Many portrait photographers obsess about the clothes their subjects wear on a shoot. They’re often asked to avoid certain colours, or patterns, or given a colour scheme to try and follow. But what about the photographer’s clothes? And this isn’t a matter of how professional you look in front of your clients. It’s all about the light that reflects off you and back toward your subject.
In this short video from the Koldunov Brothers, we see a practical demonstration of two different scenarios. The first shows the impact of our subject wearing differently coloured clothes and how it reflects off their skin. The second shows how the photographer wearing clothes of varying colour and brightness can present on the subject and affect the final image.
You can see when the subject is wearing differently coloured clothes, it has a noticeable effect on the subject. You can clearly see the blue and yellow light reflecting off the subject’s neck and chin in two of the images. The light grey shirt acting as a sort of reflector, filling in the shadows is also rather obvious.
Sometimes, though, we want this effect. You can use it to your advantage for practical or creative effect. This is a photograph I made several years ago of a subject wearing a white suit. The lighting in this particular narrow alley was primarily from overhead. It was an overcast sky with tall buildings up either side.
The suit acts as a fantastic reflector to add a specular highlight along the chin and jawline, as well as parts of the cheek and neck. It would be a very different shot without these highlights to provide separation and texture.
Usually, though, it’s not so desirable. Although, if you shoot outdoors, or you’re shooting high key, it’s not much of a problem. The reflected light usually isn’t enough to make a huge impact. But there’s still a chance that it can.
The colour of clothing the photographer wears also plays an effect. It can sometimes be quite subtle, but it’s definitely there.
Again, we see that the photographer’s white shirt is providing a reflected fill light source. The blue shirt gives the subject a cooler look while the yellow shirt makes the subject warmer (and a little jaundiced).
This is why I almost always wear black on a shoot. I was taught this years ago when I worked in video, where colour casts can be even more noticeable as the camera, subject & coloured clothing move around each other.
What do you wear during your portrait shoots?