what to wear to your photo session

I spend a great deal of my time answering the following question: “What should I wear?” It’s not that I’m tired of answering that question. When people contract me to take photos, I feel as if I have a duty to educate them, so until now, I’ve never written any free content about what to wear. I am on the lookout for a stylist who’s looking to build her / his / their portfolio, so if that’s you, please - let’s connect. Until then, I help my clients as much as I can. 

And, I’m by no means a fashionista. If you’ve seen me in the past five years or so, you’ve probably seen me in shades of black. It is my favorite color. A crisp black, none of that trendy faded black. Only recently did I realize that in dressing for my own funeral each day, perhaps I’m not attracting the energy I’d most like into my life. I’m rather shy, an introvert, and black feels simple, classic, and safe. It’s my entrepreneurial uniform. One less decision to make each day. 

A few months ago, I had some photos taken of myself, and I wore black, and when I received the photos, I thought, “Hmmm, I’m not so sure that’s my color.” I didn’t love how dark it was next to my skin tone. The same, I’ve discovered, is true for navy. Unless, I’m trying to further the dark and mysterious artist persona, I think I photograph far better in light colors. Dare I say - white is even preferable - which is unfortunate because by 8 am, my son will have stained whatever I’m wearing. 

I’m still going to wear black because I just love it, and it packs a punch of power.

her accessories (the jewelry and her smile) as well as the warm light are beautiful.

the simplicity creates interest.

the main attraction is not her attire.

These first few paragraphs have qualified for you that I am no expert in this department. I’m not sure why you’re still reading. But, since you are, I’ll offer a few tips based on my experience photographing individuals, couples, families, and entrepreneurs. 

  • As much as I do love black, can I just say that I like pastels on most people, too? I shoot predominantly film, and pastels bring a light, airy feel to everything. I remember in high school, back when I was dressing kinda goth, there was this girl who sat next to me in Biology, and she said “If you want the teachers to like you more, wear pastels.” I was in trouble a bunch - mostly because I have a strong opinion about so many things. I remember thinking, “I will never wear pastels.” So, if that’s you, and you hate pastels, please don’t wear pastels. The most important thing in your photos is to be truly authentic and you. A couple of other things to consider with regard to color are: 1. Does what you’re wearing align with your brand colors? 2. Who are you attracting? I need the photo of me in a suit because I speak to corporations about wellness, but I also need the photos of me in pastels. The reason is twofold - my clients are predominantly female, and I want my work in the world to have a divinely feminine quality to it. 
  • if 16 year old Amber could see 36 year old Amber…

    this photo courtesy of Sabrina Gebhardt Photography. in all honesty, he and I might be a little too matchy-matchy, but I just don’t care because he’s going to have the rest of his life to wear whatever he wants.

  • If you’re a mom and you’re reading this in preparation for a family shoot, DRESS YOURSELF FIRST. Kids look good in everything. Even if your toddler insists on going naked or wearing a graphic tee because s/he’s a threenager, and you just cannot muster the courage to attempt to reason with unreasonable little people, it’ll be fine. Go ahead: buy yourself a beautiful dress or jumpsuit or blouse. Coordinate the family based on you! What a concept. I think this is a good plan for self preservation and family longevity, in general. If Momma looks good, everybody looks good. Dressing yourself well first is the fashionable equivalent to putting your own oxygen mask on first. And, in case you need permission, it’s ok to wear a bright color or a bold print. You are worth seeing. Without you, there would be no kids. You can take up space in the frame. Your children will want the photos of you. And, until they are old enough to know they do, these photos are for you, so you might as well look good. 
  • The fit is important. With babies and kids, I prefer the clothes to fit tighter rather than looser. With adults, I used to say fitted was better - especially if you want to look smaller in body, which I know might be the opposite of what you think. Baggy clothes can look like you pitched a tent, you know? But, I do love clothes that flow and move. If you’re conscious about your body - and let’s face it, 99% of people are - wear something you feel comfortable in. I know that I’m going to ostracize about half of the moms in the South here with what I’m about to say next: I’m just not so sure those monogrammed bubble suits and rompers photograph well. Occasionally, they do. I have a photo of my son wearing a seersucker (pastel) jumper in a field of bluebonnets that I will carry with me to the grave. It’s one of my favorite photos of all time. He looks big and little all at the same time. It’s timeless. Nobody would know if it was 2019 or 1989. This brings me to my next point…
  • my prince, spring 2019. I can kinda see why those bluebonnets are a thing.

