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What to wear tips for family portraits | Advice for how to dress for your professional photos

February 20, 2018

Need advice about what you should wear to your family’s next professional photography session?  Look no further, I’ve got you covered below!

So you’ve been thinking about getting your family photography done professionally and you’ve gone ahead and booked your session. I get a lot of families who hire me to capture their family portrait and ask me what they should wear to the session.

You don’t want your clothes to upstage your face, so this is not a time to dig out your favorite Hawaiian shirt. Deep down, you probably know that was not a great look anyway. I’ve been sending a short description and a Pinterest board with some examples pinned (which I will link to at the end of this article), but I wanted to put together something a little more in depth for those who want more guidance. I snuggled down with my three cats and Hawaiian onesie (because I’m not the one getting my picture taken) and wrote out all of the little pieces of advice that I could ponder regarding what families should be thinking about when it comes to what to wear for their family pictures. (And I’ve left in a few “helpful” tips my husband added to keep it fun!)

This is not law, so relax! By no means is this the definitive guide, but it’s a simple start for those who are at a loss for where to begin. In the end, your family portraits should be a snapshot of your family personality at this stage of your lives, and you should wear what will reflect that and what makes you feel good. If one person is wearing their retro rock n’ roll T-shirt, you all better have one. If these examples and words don’t speak to your family don’t feel like you MUST follow the advice. You know what they say, rules are meant to be broken. You do you!

What Colors Should You Pick?

What you’ve heard is true, no matchy-matchy! The goal for your professional photos should be to coordinate with each other while not looking like you just stepped out of a national best dressed twinsies contest. This can seem like a difficult thing to achieve but there are a couple of ways you can do this.

1.) Start with your best dressed.

Try having one of the ladies in your group pick an outfit first (I’m looking at all the moms out there) and then pull colors from his or her outfit to guide what the rest of the group will wear. Or, maybe there’s someone in the group who has a really cool patterned article of clothing they “just have to wear.” You can pull colors from that pattern to figure out what everyone else will wear.

2.) Shades of gray is sexy…

…and for some reason also a box office hit…or shades of green, blue, or any other color can feel just as good. You can decide ahead of time that you want to pick 2-4 different colors for the group to use. I often have clients ask which colors to wear, and I believe there’s no wrong answer to this. (But obviously, Crips should all wear blue). Note: If by chance you are not a Crip, blue also represents trust and loyalty in case you need other reasons to wear blue.

Blue with cream, khaki, or white neutrals is a very popular choice.


And here’s a family who added a pop of yellow to theirs.

3.) Don’t allow color hogging.

My advice is to avoid having everyone in the group wearing darker colors with one wearing lighter colors and vice versa because that person who is not wearing a similar color as the rest of the group will stand out in the pictures. It’s like one person using jazz hands and the rest using spirit fingers…all you can see are the jazz hands. (But if one person is clearly superior to everyone else in your family, then this is of course ok).

Here’s a visual representation of what I’m talking about. In this image it looks like the plan was to try and have everyone wear some sort of light blue, dark blue, cream, khaki, and white type of colors but there are a couple of people who strayed from that plan and in the group portrait they stand out a little bit more than the other family members do. It’s still a great photo of the whole family together so mission is accomplished. Don’t go uninviting Aunt Suzie from Thanksgiving dinner over this minor infraction. It can be hard coordinating clothing, especially when you are all on family vacation together. But they do unintentionally stand apart from everyone else a little bit.

Here’s a session where everyone chose bold jewel tones for their fall family photos.
Matchy matchy with each other = Bad
Matchy matchy with the environment = Beautiful and damn fine clairvoyant skills

Don’t forget to think about the overall feel of your pictures!

It’s important to think about the overall feel of your portraits. Do you want to keep it casual? Or are you thinking of something more formal? What time of year are we photographing? Be sure to keep these things in mind when coordinating your outfits so that the feel of your clothing matches with each other and with the time of year or weather in addition to the colors and patterns.

It’s particularly important to wear something that will keep you comfortable during extreme weather sessions. I have had families who weren’t wearing warm enough clothing during snowy winter sessions and others who were wildly sweating during a warm summer session to try and look more fall-like for their Christmas cards. A little bit of light suffering for a few photos goes with the territory, but not at the expense of having to call off the session early because you’re clothing is making you miserable!

Here’s a family who opted for more formal attire for their family portraits:

And another family who figured out a clothing option that makes sense for cold weather photos while still matching each other well (They also did well with incorporating textures and accessories which I will touch on next).

And here’s another where the family wanted to go bright and bold. These colors could have easily taken away from the family if they hadn’t coordinated them from the matriarch’s clothing so that they all looked like they went together.

