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What to Wear Wednesday – Family Portrait Session Basics

The most important part of a family session is deciding what to wear.  Clothing can truly make or break a family portrait. Here are some suggestions on what to wear:

Jeans w/ black shirts

Darker wash jeans with a black shirt is a great basic for a family portrait. Black is generally slimming for anyone who wears it and hides a multitude of sins. Jeans are causal and the darker wash keeps the contrast factor down, so that the true focus of the portrait can be the faces and expressions of the subjects. I highly recommend this for newborn and baby portraits and for classic family portraits.

TIP: Check your black shirts for fading, especially if its an older shirt. Black is a staple in any wardrobe, so if there is any sign of fading, invest in a new one for your portrait session!


Same color family, variety of tones and textures

If you find all black a little dull or too formal for your family portrait, there is a easy option for making things more casual and interesting. Wearing tops that are all still in the same color family (such as blues or grays, as shown below) but varying the tones (dark vs. light) and textures of the individual outfits, can have a really nice effect.

If monochromatic is still a bit to “dull” for your taste, but you want to stay classic, try mixing subtle & harmonious colors together. I recommend working with only a couple of shades to keep it simple. The trick to this look – remove the darkest and lightest shades and work with the mid-tones. Grays, creams, khakis, and pastels.


Multiple coordinating colors

This type of outfit coordination is more difficult to work with, but can be phenomenal if pulled off correctly. The outfits may all be different, but have colors, textures or tones in common. Below are a couple of samples, but the possibilities are truly endless!


Individually we look great, but together we clash!

This is by far the most common mistake made. Individually each member looks fantastic, but once you place everyone in the group shot, the patterns and colors all start to clash and compete with each other. To help combat this, lay each outfit out on your bed and look at them all together as a group and ask yourself – what is the common factor in all of these outfits? How do they tie together? Then, is there any one outfit that your eye is immediately drawn to? If so, that will be the outfit that catches the eye of whoever views your portrait. Now, you may WANT this to happen (such as focusing the attention on your young child) but for most families, this isn’t ideal, so pull that outfit out and try another one.

The Pattern Problem

The number one cause of clothing clash in family portrait is pattern clash. If you are not comfortable coordinating patterns, then I suggest sticking with solids. Vary the tones or textures to add interest.

The trouble with white…

We think of white as clean and classic – easy to coordinate. But honestly, it’s not that great for portraits. First off, since our eye is drawn to the brightest/lightest part of a portrait, white outfits will compete with our faces for attention. Second, it’s not slimming. AT ALL. Lastly, it’s horrid to photograph in the bright Arizona sun. Please avoid wearing white shirts if at all possible for outdoor sessions or discuss with me prior to your session.

Avoid short skirts and sleeveless shirts

Ideally, your outfits should work both sitting down and standing up, so I suggest avoiding short skirts. I always advise against sleeveless shirts for adults for ANY session.

Choosing colors

Even if you feel confident in your ability to select a variety of colors and textures for your portrait wardrobe (and I am always willing to help if you are not!) one decision that can be difficult is deciding what colors to wear. My first suggestion is to look at the room where you’d like to hang the portrait. Look at the colors in that room for inspiration. My other suggestion is to think of the location of your session – a desert portrait lends itself to natural colors, an urban session to more fun, flashy outfits and a studio session can go either direction. These are not hard/fast rules (who says you can’t wear magenta in the desert?) so if you have some ideas and would like opinions, please let me know!

Ask your friends!

My best friend always sends me a picture of the outfits she and her family are planning to wear prior to her session. She lays them out on the bed and sends me a quick snapshot for my suggestions. Feel free to send email me picture of your potential outfits or even enlist the help of your friends! Bottom line is that we all want to make sure you and your family look fantastic for your portraits!

1 thought on “What to Wear Wednesday – Family Portrait Session Basics

  1. Great tutorial. I just took family photos and I wish I had seen this first!!

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