The question I get asked most often for portraits is, ‘what do I wear?’ The simple answer is that it should be whatever makes you look and feel your best — confidence is always in style. But a portrait session is not a therapy session, so here are the nitty gritty details of what to wear for your family photo.
I should start by saying that these clothing tips for family photos can apply to any sort of portrait where you will have to be standing next to another human. In other words, you could be preparing for an engagement session or a portrait of your entire office: these clothing tips for family photos will still apply.
Let’s go over the basics:
- Dress for who you are, not for who you want to be. In the 90s, there was a trend in family portraiture to have every family member wear the same exact outfit. Blech. You are a family of individuals, and your clothes should reflect this. Be yourselves, and dress accordingly.
- Comfortable clothes help everyone feel comfortable in front of the camera. There is nothing wrong with jeans and a t-shirt. Nothing. Indeed, buying new clothes for the family portrait isn’t a great idea. Kids who are (literally) uncomfortable in their own skin will be easily distracted and won’t want to spend much time in front of the camera. As you know, I am not a fan of stiff posing, and I always ask my clients to move, dance, sing, whatever. Make sure your clothes — and shoes! — can keep up with you, and are comfortable enough to dance in.
- Have your clothes logically fit your location. Let’s say your family portrait is going to take include a game of baseball in the park. As such, black tie would not be appropriate. Unless you are going for irony, you should be dressed in a way that makes sense with your outside environment. Family day in the park screams casual. Likewise, if it’s a winter shoot outside in the snow, you should all be wearing coats.
- Look like you should be in the same frame together. Vintage styles are huge right now. But if one family member is a little bit 1920s and another is a little bit 1980s, then it will look like a costume party. Compromise. If mom wants to go retro glam, then a family or two can sport a bow tie. Furthermore, it should look like you are all going to the same event. If she looks like she is going to the Met Gala and he looks like he just came from a baseball game with the guys, then something will be ‘off’ in the photo. Trust me, viewers will notice.
- Try it on before you get in front of the camera. For every portrait, I give the same advice: try on many, many outfits and see what works best. If you don’t like wearing it in front of your bathroom mirror, then it will look horrible in front of the camera.
- Make your photos pop with pops of color. Black clothes are slimming, but boring. Color is what will bring interest to the photo and draw in the viewer. To get the best color combination, first start with a main neutral color for every family member, and then a contrasting color for interest that flatters your hair and skin tone. To see what colors might look best on you, check out this article.
- Same color family, but not every family member the same. I’m all for having every family member in the same complimentary color scheme – everyone picks a different shade of blue, for instance – but no one should be matchy matchy. Your best bet is to coordinate your colors in small doses, rather than each family member wearing the same shade top to bottom. Use accessories to pick up color on each family member. As an excellent example, check out Melanie and Jalani’s fantastic color coordination: her leggings pick up yellow in his sweater, and his shirt reflects blue in her scarf. Even the leaves look great with this family.
- Details matter. If you notice that an article of clothing is wrinkled, bunching up, or is missing a button, then it is guaranteed that this flaw will be magnified by the camera.
Here is a list of what always looks good on camera:
- Simple: Simple clothes, with simple lines work the best. No ruffles, bows, or anything else that distracts from your face.
- Fitted: Tailored, fitted clothes photograph best. It is true that the camera adds ten pounds, and baggy clothes will make you look heavier rather than hiding anything. On the flip side, make sure your t-shirts aren’t too tight and that your pants don’t resemble sausage casings.
- Neckline style: Different necklines will change the apparent shape of your face. If you want to elongate your neck, wear a v-neck; to show off your collarbones, wear a scoop-necked shirt.
- Solid, bright colors: Solid colors are always best, particularly vibrant hues (yellow, green, red, blue). Try to wear at least one color that matches or brings out your eyes. Darker clothes attract less attention and put the attention on your face and eyes.
- Ironed and clean: Stains and wrinkles are projected tenfold on camera. Anything slightly wrinkled will look messy and distracting. Also, give your shoes a once over to make sure they are fairly clean as well.
- Proper undergarments: For the ladies, make sure you have the correct bra for the shirt you plan to wear (strapless, etc.). The idea is to avoid seeing any straps or seams.
- Accessories: Simplicity matters. Think small earrings. A signature piece of jewelry is great, but you don’t want it to be the first thing a viewer sees in the photo. The emphasis should be on you, not your accessories.
Here is what to avoid at all costs in front of the camera:
- Logos or text: Whatever outfit you choose, make sure it does not have a recognizable company logo on it. This includes t-shirts with a company brand or saying on it or a jacket with a company name on the sleeves. Words in a photo are the first thing a viewer will notice, not your face.
- Busy patterns: To clarify, you CAN wear prints, but just make sure it isn’t a crazy, distracting print that will draw in the viewer’s eye immediately. Viewers should be drawn to your face, not your shirt. The pattern should be small, and if one family member is wearing a pattern, then the other family members shouldn’t be wearing competing patterns. No houndstooth vs. florals, please.
- Substantial amount of skin: Ladies, this means no excess cleavage; guys, keep your shirts on. Viewers want to see you…but not that much of you. And if you are planning on doing any jumps, twirls, or being lifted up during the shoot, then make sure you are dressed to avoid any wardrobe malfunctions.
- White shirt: White shirts and light colored shirts will wash you out; avoid them at all costs. Instead, aim for a color that compliments your skin tone.
- Ruffles or puffy cap sleeves: Anything that adds unnecessary bulk will make you look heavier.
- Turtlenecks: Turtlenecks crowd the face; just say no.
- Cardigans: Going for a librarian look? Avoid cardigans to avoid looking more matronly, motherly, or a bit older.
- Hats: Unless the hat is part of your character, the only thing the brim will add is shade over your eyes.
- Neon colored anything: Enough said.
- Baggy clothes: The camera adds 10 pounds (at least).
- Glitter or anything reflective: shut down the sparkle to avoid looking like a disco queen.
- Large accessories: The goal is to have people say, ‘my, what a lovely family you have,’ not, ‘my what a large necklace you are sporting.’
And there you have it. Still worried? Don’t be; I’m on call 24/7. Worried about what you have planned to wear? Email (Kelly@KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com) me some pics, or lets create a Pinterest board together of example outfits.
In case you were wondering, the photos accompanying this article are of Melanie, Jalani, and little Collier during our Forest Park family portrait this past fall. I had the pleasure of photographing Melanie and Jalani’s wedding a couple of years ago, and it was such a pleasure to finally meet Collier. The weather was great, and the leaves couldn’t have been more spectacular.
If you would like to read more helpful portrait advice, such as these clothing tips for family photos, please visit this section of my blog. And don’t forget to visit the family portrait portfolio of my website – www.KellyWilliamsPortraits.com.