We will never be able to freeze time, but family photography might be the next best thing. I don’t know about you, but I will treasure our family photos forever. Why? They capture your little people while they’re still little, documenting every impish grin and twinkling eye. Local photographers are beginning to book sessions again here in Indiana. And that means a lot of families are asking a very common question… Hmm, what to wear for family photos?
Dressing your entire gang cutely—and cohesively—can be a real challenge. Sure, I can put together an outfit for myself. But add your husband’s preferences, plus a picky toddler to the mix, and things get infinitely more complicated!
So I’m going straight to the experts for this post. I took professional family photographer (and good pal) Kelly McPhail of Kelly McPhail Photography shopping with me to see what type of outfits really hit the mark.
Not sure where to start? Kelly shared 10 tips families must consider when planning portrait session outfits. We also put together a few inspiration boards to help you generate ideas.
Our gang ended up at Bloom Kid’s Collection, a darling boutique in the heart of downtown Lafayette. All of our kiddos, Kelly’s littles (Elsie and Andrew) and my son (Hudson) are wearing Bloom outfits in these photos. It’s one of the local shops Kelly recommends to clients because it has such unique offerings. You know you are getting something distinctive and durable shopping at Bloom.
Bloom’s boy clothing is adorable, but if you have a little girl — watch out — it’s positively irresistible! I found myself fantasizing about having a young lady to dress. In fact, Hudson and I loved Bloom so much, we’re teaming up with the area boutique to create helpful content for families all summer long. We’ll touch on a new topic each month, so stay tuned.
A portrait session is special. Your outfit should be too!
Now, let’s get to Kelly’s tips…
The cool thing about modern photography is that every shoot is different. Some families might opt for an urban location, other might head to the beach. You could be in a flowering meadow, or right at home in your own backyard. Whatever you choose, the setting should mesh with your outfits. You don’t want to look oddly overdressed (or too casual). Talk to your photographer about your vision/vibe in advance. If you know what you’ll be wearing, many pro photogs will even choose a location based on your outfits.
For instance, the beachy looks below would be ideal for a seaside summer session. They are airy, light, and comfort-focused. Love what you see? You can click on the image for shopping info.
Planning a casual park shoot? Something laid back in a field or grassy area? I love how relaxed these next styles are. They feel like something our family might wear on a regular day. They feel effortless. However, if you look closer, you can see everything links together in a very tidy manner.
Wondering what to wear for family photos? Let mom’s look be your starting point. As Kelly points out, women’s clothing typically has more color, pattern, and texture than menswear. Additionally, we tend to be the most picky family member when it comes to attire. Once you settle on an outfit, begin collecting/sourcing complimentary pieces for the rest of your family. Choose a color or style you feel confident in, then build out.
For example, Kelly already had this Chicwish dress in her closet. The color and waist defining detail is perfect for photos (consequently a perennial blogger favorite). She used the dusty pink tone as a springboard, selecting a ruffled dress for Elsie and a short/shirts combo for Andrew in complementary colors. The result looks relaxed and easy, but there was definitely thought involved!
When choosing what to wear for family photos, it’s helpful to think about how you might decorate a room. This is not the time for the full rainbow of hues. Pick a palette – and stick with it! Kelly recommends choosing mom’s outfit, then 2-3 coordinating colors. Some should be neutral, but you want at least one that pops, adding a bit of pizzazz and “life” to your images.
When we did our family photos with Kelly (details on the experience here), I opted for a navy, yellow, and khaki palette. My dress had been in the closet for years, but looked fresh paired with Hudson’s new button up. Since we already had two patterns in play, we kept my hubby’s look simple and solid.
I’m a bold color girl, so this tip surprised me a bit. But after thinking it over, it makes so much sense as you ponder what to wear for family photos! In a headshot (or at the anchor desk), saturated colors like a big bold red or hot pink look punchy and impactful. In a family photo, they just distract! Consequently, Kelly recommends searching for muted versions of the colors you love. For instance, my hubby wanted to wear this neon shirt that resembled a tennis ball… eek! It makes him happy, but would look pretty tragic in a family photo. A good alternative? Sage green.
Solid colors are a great choice for family photos, but you don’t want everyone in a solid. A little print or texture will add such richness and depth to your images. Hudson’s Henley spoke to me the minute I spotted it in Bloom. However, it’s pretty bold. I didn’t want my look to compete with his cuteness, so I went monochromatic. For interest, I scooped up this paisley-inspired crochet skirt. (Ladies, this one is gem! So comfortable with the elastic waistband and uber feminine) If my husband were along for this shoot, I would likely have him don a chambray button-up with neutral slacks.
Pattern pitfalls? Kelly urges clients to avoid large/overscale prints or anything too busy. Tiny stripes or dense polka dots can distort on camera.
My cousin—coincidentally also named Kelly—also has a real knack for subtle print/pattern mixing. She prefers a casual look and passed along a couple of her favorite family photos to give us additional inspiration. Special thanks to Appleton, Wisconsin-area photographers Gosia’s Photography (Instagram Page) for sharing the first two images… and Polkadotumbrella Photography (Instagram Page) for the third.
Both Kellys had this to say: When considering what to wear for family photos, you need to be part of the equation. Just be yourself. If you’re a jeans and t-shirt kind of gal—own it. Don’t pull a 180 and show up in a tulle skirt. It might make for a cool image, but family photography is designed to reflect your brood’s true nature. You need to be able to recognize yourself! Pinterest is a great place to go for family photo inspiration. Just make sure you don’t let it nudge you down a road you’re not uncomfortable with.
I’ve always been a huge proponent of tailored garments and a great fit (more on that in this post). Family photos are no exception! This is not the time for baggy, draping styles. You want something that draws attention to/defines the parts of your body you are confident with. The goal is to create shape with pieces that skim your curves, rather than clinging to them. Have you ever noticed how quick we are to blame our bodies when we don’t like what we see in the mirror? In reality, it’s the clothing at fault! Think about celebrities on the red carpet. They don’t all have perfect bodies. They just have clothing that fits perfectly. Their looks are tailor made.
I’m not saying you need couture. However, if you’re investing in a family photo session, make sure you allow yourself time to shop around for a garment that fits you perfectly. Kelly McPhail also recommends you think about balance. You want your upper and lower half to look proportionate, she says. If you have a flowing skirt, pair it with a fitted top. Going for a long, loose style up top? Opt for tailored slacks or skinny jeans.
Since there is never a dull moment in motherhood (the outtakes above are proof ), pro photographers recommend you involve your children in the planning process. Don’t let them choose the outfit—or you might end up with a Frozen-themed shot—but you could incorporate one of their favorite colors. If they feel involved while you determine what to wear for family photos, they are more likely to be happy/amenable during the actual shoot. Please don’t make them wear something they hate. Kelly says it never goes well!
If you are doing a family photo session, there is a very good chance those images will end up on your walls… your coffee table… or your nightstand. Why not make life easy and ensure your wardrobe meshes with your existing home décor? Use a similar palette, so your photos can serve as beautiful wall art!
I can’t tell you how important this final point is! Do not wait until the night before to settle on/try out your outfits. Back in my news days (when I used to coordinate all of our morning guest spots), I always urged my interviewees to give their outfits a test run in advance. Try your outfit on and assess it from all angles. Do a “sit test”. This will ensure the fabric lays nicely, doesn’t wrinkle, or expose something you’d prefer to keep under wraps. Does your v-neck stay in place as you move? You do not want your bra showing as you snuggle your little people.
Want additional pro insight? Click here for Kelly McPhail Photography’s comprehensive outfit inspiration guide.