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5 Tips for Being a Stylist too

This black & white dress with a big pattern and lots of texture looked great in B&W

As a photographer, I’ve found it useful to start thinking like a stylist. Putting on your stylist hat is an important part of your session, especially when you have a vision in mind for the final product. So many clients who bring their children and families to me for sessions benefit greatly from my help in helping them decide what to wear and bring for a session.

The subject of what to wear always comes up when planning a session and my advice usually surprises them. “Don’t try to be too matchy” and “khakis and a blue shirt are so yesterday’s Gap ad” usually surprise them (and make them sweat a little). Instead, textures are excellent. Patterns you wouldn’t expect. Layers to ad interesting dimensions. Accessories, accessories, accessories. And props.

Here are 5 thoughts on being a stylist for your session:

  • If you are so inclined, go to their home and help them find a couple great outfits. This will help you as much as it will help them because you might get an idea for the direction of the session which you didn’t have before. And if you don’t already know your client well, visiting them will help you get to know their personalities and that will help your comfort level in the session immensely.
  • Think about your location and tell them about the colours to avoid. If they’re coming to the studio where the background is white or black, tell them to avoid those colours unless they’re going for a floating head look.
  • I once wrote a post called ‘Dress to Match the Sofa‘ which I share with my clients before their session. In it, I encourage them to think about the final product and where it will be displayed in their home. Something we sometimes, surprisingly, overlook.
  • So glad I had these pearls in my kit! They totally made the photo and even the elephant had her own.

  • Bring your own accessories. Part of my kit is a bag of pearl necklaces, sunglasses, hats, scarves, costume jewellery, etc. Bold, eye-catching accessories can make an ordinary photo extraordinary.
  • Encourage your client to buy something new for the session. A new outfit that they (or their children) chose and love will boost their confidence and help them feel like a model for the day. Go shopping with them if you must and if they don’t find styling natural, tell them to find an outfit in a catalog or on a mannequin and just buy the whole thing. There won’t be any doubts how to put the outfit together.

Paying extra attention to things which we sometimes consider superfluous to the actual photographing part of a session will help everyone be more comfortable with the goal and the outcome.

What about you? Do you ever style your sessions?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Elizabeth Halford is a Hampshire Photographer and keeps a rockin'photography blog where she writes about photography and business in "real.plain.english". She's addicted to Facebook and can be found answering photography and business questions every day here on her page

  • http://www.hypelightphotography.com Patrick Skotniczny

    I cant stand photos were a family is all wearing matching khakis and white shirt..
    I always advice people to wear something nice and casual.
    But there are always time when i wish i was more specific….

  • http://cheekyscenephotography.com jill t

    great article – thanks!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/18345944@N00/ Lina

    I’m thinking about sending this article on to my mom. She was in charge of styling us for our family photo sessions at Sears…

    Thanks to her, we have an Easter picture where we all wear pastel colors (my Dad is the one in the pink shirt!).
    We also have a picture where we all wear white tops and blue denim – my immediate family is now collectively known as “The Doctors” in my extended family… :)

    By the way, awkwardfamilyphotos.com is a great resource of what not to do…!

  • http://www.bvcphoto.com/photothis B

    What are you trying to capture and express about your subjects in a portrait?

    Does bring along your own props for them to wear accomplish that?

  • http://jasoncollinphotography.com Jason Collin Photography

    I would definitely be interested in seeing different styles for shoots as so many of my beach portraits are just white shirts and jeans. If anyone has any links to styles they used for family portrait sessions (on location) please link to them.

    For one recent model shoot, I just let the wind be my stylist blowing her hair in a random pattern:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/3/1/5-minute-model-shoot-nicole-daydream.html

  • William

    I once did a photoshoot for a school modeling club where each of the girls had their own “persona” that they wanted to portray. Well, I hadn’t thought about how exactly I was going to portray a personality through the photo, but the girls who had the best props and took the time to think about their character definitely had the most expressive photos. Props and a unique outfit are a great way to express yourself.

  • http://www.matthewdutile.com Matthew Dutile

    I think going shopping with the client may be a bit much (I mean does anyone really have time for that?) but the rest is pretty solid advice. I usually avoid patterns that become too busy though as it tends to distract. The key is to add personality, without taking away from the individual.

  • http://www.singlemummy.net Hayley

    Great post. I hadnt even thought of having my own accessories, next time I’m out charity shop hunting will look out for some little extras!

  • http://www.glyndewis.com Glyn Dewis

    Nice article with some great advice.
    Definitely agree with the suggestion about visiting the clients’ home to help them choose an outfit rather than wait to see what they turn up with.

    Cheers,
    Glyn

  • http://aleksdem.com/ Aleksdem

    Thank you! Very interesting!

