Family Portraits Session Tips

Family portraits – clothing guide

What to wear for your family portraits?

You’re either thinking about booking a portrait session for your family, or you just booked a family photo session. What’s preventing you, and what’s next? 

We all know having a family photo session can be stressful, especially for us as Moms (I’m assuming Mom is reading this). Not only because we imagine having to chase after our crazy kids and hoping our husband doesn’t hate us for putting him through this, but also because we’re probably in charge of everything. The biggest thing we need to plan is: what to wear? These are portraits we plan to hang on our walls and admire for many years, so we want to make sure we do it right. Though I personally would greatly benefit from the use of a personal clothing consultant myself on a regular basis, I do know how colors, textures, and combinations translate to a good photograph and have a few tips for wardrobe selection.

Clothing can make or break your pictures. They really can. You can be in the most gorgeous place in the world with the most amazing photographer, but if your clothes don’t look right in the setting, something will look off and you won’t be happy. I want you to be happy with your photos take some time to plan your clothing! I understand here in Fairbanks it can be difficult with our limited local clothing store options,  but there are a few local options and many online where you can buy your clothes. Click here for some helpful ideas!

First, ask yourself some questions

1. Why are you having these portraits taken? What do you plan to do with the photos? Sometimes you just want a picture to send with your Christmas cards, and other times you might want to hang portraits on the wall. Or you could simply want a fun experience an document your family at this moment in time. 

2. What is your home/style like? Is it formal (dresses, dress pants, pressed shirts), classic (khakis, skirts, button-up shirts) or relaxed (jeans, patterned skirts, simple)?

3. What colors do you decorate with? 

  •      earth tones: brown, rust, gold, cream
  •      bold pops of color on a neutral canvas 
  •      soft and pale tones (pastels)
  •      Neutral tones- black, white, gray, cream

4.  Which colors make you feel happy?

  • red, magenta, orange, yellow, yellow-green = energy, romance, warmth 
  • turquoise, green, blue, purple = cool, calm, tranquility, peace 
  • black, gray, tan, brown, white = neutrals, foundation, classic

5. Where and when will the session take place? Studio vs outdoors? I usually recommend more solid colors for the studio. Changing colors of fall, winter snow, or a very green summer setting? These will impact your color choices. 

Consider these guidelines

Coordinate, don’t match! You want your outfits to feel cohesive without having everyone too matchy. To create visual interest, make sure there is some variety. 

Avoid crazy patterns. In general, you’ll want to wear solid colors (especially if you’re having a studio shoot). Avoid huge florals,  thick stripes, etc. Thin stripes can cause something called Moire, a wavy distorted effect in the fabric. Distracting patterns draw attention away from what really matters – your faces and connections to each other. If patterns are used, it’s best to have only one or two family members in a pattern (I’ve have seen some gorgeous maxi dresses with patterns used in photo sessions)

Throw in a pattern or two with the solids. I know I just said to avoid crazy patterns, but if you want to liven things up a bit, select a pattern or two to give variety. If your style is relaxed and you love flannels, go for it! Just avoid the crazy ones 🙂 

Neutrals create balance. Black, gray, brown, tan, cream and white, and also jean. Neutrals are great because they’re classic, they never appear outdated. They generally look great on all people and can easily add a splash of color.  However, white should be limited, especially if you have fair skin.    

Add layers and accessories. Once you have your base, you can add layers, textures, and accessories for added interest to the overall picture. The little pops of color or texture are what will tie everything and everyone together. Consider cardigans, sweaters, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, headbands, hair clips, hats, scarves, belts, etc. For example, if your son is wearing a t-shirt, throw a button down t-shirt on top. Avoid big, distracting accessories like big bows on little girls or chunky, statement necklaces. Less is more! You’re going to see these things in your portraits forever, so be sure to love what you’re wearing. 


Now, start picking out your outfits!

If you first want some visual inspiration, check out my Pinterest boards.

1.  Choose your outfit (Mom). It’s hardest to plan your outfit, so do it first! Find something that you love and are comfortable in. If you don’t already own something you love, go shopping! You could also ask if your photographer might already have an option, or have any recommendations (I do have limited clothing at my studio and links to some favorite outfits). Long flowy dresses/skirts always look great in photographs!

2.  After you’ve picked out your outfit, go through your kids’ clothes to see if anything you already have might work with your outfit and see if a color theme starts to appear.  It is okay to have one color be your theme but combine lights and darks with your main color to create variety and contrast.  You can also choose 3-4 different colors, from the same color family. A color family can be “neighbor”s on the color wheel or opposites.  Just remember you don’t want everyone wearing the same color the same way. Have each color (or shade of color) repeated a few times but not in the exact same way on each family member. Choose no more than 3-4 colors to try and coordinate. Do the same with any other family members. 

3. Pick out some options from your closets to consider and lay them out on a bed or couch (and if I’m your photographer, feel free to send me a picture 🙂  Remember to include the layers and accessories! How does it look together? What are you missing? You’ll have a guideline to shop with. 

4. Decide to rent or buy. If you don’t want to run around town and spend a lot of time trying to find your clothing, renting is a great option! In the past few years, there have been many online clothing companies that rent designer clothing. I will have more details in a further post, but a few companies include Rent the Runway (it’s not just for formal wear, as most people I’ve known have used it for), Rainey’s Closet, and the Borrowed Boutique. 

5. Lay it out again! Feel free to send me a snapshot if you need some assistance with anything at all. If you like what you see, you’re all done!

If you’d like more information about my family sessions, click here!





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