How To Prepare For A Portrait - What to Wear Essentials: Part 2 of 4

What to Wear Essentials
by Mark Jordan ©2011

Before you begin making your clothing selections, the very first task at hand is to establish the KEY you will be working in. There are three basic KEYS:  high, medium and low. These three KEYS simply refer to the mood or style of your portrait, the lightness or darkness of the clothing colors and the corresponding background. When clothing and background correspond we say they are IN KEY.  With clothing and background IN KEY, your faces become the most dominant element and thereby giving us a greater opportunity of achieving a more meaningful and enduring emotional connection.

Generally speaking, we try to avoid mixing our Keys. For example, we want to stay away from wearing black or denim pants with white shirts. Since the human eye is always drawn to the greatest zone of contrast, the area where mixed keys intersect is where the portrait will have the greatest draw. Most often mixed keys result in the most dominant element being the waistline. Not exactly the makings for a beautiful portrait.

Having said that, there are exceptions. If keys must be mixed it is imperative to keep them within one step of each other. That is, High and Mid Keys can be cautiously mixed, as well as Low and Mid Keys. Rarely is it appropriate, however, to mix Low and High - the contrast is too great.

To discover your KEY, please read the descriptive phrases below and make note of which Key best expresses the style of portrait you have in mind. As you do, please keep in mind people invariably look and photograph best in Mid to Low Keys.

Lastly, be mindful of challenging colors: RED, ORANGE, YELLOW and WHITE. As to red, orange and yellow, because they are dominant colors in the spectrum, they tend to be the most intense element in any portrait. Whereas these colors are manageable within individual portraits, they are challenging to tame in family or group portraits. White, although appropriate for children and lighter backgrounds, is generally not a forgiving choice. White tends to add visual weight and its stark contrast is not flattering on most skin tones.

Also, please be aware that the lighting for High Key portraits tends not to be as three-dimensional as the other keys. This is because when working with the lighter, High Key colors, we lessen the intensity of the shadow so as not to allow the darker value of the shadow to distract or demand the viewer's attention. In lowering the ratio of contrast between light and shadow the dimensionality of the portrait is subsequently reduced. Thus, the consequence is a less dimensional, "flatter" looking portrait.

Family Portrait at Laguna Beach, CA

• A Pattern or Design that is simple and plain tends to photograph best. They are not distracting and will not draw attention away from the face. Patterns may be selected just as long as the design is muted and unobtrusive.  Remember, simplicity is the key.
  • Observe the Fold of the fabric - it should be supple and rounded edged. Does the fabric form sharp creases or is it resilient with pliable curves? As you might have guessed, just as in our relationships, we prefer fabric with flexible, soft edges...
• Besides selecting soft fabric, it should also not easily wrinkle. To determine whether or not a piece of clothing will work, do the “rumple test.” Take the fabric in your hand and rumple it into a ball. If it bounces back without creasing, the fabric will do just fine.
• Clothing should have a loose fit. Unless your body is exceptionally toned, the tighter the clothing, the heavier the look, and the more challenging it can appear to be comfortable and actually be comfortable. Conversely, too baggy of clothing can also add weight.
• The Weight and Season of the fabric must also be planned. Heavy materials denote cool weather while light fabrics implies a feeling of warmer climes. Some materials appear to be worn in winter while others seem to be most appropriate for Spring.

There is a vast misconception when it comes to making clothing selections for portraits. The confusion arises out of our desire to acquire the "perfect" portrait. First of all, let me dispel this notion: there is no such animal as the perfect portrait. There are, however, portraits of excellence. Before we move into this arena, however, we must first unravel the puzzle of Harmony vs Matching. The reality of it is actually not that difficult at all.

Simply put, in making our clothing selections our task is to discern which aspects of harmonizing and matching requires which approach. In a nut shell, your focus in coordinating your portrait clothing is to harmonize the colors and garment style while matching the characteristics of the fabrics. The following chart will help you better understand these characteristics:

Harmonizing VS Matching

As always, should you have any questions or would like to contact me, no concern is too small: 

©Photosical - the photographic and personal observations of Orange County Photographer, Mark Jordan

Mark Jordan Photography specializes in crafting stunning contemporary, traditional, classic, and storytelling family portraits (high school seniors, children portraits, babies, maternity, pregnancy), headshots and pets. Mark Jordan, a Photography Hall of Fame photographer in Rancho Santa Margarita and provides portrait photography throughout Orange County. The portrait studio also serves San Diego County and Inland Empire. Studio Photography Services are also provided in Riverside County and Los Angeles County. Local Cites where photography studio services are offered are in Aliso Viejo, Anaheim, Brea, Costa Mesa, Coto de Caza, Cypress, Dana Point, Dove Canyon, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Ladera Ranch, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, Northwood, Orange, Orange Park Acres, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Ana, Tustin, Villa Park, Westminster, Yorba Linda, Corona del Mar, Murrieta, Murrieta Hot Springs, Quail Valley, Riverside, Temecula, Winchester, Chino Hills, Fontana, Grand Terrace, Loma Linda, Montclair, Rancho Bernardo, Carlsbad, Coronado, Del Mar, Escondido, La Mesa, Oceanside, San Diego, San Marcos, Solana Beach, Vista, Carmel Mountain Ranch, Rancho San Diego, Rancho Santa Fe, and San Diego Country Estates, Turtle Rock, Shady Canyon. Portrait Photographers everywhere (photographers in O.C. as well) are welcome to contact our portrait studio for mentoring/guidance.