Monday, April 9, 2012

What to Wear for Family Photos

I have read up a lot on what people should wear for family photos but I have learned a lot more through my own trial and error.  I would love to share the knowledge I have gained so that when everyone gets their family photos this spring and summer they can wear the best clothing for their photos.  If you are going to invest in photos you will want to make sure they are the best that they can be and that can rely a lot on what you wear. 

My Photography professor once told me that if you want the background to be the focus then match but if you want the subjects to be the focus coordinate.  This has been my mantra ever since when people ask me if they should “match” their clothing on a shoot.  When I say match I don’t mean two little girls in matching dresses but I mean trying to have all the same colored tops and pants.   The individuals get lost in this kind of matching.

I think we can all agree that we want the subjects to be the real focus.  One exception can be when working with a very large group.  Matching can bring focus to the group overall and that may be what your goal is but for now we will think about smaller family pictures and that means coordination is the key.


Coordination can be obtained when the subjects have a color scheme and similar style.  Every person does not need to have every color and can even have little bits of different colors but it is safe to choose three colors for your main colors with neutral base color and then go from there. 

When choosing colors remember to stick to colors that are either jewel tones (rich, deep, not too dark) and lighter hues (some would call them pastels).  Stay away or keep to a minimum colors that are too dark, like black or too bright, like neon colors.  The problem with ultra bright clothing is that it can reflect onto the skin tone, giving you a green, pink or blue glow.  It can also make the picture too bright and there may have to be a lot of color correction to bring it down.  Something too dark, like a black, can loose detail when the picture has that bright contrast that we love in photos.

Skin Tone
You also want to consider your skin tone.  If you have very dark skin, don’t wear something too light right next to your skin, something will have to lose it’s texture and depth and it will probably be the shirt rather then your face which might look a bit like a floating head.  On the other end, if you have a very light skin, keep away from a very dark color next to your skin for the same reason.  This still leaves you with a large array of colors.  Now, concerning those with middle skin tones, you are lucky because you can actually get away with the extremes in color next to your skin tones.  In fact the contrast looks beautiful!  

Within skin tones we also have variances in color.  If you have an olive skin tone pastels can look very lovely.  When working with yellow in the skin, deep jewel tones work well.  Pink skin tones can usually work well with both. 

Choosing colors
Some things to consider when choosing colors: What colors look flattering with skin and hair color?  What room are these photos going to be in?  What colors are found in that room?  Family photos can be real art and if they go with the colors in a living room it only adds to the beautiful aesthetic.

Texture and Layering:

Layering adds a lot of depth to a photo.  Whenever you can layer do!  I know that as it gets warmer this gets harder but even if it’s a big necklace, belt, or vest it will add that layering that you want.  Don’t get too crazy, though I more often regret not layering over layering.

Texture can be added in many ways.  Find clothes that are embellished.  I love fun flowered hair bands, knitted sweaters, crotchet tops, ruffles, or even just rolling up the sleeves or pant legs.  All of these things add texture. 


Large and Loud or Small and Subtle
When putting together your families outfits remember subtle and small or loud and large.  Keep away from small busy patterns that distract the eye. If it’s a small pattern you want it to remain subtle, like a small stripe, checkered, or polka dot, don’t let it be too bright and ostentatious.  Large patterns can be subtle as well but they are better at being flashy then a small pattern, they won’t distract the eye in a displeasing manner.

Remember this also when it comes to jewelry.  For example a bright pair of studs in an ear will just look odd and throw off the image.  If you are going to have a small piece of jewelry make sure it is subtle and doesn’t distract the eye.  If you are going to wear a large piece of jewelry then it can be either and tends to look better if it’s louder.  A disclaimer on this though is that something like this should be limited so it doesn’t look to crazy. 

Mixing Patterns
It’s okay to have different patterns, just make sure that they complement each other.  I’ll start by explaining that there are two general types of patterns, geometric or floral (damasks and other organic patterns can also fit into the floral category).  When all is said and done, there should only be one of each (one floral, one geometric) that is loud in nature out of the entire group.  For example, if the dad is wearing a bright and loud plaid and a daughter is wearing a loud floral pattern everyone else needs to wear more subtle patterns or none.  Otherwise the image can get too busy and the eye is overwhelmed. 

Try to stay away from branded clothing that reflects trends of the day, this can age a photo too much and gives it a certain amount of cheesiness.   Also little animals or signs on clothing can distract from the subject in the photo, you never want clothing to take the attention away from you or your family.

Shoes or No?

This is one that I have never really thought too much about until recently because I have yet to have a client that wanted to go barefoot.  I actually think that it can add a sense of casualty and lightness to a photo if the subjects go barefoot.  I would suggest that if this is something you choose to do you bring coordinating shoes just in case you have areas you want to take a photo wear the ground is not safe to walk on barefoot.  So, it’s all up to you, depends on the feel that you want, it can come in levels too.  Nice Sunday shoes, covering the feet entirely can be more formal.  Sandals can bring down the formality a little.  Then, barefoot is the ultimate casual. Your choice!


