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Hi, I'm Brooke! I'm a believer, wife, mama to two, Oklahoma photographer, and photography business coach.
I help photographers grow profitable full-time businesses from home.
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Today we’re covering client wardrobe styling and the nitty gritty styling tips and tricks for colors, locations and skin tones. Plus, how to start when you have absolutely no money to put into it. By the end of this post, you will walk away with a plan to truly up level your styling game.
Today I’m sharing the interview I recently did with my friend Alyssa Hollis. She’s a family photographer in Atlanta, Georgia and has been a photographer for about 11 years. She’s also an amazing editing mentor. If you haven’t yet, you should hop over to Instagram and follow her at @AlyssaHollisPhoto.
Ok, now let’s get down to business! Client wardrobe styling is something I feel like no one’s ever fully arrived at. It’s something you really can’t learn enough about.
Alyssa: Lord no, I was not. They would literally show up in whatever they had in their closet. Everybody was wearing tennis shoes. There was no style, per se. It was a mess, but most of us start out like. I don’t think styling is the number one priority we have coming out of the gate. It’s probably more about our settings and trying to gain the confidence that we can actually take pictures before we start tearing the pictures apart.
Alyssa: I would say about six years into my business I started building a client closet with stuff that I already had. I already liked to shop and look cute, so I had all kinds of dresses from places like Abercrombie and Hollister. So I started with what I had, which is what I think I’m really good at…making something out of nothing.
Alyssa: I approach styling as if it’s not an option. For example, they come to my website or Instagram and see people fully styled. They know that those people did not just have those things hanging in their closet. What you put out there is the kind of clients you’re going to get, so they already come wanting to be styled, because they see it. I talk about it so much on my Instagram that they already expected it. Also, in my welcome email there’s a whole paragraph about client wardrobe styling with the links to my client closet photos and wardrobe guide. I talk about it a lot. If they called me and we had a phone consult, that’s one of the first things I talk about, so they know how important it is. I set that standard from the start.
Quick Tip: Don’t share styling info in just one place. Make sure you’re talking about it over and over!
Also, don’t hesitate to text them too. After you’ve sent the email, the next day or the day after, send a simple text that says: “Hey, do you need help with wardrobe?” or “Did you check out my client closet gallery?”
I have also helped my clients find something specifically, maybe even for just one member of their family. Dads can sometimes be really hard to dress, because they think they have to wear what they want to wear. These are just little ways you can go above and beyond to give your clients a great experience.
Remember, our first priority is obviously not trying to style everybody for social media purposes. It’s more about focusing on whatever our purpose for photography is. As a family photographer, for me, that focus is family connections. It’s genuine emotions. However, I think styling plays a key role.
I look around at the canvases of our family pictures, and I love how everything that was selected enhances the personality of the person wearing it and we were very intentional with what we chose to wear. My husband wore a heathered, gray t-shirt and jeans, because that is him. He is the classic Southern guy through and through. We’re not very dressy, buttoned up people. I wore a really fun flowy dress that’s kind of revealing. All of it put together is kind of like me and my bolder personality. Then my kids dressed perfectly to fit their personalities. I love the way that styling enhances what’s already there.
When we’re talking about styling, don’t have the mindset that you’re doing it, because you don’t want people to show up looking ugly. That’s not why! It’s that we want it to enhance what’s there, which will naturally take their images to a whole other level. I have my set style and the colors that I like to photograph, but I also try to incorporate who they are as a family at the same time.
Brooke: Let’s say I’ve hired you for family photos and you’ve let me know that you offer styling. I have the gallery, so I can look through your client closet. What’s next?
Alyssa: I always start with mama, because I feel like she’s the one person in the family that rarely gets to be in the photos. She’s always taking the photos of her kids and her husband with the kids. Most husbands don’t think about taking photos of their wives with the kids, because they’re just busy doing things.
I start by asking her to pick three to five of her favorite dresses from my client closet, screenshot them and text them to me. This way it’s immediate. I see the text and can try on the dress for her to send her a video. Then, we compare her body and see how it would fit. I live kind of kind of far from my clients, so they don’t always get to try on things beforehand. Having a few options they love is good, so they can try them on when we meet and choose the final one then. I build everyone else’s style around mom.