  • Especially if you’re using these photos professionally, you want your photos to have some longevity. When in doubt, choose classic and timeless. It’s absolutely ok to ignore this rule if you are a person who routinely takes photographs or if you’re a blogger or entrepreneur in a field related to fashion. Sometimes I get a text: “What do you think of a white shirt?” Sometimes photographers say, no, and I assume it’s because they don’t have the skillset to capture the highlights, and/or they know the camera likes to focus on what’s white first. I’ve been doing this long enough that I think white is almost always a great idea, and film does a great job capturing the details that digital images lose.
  • bell sleeves - yes, please!


    colored pants, uh huh.

    turtleneck. timeless.

    simple, elegant - like her.

    off-white, sheer.

  • Texture is a beautiful thing. Especially during winter months, a chunky sweater or flowing wrap creates warmth and movement. I’m writing this post on the heels of spending an hour of my life I’ll never get back smoothing wrinkles from a linen dress. I’m not saying not to wear linen. I absolutely love linen. I wear it all the time. I’ll airbrush yours, too. Just know that I’m gonna take my sweet time delivering your gallery.
  • these ladies work in yoga but also in corporate wellness, so the wraps add a dimension of professionalism that spandex (in my opinion) does not.

    A final word: stop overthinking what you’re going to wear. In fact, if I may, your hair and makeup are far more important. That’s a topic for another day. Until then, joy is the best makeup, so relax and smile and trust that I’m going to photograph you in your best light. 

    lifestyle headshot photography: Debra Barrett Realtor at Simple Things Fort Worth

    I envision my child(ren) in therapy years from now talking about how Mum-mum was always cleaning. People come into my home and say, “How does a toddler live here?” And, I don’t know. I might be neurotic. Or, I mean “Tidy, tidy tidy up” is my favorite Little Baby Bum song, so maybe I just value neatness. My wife wakes in the morning and says, “The elves must have come.” Let’s be clear: she means that I’ve cleaned. Meanwhile, at 5 am, I was standing at the espresso machine looking out into our open abode like “What slob lives here?” How can 3 people - one of whom has obsessive compulsive disorder - and a dog make such a mess? I wake ready to conquer the day. I am that morning person whom I used to hate, and then by the afternoon, my standards are far more realistic, and I can see the abstract art in the cheerios on the floor. 

    I am not sure if this is true for everyone or just for people like me: I am profoundly influenced by my environment. I identify as an artist; I’m happiest when I’m consciously seeking to find and create beauty - in everything. 

    When we moved into our minimalist, ultra-modern inspired home, I invited Debra Barrett to help me bring the front of our home to life. It was sterile. (I kinda like that…look, a blank canvas!) But, I didn’t have a vision for our space, and if it had been up to me, we would have lived on austerely until it was time to move. Purchasing paralysis. It’s how I feel about hanging portraits on my white walls, too. I have hundreds of photos and just never know which ones and should it be framed or metal or wood? So, I end up with white walls. 

    Yet, with a client’s walls, I have a vision. You need a framed canvas there. 16x20. I’m definitive. 

    Debra brought that sort of confidence to our home. Buy this rug. Hang this print. Use this fabric. What do you think of this? And with the pieces we had that were less than beautiful, she’d say, “Tell me about this.” And, if I could tell her about its importance, she gave it new life and incorporated it in the design. And, if I couldn’t, well Marie Kondo, buh-bye and thank you for serving us in our past space. I mean, we have* feathers and drumsticks on the mantle, if that tells you anything. But, every time I step through the threshold of our front door, I feel at home. And, I thank God for Debra. It’s the same for most of the people who visit us, too. Wow, what a room! I should take photos of it to post here, but it’s the afternoon and Mum-mum’s tired and it looks like a toddler tornado’s come through. 

