HOW TO: Select clothes for a shoot

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Finding the right clothes can make all the difference to your pictures, and it’s not as difficult as you might think. Check out these tips and videos, and learn how to enhance your pictures by using clothes that work with your backgrounds.

Try choosing your backgrounds first

It’s very important to me, that I select my backgrounds before choosing the clothes – this way, when I see them, I will know which ones will look good against the backgrounds I’ve already seen. See the image below for the perfect example of this.

I had already seen the avenue of palm trees, so when I saw this top in Hannah's wardrobe, I knew it would go with the colours and shapes of the background, which makes all the difference to this photo. The top even had a halter-neck strap made of wooden beads, which matched the tree trunks.

I had already seen the avenue of palm trees, so when I saw this top in Hannah’s wardrobe, I knew it would go with the colours and shapes of the background, which makes all the difference to this photo. The top even had a halter-neck strap made of wooden beads, which matched the tree trunks.

The image above works perfectly because the colours blend and work with the background. But contrasting colours work equally well in other images. In the image below I have chosen the bright yellow top as a complete contrast to the blue sea.

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Occasionally, of course, I will find something in a client’s wardrobe that I just have to photograph! And then, I will choose another background to fit to the outfit! But generally it’s the other way round.

The selection process

I literally go into the client’s bedroom and choose clothes with them – don’t worry about doing this, most people would much rather you chose the clothes for them. The first thing they usually say is, “I have nothing to wear!” But the truth is, they have – they are often just bored with their clothes because they are familiar with them. Sometimes, they have their own ideas and want to wear a specific outfit, and I will always do this too.

What am I looking for?

  1. Colours that will work with the backgrounds I have already chosen.
  2. Clothes that are flattering to the person.
  3. Three or four different outfits to add variety to the pictures.

It’s often difficult to know what goes with what – so I will always ask the client to get out several of their favourite outfits and put them on the bed – that way I can ask them to show me what they usually wear with what. It’s a process of working it out together.

So if I pick up a great top, I will ask, “What do you usually wear with this?” And together we make the selection.

If the subject is an adult, and is self-conscious about certain things, like her arms for example, I will find a jacket, or shirt, something that will cover her arms – as bare skin does not usually look great on pictures unless your subject is really toned. If she’s concerned about her weight, I will not use tight clothes, as they will be less versatile – when sitting down for example.

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All this work prior to starting a shoot will really pay off – because, as well as choosing clothes, you are also relaxing the client and developing a relationship with them as you go along – you are working it out together, and that will really help them start to enjoy the whole process.

If you don’t go to their house, but meet them somewhere with a car full of clothes, I will still do a selection process prior to shooting, so I can plan the shoot, which will make it so much easier, and will help to relax them, just as if I was doing this at their house. (Check out the video later on which shows me choosing clothes from a car, but first read on, because it will help you understand what I am doing in the videos).

Put the rest away!

Using only the clothes they are already wearing will limit your pictures but taking the entire wardrobe will just confuse you. Once you’ve selected a few outfits, put the rest away – it makes it easier to see the wood for the trees! So I may start off with 20 different things lying on the bed, and then I will reject certain ones, until I have the ones I think will work best with the backgrounds I have chosen. I still remain flexible and take a few extra items just in case.

If it’s a whole family shoot, then I do this for every person – I put out the clothes in each room. I often have to go back and forwards between rooms checking on who has what, because when there are more people, you need to make the clothes work together.

If in doubt – just use jeans! And add various tops to them. Planning like this really does help the shoot to flow, and stops you thinking, “what next?” because you already have ideas.

Colours

If there are several people in the shot, try and make the clothes work together – so that you don’t have three people in blue and one in bright red for example, or they will stand out too much – but equally, don’t have everyone in identical clothes, or the picture will look very contrived. (Unless it’s twin children, who will look gorgeous in the same clothes).

Here the red t-shirts work well with the red on the older boy's t-shirt - and because there is black on there too, it also links to the older girl's shirt- so the whole look works together.

Here the red t-shirts work well with the red on the older boy’s t-shirt – and because there is black on there too, it also links to the older girl’s shirt- so the whole look works together.

On location

This fun, “fly on the wall” video below, includes a section where I am choosing the clothes with the client – I have already checked out my backgrounds, so when I look at his clothes, I can pick out colours which I think will work. Excuse the sound quality – this is not meant to be a professional teaching video! But hopefully it will show you how I really do rifle through people’s clothes and have fun with them before I start shooting. Then check out the images below to see how the clothes worked with the backgrounds.

TOP: The bright blue shirt looks great against the light background. BOTTOM: The light green check works with the green leaves, and also the lines on the fence and floor. In black and white, the lines complement the texture and lines in the floor.

TOP: The bright blue shirt looks great against the light background. BOTTOM: The light green check works with the green leaves, and also the lines on the fence and floor. In black and white, the lines complement the texture and lines in the floor.

I just love this wacky shirt! At first, Jeff was hesitant about wearing it - but I knew it would look great with the background I had already seen.

I just love this wacky shirt! At first, Jeff was hesitant about wearing it – but I knew it would look great with the background I had already seen.

The red checked shirt looks great with the brick walls, both when the image is slightly faded (LEFT) and when I've punched up the colours too (RIGHT).

The red checked shirt looks great with the brick walls, both when the image is slightly faded (LEFT) and when I’ve punched up the colours too (RIGHT).

Choosing children’s clothes on location

Check out the video below to see a detailed “real time” piece on choosing children’s clothes too:

The images below show how the clothes worked in the pictures.

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I hope this will give you some ideas on how to approach choosing clothes – it really does make a difference to your shots if you can find clothes that work with the backgrounds.

Annabel x


Video of Jeff in Key West: Sarah Brockbank / Editing: James Robinson
Video of children’s clothes in UK: Matt Pluck with Charlotte Griffiths / Editing: James Robinson