What outfits should be brought to a portrait session?

I call them the Basic Five and they will elevate your game.

One of the most common questions I get asked from clients and other photographers is what outfits should they bring to a portrait session. I’ve developed something I call The Basic Five which I find indispensable to a successful shoot. I always ask those I’m working with to bring the following outfits to our session no matter what we are actually shooting that day.

Let’s break The Basic Five down.

1. A pair of jeans that fit well and a white shirt, blouse, or tank top.

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2. The Saturday Night Special. Something that you would wear out on a Saturday night to knock someone’s socks off. The Little Black Dress, or something along those lines, comes to mind for women. Gentlemen should bring a killer suit or appropriate ensemble.

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3. Business. Something professional. Slacks and a blazer, suit and tie, skirt, et cetera.

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4. Dressy casual. Not a hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants. Items like Khakis, polo shirts, et cetera. What would you wear to Sunday brunch? Bring that.

jessica and paul's engagement session 2

5. Seasonal. An outfit that matches the season. Fall outfits for the fall, spring outfits for spring. You get the point.

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Side note – Sometimes I ask a client to bring what I would call The Unexpected. Something off the wall. A prom/bridesmaid/wedding dress to be worn on the beach or in a field, for example. A Halloween or cosplay costume would also fit the bill here. Someone once brought a gas mask to a session. I thought that was amazing. The more off the wall the better.

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Let’s not forget any accessories needed to complete the “look” like jewelry, shoes, briefcases, and the like.

Finally, bring any outfits we are actually planning on using for the session. Fitness outfits for fitness sessions, beachwear for the beach and so on.

When it came to couple’s sessions I never wanted them to wear matching outfits. All I asked of them was to wear the same level outfits. Have them both dressed up or both wearing dressy casual.

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Why should a client/model bring The Basic Five? Well, to be honest, no one can plan for everything. Sometimes something wonderful happens unexpectedly on the way to the location we are planning to use. A once in a lifetime moment that will never happen again. We need to be able to pounce on those situations.

Let’s say we planned on a business session and we are on our way to an urban center to shoot and I spy a shaft of golden light against a split rail fence along the road, for example. If all we have are business outfits then that won’t work and we’ll miss a once in a lifetime moment. However, if you have the jeans and a white shirt then I’d have you put that on and let’s roll.

Always have The Basic Five ready for any photo session you have planned along with the actual outfits you need for the session. I promise you, if an unplanned, magical situation arises and you can pull out the appropriate outfit, the other party will kiss the ground you walk on. I know I would.

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