This can be a complicated question depending on what you want your photos to accomplish. However, there are a few general suggestions to follow based on how colors make us feel, how they interact with each other, and physical limitations of cameras.
Patterns & Contrast
Our attention is often drawn towards areas of an image with the most contrast. That contrast is created by intense differences in brightness. Photographers leverage contrast in order to draw attention to the parts of the scene that they want the most. Studio backgrounds are often very simple because the photographer wants attention drawn to their subject. This technique is also possible in outdoor photos by finding areas with a uniform background and employing a large amount of background blur.
Clothing can affect this as well, especially in photographs that are either full or three-quarter length. Anything on your chest and shoulders is going to be either in focus or very close to being in focus, so clothing patterns that carry a lot of contrast can be distracting. The simplest method of ensuring that this doesn’t happen is to wear solid colors or subdued patterns.
The opposite can be true, but it requires consideration by the subject, photographer, and an aesthetician. A striking pattern can be enhanced with specific lighting and makeup, where the face itself breaks up the pattern and draws attention that way. If doing this, I highly recommend that an aesthetician be on-site with the photographer and subject so they can find the most optimal method of directing the eye
A photograph with multiple subjects usually requires a bit of coordination between everybody participating. If one person dresses differently from the others, it can bring more attention to them. You can notice this often in movies, where the subject of a photo is wearing red where the others are wearing black. Your attention is drawn to them immediately because of that single pop of color. This can be an effective technique if you want multiple people in the photo while highlighting a single person, such as bridal photos.
A popular trend over the last fifty years is to have each person wear matching clothing. This is an easy way to make sure everybody in the photo is getting equal treatment. However, if you are coming to my studio, I typically recommend against this. It comes down to an issue of taste, and I personally feel that doing so suppresses the individuality of each person involved. What I recommend instead is working with the photographer during a consultation to decide on a color pallet. Each subject then has more freedom to choose a style of clothing that suits them while providing some uniformity.
Color theory is a deep and lengthy subject that delves into everything from physics to psychology. An in-depth discussion of colors and how to make a pallet work together is so far beyond this blog (and this photographer) that it would hardly be beneficial. However, we have access to a tool that helps: the color wheel. They are used to help determine color harmonies that work well together. Many visual artists have spent so much time in front of a color wheel that they can visualize it quickly, but when planning to coordinate colors between multiple people, having the wheel there can help massively. It’s also worth considering that considering color in this regard doesn’t have to be precise. Colors which are analogous to each other, such as slightly different oranges or purples, will often suffice. Color correction is also a service that many photographers can provide in order to bring analogous colors closer together.
Also known as black & white, greyscale images provide a classic, timeless look that often avoids the issue of mixed color garments altogether. Greyscale images can also be toned to create additional interest, such as sepia photographs that have a brownish cast.
Colors along a single “spoke” of the color wheel are monochromatic. They can vary in intensity, but are basically the same color throughout. This is common with fashion photography.
Colors opposite of each other on the color wheel are complementary, and are effective at providing pleasing contrast.
Colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel can create a nice image, especially when the colors are presented in order to create a rainbow-like effect. This is most effective when using three colors, where the “center” color anchors the other two.
At a basic level, a triadic scheme uses a main color and adds two additional colors which are an equal distance away from the main color. A fourth color can be quickly added by picking the complementary color to the main and using that as a background color. This has the benefits of both adjacent and complementary schemes.
Another four-color scheme, this employs two main colors plus their complements. The split complementary method of doing this uses two main colors which are adjacent to each other.
Playing With Color
With a variety of schemes available, it becomes evident why visual artists often have some kind of color wheel close at hand, whether that be a physical wheel or a digital color tool. There are many physical and digital tools available. There are two websites I particularly like to use when planning color schemes. Paletton has a design that automatically shows analogous colors. I only recently discovered it, but it’s quickly become one of my favorites. The other is Adobe Color, which is my old standard. Adobe Color can be integrated with Adobe Creative Cloud which makes it especially useful for visual artists working within the Adobe family of products. Just be careful; I’ve lost many an hour of productivity simply by playing with different pallets.
Carefully considering different wardrobe choices during a consultation takes a lot of the guesswork out of your portrait session. What I would like to do is visit your home and explore different options with you so that we can eliminate uncertainty during the session itself. These consultations are completely free of charge, and is the first step of creating an unforgettable experience for yourself and your loved ones.