Could sending a style guide be the answer to improving your portrait photography?

Do you want your family photos to look more polished and editorial? I think the answer to this is yes! This is exactly how a style guide can help! We so often get caught up in the bigger picture that we sometimes forget to study our own photos and ask ourselves how we can make them better.  Sometimes we think it’s the background or posing, but if you look beyond those things we can see that sometimes it’s simply color coordination!   Let’s dive into the do’s and dont’s of choosing outfits, which you can pass on to your clients through a carefully considered style guide!

1. It’s a GREAT reason to dress up!

Let’s be real, when it comes to family sessions, sometimes moms and dads forget they can actually dress up! Encourage your clients to take the extra time to put together a nice outfit that will make the FEEL good about themselves. It’s probably the first time in years they are getting family photos taken, so it’s a special occasion, right?! Tell the mom that it’s OK to wear a beautiful flowing dress or wear those shoes she’s been wanting to take out of the box from last year. Ask the dads to break out the slacks and a button down shirt! The point is, people will look at their photos and think back to how the FELT during the session. We want them to feel confident and beautiful. What better reason than to grab a new dress, or a funky bowtie than for family photos. Remind your client in their style guide that they don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars, great outfits can be found in any price point!

2. Coordinate but DON’T MATCH!

Long gone are the days of family sessions with matching white shirts and black pants.  You’ve seen them, right?  Looking back at my own engagement photos, I cringe when looking at our matching white shirts and jeans.  While this strategy may work with LARGE group photos (to keep it simple and clear), you want to advise your clients not to be “too” matchy-matchy on portrait or family sessions.  This means advising them to choose maybe 3-4 neutral colors as a base, and then have every person use those colors to coordinate their own outfit. So if you’re heading to the beach, you could suggest that your clients wear softer tones that match the colors that you would see at the beach! Check out this tutorial on taking better family photos!

Style Guide

Here is where you can create your own style boards!

3. Ditch the obnoxious patterns.

As much as we all love kittens, seeing a family show up with animals, flowers and faces all over their clothing can be a bit distraction.  In fact, if the patterns are small enough, they can also cause some distortion in your photos! It’s just a bad choice all around.  Eliminating these distractions can put the focus on your clients, where is exactly where it should belong!

This doesn’t mean that your client shouldn’t wear a beautiful floral dress, plaid or stripes. What it means is to keep it simple to a certain degree with only ONE family member wearing a print. If your client wants to wear that patterned dress, maybe advise her to keep her accessories more simple. It’s all about balance. We don’t want to overwhelm the eye with too many patterns.

We ABSOLUTELY want our clients to be the center of attention, NOT their clothing.  Asking your clients to be mindful of what they wear to a session can really help improve the overall look and feel of the photo. For more ways to improve your portrait photography, check out this tutorial!

4. Your subjects should be the focus of your photograph, not their tie-dye!

Along with patterns, we also would like to avoid REALLY bright colors.  Neon anything is going to cause problems with editing because those colors tend to DRASTICALLY change when you adjust things such as exposure, contrast and highlights.  Then you’re stuck choosing to prioritize certain areas of the photo verses improving the entire image.  For example, while the photo below turned out great, the bright orange and yellows were hard to manage while adjusting other aspects of the image in post processing. You can see that the orange is almost oversaturated and that you lose texture. Unfortunately, if you start manipulating just orange tones, the leaves and skin tones also start to change!

5. Stick to neutrals!

Neutral colors are always a great option, not only because they go well together, but because they are classic. Colors such as grey, tan, cream, blue, lighter browns, white. There are some great resources on the net where you can actually create your very own styled board, that you could include in your style guide! Pinterest is also a great source for fashion ideas!

Style guide neutrals

6. Keep it classic.

As fun as it is to see those awkward/iconic family photos from the 90’s, maybe you want your clients to leave the Justin Bieber shirt at home.

7. Study your favorite brands.

This is something a lot of photographers don’t think about. When you start studying different brands or photographers that you admire, you’ll see a pattern in their work. Consistency is key when it comes to brand development! What colors are they using? Are there specific textures that you see and love? What kind of subtle pops of colors are you drawn to? START RESEARCHING and suggest some of those things in your personal style guide.  This will also help you when it comes to building a consistent portfolio! It’s a win-win for all!

Make a list of three fashion brands that you like and research their websites. What colors are they using? How do they mix and match outfits. Do they have a neutral pairing with a pop of color? Write down all the things that you LOVE and that you can incorporate into your style guide.

8. Coordinate with the location.

Style Guide

9. Help flatter the body!

How can we suggest flattering the body without offending our client?! Just make some general statements about what can be done to help cover areas that your client may be self conscious of. For example, long sleeves tend to be more flattering verses shirts with skinny straps.  Just think of a few things that may help avoid those less flattering photos.

10. More than one outfit?

You can suggest in your style guide to bring two outfits! This can not only change the look of your client’s gallery, it can add to your portfolio as well.  You could ultimately post a FEW photos from their session on social media and your followers may not notice it’s the same couple or family.  This adds to diversity all around.

Tip: If they don’t want to change their entire outfit, encourage them to bring accessories to change the look of their photos. This could be a hat, scarf, different jacket, necklace or tie. Layering is also effective in achieving different looks. Simply taking off a jacket can change the photo completely!

11. Keep it comfortable.

When it comes down to it, we want our clients to be comfortable and themselves. If your clients tend to be more on the casual side, that’s TOTALLY ok. All we can do, is send a style guide to do just that…guide them! It’s not going to work 100% of the time, and we have to take great photos either way! What is the most important is that our clients have a great experience and tell everyone how professional and fun we are!

Photography Style Guide

Sometimes, especially starting out, we don’t want to offend our clients. We also trust that they are fully capable of choosing their own clothing! I mean, we’re not their mothers! But the thing is, our clients are looking to US as the professional to guide them into looking their best.  They often don’t know how to pose, either, because they aren’t models! Well, 99.9% of your clients probably aren’t attending fashion week in NYC either. They’ll appreciate a little guidance, since they consider YOU to be the expert.  You’re in the business of noticing what is pleasing to the eye, because it’s a part of your ART.  So while composition, storytelling and the background of your photos are VERY important, so are your subjects! I mean, your client should THE MAIN FOCUS, so what they are wearing is going to make a difference. Sending a style guide before their session is a subtle way of directing them on how to coordinate with the whole family.

If you want to lessen your work load, check out Betsy’s Family Portrait Session Toolkit! It’s the quickest way to better family photos!