I typically do that same thing for every time unless they come to me with something that they already have. Maybe they know what they want their baby to wear already. Then I’ll go back and again, I’ll start with mom, and then piece everybody together from there. I always try to leave dad for last.
Brooke: Now let’s talk color palettes, skin tones and more. Where in the world do you start with that? Do you go off of a color palette based on the location you’re at? Or your editing style?
I usually pick the colors based on the way I edit, because I do tend to photograph in the same five places. There is either a field with green grass or it’s a mountain with the sunset. Honestly, I’ve style people in the same colors and the same way for either location. I do try to stick to my branding colors, because those are my face. Basically, I’m obsessed with fall colors all year long. I don’t like pastel or neon colors. I try to stick to more neutrals and colors like olive, forest green, mustard, and burnt orange. Those are my favorite colors to photograph. I feel like when clients wear those colors, it brings the photo to life.
Brooke: I have a style guide that I’m actually going to redo to go more in depth, because I know that’s the one thing clients will read from cover to cover. I just want to make sure I prep them as much as possible and if they choose not to follow it, well, then that’s their choice.
Alyssa: Just shoot all kinds of different stuff, and then see what they like the most. That’s what I did in the beginning. I didn’t always know those colors were what I enjoyed the most.
When you know your editing style, you also know the colors that work well with that style. Photographing different things is the only way you can find out what colors you like. You just have to try it all to figure out what you love.
Brooke: For sure, it takes trial and error. Honestly, that’s probably not people’s favorite answer, but it’s the truth.
If you have at least a handful of shoots under your belt, then you can look back to see how you can enhance your styling. Take a look back at what your past clients wore. Then, think back to the editing process. Which parts of the clients outfits were the hardest for you to tweak or tone down? Next, start making a list of colors that work and colors that don’t. Also, remember your branding colors don’t have to match the way that you edit.
Quick Tip: Go over to the Canva color palette, then pop your picture in there and it will pull out the hex codes, so you can add those to your styling guide. If you don’t have my styling guide template, you can snag that HERE.
Alyssa: I don’t really know how to scientifically explain it, but here’s an example: I had a blonde girl the other day and I would not put yellow on a blonde. I would put like dark teal, hunter green or dark maroon I would put that on a blonde, because it’s going to make it all flat. A color that I recently put on a blonde was that rusty velvet color. For someone with a darker skin tone, I would go with a mustard yellow, burnt orange or forest green. just know what colors go on certain people.
Brooke: So let’s say we have a family of four. You’ve got the mama who’s super blonde, Dad’s brunette and then you’ve got kids have dirty blonde hair. They all have a very light, pale skin tone.
Alyssa: I would probably put her in like either a dark teal or a maroon. I could put the kids in mustard, because they’re the dirty blonde. Then, the dad would probably wear burnt orange. I think burnt orange looks good on darker haired people.
Brooke: Let’s flip the script. Now, we’ve got a dark toned family. Everybody has super dark hair with brown eyes. I would say their skin tones vary a little bit. We’ll say mom has a beautiful dark skin tone. Then, everybody else is a little bit lighter.
Alyssa: I would probably put her in emerald green. I think emerald green looks so good on dark skin tones. It just makes my eyes so happy. Then, for the family, I would choose maroon or black. I could put black on lighter skin tones. Some people don’t like to photograph black, but I personally like it. I like having at least somebody wearing like a black button or a black t shirt.
Brooke: I like that, but I am very torn. It definitely depends on what else is being worn. Sometimes I like black and sometimes I don’t. For instance, I was recently photographing in a cotton field and the mom wore a black hat and a short black lace dress with some black knee high boots. We did a lot of brush work to brighten her up, because she was obviously very shadowed, but the rest of the family looked great. In that instance, it worked great. I think the reason that I’m torn is, because sometimes I don’t really like to mat my blacks. I like a true black, so sometimes when I use a true black tone it just pops a little more than the rest of the image. And I just have a hard time editing that.
Alyssa: I wouldn’t put black on clients if I were doing their photos in a field. At the mountain I always shoot at, I like people wearing black near that.
Brooke: Remember, this is going to take some trial and error for every photographer to nail down their style and location, because we’re not all going to photograph the same color palette. We simply can’t all take a fall color palette wherever we live and say that it looks good, because it probably doesn’t work everywhere. So once we know our color scheme, it’s time to start filling our client closet.