  • http://karenstuebingsdailyshoot.wordpress.com/ Karen Stuebing

    Maybe it’s just me and where I live (WV) but I think people should be allowed to express their personality and wear what they are comfortable in whether it overalls or “Gap” clothes although we don’t even have a Gap here.

    It is up to the photographer to make it work. JMHO.

  • http://www.theswellelife.com Denise @ Swelle

    This is most certainly a personal thing! I have an aversion to ‘too much’ when it comes to portraits, especially with children who are so naturally beautiful. The accessories in my opinion are a bit gimmicky and won’t age well, and one day you may find yourself cringing every time you pass the photo on the staircase. I guess I’m not a prop and accessories type of person, it screams mall portrait studio to me. If you are and you’re happy with that, that’s all that matters.

    But keep in mind that good styling doesn’t always involve adding much, or anything.

  • http://www.cruelphotography.com/blogg Ole M

    Also good styling tip; learn fashion, read style.com etc. also don’t wear khaki shorts / vests yourself.

  • Marie

    I did formal portraits of my mom and dad. My dad is very set in his ways, so we did get the small plaid shirt and khakies (sp), My mom has alzheimers, and is difficult to work with in her own way. I did manage to buy an outfit for my mom. One of the days she hid the clothing, and the next, i was able to dress her, put on her makeup and put jewelry on her and got some good pictures. I think the bottom line is to do some research on your clients, have your own accessories and props JIC. Ask how you can help them to capture their dreams. Truely JMHO.

  • Nipuna

    I’m a beginner with a PnS, Here’s my web album:

    http://picasaweb.google.com/Nipunawg/

    wat do u think? :)

  • http://moyoustudios.com MJ

    Great tips. Yes I style EVERY session. It is not optional. The details are IMPORTANT and they are apart of the centire omposition.

  • http://purpleplumbphotography.blogspot.com Purple Plumb Photography

    I recently started playing in the photography field and got serious enough to buy a DSLR. I did a shoot for a friend and her family last week and they chose the place and time. When I met up with them they all had either black or white shirts on. The location was gorgeous but it was right as the sun was coming up so I got some shadowed faces and some with the sun bright on them- and the white shirts didn’t help :( I wish everyone realised the difficulty of shooting with the sun on you (and no way to hide) and wearing the same clothing!

  • Raphael

    These tips are all very time consuming. Go to people’s houses and go shopping with them? Who’s paying for that extensive time? Let’s stay realistic here! Also the picture of the baby with the pearls is over the top! Here it looks like a tacky doll! There are so many ways of making beautiful pics of a baby! This is the kind of photography for the village photographer! Llet the baby be a baby and not a Christmas tree! There are many other and more interesting ways of making a picture look outstanding! Be a bit artistic with the light, composition and background, their interior, garden, etc. and don’t change the subject in something he or she is not or with accessories that don’t even belong to them nor have any meaning to them! Just buy the whole outfit on the mannequin? Let me not even respond to that!!!! :-( Have a great day shooting everybody and let people’s personalities shine because YOU can bring it out in them and that is who they truly are!

  • MEghaan

    Agree about over-the-top props. Cheap fake pearls + tutu = pukey 80s MWAC prop discount photographer. Talk about yesterday’s Gap ad!

    I do like the first photo though I and I do agree with the author re no matchy matchy. Matching sweater sweats make a photo look dated whereas more casual less matchy clothes look, non-intuitively, more timeless.

Some older comments

  • MEghaan

    May 20, 2011 01:52 am

    Agree about over-the-top props. Cheap fake pearls + tutu = pukey 80s MWAC prop discount photographer. Talk about yesterday's Gap ad!

    I do like the first photo though I and I do agree with the author re no matchy matchy. Matching sweater sweats make a photo look dated whereas more casual less matchy clothes look, non-intuitively, more timeless.

  • Raphael

    April 29, 2011 05:13 pm

    These tips are all very time consuming. Go to people's houses and go shopping with them? Who's paying for that extensive time? Let's stay realistic here! Also the picture of the baby with the pearls is over the top! Here it looks like a tacky doll! There are so many ways of making beautiful pics of a baby! This is the kind of photography for the village photographer! Llet the baby be a baby and not a Christmas tree! There are many other and more interesting ways of making a picture look outstanding! Be a bit artistic with the light, composition and background, their interior, garden, etc. and don't change the subject in something he or she is not or with accessories that don't even belong to them nor have any meaning to them! Just buy the whole outfit on the mannequin? Let me not even respond to that!!!! :-( Have a great day shooting everybody and let people's personalities shine because YOU can bring it out in them and that is who they truly are!

