What do you wear for your family session? Though some might say it’s as simple as putting on some nice clothes that won’t date you 50 years down the road, I think it deserves a bit more purposeful effort. After all, you’re investing some solid money into a professional photographer! PLUS, what you wear can really make a difference in how you feel about your images; the right outfits will just fit in your images, allowing your eyes to focus on YOU and your FAMILY captured in those little frames. Poorly or unplanned outfits, on the other hand, will just be a distraction from the details you really want to see.

A quick note before we get started: while this advice is specifically directed towards families, I’ve purposefully made it flexible so that you can apply these steps to other sessions as well – maternity, fresh 48, newborns in your home, seniors, engagements, you name it!

#1: Clearly identify your end goal. 

Do you want a new family portrait for your big family room? Send out Christmas cards that show how much everyone’s grown up? Have images to remember your little’s curious eyes and spunky personality? Take the time to hone in on why you’re spending the money on professional photography – this helps IMMENSELY in making decisions that will help you get to your end goal (after all – if you don’t know where you’re going, it’s hard to get there!)

Bonus: figuring out your why/purpose/end goal/what you want can help you decide pretty much anything – from what photographer you hire to where you have your session to what you do with your photos afterwards. Basically, if you’re having trouble deciding something, come back to this!! 

#2: Pick a color palette that coordinates well with #1) your location and #2) each other.

I highly recommend sticking to 2-5 colors for your color palette (though I think 3 really is the sweet spot), as more can feel busy. Start with a good, solid neutral color (white, grey, brown, black – when in doubt, pick a white!), and add colors that both look good together and feel balanced with the colors that will be at the location you picked for your session. Just don’t pick any super bright (think neon) colors – these colors will reflect on your skin making it look… yup, you guessed it – neon. 

Bonus: ALSO coordinate your color palette with your end goal/purpose. You’ll be happy if your images look good on their own (aka the colors in the image look well together), but you’ll LOVE your images if they also fit in your living room or make you feel the bright and happy joy of your crazy kids that you so wanted to remember.

For help in picking a good color palette, check out Canva’s resource (here) on color theory and their color palette tool. I’ve also created a Pinterest board with color palette and outfit ideas! 

Here’s a couple examples for ya:

  • Family A is getting family pictures so that they can update the big family portrait in their living room. That room has white walls and a lot of browns and a few dusty blues and greens. They’re planning on a summer session in a park with lots of green trees. So they pick cream as their base neutral, dusty blue (to pull out the blues in the room), and dusty pink (to add a pop of something different – not green, blue, brown, or white – that still coordinates with the other colors) for their color palette.
  • Family B is about to welcome another baby girl into their family and are going to have an in-home family/newborn session shortly after she’s born. They want to put some of their pictures in her nursery, and some around the house, but aren’t exactly sure where. We’ve decided that the rooms in their home with the best light (where we’ll spend most of our session time) are the master bedroom and living room. All those rooms have off-white walls, and have lotsof color, but mostly greys, ferny greens, browns, mauves. So they choose white as their base neutrals, and that ferny green and mauve (since those coordinate with all the different colors in their home, and honestly…. they’re just mom’s favorite) as their colors.

#3: Put together everyone’s outfits – from the shirt down to the shoes – using colors from your color palette as your guide.

With a purpose and color palette to guide you, this part becomes MUCH easier – but it will require a bit of trial and error on your part to get it just right! 

Here are some tips when it comes to actually piecing together the outfits:

  • Repeat each color in your palette 2-3 times (maybe more if you have a larger family) – use different shades or tints if it’s looking too matchy. The repetition will pull everyone together.  
    • The busiest design or most different color will draw the most attention. Use this to your advantage if you want someone to stand out (usually either mom or a brand new babe), or balance them out to keep everyone cohesive.
  • Lay all the outfits on your bed or hang them on the curtain rod to see how they look all together. This will help you spot when something sticks out, if someone is wearing too much of the same color, etc.
  • Pick clothes that fit well (neither too small nor too large), don’t have stains or rips, and are comfortable, but flattering. 
    • There are LOTS of blogs out there on how to dress for your body shape and size (like this one from Stitch Fix!). Know yourself and what you feel comfortable and beautiful in! 
      • For mamas, I always recommend dresses with a bit of movement and sleeves or off the shoulder. When in doubt, keep it simple!
  • Work off of what you already have in your closet, but don’t be afraid to spend some money if you feel like something is missing.
    • Some of my favorite stores for finding family picture worthy items include: Roolee, Ivy City Co, Jessa Kae, Old Navy & Target
  • Make sure what you’re wearing works well with your location, end goal, and weather
    • Generally, a semi-formal approach looks just right without being tooo nice- that means dresses for all the ladies (and lil’ ladies) and button-ups with nice pants (not jeans) for the men (and your lil’ men too) – but it all comes down to your personal preference. Feel like dressing up a bit more? Go for it! A suit jacket feel a bit much for the trail you’re hiking up? Ditch it! Taking pictures in the fall up in the mountains? Wear boots instead of sandals! Etc etc etc.
  • If things are looking a bit flat/too samey, add some variety with different textures or patterns, bows, hats, etc.
  • If you have a picky kid, involve them in the decision – let them choose what to wear within the colors you pick for them or let them pick which colors from your palette they want to wear, etc. 
  • Things to avoid:
    • Really thin stripes or small checkers (they’ll distort in-camera).
    • Transition lenses while outside (they’ll be DARK – bring an extra pair or wear contacts instead so we can see your eyes)
    • Again, neon/bright colors (they’ll make your skin look the same color!!)
  • If you’re feeling stuck, try asking for a second opinion, or just sleeping on it
    • I am always MORE than happy to help my clients decide what to wear! If things just aren’t looking right, or you just want to make sure it looks good to someone else besides you, don’t hesitate to ask me!

#4: Have EVERYONE try on their outfits (ideally at least a week before your session). 

Before it’s too late to switch anything out, make sure everything fits, and that all the pieces are there. Once that’s done, and you feel good about it, clean and iron everything (if needed). Keep them in a separate place where they won’t accidentally be put on and dirtied (in your closet, a spare room, whatever works!), and you’re set!

Some tips here:

  • If your kids complain like none other, make it fun! Have a try-on party and fashion show, with dessert at the end (after everyone’s changed out into their comfy PJs, of course). Let them know how much it helps you if they help you make sure they like what you picked out. You got this!
  • If you’re worried about someone making a mess on their outfit or ruining something on the way to the session (newborns and young kids are notorious for this), it can help to have a backup outfit or two just for some peace of mind!
  • Extra tip: schedule haircuts/color at least a week or two away from pictures (to avoid the fresh-cut look. And if you don’t like it, to give you time to get it redone!)
  • Extra extra tip: to avoid the stress of getting your hair and makeup just right, hire someone to do it for you!

TADA! That’s all, folks! Again, though it may seem like a lot, the right outfits make just such a HUGE difference in adding meaning and depth to your images, and you CAN do it! When in doubt, reach out – I love helping my clients get things just right, and am just an email or text away. 🙂

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