One question I am commonly asked as a professional photographer is what should be worn or brought to a family portrait session, how makeup should be done, and whether people should bring props. After answering all these questions individually for ages, I found some other photographers offering some great visual aids for various more specific dress codes, and I discovered Polyvore, an amazing “style editor” that has allowed me to easily (at least comparatively easily) put together a one-stop-shop for addressing the issue of what people should wear to a family session. I hope this will be a resource for families, couples, and photographers in choosing how to prepare for photographs that will last a lifetime.
Of course, there’s a caveat to this – photographers don’t all have the same opinions on these things. I talked to another photographer once who said he thought photos turned out badly when people wore “bright colors” in general, which I think is crazy. So you’re not going to find a universal answer – but this is my take.
Okay, let’s start simple. The first question in my series:
What should we bring and wear to a Family Session?
This breaks down into four areas, level of dress, what to avoid, and what to choose in the end for clothes and props. I’ll try to cover each of these in this post, and look for more ideas about different sessions coming up! These rules also apply quite well for dressing for family photos for a wedding, so keep that in mind.
What level of dress should we be looking at?
In terms of dress preparation, consider what level of dress you want – semi-casual, semi-formal, or your family’s “personal fashion” styles works well. It’s important that everyone in the picture is conforming to a level of dress – someone in jeans and sneakers won’t work beside someone in heels and a long gown, and vice versa. Co-ordinate with your family or group about this. Most people will choose a casual look, and some people will want a semi-formal look. Here’s some examples of good style matching over the spectrum.
What about in Winter or at Christmas for Outdoor photos?
An outdoor location is a great option even in winter if you have no small children in your family and the weather looks like it will be mild. It may be much easier and less stressful to accomplish and look better, than indoor portraits. Also, it’s my job to ensure that everyone’s faces are visible, and I pay very close attention to detail in shots like that, so don’t worry too much about bundling up! Here’s a few ideas about how to dress:
The best idea for this is to have everyone wear either neutral colors like black, brown, grey, or beige, or a solid color jacket combined with a colorful scarf . Here’s a great example of a large group photo session I took last Christmas using this kind of color scheme:
What shouldn’t we wear to a Family Session?
Top Row, Left to Right: Yellow, Neon Colors, Large Print Patterns, Splotchy Denim, Stripes, Shiny Clothes, Trendy Items that go out of date quickly
Bottom Row, Left to Right: Anything with Text and Logos, Flimsy items that might show through, Shirts that are too long, Skirts and Shorts that are too short, Ripped Jeans, Wrinkled and Easily Wrinkled things, pants or skirts with leg-side pockets or tassels
- Clothing with bold or large print patterns (hawaiian shirts, etc) or people wearing different patterns
- Clothing/Hairdo that is especially “trendy” and may look out of date later (i.e., every photograph from the big hair era)
- Logos, brand names, any writing on T-shirts – often a problem for guys, don’t do it!
- Anything that doesn’t really fit – bulky, too tight, shirts that aren’t quite long enough, all these can make for difficult photos
- Badly clashing colors – one person wearing light blue and another wearing a dark red, for example
- Saturated, bright yellows don’t look good for most photos. (I’ll admit I don’t like yellow to begin with, but I swear it’s true!)
- Clothing that only partially exposes a tattoo – fully exposed is fine, though.
Stripes are Evil
On the left: Stripe types that should NEVER be worn to a photo session.
What should we each wear to a Family Session:
Mom, Dad, the kids old and young?
Guys, dress to match Mom’s level of dress, and if you’re lost, get help. As a rule, if you’re doing casual or semi-formal, jackets over jeans is a good look for most.
- It is not necessary for all clothes to match, but they should make sense together
- Try to put little people in patterns, while adults wear neutral black/brown/white/beige clothing
- Women should wear natural-looking makeup, or be bold and try photos without it!
- Men should consider that their facial hair may go down in history… This can be a good or bad thing, depending!
- Your shoes and socks will appear in some of the photos. Match or mismatch as desired.
- Some people like to color-match, but that’s not necessary and can sometimes look a little outdated.
- Having everyone wear jeans or black/brown/white or tan pants is one way to co-ordinate without looking weird.
- Colorful jewelery, scarves and accessories are a great way to personalize your photos
What else could we bring to make our photos unique?
Cute props can make a great photo. Some people have brought hats, umbrellas, sports jerseys, crates to sit on, and antique chairs to sessions, see if you can think of something fun – but don’t worry if you can’t! Bring things to tell a story, or just to look pretty. Here’s some ideas:
Things to Sit On
Make it simple!