  • Purple Plumb Photography

    September 30, 2010 01:39 pm

    I recently started playing in the photography field and got serious enough to buy a DSLR. I did a shoot for a friend and her family last week and they chose the place and time. When I met up with them they all had either black or white shirts on. The location was gorgeous but it was right as the sun was coming up so I got some shadowed faces and some with the sun bright on them- and the white shirts didn't help :( I wish everyone realised the difficulty of shooting with the sun on you (and no way to hide) and wearing the same clothing!

  • MJ

    June 9, 2010 07:27 am

    Great tips. Yes I style EVERY session. It is not optional. The details are IMPORTANT and they are apart of the centire omposition.

  • Nipuna

    June 5, 2010 02:36 am

    I'm a beginner with a PnS, Here's my web album:

    http://picasaweb.google.com/Nipunawg/

    wat do u think? :)

  • Marie

    June 4, 2010 12:07 pm

    I did formal portraits of my mom and dad. My dad is very set in his ways, so we did get the small plaid shirt and khakies (sp), My mom has alzheimers, and is difficult to work with in her own way. I did manage to buy an outfit for my mom. One of the days she hid the clothing, and the next, i was able to dress her, put on her makeup and put jewelry on her and got some good pictures. I think the bottom line is to do some research on your clients, have your own accessories and props JIC. Ask how you can help them to capture their dreams. Truely JMHO.

  • Ole M

    June 4, 2010 07:25 am

    Also good styling tip; learn fashion, read style.com etc. also don't wear khaki shorts / vests yourself.

  • Denise @ Swelle

    June 4, 2010 02:18 am

    This is most certainly a personal thing! I have an aversion to 'too much' when it comes to portraits, especially with children who are so naturally beautiful. The accessories in my opinion are a bit gimmicky and won't age well, and one day you may find yourself cringing every time you pass the photo on the staircase. I guess I'm not a prop and accessories type of person, it screams mall portrait studio to me. If you are and you're happy with that, that's all that matters.

    But keep in mind that good styling doesn't always involve adding much, or anything.

  • Karen Stuebing

    May 28, 2010 10:40 pm

    Maybe it's just me and where I live (WV) but I think people should be allowed to express their personality and wear what they are comfortable in whether it overalls or "Gap" clothes although we don't even have a Gap here.

    It is up to the photographer to make it work. JMHO.

  • Aleksdem

    May 28, 2010 09:33 pm

    Thank you! Very interesting!

  • Glyn Dewis

    May 28, 2010 07:00 pm

    Nice article with some great advice.
    Definitely agree with the suggestion about visiting the clients' home to help them choose an outfit rather than wait to see what they turn up with.

    Cheers,
    Glyn

  • Hayley

    May 28, 2010 05:42 pm

    Great post. I hadnt even thought of having my own accessories, next time I'm out charity shop hunting will look out for some little extras!

  • Matthew Dutile

    May 28, 2010 12:25 pm

    I think going shopping with the client may be a bit much (I mean does anyone really have time for that?) but the rest is pretty solid advice. I usually avoid patterns that become too busy though as it tends to distract. The key is to add personality, without taking away from the individual.

  • William

    May 28, 2010 10:49 am

    I once did a photoshoot for a school modeling club where each of the girls had their own "persona" that they wanted to portray. Well, I hadn't thought about how exactly I was going to portray a personality through the photo, but the girls who had the best props and took the time to think about their character definitely had the most expressive photos. Props and a unique outfit are a great way to express yourself.

  • Jason Collin Photography

    May 28, 2010 07:54 am

    I would definitely be interested in seeing different styles for shoots as so many of my beach portraits are just white shirts and jeans. If anyone has any links to styles they used for family portrait sessions (on location) please link to them.

    For one recent model shoot, I just let the wind be my stylist blowing her hair in a random pattern:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/3/1/5-minute-model-shoot-nicole-daydream.html

  • B

    May 28, 2010 03:13 am

    What are you trying to capture and express about your subjects in a portrait?

    Does bring along your own props for them to wear accomplish that?

  • Lina

    May 28, 2010 02:30 am

    I'm thinking about sending this article on to my mom. She was in charge of styling us for our family photo sessions at Sears...

    Thanks to her, we have an Easter picture where we all wear pastel colors (my Dad is the one in the pink shirt!).
    We also have a picture where we all wear white tops and blue denim - my immediate family is now collectively known as "The Doctors" in my extended family... :)

    By the way, awkwardfamilyphotos.com is a great resource of what not to do...!

  • jill t

    May 28, 2010 02:23 am

    great article - thanks!

  • Patrick Skotniczny

    May 28, 2010 12:53 am

    I cant stand photos were a family is all wearing matching khakis and white shirt..
    I always advice people to wear something nice and casual.
    But there are always time when i wish i was more specific....

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