Tutorial Tuesday – Portrait Wardrobe 101

Fall is in the air. Despite today’s crazy, “I want to be a hurricane but I don’t have a name” weather, I know fall is coming. Because of this:

Yes, that’s right. The leaves are starting to turn already. Still technically summer until this weekend, the trees at work are rebelling against the seasons like every other plant has all year (remember the honeysuckle in May?). Which means I start to get that panicky HURRY UP AND TAKE ALL THE PICTURES BEFORE THE LEAVES ARE BROWN AND GROSS feeling in my stomach. Premature, I know, because no other trees anywhere are even close to changing. The other trees look at these trees and tell them they’re crazy. No sane tree changes this early.

Where was I? Oh yes, fall is in the air. Which means it’s time to pull out the boots and scarves and layer-y goodness, and wander about the park with your family, breathing in that deep breath of contentment that only crisp autumn air can give you, while a photographer follows you around snapping images of you being content and having fun feeding the geese with your family.

But what on earth do you dress everyone in for these contentment photos? How do you look content while not looking ridiculous all together? Well, despite my earlier ramblings, there is a tutorial here. I’m going to teach you how to dress for fall portraits.

Think of your family as one big body to clothe, with one outfit. How do you dress yourself? Do you cover yourself in one solid color? Not usually, unless you’re a waiter in all black, or a hunter trying to blend in with camo. You use a solid, and/or possibly a pattern on top, while the bottom is kept a neutral, goes-with-anything color so you don’t completely clash. Then you punch up your outfit with a bright accessory or two, which pulls out one of the colors of the top you’re wearing… and you feel completely put together and confident, and leave the house with a big smile on your face.

So how do you use that information when clothing your family for portraits?

The white in his shirt definitely goes well with the white stripes in her dress – she was the pattern AND the pop of color, while he was the neutral and the solid. 

Someone needs to be the pants. And I mean that in a completely non-power-struggle kind of way. Neutrals (the pants) are the base that your whole family (outfit) will work from. It can be any neutral you’d like – gray, brown, khaki, black, white (though white is usually reserved more for spring photos, and less for fall) or even navy blue. It just needs to be a color that doesn’t draw all of your attention when you look at the photo. Use that color throughout the family (outfit) as a base. If you’re dressing in anything but jeans, I’d recommend not all wearing the same thing. In other words, don’t put everyone in your family in khaki pants. Maybe your daughter would like black leggings, while your husband wears khakis or dark jeans, you pop on some dark jeans, or a dress if you’re so inclined. If you’re going the dress route, be the pattern (below).

Choose a solid. The solid you choose should accompany your neutral but not be too bright. You want to use this as your “secondary color,” or if you’re thinking in outfit terms, the cardigan to your pants. Not too flashy, but complementary.

The Agarwals used gray and white as their neutral pallet, with a pop of red in the baby’s dress to bring it together.

Sprinkle in some pattern. Some. pattern. Don’t put your daughter in stripes and your son in plaid and yourself in polka dots; even if your husband is in neutrals and solids, you’ll look like you’re runaways from the circus. Using similar colors to your neutral (the pants) and your solid (the cardigan), the pattern is a nice break from all that solid, and can be used as your other complementary color (the blouse, in our analogy). This is where if you’re wearing a dress, you can’t go wrong with a complementary-colored pattern.

When there are only two (visible) members of your family, it’s nice to complement each other like the Tomars did here – he wore a more neutral purple (not bright) which went with the purple in her dress perfectly.

Pop in your accessories. The color pop can be actual accessories, like a scarf or pair of flashy shoes, or it can be an infant or toddler dressed in a brightly colored shirt or dress. Your eyes are automatically going to be drawn to the color pop in the photos, so you want to make sure it’s not overwhelming, but that your eyes are being drawn to something you want seen. If the photos are mostly about making sure the kids are photographed so Grandma will quit bugging you about updated photos, having your cute-as-a-button infant dressed in a poppy color that complements the other parts of the family (outfit) will draw your eyes to the cute-as-a-button infant first. If you’re having your engagement or couple photos taken, and it’s just the two of you, that bright mustardy scarf will draw the viewer’s eyes up to your face first.

The aqua pop in the littlest Fleming draws your eyes directly to him, but the complementary white and light blues compliment so no one looks out of place. 

Now that you know how to put together an outfit, you can change up your outfit as much as you want. Once you know the rules, you can break them as you see fit. If you don’t want a pop of color, or your pop of color, solid and pattern are all the same, that’s a-okay. Your family photos should reflect your family, more than anything else.

See how the Branches used their neutral and their pattern in the same place, and had Mom as the color pop? It’s unexpected and fun, which reflected their family perfectly. 

Lastly, think about where your photos will be taken. Are you going to the carnival (like we did in the top photo), or to the river? Are we taking a walk in Shockoe Bottom with the brick and cobblestones, or going to Sunday Park where the trees and water will be the background? Take that into consideration as you dress as well. And as always, if you have a question about what to wear, shoot me an email and I can help you!

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Maryann Murphy

It was excited to come across your site a short while ago. I arrived here today hoping to learn interesting things. I was not upset. Your well thought out ideas with new strategies on this subject matter were enlightening and a great help to me. Thank you for making time to create these things and for sharing your mind.