The Boutique Photographer: What to Wear

By Sara Frances, M.Photog.CR.

Don’t let your appearance be an afterthought.
Clothing and style leave a huge impression
—make it a good one.

We’re all in the appearance business. For the boutique photographer, showtime means bringing out the best in every client and looking good while doing it.

The traditional photographer’s uniform of business suit or tuxedo is a thing of the past; even plain black isn’t good enough any more. At contemporary weddings and mitzvahs you’re not a guest, nor a businessperson, nor the hired help, and you’re visible all the time.

You want to look smart, stylish, functional and unobtrusive, with a touch of artiness. Sharp and cool, but not far out. Neat and clean, but not staid or conventional. Comfortable and functional, but not too casual or uncaring. Develop a personal look that befits your status as the artisan entrusted to create a lifetime of important memories. How you look is part of your brand, your signature style.

Select your wardrobe based on the job, location, climate, season and time of day. Regional customs and protocol play a big role as well. Our typical event lasts all day, often several days, through a variety of venues and conditions. We consider wardrobe to be equipment just like our cameras, and with our specific client base we must dress to impress several generations.

Modern technical clothing, found in travel catalogues, offers new possibilities for style and comfort that mesh with the event and environment. The documentary approach to events is often physical, fast and unpredictable. We plan for ease of movement with stretch fabrics, layering, combinable outfits, gear for weather and the most comfortable shoes. We pack changes of clothing from urban hip to five-star hotel.

Often we start at a salon or on the golf course—nothing black or business-like there. Attire is strictly Palm Springs, upscale casual. Typically, the first phase of a wedding job deals with lots of equipment moving, setup and preparation. Unlike other event service providers, we’re on show all during this time because we take pictures throughout and we’re always in contact with the client and guests.


Dressed head-to-toe by Patagonia, we’re ready for golf, a rehearsal picnic or the ladies’ spa time. Note Karl’s SPF sunblock fabric shirt, tech belt and eco-friendly hemp shoes and Sara’s ankle-supporting blue suede urban hiking shoes. And our ever-present metering and white balance devices. Images © The Photo Mirage Inc.

Scout your location in advance to be prepared. One of our favorite summer venues, a botanical garden, challenges us with a wedding site some 300 yards from parking, in full sun, with a dirt path and no support.

Afternoon is a transition time to take portraits in various backgrounds, dressing shots and guest-arrival candids, or perhaps the wedding itself is in progress, even in the heat of the day. Black clothing here defeats the goal of unobtrusiveness and could result in heat exhaustion.

Late-day times and traditional venues such as a cathedral, synagogue, or downtown hotel demand we blend in with darker attire, and a different level of formality. Clients and guests alike are sensitive to inappropriate dress. Recently a bride asked me to subdue color of several guests’ clothing in the album pictures to conform to her formal black-tie event.


Multiple outfits are easily transported in folding travel envelopes. Karl has two shirts, two pair of pants, tie and cuff links in this little case. Technical and travel clothing are wrinkle, water and stain resistant. Even a jacket can be successfully folded in a large travel envelope. Find them at REI.com and through AAA Auto Club.
Images © The Photo Mirage Inc.

 

The fashion will change depending on your clientele and region, but the function is the same. Tailor your style to suit your market, but always consider how you'll be able to do your job in the clothing you wear. Here are examples of the styles Karl Arndt and Sara Frances wear for specific types of occasions along with "5 Tips to Survive in Style."


Afternoon dress for summer outdoors should be light and airy. Here’s a time when floral prints and colors work to your advantage. The guests think we’re one of them. Sara is in Ralph Lauren and Karl is wearing Patagonia and Travel Smith. Images © The Photo Mirage Inc.
 


We dressed this way to shoot a recent public television event honoring David Adjaye, the architect of the new Denver Museum of Contemporary Arts. Very urban hip, neutral colors, very functional in crowds for semi-formal occasions. Karl in Arcteryx and Armani; Sara in Banana Republic and Nike. Note Sara’s Lowepro PhotoRunner beltpack for lenses and accessories and two small, zippered pouches for cell phone, business cards and personal items. Her tactical flashlight hangs on the belt too.
Images © The Photo Mirage Inc.

 


Five-star hotel events usually dictate darker and fancier clothing. Karl is in a sueded bamboo shirt that works well with a jacket. Sara in an ornamented black-on-black Elizabethan style jacket with velvet stretch pant from Jones New York. Her comfy rhinestone-studded black sneakers are from Sketchers. Sara’s second outfit features tuxedo striped pants with matching velvet bustier and aubergine appliqued ribbon jacket—a boutique find from designer Samuel Dong. Images © The Photo Mirage Inc.

 

5 Tips to Survive in Style

1) HEAD Conceal facial blemishes with makeup. Ladies, use simple, all-day makeup that doesn’t need constant touchups. Men, shave carefully and keep your grunge look arty, not unkempt. Stylish hair is the crowning touch.

2) HANDS Clean, smooth hands and nails are a must to handle wedding dresses safely. Photography is dirty work, so wash your hands often during the day and be confident close up with clients.

3) HEAT Wear clothing that wicks moisture and colors that conceal perspiration. Include a small, super absorbent towel in your kit.

4) POLISH Layered dressing is a good approach. Check pants and long skirt hems to avoid accidental tripping. Don’t dress like a waiter.

5) PREPARE Pack necessities for the day, like your own water bottle and energy bars, a pocket knife, tactical flashlight, and a large golf umbrella for sun or rain. Ladies, forget the purse. Try small, zippered bags that fit on your belt pack for cell phone, business cards, lip balm, hand lotion, breath mints, cash and ID.

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Comments (1)

Love the article. Very appropriate and informative. Too often, as a photographer, I focus on the art and technical aspects. My clothing is an afterthought. You will make me give it more thought in the future.

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