You and your family’s wardrobe choices for your portraits make a big difference in how they ultimately look. Having a well groomed and coordinated appearance will make everyone look great. My advice below about what to wear for your family portraits will give you some guidelines to consider. You want to look like yourself on your best day in your portraits! You will be so much happier with the final images if everyone looks nice from the top of their heads to the soles of their shoes. Let’s leave the wrinkled clothes, dirty shoes and messy faces at home.
Everything in the Individuals section below applies to families as well. we just have to add in the consideration of coordination. My clients love a coordinated look for their family portraits rather than a perfectly matched style. You don’t need to have everyone in the whole family wearing the exact same thing. I’ll bet you don’t already own a matching set of shirts and pants for everyone! It looks adorable when some of the kids wear matching outfits, but I recommend that some of the family members mix it up a little by coordinating. By coordinating, rather than matching, we are looking to find a mix of unique clothing items that all look good together. Start with deciding on a style you’d like to achieve and making sure that each person’s outfit fits that style. Do you want everyone dressed formally, preppy, beachy, casual, etc? Once you decide on a style you can pick a color palette. You can choose one or two neutrals like cream, khaki, black, and denim (I consider denim to be a neutral). Then you can choose a few colors or shades and make sure that everyone’s clothes stick to those chosen colors.
My favorite method for deciding where to start is to pick out your favorite clothing article in the whole family. Look at all of the colors in it. Then go to each person’s closet and see what you can find that has some of the same colors in it. It’s okay if big brother’s shirt only has one of the colors and little sisters has another. If both of those colors are in the top you chose for yourself, congrats – you’ve coordinated! Now double check to see if your choices fit in the guidelines below.
- Choose a style (formal, preppy, bohemian, sporty, etc).
- Choose one or two neutrals (denim, khaki, white, gray or black).
- Find your favorite article of clothing to use as a starting point. Pull 2-3 colors from it and stick to shades in those colors as your palette.
- OR if you are buying all new clothes, choose 2-3 colors that look good together and stick to shades of them as your palette.
- Find an outfit for each family member that has predominantly at least one color in the palette.
- Layout the outfits all together to see if they look good together! If so, you’re all set. If not, replace whatever looks bad.
Everyone looks their best wearing clothes that fit. It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears – you don’t want the clothes too big or too tight. You want them just right. While flowy shirts and dresses care comfy to wear, tailored pieces that contour the body’s shape are more flattering on everyone. Everyone also looks their best in clothes that are ironed and free of holes, stains and lose threads. You will be so thankful with yourself for breaking out the iron before everyone gets dressed.
Think about how you want to appear in your portrait. What sort of personality do you want to project? A formal suit and a distressed denim jacket will produce very different results. Both are great – it just depends on the style you want. Whether you are planning a headshot session or senior portraits, the style you choose should reflect the look that you like.
Please try to avoid plain white tops and fluorescent colored tops. Plain bright white tops will be the brightest thing in the image and will distract from your face. Bright fluorescent colors on top reflect their tones onto your skin. Now, a nicely textured white top under a gray cardigan would look great! The key with whites is to avoid solid plain fabrics. If they have some great texture or variation in their shading, they can work great – especially if the white is slightly off white. Also keep in mind how the color you choose looks on you. I highly suggest choosing a color that compliments you (you know – the sweater that always gets you lots of compliments) or a color that matches your eyes.
Most patterns are totally fine for portraits. Do try to avoid very small and fine patterns (smaller than a few millimeters) as they get distorted in digital photos (Google “moire”). Also try to avoid really busy patterns with heavy contrast (imagine large black and white stripes) UNLESS you have a jacket or sweater or other layer to put on top. Stripes of multiple colors of shades are great! Plaids are great! Flowers are great! If it hurts your eyes to look at it, then the pattern is too bold for a portrait.
Layers are super flattering in portraits. Jackets, scarves, necklaces, collared shirts under sweaters, cardigans… these are all great!
Accessories add a great layered and personal touch to portraits. Feel free to wear your favorites!
If you are wearing pants, please avoid white socks. Black or colored or neutral or no socks at all would look better. If you are wearing shorts, white socks are okay. My favorite is to skip the socks or wear something with a fun and complimentary color to go with the rest of your outfit.
Your shoes will be in your portraits too! So just make sure that you like the way they look with your outfit. Please keep in mind that for outdoor sessions we will be walking in grassy areas. If your session is in the morning, the grass and ground will definitely be wet with dew and will get your shoes wet. Some leathers will get dark spots from moisture so please keep that in mind.
I recommend wearing a touch more makeup for your session than you would on a typical day. You want to look like your best self – not like someone else all together. Make up makes a big difference in portraits. Be careful with any concealers or foundations that they are evenly blended. Consider using or bringing a little powder if your skin tends to be reflective. Bring along some lip gloss for the girls and some lip balm for the boys and dads. Every little flake shows up on dry lips in high resolution photography!
Taking some time before your session to do everyone’s hair make a big impact in your portraits. Make that the last thing you do before your session. Bring along a hairbrush to your session. Even in studio settings, hair can get a little messy pretty quickly!
I hope you have found this helpful with deciding what to wear for your family portraits. Check out some examples of my family photography over on my family photography portfolio page
Any questions? Get in touch on the contact page.