What to wear for your session is one of the biggest decisions you will have to make. This can be a tough one! Whatever you do, don't wait until the last minute. If you are able to make your outfit selections in advance, you and I are able to work together and plan your entire session for success. What you wear can help set the tone for the session and the location we select to shoot at may also be influenced by your style choice. Here are ten tips to help you out!
1. Don't wait until the last minute.
Well, I've already touched on this one in the intro because it is so huge! A lot of people order online nowadays and you don't want to wait until the last minute and not be able to get what you want or have to pay rush shipping fees. You also want to be able to let me know what you will be wearing in advance so we can pick a location that suits the style of clothing you select. Your wardrobe, plus outfit selection, in addition to prop selection are what make your session come together and look polished and professional. The last thing I want to have happen is have you show up with an all pink wardrobe and we are at a rustic location with a red barn! Help me, help you by selecting your oufits in advance of your appointment so we can talk through the other details together that will make your session a total success.
2. For group and couples sessions, start with Mom.
It is easy to pick out kids outfits - they look good in anything! The cut isn't nearly as important on a child as it is on a woman. I suggest starting with the Mom/woman's clothing and then selecting child(rens) or significant others outfits second. Lets face it, we women are picky. If we don't feel good in what we have on, we aren't going to be confident and it will show in the portraits. So pick what flatters the ladies first, and then move onto spouses and children.
3. Pick your outfits based on figure flattering cuts.
I know a lot of people pick outfits based on what is popular or something they saw someone else wearing they like, but you should pick your outfit based on what flatters your body shape best and makes you feel confident and beautiful. Decide what body shape you are and look up what cuts work best for your figure. In general, make sure what you are wearing is fitted properly, not baggy or bulky, which adds dimension. Anything that emphasizes your curves is a plus! And guys, don't think the same doesn't apply to you! Wearing properly fitted clothing makes a huge difference - baggy clothing never photographs well! The same is true for children as well - don't come in ill fitting clothing because you bought a size up so they could wear it longer. It looks ill fitting and pictures are forever, so wear what fits.
4. Coordinate, don't match.
It is super easy to just put everyone in khakis and a white or black shirt, I get it. The images will still be beautiful, but they lack character and dimension. Also, when posing together you kind of become subject to the "Blob Syndrome" - where everyone just meshes together into one big giant shape and gets lost. When everyone wears different clothing that goes together but is figure flattering and has different patterns and textures, each individual can show their personality and look their best. Also, make sure to mix and match solids and patterns (and make them different patterns!). When everyone wears all stripes, you still get the same Blob Syndrome effect and your eye just can't quite focus and make sense of what is going on. Each individual becomes lost. Pick a color palette, mix and match solids and patterns, and you will add a whole other dimension to your group portraits.
5. Layer, layer, layer and think in textures!
Layers and tectures also add dimension and interest. It also makes you look more polished and professional. Adding jackets, vests, necklaces, hats, etc. makes a huge difference. Also, materials that aren't flat (aka a cotton shirt vs. a knit sweater) also adds dimension and interest. The one thing I tell people to be aware of is adding bulk when you add accessories. I'm going to go ahead and put it out there - I don't much care for scarves in photos. It covers your neckline, which adds thickness to your body and makes you look heavier than you really are. Don't think that by covering up, you'll look better.
6. Consider location and season.
You should either pick your outfits based on the location you want to shoot at, or your location based on the outfits you want to wear. What you wear should make sense in the context of the location and season you are photographed. Consider the colors at the location as well as the mood the location sets. Think urban vs. rustic. Green grass vs. brick buildings. How does the environment effect the way you will dress? Also consider whether you want to be formal or informal. One tip on informal though - you still want to look like you are polished, so dont' make it look like you are spending a day hanging out around the house because that is what you are comfortable in. You should still look like you took time and effort to get ready and have professional portraits taken.
7. Consider your color combinations carefully.
What colors will look best at the location you are photographing at? Think about what colors are already present or the props you may want to incorporate (green grass? red barns? brown wood? neutrals? etc.) What you wear should also coordinate with the location as far as color is concerned. Lets do a quick lesson in color theory about what looks good together!
Complementary colors are across from each other on the color wheel. They provide a vibrant contrast to one another.
Split Complementary colors use the two colors to either side of the main color. The color contrast is a little less vibrant.
