Last summer I took family pictures of my husband’s extended family while we were all down in Alabama for a beach vacation. As we were planning for the vacation and the photo shoot, I found myself staring at my closet and browsing outfit ideas online, wondering what my family should wear for pictures. I know it can be tricky to plan an outfit not just for yourself, but for every person in your family. And, on top of that, they all need to look good together!
Many photographers (myself included!) are happy to help families think through their outfit choices. I’ve gathered the following tips from my experience as a family portrait photographer, as well as from the experience of planning my own family’s outfits. These are some concrete things you can think about as you’re staring into your closet.
Start With One or Two Colors
An easy way to decide what to wear is to start with one color. Everyone in your group can wear a shade of blue, or green, or whatever. Stick with shades of the main color and use something neutral like white, tan, or grey if you add a contrasting color. For my immediate family’s portraits last summer I decided to keep our outfits simple and just have us all wear some kind of blue. Our outfits are pictured below: my blue and white dress, my husband’s dark blue shirt, and my son’s blue shorts and grey top.
If you like a bit more color, or if you have a large group, pick two main colors. Each outfit can feature one or both colors. You can also use a neutral or a secondary color for even more variety or contrast in the outfits. When you’re selecting colors, look in your own closet, or your kids’ closets, and just pick a couple colors that people already have. That makes it easy, and gives everyone some flexibility in their outfit choice. The family below used navy and pink as their colors, and their outfits look great as an ensemble.
Use a Pre-Existing Palette or Artwork
When planning for our extended family beach portraits, my mother-in-law and I initially talked about using blue and green as our main colors. Then while she was looking at pictures of our rental house, she found a picture of a decorative pillow that had a green turtle on a blue background with some coral and yellow accents. So we decided to use that pillow as the inspiration for our outfits. It worked well! If you have a pillow or a piece of artwork or anything like that, it makes it easy to just have everyone in your group coordinate to the colors in the piece of art.
Coordinate to One Outfit
Sometimes it helps to pick your own outfit first, or to pick out an outfit for whoever is going to be the hardest (or most fun!) to dress. Everyone else can just coordinate to that outfit. When my son was about two months old, my sister took some family portraits for us. I had naturally picked out the most adorable little outfit for the baby—a striped shirt, vest, and little denim pants. My husband and just I wore colors that matched his stripes.
Avoid Distracting Designs
Please don’t show up to your family portrait session with a shirt that says “Hollister” across the front. This isn’t 2003. For real, though, in general it’s best to avoid words, pictures, or large logos on your clothes (unless you’re going for a particular theme on purpose.) The eye is naturally drawn to these types of designs. People will be distracted by reading your T-shirt rather than appreciating the lovely picture of your family.
Make Sure You’re Comfortable
I mean this in two ways. First of all, dress for the weather and make sure your clothes are comfortable and easy to move in. If you are too cold or too hot, or uncomfortable in any way, you’re going to be distracted and you won’t look your best in the photos. This is especially true for children. Cold, itchy, or otherwise miserable kids are not going to be in the mood to cooperate for portraits.
Also, wear something that makes you feel good about yourself. Whether you wear your favorite outfit, or put on a color you know brings out your eyes, you’re going to feel confident if you like your outfit. That will show up in your final images, too. Your portrait session is not the time to try out a new look or hairstyle for the first time. I’m all for trying out new trends and hair colors, but you’re going to feel much more comfortable in front of the camera if you’re wearing something tried and true.
Don’t Overthink It!
The most important part of your family portraits is the people in them. Years from now, when you look back on these after the kids have gone off to college, you’re not going to care too much about whether your outfits were perfectly coordinated and on-trend. The internet can be a great resource for outfit inspiration, but we all know it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others online. Many of the families you see in “outfit inspiration” blog posts have been professionally styled and have purchased all new outfits from boutiques for the purpose of appearing in “inspiration” photos.
In my family picture below, we didn’t do much planning or coordinating in advance. We kind of just pulled stuff out of our closets (or suitcases, for those who were in from out of town for Christmas) and it turned out great! Honestly, the only outfit I would change is my own; I think my yellow shirt sticks out a bit too much, but I bet you didn’t even notice until I pointed it out. We love that we were able to all be together for the holiday and update our family picture to include the littlest family member!
I know the thought of picking outfits for your entire family can feel intimidating. Overall, my best advice is to keep it simple. Don’t overthink your outfits. I’m sure you will love seeing your family together in the finished portraits no matter what you’re wearing.
If you’re hoping to update your own family pictures this year, send me a message to find out more about my family portrait sessions. I’ll be here to help you with the whole process, including your outfits!