Preparing for a family photoshoot is exciting, but when it comes to choosing the perfect outfits, it’s not uncommon for stress to start creeping in. I know how important it is to dress your family just right, especially if you’re making a significant investment on photographs that you’ll keep coming back to decades from now. In this family portrait style guide, I’ll answer your most frequently asked questions so that deciding what to wear for family pictures doesn’t have to be stressful.
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While it’s tempting to put off choosing outfits until the last minute, what you wear for family portraits can completely change the final look of your photographs. By following these simple tips, you can style your family with confidence for your next family photoshoot.
I recommend choosing one or two complementary colors for the group and then mixing in light-colored neutrals for balance. An example would be a cream-colored dress shirt with beige slacks for dad, a sage dress for mom, and the kids in similar shades of sage, cream, or beige. Start by choosing one color and determining whether it’s warm or cool-toned, and then stick with it. You can’t go wrong with light neutrals or earth tones, especially if your session is outdoors.
Textured fabrics can add a surprising amount of variety to your wardrobe, especially if your color palette is very simple. Mixing linen, cotton, and chunky knits, or adding details like ruffles or tulle will help differentiate outfits and give your photographs a more high-end feel.
Small delicate patterns photograph much better than bold, busy patterns, which are distracting. Small stripes or woven patterns sometimes cause a photo effect called moiré that’s hard to remove (this happens most often with men’s dress shirts). When in doubt, choose a solid color in a timeless shade.
Choose a shoe that’s comfortable to stand or walk in for a longer period of time, in a natural material. Leather or suede are classic options. Avoid wearing flip-flops (unless you’re at the beach and plan to go barefoot), athletic shoes, or very ornate options that will be distracting. If the weather is cold, choose a single-color boot with minimal details.
When deciding what your family should wear for photos, you might think of your children straight away. However, it’s actually better to start with the parents first, since your clothing will have more of an impact in your photographs. It’s easier to choose clothing for your kids when you have a main outfit to anchor to first.
If coordinating your entire family’s clothing stresses you out, don’t worry! Ask your photographer if they offer a client closet or wardrobe consultation to help you decide what’s best for your family to wear.
Read more: What is a Client Closet?
It might be tempting to choose an outfit that you wear often and feel comfortable in for your family pictures, but think of your session as a fun excuse to dress up. The extra confidence boost that comes from wearing an outfit you know you look extra special in goes a long way.
A dress or skirt is timeless, comfortable, and can add great movement to your shots. If a dress isn’t your thing, I recommend wearing a jumpsuit or something nice you don’t get to wear often. If you plan to wear chunky heels, consider bringing an extra pair of shoes for walking between shots.
You can’t go wrong with a long or short-sleeve button-down and either chino pants or shorts, depending on the weather. Consider adding a blazer or cardigan if the weather is cooler. Avoid wearing loose-fitting pants or athletic wear and opt for a closed-toed shoe.
I recommend dressing children like little adults instead of in their more casual playwear. Think button-down shirts, rompers, or dresses. Bring a backup outfit just in case of things like grass stains, mud, or a misplaced snack. Hair bows, suspenders, or a fun bowtie can also elevate the look of your photos!
The tips above work well for any season, but I wanted to give you a few more pieces of advice that are season-specific.
I love warm, earth tones for fall family photos. Think sage green, terracotta, mustard yellow; or anything that compliments the rich colors of fall as the season changes. Consider bringing a chunky cardigan sweater to add to your outfit for an extra-cozy look.
Hand warmers are a lifesaver during cold, winter photoshoots! So is wearing leggings under pants or a long dress, doubling up on socks, etc. Make sure you add as many layers as possible underneath your actual outfit (especially for your kids) without looking bulky. Bring a coat and a scarf for in-between shots.
Floral patterns and light pastels are perfect for a spring family session, when the earth is in full bloom. If it gets chilly, bring a thin cardigan or solid-color flannel to throw over your outfit–or bring a jacket for walking between shots.
If winter is all about staying warm, summer is all about keeping the sweat at bay. Avoid wearing gray, polyester, or any other fabric that shows sweat easily. Opt for breathable fabrics made of natural fibers such as cotton or linen. If you’re planning a session at the beach, I recommend keeping at least part of your hair pulled back in case it’s windy.
What you wear for a photoshoot on the beach might be very different than what you’d wear to a session in a downtown urban setting, for example. You want to be comfortable in whatever location you choose, especially if a lot of walking is involved. Keep in mind the colors of that location too–I love soft blues and nude tones on the beach and a bit more color in the city.
If you’re planning on framing and displaying your photographs, consider the colors of your home when choosing outfits. Are the colors in your home warmer or cooler? Bold or muted? You can’t go wrong with neutrals, but you may want to add some of the shades in your home for a seamless look, especially for large centerpiece artwork.
Read more: The Importance of Printing Family Photos
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with what outfits to choose for your family portraits, sometimes it’s easier to start with what not to wear.
Apparel with logos or writing is distracting and can quickly become “dated”. It’s better to err on the side of simplicity and timelessness so that your family’s connection is the main focus of your photographs.
For the light and airy photography style, soft, muted neutrals or pastels photograph better than bright, bold colors. Neon colors especially reflect back on your skin, giving you an unnatural glow. Avoid wearing black, navy, or other dark colors so your photographs will have a soft, seamless look.
Unless you want your outfit to be the main subject of your photographs, simple is better! You can’t go wrong with a solid color dress or jumpsuit paired with a plain button-up and slacks. It’s also easier to coordinate colors than trying to mix patterns and other dramatic details.
If deciding what to wear for family pictures still sounds stressful, ask your photographer if they can help. I offer a complimentary wardrobe and styling appointment to all of my clients, along with a client wardrobe that they can borrow from.
My full-service photography experience includes a high-end client closet so you don’t have to go shopping, a playful and easy-going session that’s personalized for your family, and the creation of heirloom artwork to display in your home.
Get all the details here.