Monochromatic colors are all varying shades of the same main color. This creates a lack of contrast, but creates calmness.
Triadic colors are evenly spaced on the color wheel. It is less contrasty than complementary color schemes.
Analogous color schemes use any three colors that are in a row on the color wheel. These also create a sense of calmness. These types of colors are often found in nature and are pleasing to the eye.
Tetradic colors use two sets of complementary colors that form a rectangle on the color wheel. These are a very bold type of color combination.
Neturals - you know these ones. White, cream, gray, tan - they go with everything! An all neutral color scheme is very relaxing.
So after that quick bit of color theory, how do you make this work for your session? Take 3-4 colors, a neutral, and add 3-4 patterns and textures. Lay them out together and then ask yourself if they are a good blend of color, pattern, and texture. Also, make sure you don't have varying shades such as a lime green with a pastel yellow (so don't mix highly saturated color with dull color). Don't dress each person in one of the colors - try to mix and match the 3 colors between all the people with a little bit represented in each outfit. Also, some colors look better during different seasons. Light and bright colors photograph good in the spring/summer, while rich, deep colors photograph better in the fall/winter. Make sure that everything everyone wears adds to the cohesiveness. I have a Pinterest board that I made with outfits and color combos - if you're struggling, just ask and I am happy to share it with you. Here are a couple pulled from there to give you an idea
8. Avoid text and logos.
You don't want to look like an advertisement for a brand name, so avoid large text and logos on the clothing you wear. Anything with cute sayings doesn't photograph the best because the viewer is more interested in reading it, than looking at everyone's faces.
9. Dress from head to toe.
Please make sure that your shoes aren't distracting! If you have on a dressy outfit, you should wear dress shoes, not athletic shoes. If you have on hot pink nail polish, make sure it matches your clothing and that it isn't chipping off. I personally recommend not having anything but neutral nail colors on when getting photographed as they can be very distracting. Don't forget to wear proper under attire so that bra straps aren't showing, etc.
10. Hangers and Baggies!
Make sure your clothes are ironed and bring them on hangers. Don't worry about dressing the little ones until you arrive for your session. Put your accessories in bags and hang them with your outfits the night before your session so you don't forget anything!
My friend Rachel asked the question yesterday about whether or not it was weird that she feels most creative when she is sad.
My answer, absolutely not.
I feel like I create my best work as an artist when it comes out of emotional responses to situations I have experienced or topics I am very enthusiastic about. I am most passionate when I feel deeply about things, which is something I came to realize a long time ago about myself. In talking to other creative types, I feel like we are all highly motivated by things we love, and highly unmotivated by things we don't take interest in. It is hard to force creation in an environment of indifference. Art is expression, so of course creativity erupts in emotional times - be it sadness, joy, confusion, frustration, etc. When artists feel nothing, how can they create an expression of anything?
Sometimes artists struggle to find their creative passion and express what they want to say. Art school was difficult for me when it came to that. No artist likes to be told exactly what to create, but art school (a lot of the time) was about specifics/meeting project criteria and people pleasing (well, professor pleasing rather) and not about the open field of personal expression artists crave and think they should always be given. We were also "forced" to be highly productive, which isn't a bad thing, but you can easily get burnt out when finishing multiple projects for multiple classes week after week ( I can remember having to shoot 8 rolls of film, make 10-20 finished large prints, and finish a 40"x60" painting every week, or sometimes more. You know how many hours of work is respresented there???? I maintained a pretty rigorous schedule). Lets just say that after four years, I was ready to be done. I felt like I had lost my artistic voice. But yet, I decided to become a professional photographer, full time. Because I was going to be in charge of me and what I created - finally!
But, I have to admit, I discovered that being a full time professional portrait photographer had more things in common with art school than I ever would have thought. A couple years in, I was getting burnt out for all the same reasons I did in school. Of course I wanted to please my clients, just like I did my professors. Sometimes clients have preconceived ideas of what they want and odd expectations for what I should create. Simply put, not every client shares the same artistic vision with me, as much as I want them to. So, I found myself continually creating work based on others expectations in order to please them, because afterall, this was my job and I had to have happy clients to make money so I could eat three meals a day! I also found that sometimes, just like in art school, I was forced to create a lot in a short period of time. There are times I have shot 12 sessions a week during the summer and on top of that, I still had to do everything else it takes to run a business and maintain a life outside of work. In this field, it is easy to get worn down just from the amount of hours we work (regularly 80+ during busy months for me). I found out that maybe being a professional photographer was not as glamorous/fun as I had hoped it would be a couple of years into going full-time in the field. I still had to work within a "box", albeit a highly productive box. Darn it!
