WHAT NOT TO WEAR: On-Camera Clothing Everyone Should Avoid

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No matter your appearance, some clothing choices consistently and objectively pose problems. Whether you are being photographed or doing the photographing, these tips are crucial for you.

Most people feel at least somewhat insecure when it comes time to get in front of a camera, and this nervousness often gets expressed through an indecisiveness over clothing. We have all been told that there are outfits that simply “don’t suit” our frames and I think that this advice is often baseless or unhelpful; I believe people should simply wear what makes them feel good! Confidence always shines through best. With that said, there are a couple important clothing considerations that no one seems to mention often enough.

No matter your gender, style, or body shape, some fabrics are consistently problematic for anyone being photographed. In this post, I’ll walk through the main ones that most be avoided at all costs. Each one is significant enough that fixing them could require hours of expensive editing. So although Photoshop can do wonders, it is far more affordable to prevent these costly problems ahead of the shoot.

With that goal in mind, here is a list of problematic clothing:

  1. DETAILED FABRIC: pinstripes, small polka dots, fine ribbing, and some other patterns including delicate plaids. Business suits and shirts will often have this problem. Some image examples:
Google searches for ribbed and polka dot fabrics.

What can occur is an unsightly “moire effect” (see below). The camera’s sensor is unable to process all of the minute details to the fabric. In an effort to summarize the visual information, the camera creates a prominent optical illusion. This occurs because fabric is made more three dimensional when being worn: As a result, the issue will often present around wrinkles, where the lines or dots cluster even closer and are also closer or further from the camera by an inch or two.

Credit: Eugene Peretz

In my opinion, this issue is the absolute worst because it is often overlooked until after the images are taken from the camera and uploaded onto the computer. These types of patterns can cause some of the most nightmarish scenario for any photographer because it is so detailed and because the pattern varies from shot to shot. Notably, they should especially be avoided if there is any videography involved, as some of the potential photographic solutions would be too laborious to implement.

2. CLINGY FABRIC: common with stretch-fit clothes such as business shirts/polos and party dresses

Just like the obvious need to iron easily-creased clothes, the need to stay away from overly clingy fabrics may seem obvious to some. However, many people only check the front of their clothes when they are looking at themselves in a mirror. When shooting, however, the camera will be capturing you both sitting, sideways, with arms raised and from behind. As in life, sometimes this results in underwear lines or unwanted definition. While this is perfectly normal, keep in mind that it is not always a characteristic that the subject expects to see in the final images. Overall, clingy fabrics are only an issue because clients may request that wrinkles, lines, and creases be removed––this can become quite time-consuming to do with every image. So if there are dozens of images, the photographer will no doubt have to charge an additional fee, much to the discontent of everyone involved.

3. SEE-THROUGH FABRIC: most common in t-shirts, especially jersey-knits, but also with blouses and business suits

Unfortunately, even a plain old t-shirt can present problems as well. Many clothes which seem acceptable in day-to-day wear may actually be more transparent than you would think. This issue will present itself in headshots, where solid-colour tops will actually draw attention to any translucency. Additionally, many of the cheap (but gorgeous) full-length dresses used for fantasy-inspired shoots will have this issue as well. Again, their transparency may be no big deal until you have a client who wants you to edit their bust or skirt over and over again.


Overall, the real kicker is that these three issues will appear regardless of your skill level or what camera you are using; whether if the camera analog (film) or full frame (high-tech), the same problems may emerge once your image is digitized. Since many people share images on social media, we have to be wary. This is because those types of websites are likely to automatically compress your images. Despite uploading at “High Resolution” settings or providing the client, we need images that can work across platforms––including as teeny tiny avatar images. Every client should expect their portrait photographs to be versatile in this way; it’s part of producing a good product.

But what happens if these clothes cannot be avoided, for whatever reason? There are some solutions that can be explored, though none are simple fixes, and I may explain editing solutions in a future post. But for now…

The overall lesson is that, although there may be work-arounds for these clothing characteristics, they are best avoided unless absolutely necessary. Doing so will cause less headache and disappointment for both the photographer and the subject/client!

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