This article was written to help men dress appropriately when in front of a video or television camera. Despite advances in modern film technology, the video camera looks at the world through a very limited lens. Conditions that our eyes would normally compensate for are over exposed or distorted by a video camera’s sensors. If you know you are going to be video taped, it is worth the effort to dress in a manner that helps you look your best. To do that, we use some good and not so good examples from TV and film.
How to Dressing for the Video and Television Camera
Technological barriers exist. Between you and your viewers is the camera. While there have been improvements in digital broadcasting, the camera still distorts images. The colors and patterns you see in person, through your eyes, will be captured differently through the limited abilities of the camera lens. What your viewers see will not be exactly the same as in person. Therefore, a gentleman should not think about dressing for an audience but rather dressing for the camera. I cannot stress this enough and that is why I tell you first. Think “camera” not “person”.
Using Correct Color Clothing for the TV
The importance of proper color selection for a man will greatly help him when in front of the camera. Behind colors are meanings. For example, the color red in Western culture means power and passion. These are useful traits while being in front of the camera. However your red tie may look assertive in person, to the camera the red will bleed when next to neutral colors (like your white dress shirt or your black suit jacket). The result will make your face look flushed.
Colors to avoid:
High-contrast images are naturally easy for our optic nerves to properly expose for. When we look at black and white images we see that the images are pure; neither the white is too murky nor the black too gray. A camera cannot work like our eyes can. If the sensor in the camera is flooded with high values of white, then the camera will seek a middle value to use as a base meter for every other color. However, white is bright and having white as a base will force all other colors to be underexposed.
When black is the predominate value, the camera will use the darkest dark as a base and every subsequent colors will be exposed in relation to the base. What does this mean? It means that more light will be needed to compensate for the black values which results in overexposure of brighter colors. Finally hot colors like red, hot pink, orange, yellow, purple and green will never have you looking your best. Hot colors have a bleeding effect which the camera censor is not able to compensate for. The only time I recommended these colors are when a man is performing live on a stage – then the filming plays second fiddle to the audience’s perception.
Colors to use: Cool blues, natural tones, and pastels.
Cool blues and and natural tones are found in the center of color exposure values (whereas black and white are at the extremes). This means the camera sensor will have an easier time exposing the values it sees. Take notice the next time you are watching a speech given from the White House. The colors chosen are no accident; the blue drapes were not selected because there was a sale; the president did not randomly put his hand on a blue suit in his wardrobe. Blue is no coincidence. It has been proven that blue is a calming color.
Pastels use binders of low-contrast and neutral tone. This gives pastels a “subdued” color tone; neither soft nor harsh, pastels are easy on the eye and the camera too! A light blue dress shirt paired with a pastel tie and a natural tone coat is perhaps the best combination for your time in front of the television camera (see Al Roker below).
Proper Clothing Pattern for the TV
Details and intricate patterns prove to be little trouble for our eyes. For the camera, however, pinstripes, checks, herringbones, and textured fabrics will cause havoc for the camera. The result is what looks like the pattern is “swimming”. This is because the details of a herringbone suit, for example, will interfere with the camera’s sensor and will produce a moiré pattern which is distracting and dizzying for the viewer. Solids work best.
Understanding Reflection and Light for Appropriate Menswear
Most studios will rely on three or four or more light sources positioned at different angles and heights to properly expose you and your surroundings. Because of all the lighting, anything metallic will have a tendency to reflect light. It is best to avoid any flashy necklaces, rings, earrings, and lapel pins or other accessories. These will shine and distract the viewer. Also, if you will be in front of the television camera on a consistent basis and you wear prescription eyeglasses, then you will want to make sure your frames and lenses are glare-proof.
What should you wear when you’re going to be on TV?
Pay attention to what news anchors wear. People who successfully make their living in front of a TV video camera will almost always dress appropriately for the camera. More often than not these men and women have wardrobe professionals telling them what to wear. If you’d rather look for another icon to imitate, consider a man you thought was sharp dressed in a recent movie – assuming the film wasn’t set100 years ago, there’s a good chance what the actor is wearing will work well on camera. Just make sure you match the level of your clothing’s formality with the occasion you’re being invited to be filmed for.If all else fails, think soft solid colors
Comfort is very important. Do NOT wear heavy fabrics like wools and wool-flannels. The lights are hot and your body language is just as important as the words you speak. Sweating, adjusting, shifting are not desirable activities when in front of the camera; therefore think “breathable” and “light”. Cotton is breathable and allows for your body to radiate heat much more effectively than if you would wear wool.