But here I am, almost ten years into this full-time photographer endevour! Given that everything I do goes against the fibers of an artist's personality, I should have had all the passion sucked right out of me by now, right? Wrong (duh, of course. Why else would I be writing this?) So just how do I find inspiration and stay motivated, even in the boring, emotionless, undriven periods of time when I still have to create because that is what my job requires of me?
1) Personal Projects
I regularly ask for models for personal projects where I am 100% in control of what I create. This is where I release my creative energies. When I started doing this a couple years ago, I also found that when I posted these sessions, people went crazy for them! Something clicked in my head. Why wasn't I seeking clients that wanted MY VISION instead of just a photographer? I am here to tell you that you can shoot for yourself, even if you are a commercial portrait photographer who needs to meet client expectations. Remember, when you create out of a place of passion, you create stronger work! People will fall in love with your vision and desire it. Don't sell yourself short. I won't lie and say you aren't ever going to have a session where you have to create something you don't want to, but find a way to put your twist on it and make it your own still. Your vision makes you unique and personal projects are the best way to develop a portfolio of work that represents what you want to shoot.
What's a blog post without images? Here's a couple of a stylized maternity shoot last spring. This is where my heart is right now. I love doing styled shoots where I help with makeup/hair, outfits selection, location, etc.!
2) Inspiration Boards
I keep a folder of things that make me happy. From pictures of roosters, textures, and colors, to photos of moody dark skies, when I feel blank, I seek things that will make me feel and want to create. Knowing what you love and incorporating bits and pieces into every session you shoot will make your work stronger and more desirable. I also suggest coming up with three keywords to describe your work and making sure that at least one of these are represented in every session you shoot. I get super excited when someone comes and desribes my work with one of the keywords I have created for myself, and if that isn't inspiration in and of itself, I don't know what is! (p.s. - mine are earthy, authentic, and soft).
Here's my current inspiration board...
Surround yourself with people that help keep you feeling motivated and passionate. When you spend time with people that suck the energy right out of you, it shows in what you create. Find a mentor and encourage each other and chat about your inspirations and art. Staying motivated and inspired means having people surrounding you that help you stay energized and refreshed.
4) Know when to take a break
Every artist needs a break. The biggest mistake I made early in my business was pushing myself too hard. If you need rest, sleep. If you need to take a moment to yourself, hit the reset button and go do something you enjoy outside of your craft. You can't eat, sleep, and breathe your business for very long without losing sight of what made you love what you do to begin with. Staying inspired means taking time for yourself, even when you think you don't have time to. This may sound simple, but it was a game changer for me. I call it my "sanity break". I may take an hour to just sit outside and listen to birds chirp. I may take a night off (yes, I NEVER use to do this) and just spend time with the people I love most who help keep me happy and inspired. You have to take care of you in order to have the energy to stay inspired.
Every session, I always make a point to do at least one thing I normally wouldn't. It keeps your brain thinking outside the box and it keeps you from feeling the monotony of your job. A lot of my clients always comment about how much more creative my portraits are compared to other photographers. And its because I am always trying new things.
I read a great article yesterday by Design Aglow (on their blog here, http://www.designaglow.com/blogs/design-aglow/17984512-the-copycat-epidemic). In any creative field, there is a lot of copying that goes on. We see something we like and we "borrow" it - a color scheme, an outfit, a repurposed project idea, a hairstyle, so on and so forth- and that's how things become a "trend". In fact, I am doing that right now - borrowing the topic Design Aglow wrote about on their blog. I'm sure other photographers are now at their keyboards writing about the same topic after reading this great article (talk about "trending"). People find inspiration from creative people - that's just a fact.
