Life moves at warp speed, doesn’t it? We blink and the seasons have changed. In an instant, our tiny tots are not so tiny any more. Thankfully, you took the plunge. You found a photographer to help you savor those precious family moments. You’re ready to freeze time and create an image you’ll cherish. There’s just one problem… What do you wear? Some days it’s challenging enough to get everyone dressed in the first place, much less in coordinated duds. That’s where this inspirational style guide comes in. It is packed with summer family photo outfits, dress ideas for mom, and color palettes to get you started.
A great question with a fairly universal answer! Professional photographers share a common refrain…
What you wear for family photos will impact how you feel about your images after the shoot.
Outfits that look great in person don’t always shine in photos. There’s color theory to think off, texture too. Family photos are an investment, so you want to have a plan for your outfits while keeping your look uniquely you.
In fact, the way you style your family can also affect how you use your photos. Does the palette make sense on your wall? Do the tones flatter your family and feel authentic? Choose wisely and your images will become a gallery-worthy treasure.
However, styling your family shouldn’t be a stress-inducing venture. Ultimately, it should be fun! This guide to summer family photo outfits will walk you through the process, sharing everything the pros know – including where they shop.
Let’s begin with 5 critical first steps. Then, I’ll share specific examples of color palettes brought to life and photographer-favored dresses for mom.
Mom: Baltic Born Britney Tiered Maxi Dress |Dad: AE Skinny Pant in Khaki, Amazon Blue Henley | Boy: Kate Quinn Henley Tee, Zara Linen Blue Rolled-up Pants | Girl: Joyfolie Gemme Dress in Olive | Baby boy: Spearmint Love Mustard Romper
This first tip should make your process easier. You do not need need everyone to match. While this was super popular in the 90s, modern images have much more color variety. Think 4-5 colors that complement each other, rather than everyone rocking same shade of tan or ivory. Translation? You should be able to pull some pieces from your family member’s existing wardrobe. There’s no need to start from scratch.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, it’s time to consider another crucial element in pulling together summer family photo outfits. Location matters… a lot. You want to style your family in way that makes sense for your surroundings. For instance, an edgy urban downtown location calls for a much different aesthetic/palette than a bohemian-inspired flowering meadow. Likewise, you need to think about practicality. Do the outfits actually meet the demands of the shoot location? Can you move in them comfortably? Do they make sense for the conditions (e.g. heat, wind, terrain)?
Mom’s Golden Yellow Maxi (Image by: Kelly McPhail Photography)
Chances are you (mom) are the maestro coordinating this photo session opus… Consequently, your look deserves a bit of extra attention. As the mastermind, you will likely be the most particular about the image, so take this as an opportunity to treat yourself to something new. It should make you feel beautiful, comfortable and confident. Your emotions set the tone for the rest of your fam, so it’s important to choose something that makes you happy.
Starting with mom is also the logical first step. Women’s clothing tends to have more pattern, texture and overall interest. Once you’ve established your look, you can build out… selecting 2-3 complementary colors that relate to your outfit for the rest of your fam. What should mom wear for family photos?
Pro photographers say long dresses (maxi or midi styles) in high quality fabrics (say no to t-shirt material) tend to be the most flattering/functional. Choose a garment in a color you love that hangs nicely. It should offer freedom of movement and feel a bit elevated from what you wear day-to-day. I’ve tried both short (session photos here) and long dresses for family photos and greatly prefer the former.
Although we’ve talked about the importance of your clothing allowing you to move freely, it’s a fine line. You don’t want something overly flowy or shapeless. Think about proportion as you’re selecting your outfits. Does your look create balance between your upper and lower half? Does it define your shape in some way? Dresses or skirts with a tie waist or some sort of waistline detail can help with this. Rocking slim fit pants? Offset the streamlined nature of the bottom with a looser top. Fitted clothing (neither baggy nor tight) is crucial for flattering summer family photos.
Image by: Kelly McPhail Photography
If you’re a bold color lover (like me), this fifth tip may come as a surprise. However, hear me out. There’s rationale behind this one. What do you want the focus of your photos to be? Likely, it’s your family’s genuine love and connection… the emotional bond between you. Muted colors keep the focus where it belongs, whereas bold and saturated hues can compete. Likewise, muted colors play better with nature – creating dreamy, earthy and ethereal imagery. They help ensure you get the type of photo, you’d proudly hang on the wall.
Subtle patterns create a similar effect. They blend well with the environment, adding depth and dimension while making it much easier to choose those coordinating colors for the rest of your family. While selecting your summer family photo outfits, be sure to opt for smaller scale prints. This is not the time for giant, bold florals. Again, you want emotion to be the focus.
Mom: Bohme Sweater Top, Morning Lavender Skirt, Kork-Ease Stasia Sandal in Brown | Dad: Lucky Brand Men’s Tee in Port Royale | Boy: Old Navy Shirt, Carter’s Gauze Shorts, Girl: Rylee and Cru Gingham Dress, Dolce Vita Sandals, Baby girl: Carter’s Gauze Dress
Ready to practice those 5 tips? Let’s put a few complete summer family photo outfits together, based on photographer-recommended dresses for mom. For each look, we’ll discuss mom’s dress, then explain how we pulled together the overall palette. This insight is coming from my dear friend Kelly McPhail of Kelly McPhail Photography – an insanely talented artist who has been helping families capture memories for nearly a decade.
All four dresses are from Baltic Born. The brand is prized by photographers because it specializes in feminine maxi dresses with plenty of textural detail and those subtle patterns we were talking about. It also an entire section devoted to bump-friendly clothing.
