How do you know someone is a photographer? They only wear black clothing, of course.

The stereotypical garb of photographers is a stereotype for a reason, and we’ll get to that. Fortunately, black isn’t the right color for everyone and you should definitely wear the colors and textures that make you feel good. You should also encourage your clients to wear clothes that they feel good in, not clothes they think they are supposed to wear for photos — let’s just kill the idea of everyone wearing matching khakis right here ;)

But the clothes you wear matter a lot.

Why do photogs wear black?

Now, why do we wear black? It’s simply because black doesn’t reflect. If there’s glass in the photo and you’re wearing white, you might just see a reflection of yourself in the glass. But that is less likely to be noticed if you’re wearing black. That’s also why stage workers in the theater wear black — they’re more invisible backstage.

So why did I wear orange?

I made a big mistake and wore a bright orange shirt to a shoot the other day. I blame Richard Harrington, the publisher of Photofocus.

See, he chose to use bright orange as one of our brand colors, and then gave me a bright orange shirt with our logo on it. And naturally it’s a nice shirt that’s very comfortable. So I naturally made sure to keep it handy when we packed up our house to move across the state.

What’s wrong with orange?

Then I got a call for a family portrait before I left town, and I just can’t say no to some people. But wouldn’t you know it, I only had my orange shirt that didn’t smell like I’d been packing a moving truck.

“So what!” you say? Well, black shirts don’t reflect, but orange shirts happen to reflect orange light. Check it out in this young lady’s eyes.

You can see me right in the middle — that orange blob.

How’d I fix it?

Seeing orange in her pupils was the least of the problems. Her whole face was lit with orange light reflecting off me onto her. It was terrible. I could see it in the viewfinder. I was starting to think I’d be pushing black and whites pretty hard.

The only solution was to take off my shirt.

Kidding! I grabbed her brother — who was wise enough to wear a white shirt — and used him as a white reflector (’cause my actual reflector was sitting on a moving truck).

He stood closer to her than I did and his white light overpowered my orange light. She instantly went from pumpkin to stunning.

If I’d had my flash it would have solved the problem well, too.

You know what else? When I was editing pictures the other day I couldn’t figure out why the white balance was looking so warm. Then I realized that the same orange shirt was reflecting onto my monitor and tinting the pictures! If it wasn’t so comfy …

Wear what you like — but face the consequences

Personally, black isn’t my color and I usually don’t wear it. But I do wear maroon and navy and dark green and lots of red. Dark colors keep me from showing up in reflections as much. In the summer I wear a Panama hat instead of a fedora, but I have to pay attention that it doesn’t ruin my shots.

Wear whatever clothes make you feel like you look great. If that happens to be international orange and neon pink, then go for it. Just make a plan to conquer the consequences.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.