What to Wear for Your Family Portrait Session

by | Mar 26, 2020 | Information


So you’ve booked your family for a portrait session and now you have every last detail of what each family member is going to wear all figured out…right?  I know, I know…

In actuality, there are probably very few of you out there who wouldn’t be stressing out about what to wear for family pictures.  I know I certainly was one who was wishing I was a bit more wardrobe savvy when we had booked our last session with a favorite family photographer!  With a session date on the calendar, there suddenly seem to be so many decisions with too many options–it’s hard to know where to begin!

As I have been photographing families these past few years, I have picked up a handful of ideas and tricks that I’d like to pass along to help your family portraits turn out just as gorgeous as you are hoping.  I am going to help you build a scaffold of what I believe is most important when deciding your family’s picture-perfect attire.  We’ll discuss what should be the major pieces of that scaffold, and then we’ll fill in the details from there, okay?  So read along, and remember…KEEP FIRST THINGS FIRST!



1.  TIMELESS:  There are so many fads flying around that it is easy to get swept up in what is trendy now.  But as you are putting together outfits for your family, think about what your portrait will look like hanging over your mantle 10 years, 20 years, and even 50 years down the road.  Sometimes trendy can work, but please keep in mind that your printed portraits will be enjoyed for generations.  I think most of us know this, but here is a fun example with some of my favorite people of what probably won’t work if you’re looking for timeless and beautiful…


While the kids and the background are beautiful–those shirts are probably better left for everyday snapshots, don’t you think?  Now that we have what doesn’t work out of the way, let’s move on to what does.  Here is the next big thing to keep in mind…

2.  YOU FIRST:  I am speaking to the mom/wife/woman here (sorry guys, read along and most of you will agree with me).  I want you to begin with your outfit first.  While there are a couple of other factors on the scaffold to consider when choosing what you are going to wear, make sure that you pick something that makes you feel beautiful and confident.  So many times those of us who are moms choose a cute outfit for our kids and then try to pick something out that “works” for us around that.  NO, NO, NO!!  (Using my most stern mom voice, here.) Don’t do it!  Trust me, your kids will look darling in just about anything–because that is just how it is with kids.  But we ladies tend to be very critical of ourselves, especially when looking at ourselves in pictures.  So choose something that flatters you!  Not something that looks cute on someone else in their pictures, not something that could work with your daughter’s golden curls– but something YOU feel great in!  Got it?  Don’t worry, I can give you some further tips, but this is where we are kicking off for now.  However, if you don’t trust me on this one, DO NOT read ahead until you do.  Period. 🙂

3.  SEASON & LOCATION:  Pastels probably won’t work with a backdrop of autumn foliage, but they would work beautifully on a beach or in front of the blooms of spring.  So consider where and when your session will take place as your are choosing your colors, patterns, and textures.


Let’s look at spring…

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Or how about summer…

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Let’s not forget fall…

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And finally winter…

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4.  HOME DECOR:  I’m assuming you probably don’t want to repaint or redecorate the rooms in which your final portraits will be displayed, so keep the colors and styles of your home in mind as you are settling on your session wardrobe.  I had one family purposefully schedule a late winter session before spring bloomed, as the colors of spring wouldn’t work in the main living area of their home.  But the deep colors of winter as a backdrop for their family now makes a stunning display on their walls.

And that is our scaffold–what is timeless, what looks great on you, what compliments the season, the location, as well as your home colors and décor.  Let’s begin filling in the details!



1.  COORDINATING, NOT MATCHING:  For portraits to have depth and to give attention to each individual family member in the picture, it’s best not to be matchy-matchy.  If everyone is wearing the same color, the individuals in the picture look more enmeshed in a blob (sorry, can’t think of a better word!) with heads floating above the unicolor.  Here is where I enlisted a few of my children to illustrate my point.  Let’s put everyone in white…


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Now, these are my kids, so I think this is kind of cute, despite how last minute and thrown together I made this happen (which I do NOT recommend, by the way!).  It’s not bad.  But it lacks something.  Let’s try black.  Black is slimming, so this is a color most people love–let’s see if this works better…

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Again, not bad.  But it lacks dimension.  Let’s change it up a little.  While I could put everyone in a different but solid color, it still will be a little bland.  And having everyone wearing patterns doesn’t work well either.  So I picked out some different complimentary colors and patterns…and then added an extra little guy who wanted to be included, and even his glasses fit in with our choices… 😉

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Now we’re getting somewhere!  Each individual is more distinct within the group, which gives this image more depth and makes it more interesting.


2.  CHOOSING COLORS, PATTERNS & TEXTURES:   If you’re anything like me, you might still feel a little stuck knowing just how to pull pieces together.  This is why I just started a membership to a styling service that specifically helps put wardrobe together for family pictures.  When you have booked a session with me, I will give you a link to this service.  I used it this past summer when my family had a session and I found it extremely helpful!

