Dressing for Family Portraits: A Photographer’s Guide

If you panic a little after booking your family portraits, you’re not alone. Choosing your outfits has got to be one of the more stressful parts of having your family photographed, besides the actual family portraits themselves. Ha! (Anyone else with small children relate?! I promise it doesn’t feel that way from behind the camera, but the second I’m in front with my three…whoa.)

I can almost hear the plea coming from some emails…”What should we wear? HELP!”

So here it is! From a seasoned family portrait photog to you, I’m breaking down the process I share with my own clients to help you feel as confident in front of the camera as possible.


Go searching for inspiration.

Some of my favorite sites to peruse are Anthropologie, Asos, Free People, H&M, Polyvore, Forever21 and Zara.

Choose the overall feeling/look/vibe you’re after and start a Pinterest board to save ideas.

It helps give you a full yet focused vision for your shoot. What feels most like you and your family – boho, polished,  classic, traditional, timeless, casual, preppy, serene, formal, playful, whimsical? They all take your shoot in very different directions and should show your family at its best.


Your vibe starts to provide insight into your color scheme.

A boho look could speak to you because it’s often soft and subtle with lots of flowy fabrics that feel ethereal and effortless. There typically won’t be much pattern, but will be heavy in neutrals and soft tones, light layers, and sweet pretty details. A playful look would feel completely different with perhaps several strong complimentary pops of color and mixed patterns – stripes, polka dots, plaids, gingham, and florals. What speaks to you?


Think about your home decor.

Do you gravitate towards neutrals and play that up with textures? Or do you like punchy and vibrant color splashed throughout your home? Is it full of warm or cool tones? How will prints from your session look hanging on your walls?

Mamas, choose for you first.
You’re most likely the hardest to shop for!

You’ll be most critical of yourself so find something you LOVE that works with the family’s overall look. What do you feel your best in? Skinnies and a blousy top? A great maxi with a boyfriend sweater and ankle boots? A crisp and pulled together layered look complete with collar, sweater and scarf? Think about what you already have in your closet and pull out your favorites. Any themes in color, style, or fit that work into your shoot vibe? Start there. If you want or need to shop a bit for yourself, look online to get some good ideas and bounce them back and forth with your photog to see if she has a preference. Look for things that have great movement, pretty details and high-quality fabrics. You need something that will be flattering from all angles, particularly if you have small children.  You’ll most likely end up with photos where you’re holding a child (or two!), sitting, snuggling, running, playing, etc.

Now dress your kids. 

Once you’ve got your outfit selected, examine it to see what will pair with it in terms of colors, patterns, and textures. Typically, a heavier neutral base (whites, creams, chambray, denims, khakis, camels and greys) photographs well when several season-appropriate textures are utilized. Think about fabrics that will bring interest to your photos – wool, cotton, linen, leather, fur, etc. If you’re adding in colors, 2-3 are most often sufficient, and try to work them in throughout…if mama’s dress rocks a floral pattern with hunter green, navy and raspberry, daughter wears a raspberry buffalo check long-sleeved dress with cream tights and mocs, while baby brother gets a plaid button up that pulls in the green and navy and layers it with a pretty cream knit sweater paired with camel cords.



End with dad.

Dads are the easiest because they most likely already have something in their closet that will work! Dads tend to wear the neutral base for your wardrobe really well. A great fitting pair of jeans or chinos, paired with a button up and sweater, and he’s done. dressingforfamilyportraits7

Throw everything together and edit.

Take the example from earlier…mama in that great floral dress and kiddos in corresponding raspberry, hunter green and navy. Does it feel like everyone has on a variation of those exact three color pops? Is that making it feel too matchy-matchy? Swap a layer of color for a neutral to see how it works. You want there to be a cohesive, not competing feeling. Or maybe you try a slightly lighter shade in the same color family to tone it down. Again, a quick snap of everything together should be sent off to your photog to get some final input.


Time to add in the accessories.

This may be a fabulous fur vest for you or a great chunky bib necklace and a really funky colorful pair of socks for dad. Work in layers of your color palette throughout – headbands, belts, bows, etc. If you don’t have any pattern yet, this can be a safe place to add some. Don’t overlook footwear. Make sure shoes are clean and work with your look. And don’t forget to wear an appropriate sock!

Think about the what-ifs.

Fall weather tends to be a little dicey the later the season gets, so keep additional layers in the back of your head like they were meant to be there all along. Nondescript thermals and leggings under kids clothes, vests, scarfs, a big woolly hat, extra socks, etc.

Final preparation :: Any last-minute try-ons for kiddos, iron clothes that need it, and set everything out in advance!

Alison Moore has been growing roots in Wichita for over seven years now with her high school sweetheart turned husband, Andrew, and their three kids, three and under. She's a work-at-home mom that spends naptime editing away the beautiful families she captures through her premiere photography business and is constantly battling an overflowing laundry basket and too much dog hair on the hardwoods. She's blogged for the better half of a decade transparently sharing the natural ebbs and flows of life. She spends a lot of time wishing she'd gone to bed earlier the night before and traveling to Manhattan to brainwash her offspring to love K-State. So far it's working.