Alyssa: For one, I save and budget. Budgeting is how I do my client closet, because I’m not made of money. I have lots of bills and lots of kids. I’m also planning for another one on the way, so I have a strict budget.
Obviously, if you don’t have anything to start right away, then use what you have. I’m sure you have some cute dresses in your closet somewhere. I personally I have a $250 to $300 budget per month. I don’t always buy things each month. Sometimes I will have a really big purchase that I want to make the next month, so I’ll save that month’s budget and put it toward a larger purchase.
I recently met a girl online named Brandy who runs Jazzy Vintage Couture. She’s amazing. I just got a dress made from her, so I’ve saved up for that. It wasn’t something I could just pay for upfront. There are also plenty of budget friendly places you can go . Target has some really amazing dresses, and really cute kid clothes. Old Navy and Marshals do too. I look at Marshals as a one of a kind place. You and I could go into our local Marshals and we’re not going to find the same stuff. Plus, it’s super cheap. The pieces in your client closet are literally props. People are going to walk all over them and get them dirty, possibly rip them.
Then, I buy most of my higher end pieces from Free People. We all know Free People is not cheap. Also, Joyfully, which I’m so stinking blessed to be a affiliate with, helps a lot. I’m like obsessed with their stuff. And they’re shipping is seriously best shipping ever. I get my stuff from them within about three days.
Remember, set a budget and stick to it. There’s no need to compare your client closet to anyone else.
I would say about 85% of my clients use things from my client closet. I also have those families that I know if I send them a link with suggested items, they’re going to buy everything in it. It’s really an equal of what I do there.
Brooke: The bigger people’s client closets, I feel like the easier it is for someone to find something they want. Much like if a store has more inventory, you’re more likely to find something you want to buy.
One thing I started asking my clients is, what is your budget for styling for this session. People are investing a lot in their session, so they care about it more. Nobody wants to be paying $500 for a session and then show up wearing things that don’t make them look as good as they could. Most people typically know what that they’re willing to invest if they can’t find something in your client closet.
It’s perfectly fine, but I’ll be honest, that’s actually one of the biggest reasons I started a client closet. For me personally, if I’m going to invest anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per session, I already feel like I’m spending a lot.
Having a client closet really gives people more of an incentive to book with you, because they’re not having to go out and buy all this extra crap. They’re not having to go spend all this additional money. It’s usually mom that doesn’t want to splurge on that expensive dress that she’s only going to wear one time, so you might as well have it for her. That’s less money she has to spend and, again, more incentive to book with you.
I also wanted to add one tip for client closets. When you’re starting it, you may not be sure what size to buy. I love free people and joyfully, because their stuff runs big. Remember, you can always pin it. It’s better to go higher in size, unless you have a specific client who may be super tiny. I always get mediums and larges, because I can always pin those on smaller people.
Should people offer a discount to their clients for donating the items they purchased to their client closet?
Alyssa: I wouldn’t offer a discount up front. I would just buy them from them. Especially if they’re only wearing them once. I mean, they’re worth the resell. You could totally offer a discount if you want to. Either way it’s just an exchange of money, so it doesn’t really matter which way you go about it.
Brooke: Now I will tell you what I have done in real life. I had a friend who booked me for Christmas pictures. She said, “Hey, I have three maternity dresses that I’m never gonna wear again. Do you want them?” And so she let me look through them and they were amazing. If I would have bought them with my own money, it probably would have been hundreds of dollars. I just asked if we could waive her retainer fee in exchange for the dresses and she agreed.
I’ve also seen a lot of people offer session credit. I have a lot of clients that say they’re never gonna wear something again, so they just send it my way and don’t even ask for anything in return. It’s kind of a case by case basis. I just don’t want anybody walking away thinking you need to give away a free session to get clothes for your client closet. That would be ridiculous! If you’re working for free, you’re going to have nightmare clients.
Brooke: Huge thanks for Alyssa for sharing her great styling tips to help us create client closets that will enhance our businesses and make our clients look their best!
Are you in the process of starting your client closet or have you added a fun new piece to yours recently? I’d LOVE to see! Be sure to head over to our Facebook community HERE to share all the things.
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