When the Bunten family arrived at my studio estate for their portraits, and stepped out of their vehicle, the moment I saw their clothing, my heart leapt for joy. Their outfits were perfect. In fact, they won my “Best Dressed Award” for the season. Look carefully at their portrait: the colors in the Mom’s top are perfectly matched in her family’s clothing. The light blue on her son, the coral on her daughter, the mint green on her husband: all of these colors are in her top. Because of this, her family’s portrait has a strong sense of distinct individuality within a bond of harmonious unity. Not only that, but everyone in the portrait is wearing at least short sleeves (Mom is wearing three-quarter sleeves–smart move!) This insures that the viewer of the portrait will have their eyes drawn more to their faces, and not to skin tones on their arms. Finally, everyone in the portrait is wearing long pants. The day of their portrait was warm, and the Bunten’s may have been tempted to wear shorts, but doing so would have greatly reduced my options in terms of how I could have posed them (imagine the son and daughter in this pose wearing shorts–not appropriate!) Also, wearing shorts would have drawn a viewer of this portrait away from the faces and towards the skin tones on the legs.
Their clothing choices made for a portrait that is even stronger than it would have been had they indulged in the three “no-no’s” of dressing your family for a portrait:
1) No one should be wearing white! Wearing white will make that person stick out and make them look heavier. Don’t believe me? Look at the modified image of the Bunten family, where I have made the husband’s shirt look white. Doesn’t he stick out? Doesn’t he look heavier? Everyone in the family should be wearing some form of color that goes together harmoniously—no one should wear white!
2) No females in the family should wear sleeveless tops—even though they are trendy and comfortable in the warmer months, they will make everyone wearing them look heavier and they will detract from the eye being draw to the faces in the portrait. All females in the portrait should wear at least short sleeves. (If a female family member has a sleeveless top that they just have to wear, they could put a shrug over it—as long as the shrug is not white (see number one above!))
3) No member of the family should wear shorts, no matter how warm it is outside. Family members wearing shorts limit my options on how I can pose them, especially when the shorts are cut with very wide leg openings like they usually are. In addition, any skin tones visible on the legs will distract the eye from the faces when the portrait is viewed. It’s much better for everyone to wear some form of long pants!
As a portrait photographer, there are so many variables to respond to when we are outside: the wind and the weather; the current condition of my studio estate; the time of day and the position of the sun; not to mention the family and their personalities and behaviors. When it comes to how your family is dressed for the portrait, I will photograph you however you are dressed when you arrive. But please, please, know that the portraits will look so much better if you listen to my rant, pay attention to the guidelines, and make the effort to dress your family appropriately. Then maybe your family can be the next winner of the “Best Dressed Award”!
Tom Launius, CPP