    Anyway, you probably know people who infuse magic into everything. That’s Debra. If you live on the westside and wanna sell your house for full price overnight? Debra. Even if it’s been on the market for ages with another realtor, she’s gonna stage it to sell. Wanna figure out how to combine you and your spouse’s eclectic ideas about function and form? Debra. Wanna downsize, upsize? Debra. Wanna turn a book shelf into a work of art? Debra. 
    When she asked me to update her headshots, I was excited and knew I wanted to take her out of the studio into a place brimming in color and texture. Simple Things Furniture in Fort Worth was kind enough to host us.  And, I love some of these images so much, I wish I could send them to people when someone requests my headshot.

    A new client called this week and said, “I was on your website, and you know the beautiful woman with glasses - she must be a stylist or in design…”  That’s how I know I’ve done my job: when the photo tells the story of who you are and all you have to offer the world. Recently, I wrote a blog about the importance of headshots HERE. Check it out if you’re unsure where to begin. 

    let’s retire the word ‘headshot’ please.

    I wrote something on Instagram a while back about how the very mention of the word “headshot” makes me cringe. The word brings to mind those school pictures with two lights in front of a blue backdrop. Don’t get me wrong: I actually love studio lighting and utilize it - just not always in the conventional way. (Enneagram: 4:: individualist). So, when someone requests headshots, my first response is generally, “Please take a look at my website and visit my portfolio.” Once they reply, “Yes, I love your work, I’d love to work with you,” I send them a pdf file that’s probably a little long for some folks (some people love to know exactly what to expect; others want to ‘wing it’). Then, I set up a call to talk. And, the reason for this process is this: as much as I love my work, everyone views photographs differently. I don’t aspire to be Amber Shumake The high volume Dallas Fort Worth area headshot photographer. I want to work with a handful of clients every couple of weeks and create art that’s unique to each individual. I want you to ooze with pride when someone requests that you attach your “headshot.” I suppose I abhor that term because gone are the days when corporate photographs need to be tucked-in and stuffy. Photos of you are the first way in which clients and potential clients connect with your message and “meet” you. You might as well make a great first impression; otherwise, you’re likely turning your dream clients away. 

    And, if you’re reading this, I’d imagine you’ve been told something about the way you look that has traumatized you. 

    I’m gonna let that previous sentence sink in. I moonlight as a trauma therapist. Perhaps the message that “you’re not photogenic” or “you smile weird” or “your eye is lazy” or “your teeth are ugly” or “you look fat” or “you look sick and too skinny” or “your nose is too pointy” are not capital-T traumas. But, I’ve been providing commercial photographs for small business women in these parts for a few years now (I shirked this work in the beginning of my career because it’s not as easy as photographing a child…that’s for sure), and I’ve worked with exactly one woman who told me she loved how she looked. One. One out of hundreds. You probably read that and thought, “Omg, who was it? How arrogant!” 

    For me, it was absolutely refreshing. 

    You see, we live in a society that’s poisoned us into believing we should hate how we look - that our sole purpose should be to be smaller in body and…well, power. It took me about 33 years to realize the power piece. Because if I’m counting my carbs every day and making my macros (who am I kidding…I don’t even know what that means) and doing my cardio and practicing yoga and lifting weights and removing all the hair from my body and embarking on my nightly skin care regimen one hour before bed and getting eight hours of sleep and doing all of the other things that society has told me I need to do in the name of beauty, I don’t have time to pursue anything else. Side note: if all of the aforementioned things bring you joy, then - by all means - carry on. Live and let live. For the record, I do some of those things. Some of those things bring me endorphins and strong, stable joints that are capable of carrying a heavy son and photo equipment; some of those things bring me the mental clarity to become quiet enough to hear how I can best serve here. 

    So, I feel my work as a photographer who predominantly photographs women is an opportunity to invite you to set all that you’ve been told about how you look aside and instead see yourself from a place of power because it’s in you. You were born with It - we all were. It’s waiting for you to see it and own it and share it with other people who haven’t quite found their power yet. This is a role I don’t take lightly. So, I walk you through every step of the way. And, can I just say that more often than not at the end of the shoot, women say, “Wow, that was fun,” and “I loved spending time with you.” 

    Since writing about my disdain for the word “headshots” I receive emails with the subject: headshots? I don’t know what we’re going to call them. But, if you send an email with ‘headshots?’ as the subject, I’m gonna know we’re on the same portrait page. 

    Using Format