You always want to look like yourself in a photo.  If you normally wear bangs, have them in your photograph.  Don’t’ try to look like a completely person (just make sure to keep it a bit better then a ponytail;) You can also add a lot of texture with hair styles in a picture. Braids or curls, maybe even spikes for little boys or hairbands on little girls.  All of these can add the finish a photo needs.  Also, make sure that hair is not too flat, if you have to tease it a little more than usual then do, the last thing you want is a flat head in your photos. 

Flatter your body:

Don’t wear anything you aren’t comfortable in.  If you have to yank your shirt down a million times during a session then you are not going to have an enjoyable experience.  Camouflage those parts of your body that you are uncomfortable with by using light layering or darker colors maybe even some larger patterns and texture (ruffles or chiffon).  When you are choosing lengths make sure it’s nothing too short and loose, for example you don’t want awkward shots up your shorts;). 

Baby body
I recently had a question from my sister about what a woman should wear for photos if she has recently had a baby and is in the awkward in-between weight.  I think that all depends on what stage you are in in your baby weight loss.  If you are back into your pants, I suggest jeans since they have more structure and will hold in extra loose weight.  I would pair this with a dark, patterned, loose, and textured camisole.   Then top it off with a tighter and lighter cardigan, bringing the attention to the arms instead of the middle area.  Also, a thick belt over the cardigan and blouse at the smallest area can give you that hourglass shape without creating a pinched in effect that a skinnier belt would.  Now if you want to wear a dress a large pattern in a loose and flowy dress can work great, toped with a textured cardigan and belt.  If you are feeling more insecure about that weight then maybe try a flowy skirt, with stretchy waist band.  This can be topped with a dark camisole or shade shirt and topped with a textured cami.  Here’s my examples:

Reflect your style:

Stay true to yourself and reflect your family.  Are you more urban, country, romantic, classic or silly?  Make sure that your outfits reflect the feel of your family.

Breaking the rules:

Sometimes it happens, it’s not the end of the world, just try your best and I’m sure you’ll look great, don’t regret what you can’t go back and fix, enjoy the photos you have, I’m sure they’re great, and some things can be fixed in editing.  Don’t be afraid to ask your photographer about what can be done post processing to fix any problem that may show in photos. 

Inspiration Clothing Boards:

I’ve put together some inspirational clothing boards to help you get inspired and have a jump off point for your families photos this spring/summer.  Enjoy! If you don’t see any up here that you can relate with or you have a certain problem you want addressed just leave me a comment and I will do my best to help!

Colors: Purple (plum), brown, grey
Neutral Base: Dark Jean
Feeling: modern, semi-formal
Suggested Setting: Shabby chic sofa or chair in green field, stone steps, urban building, studio

Colors: Coral, Rust, Mint Green
Neutral Base: Chambray
Feeling: Semi-casual indie/hipster
Suggested Setting: Wheat field with old bike, forest on old quilt

Colors: Aqua, navy blue, brown
Neutral Base: Khaki
Feeling: Light Casual
Suggested Setting: Beach on driftwood, boating dock
Colors: Peach, coral, cream
Neutral Base: Khaki
Feeling: Casual, light and flowy
Suggested Setting: Grassy field, beach

Colors: Yellow, Rust, Green
Neutral Color: Brown
Feeling: Casual Earthy
Suggested Setting: Wheat field, lane or road, old barn

Colors: Yellow, Grey, bits of Coral
Neutral Base: Navy Blue
Feeling: Semi-Formal, Upscale stylish
Suggested Setting: Stone Lane, Shabby chic couch in field, urban brick building


  1. yellow and grey fab is my per usual, great advice!

  2. I haven't found it very hard to do the coordinating (although I don't know how you've felt about our colors in editing, lol)... I've found it hard to actually FIND things in stores that coordinate!

  3. This was very helpful! I'll have to keep file it away for our next attempt at family pics. Although I have one question (and it'll be obvious why): I noticed you had a cute outfit for "boy" or "girl". What if you have 5 boys and of course dept. stores don't EVER have a variety that fits that many different kids, is it okay to match? And then do you have to match all 5, or can you pretend a couple of them are twins or triplets? ;)

  4. Thanks guys! Ashley, you guess always do such a great job, but with your kid's skin tones and great looks I don't know how you could go wrong;) Louie, I think that it's fine to match kids with outfits, it's just when people try to match so much that they blend into the background. You could have a couple kids in argile sweater vest and pant combo then put your other kids in polos of the same color just with one in a pattern like a subtle stripe. Some kids could have nice shorts and some in slacks (can't you tell I know your style so well;). I think I should put together a big family board to show you what I mean, they are so fun to do I don't mind at all!

  5. Very, very nice! Very well thought out as usual!

  6. Oh...and I realized I didn't fit any of the clothing styles. I think I need to go shopping or something ;-)