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What should I wear to a photo session?

Updated: Jul 13, 2022

What should I wear to a photo session?There are many reasons to hire a professional photographer, and the prospect of a private photo shoot is an exciting one! But once you’ve done the research, read the reviews, and hired a photographer, you may find that you’re still left with questions. This, of course, includes the age-old struggle: What should I wear?

Although you may have lined up the perfect makeup artist, you’re still tasked with providing your own clothing. After all the hard work you’ve put into your careful planning, you want to make sure you look your absolute best. Don’t stress. Even if fashion is not your area of expertise, you know your own taste and style better than anyone. With some simple tips, it’s easy to find the outfit that’s right for you.

Know your color schemes: A common misconception is that your articles of clothing need to match, rather than complement each other. But the answer to a yellow cardigan wouldn’t be to wear a yellow skirt and yellow accessories. Dressing in monochrome has the opposite effect, and causes each article to blend in, rather than accentuate your features.

Baby with balloons in a char
Arthur Ellis Photography Birthday Session

Pick colors that complement, rather than colors that match. For instance, a yellow cardigan paired with bright blue jeans will create a vivid summer look. A green sweater paired with brown trousers will evoke images of fall. A crisp button-down shirt with a formal suit will make you look professional and formal. Pick the look—or, ideally, several looks—that work best for the mood you’d like to convey.

Bear in mind that too many patterns can also kill the look you’re going for. Pair patterns with solids. For instance, a plaid tie will look best against a solid shirt. A gingham skirt will look best with a solid blouse of a complementary color. Although patterns may be eye-catching on the closet hangers and in the mirror, too many of them will draw the eye away from your facial features in your photos. Please do not wear patterns unless they are muted.

If you need a little extra help, there’s no need to hire an expensive personal stylist to do the work for you. Instead, you’ll find plenty of matching color schemes at your local department store. Shop by brand, designer, or collection. These are sure to match, and the only work on your part will be to find the scheme you like best. It may also help to do your clothing shopping online or by catalog. Having photos of the models will give you a strong sense of how to pull an outfit together in a way that you like.

Pinterest is your friend

Create a board in Pinterest and start pinning ideas to your board so when you go shopping for your outfits you have something to reference. You do not have to match your pin however it’s there for you to gain inspiration.

Matted and framed family Pictures on a table
Photography Products from Arthur Ellis Photography

Know your tastes: Even if you never prepared your own photo shoot look before, chances are you have a unique style to call your own. Look around your home. What colors feature prominently in your favorite rooms? For example, analyze your bedroom, home office, and living areas with a critical eye. What are the color schemes of your bedding? What color did you paint the wall?

It helps to envision your photo hanging on the wall of your favorite room. What sorts of colors will complement your favorite furniture? What color will the frame be? Do you like winter, spring, summer, or autumn colors best? These little clues will help you find the outfit—and mood—that works best for your photo session.

Remember that there’s no need to limit yourself. You have many sides to your personality, and if you’d like to celebrate that, you can do so with your outfits. Select as many color schemes and moods as you like. It’s better to pack more for your session rather than less.

Accessories and textures will pull it all together: You want your photos to showcase your best self. After all, a plain white shirt won’t capture your personality. But something as small as a belt, headband, or hair clip can add a lot of pop with minimal effort. Err on the side of packing extra accessories. It’s best to have a selection for your photographer to choose from.

Accessories are also a great way to accentuate your best features. For instance, an accessory that matches your eyes, or a headband that contrasts the color of your hair, will complement your overall look.

Scarves are another great accent piece. Depending on the thickness and style, it will convey any season your heart desires. A flirty silk scarf will add class and color to a plain shirt. Tied into a headband, a red or checkered scarf will evoke visions of a summer picnic.

Consider your background: If you’re planning on working with a patterned background, or your shoot takes place in an outdoor setting, be sure to select colors that will allow you to stand out in a comfortable way. If you’ll be photographed against a solid black background, avoid dark colors. If the background is white, avoid overly bright colors.

Mom and son on a blanket in a park
Family Session with Arthur Ellis Photography

Your photographer will go over background options with you. It’s understandable if you feel overwhelmed by all of the options made available to you. Talk with your photographer about your tastes and the mood you would like to convey. If these are family portraits, consider to whom you’ll be sending your photos. If these are event portraits, consider the mood of the event. If these are personal photos, consider your personality, tastes and styles. Don’t restrict yourself because you think the photo should be formal. Above all else, this photo session is about celebrating YOU.

Minimalism is your friend: While it’s ideal to pack a variety of accessories and jewelry for your photo session, this is done so that you have multiple options to choose from. For each outfit you wear, fewer accessories will provide more accent and color to your look. Select a pair of earrings, or perhaps a sleek necklace or bracelet with a sentimental meaning.

Wearing too much jewelry will have the unintended effect of drowning out your features and drawing the eye away from your face.

Mom and daughter on blanket on the ground
Family photography with Arthur Ellis


Do not date yourself. Fashion comes and goes. Big hair is in, and then it is obsolete. Band shirts are popular, and then in ten years you’ve forgotten that band ever existed. Shoulder pads dominated the 80s. Brand t-shirts were a popular fashion fad of the 90s. And now we look back at those old family photos and wonder what they were thinking.

But our faces are timeless. The clothes we wore back in the 70s, 80s and 90s may be dated, but the color schemes and cuts weren’t. A simple button-down blouse is always in style, for instance, as is a well-cut suit. A ponytail, bun, or classic haircuts have all stood the test of time as well. Incorporate your personality into your wardrobe but avoid styles that date you. If your hairstyle falls into the current trends, but this isn’t how you want to be remembered forever, consider styling it in a neutral way for the photo shoot. It’s not about squashing your style, but rather it’s about finding the version of yourself that you want to convey for decades to come.

Lastly, remember that your photos should reflect you, your special occasion, or your family. Look around your home. Think about your taste, style, and above all your personality. The camera can only capture what you tell it to, so if you take the time to select the outfits that capture the best ‘you,’ you’ll be sure to have photos that you’ll enjoy looking at for years to come.

Bonus Handout

I have a detailed list of specific do’s and don’ts you can download. This is a very specific list I use with my photography clients and it is designed to take the stress out of preparing for a photography session. Just jump over to my download page and download my What To Wear handout!!

You got this!!

Arthur Ellis, is owner and photographer at Arthur Ellis Photography, in Charleston, SC. He specializes in Family & Children, Portraits / Headshots, and Boudoir photography. He can be reached through his website:

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