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How to Dress Your Clients for a Portrait Shoot

Clients are often nervous about portrait shoots, usually because they might never have had a professional photoshoot before. They don’t know what to expect, what to do, or how to get the best outcome.

That’s why, as photographers, it’s our job to make them feel comfortable and let them know what to expect. One of the areas in which we can really help out is in helping them to dress properly. Here’s a few tips you can use to dress them for the shoot in a way that will flatter them and suit the project.

Dress for the occasion

The first thing that you need to understand is who your client is, and why they want the photographs. This is often easy to define so long as you already know who your ideal clients are! If you have done this bit of research already while setting up your business, then you will be a lot closer to understanding what to do next.

Let’s run through some examples. If you are doing an engagement shoot, that’s the reason for the photographs. But the type of client you have will really change the way that they dress for it. If you usually work with young couples in a mid-level earnings bracket, they are likely to be quite down to earth and will want to dress smart-casual for the shoot. Then you might have upper-class, more wealthy clients who would expect to wear cocktail dresses and black tie suits for the shoot.

Identify the purpose of the shoot, and the type of client that you have, and half the battle is already done.


Giving helpful advice

Make sure that you prime your clients before the shoot before letting them know an idea of how they might want to dress. This will really cut down on misunderstandings and will also help you to set up their expectations ahead of time.

One common circumstance which we have surely all come across is the client who shows up to shoot with a bag full of clothes, and wants your advice on what to wear. This can feel like a tricky situation, as you want to give them advice that will help them to look great in the photos, but you also don’t want to hurt your feelings. You might also be in the unenviable position of looking at a bag of clothes which are all unflattering or unsuitable!

Giving helpful feedback at this time is tough, but it’s possible to do it well if you remember one simple rule: always be kind and positive. If you give negative responses – telling the client not to wear a certain piece of clothing – then this can create a negative atmosphere and have an impact on their overall experience.

If you stay positive, they will feel better and won’t feel as though you are insulting their choices. Here are some handy phrases to keep in mind when put in this position:

  • “I think this [item] would be more flattering for you”
  • “Let’s try going with this [item] instead, the colour will work really well”
  • “This [item] really goes with your eyes, so let’s try that one to start with. We can try the other looks later if you want to.”

Offering a dressing service

If you are in a position where you can keep a rack of suitable clothing in your studio – or perhaps partner with a boutique which is very close by to have free reign of their pieces – then you can actually offer a dressing service which is open for your clients. This means you might need to know a bit about styling, which is daunting if you aren’t naturally fashion-oriented!

Keep the following tips in mind when it comes to dressing your clients, and you will soon find them raving about your services. This will have them looking their best, no matter whether you are picking out new clothes for them or choosing from their own wardrobes:

  • Find out what the client is self-conscious about and de-emphasise this. For example, many mothers are worried about the appearance of their stomachs – you can pick out dresses with subtle draping or structuring which hides this area
  • Certain colours work better with certain skin tones, hair colours, and eye colours. Picking out something which matches the client’s eyes is always a winner! Once you understand how colour works, you’ll be much better at making dressing suggestions
  • Don’t try to force your clients to wear something they normally wouldn’t, as it will feel uncomfortable for them. The one exception is when they really want to give it a try – for example, a sporty girl might want to don a prom dress and feel like a princess for just one day!
  • Balance is everything. The adage goes that women should show off their arms, legs, or chest – certainly not all three. A long-sleeved dress with a short skirt, or a floor-length sleeveless gown for example, can offer balance in the look and add more elegance
  • It’s really important that clothes fit properly, as this can change the whole appearance of the body. If someone has slightly baggy clothing, keep some clips on hand which you can use to just tuck a bit of the spare fabric behind them. This will define waists, hips, and so on, and will look much more flattering.
  • At the same time, try to help your clients to stay away from too-tight clothing…
  • If bringing their own clothes, try to go for classic looks which are their best outfits. No one will treasure dated images of one-shot trends that quickly died out, or pictures of that old beige cardigan that should have been donated months ago!

Dressing your clients can be a struggle if you are not already great at dressing yourself, as I’m sure many of us can relate to. But if you take these simple tips into account, both when advising your clients before the shoot and when making sure they look great on the day, you will produce portraits which they are much happier with.

Do you have any tips for helping your clients select their outfits? Share in the comments!

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