ACCESSORIZE & TEXTURIZE

Don’t forget to accessorize! Adding a scarf, hat, jewelry, belts (grandma’s rhinestone leopard brooch which is roughly the size of your hand) etc…are all things that can add a little fun flair to your outfit and can really complete your look. Accessories can help showcase your personality and are even sometimes helpful when posing (think of holding your husband’s jacket lapel, or a touch of your hat etc…) Don’t go overboard with accessorizing, but a small amount of simple accessories definitely go a long way! Be sure to incorporate some texture with your clothing when you can as well. It’s certainly not the most important thing when thinking about what to wear to your session, but adding clothing with texture to your look will look awesome in B&W photos and it will add a subtle dimension and depth to your pictures, particularly if you plan to go with softer more neutral colors. It helps keep you far away from boring!

Here’s a great example of incorporating textures into your clothing. That subtle bit of varying patterns/materials etc…adds great depth to a portrait.

Here a senior gal shows off her cute boho style with a furry vest and cute hat:

I love the simple belt added to this gal’s flowy blouse since it added just a little touch of another color to accent a very blue color scheme:

Here we have a classic “Little Black Dress” which becomes even dressier with a bit of pop when she adds the statement necklace to it:

Don’t forget about your feet when planning what to wear.  Shoes are important too!

Don’t forget about them when you are planning your outfit! Some of your portraits will probably be full length and depending on the location they may be visible in your photos. The style of shoe matters only in that it fits with the rest of your outfit you have put together. Generally brightly colored athletic shoes are not going to go with your look unless you are purposefully going for a gym rat theme for your portraits. If we’re going to a location where there is some walking or hiking involved you can either try to incorporate a shoe that looks good while being easy on your feet or you can wear comfy shoes to get to the location and then change into the shoe that completes your outfit. Try to avoid white socks as well. They may not show when you are standing up for a portrait, but there are some poses where you may be sitting, the flash of white peeks out making you “that guy.”

Just imagine if this adorable little girl had been wearing athletic shoes or something that didn’t go with the rest of her cute outfit? Her feet would be pretty distracting in the picture if that was the case.

You don’t have to be boring, if you like PATTERNS go with it!

You will probably see lots of advice about not wearing patterns but I actually really love them. The trick is to pick patterns that won’t take too much away from your face or will compete too much between people in the same portrait. But please don’t be shy about incorporating patterns if that’s your thing! (Checkerboards and laser patterns are smoking hot right now.)

In this example you can see that there are lots of different patterns being worn, but they are all subtle and do not compete with the faces and the other patterns being worn.

Here you’ll see two totally different patterns, but the colors go well together and dad’s simple green sweater keeps it from becoming too busy in their portraits.

And here is one more example of lots of different patterns being worn, but are subtle enough and using the overall color scheme well so that they don’t feel mismatched in the portrait:

And lastly, the following are just a few extra pieces of advice when planning for your portraits.

CREASES

Watch out for large wrinkles and be sure to iron before the session if needed. Trust me, it’s much cheaper than paying extra to photoshop them out later!

HAIR & MAKEUP

Wear what you like to wear! But try to avoid making big changes right before your session. Give your hair a little bit of time to grow to your normal look after a haircut, and maybe give that edgy new style your younger cousin promised is “Gucci AF” a few months before you schedule your session etc…
If you normally like a natural look when it comes to makeup, that’s great! I do usually recommend going just a little bit darker or more dramatic than you usually do since it’s harder to see makeup on camera than in real life but don’t feel like you have to go overboard with it.

WEAR CLOTHING THAT FITS WELL

If your clothing is too tight it will be hard to move around during your session. If it’s too baggy you may end up looking larger than you want for your pictures. Ill fitting clothing tends to be accentuated on camera and generally will not be as flattering.

Now You’re Ready to Shop! (Or dig through that closet of yours that you already painstakingly MariKondoed)

There you have it, an in depth advice article for what to wear for your professional photos. I won’t tell you what colors or what exactly to wear because I want my clients to be themselves at their family session. But hopefully these tips will help you look like your best self! I’m always happy to take a look at a photo of your outfits laid out if you like, but please don’t feel like you have to overly worry about what you are wearing for your photos. The most important part of all of this is that you are getting together as a family! To see more visual examples of what other families have worn for their family portraits please click on the link to my Pinterest “what to wear” board HERE!

And if you would like to see more information about getting your family photos updated with me, be sure to check out the FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHY INFORMATION page of my site complete with FAQs and general pricing for various cities and locations throughout Colorado

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