Portrait Photography and Men’s Clothes – How a Man should dress for the Camera

Whether you are stepping in front of a camera for a professional portrait to be used on your company’s website or simply headed to the DMV for your driver’s licence, a man should dress appropriately when having his picture taken.

Not only should you be aware that sometimes a photo is all others have to judge you by, but also photography poses unique challenges to the person being photographed as unlike our eyes or even film, a still photo catches a moment in time and certain patterns and colors can have a negative effect on the picture quality outcome.

wedding party being photgraphedWhy is dressing for the camera important

You may be asking, “So what? Why is dressing properly for the camera important?”

Frankly, the way you are seen is the way you are portrayed. If a man takes the time and puts in the effort to dress with professional effect, then the greater the impact and appeal his photograph will have.  

No matter if you are having your passport photograph, family portrait, or business formal picture taken, a man should look his best as he never knows when this portrait will serve as his only introduction.

Before we launch into the details, there are a few preliminary points to take into consideration prior to sitting down in front of the camera.

portrait cameraThe limitations of the camera

Just like the video camera, the still camera is not as advanced as our eyes. Film and digital camera technology is far behind the capability of our natural sight and the way we adjust for different conditions.

Oftentimes what the camera “sees” is different than what we see in person. Why does this matter? Because trying to use too complicated patterns combinations or using colors that are too bright can cause irregularities in a photo which result in a picture that reflects poorly on us.  

A white dress shirt worn alone can overexpose the picture and erase wanted details from the face – overuse of pattern can look nice in person but in a picture becomes distracting.

Instead of fighting the limitations of the camera, a person should simply understand them and dress accordingly.

portrait lighting cheat sheet

Thanks DIYPhotography.net for the great cheat sheet!

Lighting for effective men’s portraits

In the world of portraits there are three major types of lighting.

The first is neutral lighting. This type of lighting you will see commonly used for passport pictures or school pictures.  The light is even and is used to light up your face and background. There is nothing particularly flattering about this kind of light, but it gets the job done.

The second is low key lighting. Low key lighting is used for emphasis and drama. Often the background is darkened and the lighting is focused on your face with sharp fall out from the chin down (leaving your neck and shoulders blend into the darkness).  

The third type of lighting is high key.  High key lighting is bright and “airy”. The exposure values are high and instead of fading into darkness, there is a lack of shadows in high key lighting.

How a man should dress for neutral light portraits – As discussed above, neutral light is the basic lighting and the easiest to dress for. Any suit and coordinating shirt and tie will work with neutral light. However, you should avoid hot colors (like pink, orange, green) because the camera will have a difficult time properly exposing for the values of hot pink or hot oranges, etc. Besides, a man with a hot pink tie is not too manly.

What a man should wear for low key portraits  If you choose to have your portrait taken in low key lighting, then expect for dramatic results. However, wearing all black for a shadow-filled environment will give the photographer trouble.

If you wear too much dark in low key lighting, then you run the risk of being a nothing more than a “floating head”.  The dark clothes you wear will be lost in the dark background and only your head will be distinguishable.  To avoid this, consider wearing a lighter gray suit coat or blazer jacket with a white dress shirt.

What a man should wear for high key portraits  White is the predominate tone in high key lighting. Any colors work well in high key lighting, however, you should avoid wearing white because you do not want to be washed out. A gray suit, blue shirt and a burnt red tie is a classic combination and looks good in a shadowless lighting environment.

What should a man wear for passport photos

A passport photograph is a picture that only a few people glance at any time you travel internationally. A correct passport photo is more about showing your face rather than the clothes you wear. The head-shot does, however, show your neck and shoulders.

Wear a dress shirt color and pattern that compliments your face and wear a tie that works with the collar of your shirt.  A suit jacket in a charcoal or navy blue, while not required, pulls the strings of a well-dressed traveler together. Lastly, do not forget to be well groomed and make sure to maintain a natural, neutral expression.

Below is a good example of a man properly dressed for an effective passport photograph:

passport photo

What should a man wear for family portraits

There are a myriad ways of dressing for family portraits; it depends on the purpose of the shoot and the family’s intention (formal or casual or even humorous). Possible informal family portraits will have you wearing a sweater and complimentary trousers.  

Perhaps, you and your family will be outdoors on the beach and will wear khakis and a white short-sleeved shirt.  If you are having a family or group portrait, be careful of dressing in like colors, patterns, and materials.  I am not a fan of this technique as:

1) The family chooses a bad color such as white and makes the picture very difficult to take properly – many “professional” photographers don’t realize this till they spend 5 hours editing one picture in photoshop.

2) Instead of a theme uniting, it actually become the topic of the picture.  When people see it, they comment on the outfits rather than the faces and smiles.

3) Someone always forgets the uniform and inadvertently becomes the center of attention in the photograph.

4) The picture ends up looking too planned; I don’t know about you, but on a daily basis I do not dress like the rest of my family.

5)  Unnecessary stress – who needs it?

I feel its better to compliment than match – people are individuals. Lay a few guidelines of what clothing is expected, bring everyone together, and then photograph quickly before the smiles become disingenuous.

Should you choose to go to a photo studio on your own accord then you are 100% in control of what you wear.  I suggest that you consider bringing three outfits to your photo shoot.The first outfit is more formal:  a suit or a blazer with appropriate dress shoes.

The second on par with business to weekend casual (sport jacket, nice trousers, button up dress shirt in a check or striped pattern, classic sweater perhaps, and even a simple pocket square).

And the third outfit something informal like nice jeans, an aran sweater, polo shirt, sport button up shirt, perhaps even chinos.  Most photo studios have dressing rooms and most photographers include a change of outfits in their package pricing.

Here is a great example of a sharp dressed family – Antonio (RMRS Founder) Olena, and their children Sasha and Svitlana.

Antonio Centeno's family portrait

What should a man wear for business portraits

Conveying confidence, strength, knowledge and professionalism is very important in a business portrait.  The clothes you wear will help radiate positive qualities that all viewers will see when they look at your business portrait.

A solid dark charcoal gray suit is classic and works well with any age. Wear a navy blue suit with pinstripes if you consider yourself “seniored”. White dress shirts are also expected, but light blue works well too.  Keep the tie simple but complimentary to your suit and shirt.

Below is a solid example of the classic menswear you should consider next time you pose for a business portrait:

Older man posing in front of the camera

Conclusion to How a Man should Dress for the Camera

The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. No matter if you are standing for a simple passport photograph or posing for a formal business portrait which will grace the halls of a Fortune 500 company, taking the time and the effort to dress properly will prove to be beneficial for you, for your persona, for your family, and for your company. Because for those who never have the chance to meet you, your picture is their only visual reference of who you are.

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