How Clothes, Color of Outfits, Backgrounds & Lighting Impact the Portrait

When picking clothes for a photo shoot, I have a few tips. For these photos of recording artist Sydney Rhame, we had a few outfits. So here, I will show you how many variables can impact the final images.

Sydney Rhame


I recommend wearing solids over patterns. It keeps your eye going to the face rather than the outfit.

Sydney Rhame


If you have two or more people, you need to coordinate your outfits, but by yourself, you have much more latitude. You want to pick a color that works with your skin tone, hair color, and eye color.

Sydney Rhame


Be careful to coordinate your lipstick color with your outfits.


Backgrounds need to be simple and uncluttered. Backgrounds need to be complementary to the colors the model is wearing.

Sydney Rhame


Black and White are great neutral colors to use as well as Gray. I would avoid pure white because it is challenging to keep the detail in the white when you start going to different outputs like photo prints or a newspaper.

Black works well, and I like it when the fabric has some texture, as Sydney’s sweater does here.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, AC-9, AC-3, PocketWizard Mini TT1, TT5, Paul Buff Vagabond, Alienbees B1600, ISO 320, ƒ/2.8, 1/640

Notice that you can keep the same background and change outfits, and the photo’s mood will change.

Also, keeping the same outfit but a different background changes the photo’s mood.

I have learned through the years that if you want the best photo, you need to bring a variety of outfits to a photo shoot and mix and match those outfits with different backgrounds and lighting schemes.

Sometimes in the case of a recording artist like Sydney, you need a different look depending on the music you are promoting.


While your clothes, the background, and lighting can significantly impact the photo, the one thing that makes the image is the model’s expression. Now coordinating all these into one moment is when you have that EUREKA MOMENT!