Casual Portraits

Tips for a Better Portrait
Read these tips in advance to make sure you're prepared for the best possible portrait.

Members of the group should be color coordinated, so that they look like a family instead of a random collection of strangers. Solid colors are best, since they don't detract from the faces and the background. If any of the photos will be outside, then you should try to avoid variations on green because the green will clash with all of the green in the surrounding area. Some color choices that seem to work well: Blue, black, white, ivory, denim, or khaki.


Members of the group should be color coordinated


Even if you don't color coordinate everyone, at least try to have the color tones consistent (e.g., all lighter shades or all darker shades), so that some people don't attract more attention than others. The more people in the portrait, the less obtrusive the clothing should be, so that it won't draw attention away from the individuals. Have multiple choices or layers available if you want to vary the look or try different things. For small children you might want to have some alternate clothes available (both for the child and for anyone who will be holding the child) in case of accidents. Something to think about: what is the color scheme of the room (e.g., living room, family room) where you might want to put a framed portrait? Will your clothing color choice go well with the colors in that room?

For kids, the most important thing is that they're comfortable.


Clothing type
Choose your clothing based on the way you want to look in the portrait. Even if the weather calls for shorts and short sleeves, that may or may not be the look you want in the photo. Most people choose long pants and longer skirts, but that doesn't mean you have to dress up: jeans look good as long as they're not ragged. Some people prefer long sleeves. For kids, the most important thing is that they're comfortable; kids don't put up with scratchy or hot clothes, and their discomfort will show up in the portrait. Whatever you do, be consistent in the group. For example, it doesn't look good to have some people in suit and tie and others very casual.

Your shoes will probably appear in some photos, so plan their colors too. Shoes should go with the tone of your outfit. Dark shoes look better in a group than a mix of dark shoes and athletic shoes, but if everyone wears athletic shoes, then that can look good. Barefoot is a good casual option too, especially for kids.

Ground cover for outdoor pictures
Casual pictures outside often have one or more of the people sitting or lying on the ground. If you have a ground cover of some type that coordinates with the clothing colors, then consider having it available, particularly if you don't want to sit or lie down on the ground. A blanket works well if it's a solid color.

Please don't wear any glasses that have a tint, or that darken in the sun. If you normally wear glasses, then you'll probably want them in the picture, but be aware that they create special problems because of the way that lenses reflect light. Some photographers advise you to take the lenses out of the glasses for the portrait, and you can do that if you like, but I realize that's pretty extreme. If you sometimes wear glasses, but not always, then you should consider having the portrait done without them.

It's a bad idea to get a haircut just before a photo session, so plan haircuts accordingly. One to two weeks in advance is good.

Pocket stuff
You probably want to remove pagers, cell phones, large keys or anything else in your pockets that will look like a lump in the photos.

Props and toys
If a child has a special toy that you want to include in a portrait, then have it available. Other props can be included to provide a focus for a photo (e.g., a picnic basket, an antique toy, a musical instrument, a stuffed animal, or a sports item). Props with a single primary color (red, green, blue) look particularly good.


Ultimately the picture is about the people -- not the props.


We don't want to go too far with this--just one item typically per photo. Ultimately the picture is about the people -- not the props. For young children, be sure to bring a few toys to entertain or distract the child in between photos.

Children should be fed and rested; they'll look more relaxed in the photo, and so will the parents. For outdoor pictures we should avoid times when the sun is directly overhead -- earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon has better light. Don't worry about needing a sunny day for outdoor pictures; cloudy days are actually better because the shadows are softer. But we'll have to postpone outdoor pictures if it's raining.

If you've seen a picture that you really like, and you want to try to recreate the pose, then have the picture available, or write down the idea so you'll remember it. For babies, poses that emphasize the smallness of the child are interesting and can generate strong emotion. For example, consider a baby's hand in the hand of a parent or grandparent. For older children, capturing their interest in a toy is appealing.

You'll need to decide whether you want the photos to have your eyes focused on the camera or to the side.


Looking at the camera
You'll need to decide whether you want the photos to have your eyes focused on the camera or to the side (it's a matter of preference), or we can shoot pictures both ways. In any case, parents should just look where we decide and not at their children. I can watch the children and shoot pictures when they look the right direction. If the parents try to watch the children too, then we end up with the children looking the right way and not the parents.

If you want to include your pet in some of the pictures, then make sure you have someone available to take care of the animal during photos of you that don't include your pet.

Have a comb and hairbrush available, as well as makeup and hairspray for those who use it. If any pictures will be taken outside, remember that the wind can do nasty things to hair, and heat can cause perspiration, which might require makeup repair. Plan accordingly.

Latest articles in Portraits