all of these as “extras”.

Bring double the quantity and more variety than you think you will use. We can help you decide what will work best.  Try to span from very casual & fun to formal.  Not everything needs to be a complete outfit.  For instance it is great to throw on a sport coat for a few head shots even if you don’t bring matching pants or shoes.

 More Tips

Glasses create glare, distortion and darkness. If anyone in the family wears glasses, please ask your optometrist to loan them a pair of frames without lenses for your portraits.  Eyes that “pop” and grab your attention are the single most important factor in great portraits.  Yes, getting special glasses is a hassle, BUT IT IS WORTH IT!

Makeup.  Powder! Powder! Powder!  I’m sure you’ve seen makeup artists applying makeup to actors before an appearance.  The makeup artist is constantly patting the actor’s face. Have you wondered why?  The reason is that powder, and lots of it, is necessary to create the beautiful matte finish which is part of a great portrait. Even if you never use powder it is important that you use it for your photo shoot.  When applying powder, use a lighter shade under the eyes to help eliminate any shadows or dark circles that the concealer didn’t take care of. Use mineral powder makeup and bring it with you for touch-ups.  Evening makeup is generally best, applied moderately, to accent your eyes and lips. 

Powder is important for men as well. If you were going to have an official portrait taken as the the president of the country you can bet that a makeup artist would be prepping you with powder.

Avoid fake tans and especially sunburns before your portrait session. These can make your skin look “muddy”.

Please don’t experiment with a new hairstyle for your portraits. There’s nothing we can do to create a portrait you’ll love if you hate your hair.

Men should shave a couple hours before their portrait to eliminate any redness from shaving.

Start thinking about props! This can make your photograph unique. Consider hats, a picnic basket, sports equipment, a musical instrument, or even pets. We can also work with larger objects such as boats, sports cars, planes, or motorcycles.

If your baby is included, then plan ahead to feed them at our studio immediately before (or even during) your session. The few minutes after eating are often the best for them.

Let’s plan ahead for the best outdoor locations. We have access to many secret hideaways. Just tell us what you envision in your perfect images.

It is fine to bring “inspiration” photos of others. Watch for awesome photos in magazines or on the web and bring them with you. You may be amazed at how we can often re-create art with you as the subject!

If you have troubles smiling naturally think of how you would look if you just ran into a dear friend on a nice sunny day at the beach.

A great portrait session is only the beginning. We will also work with you to pick the best images and finishes such as B&W and printing materials.  We look forward to helping you with top quality printing, framing, and all types of holiday and announcement cards.


Finally smile and have fun!  Let us capture you being you!