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Also, Pinterest can give some great help!  Getting brushed up on the color wheel and color panels is a breeze thanks to this incredible resource!  You can easily type in “What to wear for a family photo session” or “color panels for summer” or anything along that line and Pinterest will take it from there!  I find it helpful to find a color panel that works well with what I have chosen for my scaffold.  It is good to have neutrals mixed in with complimentary pops of color–then vary up the patterns and textures. The possibilities are endless, and chances are you’ll be surprised at what pulls together from pieces you already have in your closet!  Here are a couple of examples of families who did this well…


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3.  ACCESSORIZE:  While I am usually not good at accessorizing in everyday life, family portraits is one area where it is good to keep this in mind!  Just adding some layers of shirts or jackets, jewelry, or scarves can add SO MUCH depth and interest to a picture.  Now, this doesn’t mean go overboard–as you can only imagine how busy and distracting it could get–but do think about what pieces might add to the overall portrait.  Here is an example of a family that added some fun accessories to their session, and the end results were fantastic…


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4.  MOVEMENT:  One of the fun things to do in a family or senior session is capture movement.  These images are more about focusing on the interactions among your family and less about looking straight at the camera.  I think clothing choices can add to this dimension in a session.  Flowy skirts, dresses and blouses add a special flair, consider ways to incorporate those pieces into your family’s wardrobe.  Because I capture so much more than that traditional family portrait, you will be moving and loving on your people.  So avoid tight and restrictive clothing that makes it hard to move and have fun.


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5.  PATTERNS AND OTHER ITEMS TO AVOID:  If you are like me and want the emphasis to be on the connection of your family, there are a couple of items that sometimes steal the show that you might want to avoid:

  • Bold Stripes & Loud Plaids – These strong patterns tend to draw the viewers eye toward the pattern rather than the faces in the pictures.  When it comes to stripes and plaids, think subtle and simple and use sparingly.
  • Bright Colors  –  For example, rather than bright red, choose a more jewel tone version.
  • Uncomfortable Shoes – I want you to be able to move and love on your family in a beautiful setting without your feet becoming sore.  Don’t let those uncomfortable heels get in the way.
  • Restrictive Fit Clothing – Because of the nature of my sessions, pick clothing you are comfortable moving in.  Go back to the section on MOVEMENT and consider how to style your family to include this element.
  • Inside Your Pockets – Check everyone’s pockets before the session and empty them!
  • Watches and Wristbands- Usually watches and wristbands (different than bracelets) tend to be distracting in pictures.  Consider leaving them at home.
  • Transition Glasses – Transition glasses are a trick when most sessions take place outside.  When I have tried editing these glasses to appear lighter in Photoshop, it doesn’t look natural, so I won’t be editing these to look lighter if someone wears them during a session.  Some people choose to go without glasses at all if their only pair of glasses are transition glasses.  And some bring along a different pair to wear instead.  So you are more than welcome to do what works best for you and how you want the final pictures to look.


6.  WAYS TO DE-EMPHASIZE CERTAIN FEATURES:  It’s VERY common to hear about things people don’t want emphasized.  Whether it be hips or arms or stomachs or who knows what else, clothing choices can go a long way in what is emphasized and what isn’t.  In a still photo, a person’s eyes are immediately drawn to whatever is lightest and brightest in the image.  So guess what?  If you’re not wanting immediate attention drawn to a certain area on your body, don’t put your lightest color on that area.  For example, if your arms aren’t your favorite feature, it would be best not to wear sleeveless (especially if your skin is light) or light-colored sleeves, as this will emphasize the very thing you’d rather not showcase.  A better option might be sleeves that are darker in color.

On another note regarding this point, I am always surprised at what people are critical of about themselves.  First off, I have SO MUCH to say about why your least favorite things about yourself shouldn’t keep you from getting in front of the camera with your loved ones.  In fact, I’ll probably dedicate a separate post to that issue when I have some time!  But in the meantime, let me reassure you that there is SO MUCH that can be done with clothing choices, posing, and lighting that can either flatter or not flatter anyone with any body type!  All you have to do is take your cell phone camera and hold it at different angles around your face to know that you can go from feeling yuck to feeling like a rock star with just the change of an angle!  Thin or curvy, this applies to EVERYONE.

It is MUCH better to let your photographer know these things BEFORE your session so that she/he knows ahead of time.  I seriously have been shocked by what some people are self-conscious about after the session is done when they are looking at their final portraits.  While I can easily “help” with things like acne and brightening teeth, there are things I would have never guessed because I truly didn’t see an issue.  I realize that we all have those parts of ourselves we aren’t happy with–teeth, acne, balding head, long face, round face, hips, waist, chins, legs, and so on–so if you are not at peace about those things for you, go ahead and have the discussion with me beforehand.  I promise, it will be worth in the end!


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As I close this post, let me remind you of a couple of things.  The scaffold–are the big things in place first?  Then the details–when everything is laid out, does it look cohesive and make sense?  If you have booked a session with me, I want to help in the decisions before the session, as I believe that these decisions are important in achieving the end results we both want–gorgeous, timeless portraits with your loved ones.  As a full service photographer, I want to be with you from these first steps all the way through the finishing touches of heirloom portraits hanging beautifully in your home.  So on most occasions, I have helped families make wardrobe decisions either in person or through pictures of outfit ideas sent back and forth over email or text.  Don’t get overwhelmed in the details, I’m here to help!

Ultimately, the outfits you choose should be secondary to what is most important and most beautiful–the connection and love you have for each other.  That is what I am out to capture.  Let’s choose a wardrobe that compliments what we both know should be the statement pieces of fine art in your home–stunning portraits of your family.


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If you or someone you know is looking for a St. Louis area photographer, connect with me HERE.

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