Also available in a lovely dusty green and jade hue, this dress is an ideal example of what mom should wear for summer family photos. Why? It’s a textural confection – but in a muted, camera-friendly shade. The ruffle and crochet accents help draw the eye up, focusing attention on your face and the emotional connection between you and your family.
Additionally, the V-neckline and back are figure flattering as is the the high-quality material. This dress moves beautifully. It’s one of my all-time favorites. Best of all? It’s on sale right now (only $50)! Sizes SX-XL are currently available.
A dreamy kimono dress serves as an ideal jumping 0ff point for summer family photo outfits. Not only does it catch the breeze beautifully, lending itself to dramatic photos, but it also flatters a wide variety of body types. Tall, short, curvy or slim, this dress (with its tie-waist styling and flowing sleeves) will add shape where you need it and gracefully flow away from areas you may want to downplay. It’s also super easy to move in. While I favor the lighter prints, you can snag this one in so many varieties. There is something for everyone. It’s available in sizes XS-XXXL.
Perhaps it’s because I am Greek, but this style with its graceful, cascading sleeves and unique tassel rope ties, really spoke to me. I appreciate how you can cinch the waist at the sides for a more custom fit. Likewise, the material is super high quality and skims your body beautifully. It also has two slits in the full length skirt, allowing you to move about easily. As a petite, the length is ideal. Finally a maxi dress I don’t need to worry about tripping over. This one comes in six colorways and sizes XS-XXXL.
Finally, another style on sale. What should mom wear for family photos? This effortlessly beautiful piece is supremely versatile. It’s the type of dress you will not only love for the session, but also cherish long after… think vacations or summer weddings. The off-shoulder neckline is universally flattering, while also providing the option to pull up the sides if you prefer more of a rounded/boat neck style. The flowing top covers your upper arms, so mama can feel confident and free to move. While the burgundy shade I’m wearing is sold out, you can snag it in a gorgeous dusty mauve on final sale (just $46)! There’s also a dreamy sage, blue and white option.
Mom: One Loved Babe Gingham Dress, Kork-Ease Stasia Sandal in Brown | Dad: Lucky Brand (Dark Olive) Tee, Hollister Gray Wash Jeans | Boy: Old Navy Linen Top, Jamie Kay Shorts in Cherry | Girl: Rylee + Cru Romper Set
Now comes the fun part, let’s talk about crafting your perfect palette in relation to the background behind you! For this section, we’ll lean on the advice of my photographer pal Kelly. She wants you to think of the color wheel. While Kelly always recommends muted colors when choosing summer family photo outfits, you can create drama with opposing shades.
What do we mean by that? In short, opposites attract.
Color theory considers colors that fall opposite each other on the color wheel complementary (e.g., red and green, yellow and purple, orange and blue). This is why sports teams regularly opt for opposing shades when choosing their trademark hues. We don’t want that much contrast in family photos. However, a lower chroma variation (chroma refers to a color’s brightness or dullness) in photo-friendly colors is ideal.
Need examples? When Kelly did a family shoot in the mountains (see photo above), the background was predominantly deep greens and grays. What’s opposite of those moody greens the color wheel? Reds and oranges. So she opted for a rust-hued dress that evokes that palette, while staying true to her personal aesthetic. Here another opposing color palette to jump start your planning!
If you have a location in mind choosing opposing colors should be a breeze. However, if you don’t have prior knowledge of the session area, talk with your photographer. Ask for their recommendation on the best colors for the setting. Professionals love this type of advance planning, as it helps ensure the final image is one you’ll swoon for! We’ve covered a lot of territory in this guide to summer family photo outfits, so it’s time to wrap things up.
First up? A quick “what to avoid” list. These are photographer pet peeves and things you’ll regret too, so give this a once over before shopping.
Thin stripes and tight plaids distort in printed photos and appear zig-zaggy and thus should be avoided.
Avoid outfits that are too formal for your setting. If you are in a natural area, a tuxedo, formal dress, tie/bowtie, might feel out of place.
Dads, leave the shorts at home and opt for pants so your hairy legs don’t distract from the photo.
White has the tendency to wash out complexions. Choose ivory and creams instead.
Dark colors (e.g., navy blues, black, dark browns and grays) should be avoided, since they appear black in photos. Also, dark colors can wash out your complexion and create an overly dark feel in the photo. Overly saturated colors can distract from the photo, so look instead for muted versions. For example, if you have a bright yellow dress, think about a mustard or gold dress instead.
Neon colors can reflect onto your face, causing skin tone problems in your photos. That neon green shirt will reflect upwards on your face and cause you to look green!
Logos or text on clothing is distracting. Avoid shirts that have logos (even just a simple Nike check mark or Polo horse is distracting).
Unless you absolutely love your arms, avoid strapless or sleeveless tops. Sleeves are typically more flattering for everyone!
Guys, it’s best to avoid wearing white undershirts that hang out of the top of your shirt or sleeves.
You might love your Under Armour quick-dry polo but it’s not really the look you want to go for in your family session. Avoid athletic polos or quick-dry shirts and opt for more timeless fabrics.
White tennis shoes, athletic shoes, and character shoes (think Disney princess shoes) should all be avoided. Leather shoes, casual sneakers (think Converse), sandals, slide-on canvas shoes, and wedges are all great options.
Low-cut shirts can shift during the session and leave you a little more revealed than you intended. Clothing that is overly tight and clings to you is uncomfortable and can leave bulges and bumps in places you don’t want.
An adorably cute moment with your baby can be ruined by the green-lined diaper that is hanging out of a little romper or dress. Avoid baby clothing that doesn’t completely cover those little Pampers.
If you typically wear glasses, wear them for your session. But if you have polarized or transitional lenses, consider taking them off. Dark glasses will cover your eyes in the photos.