How to Dress For Family Photos

If there’s one topic that always comes up with my clients, it’s what should they wear during their family photo session.  You want to get it right, you don’t want to have regrets, but you don’t want something that strays too far away from who you are.  I get it, and time after time, after finding out what my clients want, we’re able to come to a consensus on what would work best for them.  So, lets walk through some of the considerations you should make when putting together your wardrobe for the day of your shoot.

What Style Would You Like


Family photo with family all wearing white shirts and jeans in a park

This is an example of a traditional style.

I’m going to break the clothing style choices down in to two options: traditional and modern.  Other people might have more categories, but these are the two I see the most.  Traditional is just that: traditional.  Typically, a traditional style of clothing consists of things that are similar.  It’s the “white shirts and jeans” look, or maybe everyone is wearing khakis and and a solid shirt or sweaters.  Everyone is uniform and the photo doesn’t add individuality, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Sometimes when things aren’t uniform, the clothing can distract the eye from the family.  The downside is that there can be a lack of ‘pop’ from everything looking the same.


Husband and Wife Swinging Child In the Air On A Wood Bridge In The Woods

This an example of a Modern style.

A modern style of photography trades the safety of uniformity for the benefit of personality.  This style consists of adding color and texture/patterns, with the option to accessorize to make things even more unique.  The modern look gives people the most freedom to express who they are through clothing.  That doesn’t mean you have to go to extremes, but if someone loves dresses and someone else loves jeans, you can find a happy medium that works for both of them because there are so many clothing options to chose from. I personally love this look the most because it offers the best variety.  The downside is you have to be careful not to pick clothing patterns and colors that clash.  For instance, you wouldn’t want stripes and flannel in the same group.  That would be bad. 

Family photo in a field with the family posing on a fence with the sun behind them

This is an example of modern and traditional styles combined.

If you want the pop and individuality that come with a modern look, but you like the idea of uniformity, then the best solution might be to mix the two, like the image above.  This family decided that they would base the clothing choices around a color, then they mixed in some patterns and solids to give each person a bit more character.

Things to Avoid

When picking out your clothing choices, you want to avoid three things.  The first: avoid horizontal stripes unless you have a chiseled body. No offense to anyone here, but you can be perfectly healthy and have a fit, in-shape body and horizontal stripes have the potential to make you look heavier than you are.  Similar to the way people tell you that TV cameras add 10 lbs., something about horizontal stripes more often than not can create unflattering photos.  The lines, if not properly fitted to your body, can morph and make it look like there are unsightly areas to your body when that isn’t the case.  Go for a different pattern, or if you really want stripes, pick ones that are thin combined with a predominantly solid color and that hopefully run vertically.

Second, avoid conflicting patterns.  If you’re going to mix patterns, you have very few, if any options.  Your best bet is to have some people wear solid colors and others all wear a similar pattern, like flannel only or vertical stripes only.  When you mix different patterns, its distracting and creates tension in the photos that your brain will pick up on.  One of those exceptions is if the patterns are radically different, like the photo below.

Family Photo on a bench in a park during a sunny day in the shade

Good use of different, non-distracting patterns.

Notice that the patterns are completely different.  One is floral, one is flannel.  VERY different and they complement each other.

The third things to avoid is clashing colors.  This one is more subjective based on the shade of the color, but, a good rule is if one person wears pastels, everyone does too.  If one person wears a bold color, so does the rest of the family.  If one person is wearing something bold, and everyone is wearing pastels, they will draw the attention away from everyone else and they will uncomfortably stick out.  Maybe seek out an extra opinion when you think something may not be quite right.

I hope this helps you decide what choices to make when dressing for your family portrait and gives you a starting point to picking out a great outfit.  If the future, we’ll also take a look at what locations you should consider based on your taste.

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