I'm going to go ahead and put it out there right now- I have found my own work copied on several occassions. I use to be the only one that shot at certain places and now I find 2-3 other photographers there when I go - even private properties where I have obtained permission to shoot and I know they have not. I've offered certain sessions with a theme that I felt were ripped off by other photographers. I've had my website content almost word for word copied. I've had a couple local photographers tell me to my face that they bring up my website as they shoot so they can copy my poses. I've found portraits where you could just about lay their photo on top of mine and have them line up they are such an exact replica - pose, location, lighting, almost everything! I find that photographers often try to duplicate what I'm doing, but there is something always just "off" when they do. A piece of the puzzle is missing - and that piece is me! People often ask me what makes my work so "different" and the answer is simple - my photographs are my own perception of the people I photograph. I don't try to create from anyone's perspective but my own.
People are quick to point out that copying is the highest form of flattery. But that doesn't make it good or right. Don't get me wrong. I think it is great to look up to other photographers and aspire to be more like them. I definitely admire other photographers' work. But being inspired by someone is far different from copying. I think we should all aspire to be better at what we do - but that doesn't mean you should copy the work of someone more successful than yourself.
The biggest problem with copycating is how much it hurts the original artists. Copycats always offer their products at a cheaper rate - that's how they get business. When clients support the copycats, it is a huge financial blow to the originals. And just about everyone is looking for a bargain anymore, unfortunately. Copycats sacrifice quality because they can't make a profit and run a sustainable business when they price undercut. Professionals understand the cost of doing THEIR business, while copycats just base their prices off of undercutting their competitors and don't know what it takes to run a profitable business, let alone THEIR OWN profitable business. That means they cut corners everywhere they can- inferior products, quick edits, cheap props/equipment, rushed sessions, mediocre customer service. As a client, you aren't receiving the quality you deserve when you go to a copycat either. There is a reason why original, custom photography costs many times more then someone who operates their business with this model (but I will have to save that for another blog post entirely.) Copycats can never offer the same experience as an original. Creating comes easily to an original, whereas a copycat struggles. When you're getting photos taken, an original photographer will make it effortless and simple for you because they own their vision and process.
And there is one point that stands on its own - Copycats are never the original - what they offer is subpar or it WOULD be original.
The Design Aglow blog post ended with ideas on how to break the cycle, and I love what they said, so let me quote the author: "Know what makes you different. Anyone can copy a pose or a location. But if your photos evoke true emotion, that’s impossible to imitate. Make sure you’re not relying on trendy poses or pretty locations to carry your work. Find your style and tell your story. No one can fake that."
So very true. Emotion drives our hearts and can only add meaning to what we create. But something else is an important part of creating original art, and that is identifying your own style. This is the part I am really excited to talk about! How do you go about finding your own vision?
When you are new to the field of photography (or any creative work), I think you can't help but want to absorb other photographer's work. In the beginning of an artist's career, I think every single one of us is guilty of being a copycat to some extent - we just don't know better. I would admit that about my past without hesitation. But a few years ago, I decided to stop looking at other photographer's work. I made up my mind that nothing good was coming out of comparing myself to other photographers or trying to be like them, because I wasn't them. If you find yourself doing this too, just stop right now. Quit looking at other photographer's work until you can identify your own style.
The best thing you can do as an artist is discover what makes you unique because that is what makes you stand out in an oversaturated market. It isn't an easy process. It may take months, it may even take years of self-questioning and discovery to be able to come up with an answer to "What makes you unique?" And your answer may change as time passes because we all change with time and experience. But I can tell you one thing I know without a doubt, When you rely on YOUR mind and eye alone, YOUR style will emerge and you will become a much better artist - an original.
I challenge each of you reading this to bring YOU to your next creative project. Take your life experiences, personality, perception, creative eye and mind and allow them to influence what you create. Forget what is popular and trending and bring what you love to your next session. Create a vision board with the colors and textures that make you smile and anything that "speaks" to you. Once you identify your inspirations, you can begin to define your style. Sit down and think of 5 words that define who you are and ask a friend for five words to describe you as well. Use those words as inspiration for your next project, too. (I've included part of my vision board at the bottom of the post. I think you will definitely be able to see pieces of me and the art I make from this board).
The biggest compliment I hear from people is, "I saw a photograph the other day. I just knew it was yours before I saw your watermark on it even." When you let yourself become the biggest part of what you create, people recognize you in it each and everytime. Become your own brand - let your personality and style define your art and begin to stand out in the crowd.