Wear a suit to the best of your ability in the color and patterns I suggested above. If you sweat like cold plumbing in the summer, then consider just wearing a dress shirt (buttoned up of course) and coordinating tie. While not as formal as wearing a suit, a dress shirt and tie will not be as distracting as a sweaty face. Hey, if Peter Jennings can go suit-less, then so can you. Useful Tip: Wearing just a dress shirt while sweating will greatly increase the chances of the camera showing your sweaty armpits and spots where your beaded sweat made contact with the shirt. Wear a performance undershirt in a light gray or white. These undershirts work to keep your body cool and to absorb sweat.
Examples of How Dress for the Camera
Barack Obama – President of the United States
What works well: President Obama uses simple solids to his advantage. There are no bold patterns or hot colors. A viewer will spend more time looking at his face (and hearing his message) than staring at his clothes.
What does not work well: Notice how the contrast between his white dress shirt and dark navy blue suit washes out details? If you can’t see it, then look at the edges of the shirt collar. You will see that there is almost not definition between the collar and shirt. This is because the camera had difficulties in metering off his dark suit and bright shirt.
How you can use this: In this picture, President Obama gives us a perfect guide to taking advantage of solids. He looks well-dressed and fit for the occasion. I would suggest wearing a different color dress shirt, like a pastel blue, if paired with a dark suit.
Kirk Herbstreit – ESPN College Football Analyst
What works well: The light blue suit has less contrast than President Obama’s navy blue suit. Notice the lack of washed out whites and an overall balance between all colors. The result is elegant and easy on the eyes and the camera meter.
What does not work well: Kirk’s tanned face and his red and pink striped tie is not a winning combination. A blue tie would lower the intensity of the exposure of his complexion.
How you can use this: Herbstreit’s outfit is a good example of the power of a light blue suit. If you have a suit like this, then consider using it the next time you are going to be filmed. Just remember hot colors like red and pink are not suggested.
Al Roker – Television Broadcaster
What works well: Al Roker uses natural tones to his advantage. The tan suit, pastel blue dress shirt and complimentary tie are easy for the camera to capture. As a result, he looks well-dressed and his clothes will not be distracting.
What does not work well: The only qualm I could see arising is the texture of his suit. The suit could produce a moiré pattern.
How you can use this: Learn from this picture. Natural tones and pastels are the perfect combination to bring out the best in you when you are in front of a camera. Be careful with suit patterns; wear a suit that is more solid in fabric than this and the camera should have no problems broadcasting you.
Examples of How NOT to Dress for the Camera
Steve Eager – FOX News
What works well: It is difficult to give you something that works well in this picture – sorry Steve!
What does not work well: Steve Eagar violates the basic understanding of how to dress for the camera. His bold suit is very distracting and draws the attention from him and the issues he’s talking about. What did you look at first? Probably his suit. His outfit is too high-contrast and works against him and the issues he is looking to bring to light.
How you can use this: This is a good example of how not to present yourself for the camera. Bold pinstripes on a dark suit with a bright-colored tie washes out his dress shirt and face. As a result, his face is essentially “floating” because of a lack of complimentary colors and patterns. To Steve’s defense – he’s a sharp dresser, just not for the camera!
Don Cherry (at right) – Sportscaster
What works well: Don Cherry is known for his wild personality and his clothing proves it. It is impossible to advocate using Cherry as inspiration for dressing for the camera. But we must give him some credit. Don Cherry in this picture uses soft blue pastels; unfortunately, the soft blue pastels are not used in a tie or a dress shirt, but his suit.
What does not work well: The suit is too bold, too unorthodox to be considered for any serious on-camera time for the average gentleman. Don Cherry intentionally ignores all the basic principles of how to dress for the camera; I do not suggest you do the same.
How you can use this: This is the quintessential example of how not to dress. You want to be taken seriously and deliver your message with resolute authority. This example should tell you the importance of the principles (color and pattern) of proper on-camera menswear.
Final words on Dressing for the TV Camera
I used the above men as clear cut examples of how to and how not to dress; in real life you may have little time to prepare for a TV interview or be limited by budget when filming a video series and unable to purchase the suit that best complements you. In this case do what you can with what you have and work with the film crew to minimize the distractions caused by the clothing – better to know and work around than be oblivious to a distraction.
Now get filming!