What to Wear For Family Portraits

Hi Friends! I did something today that I’ve never done before, and I’m so excited to share! As a portrait photographer, probably the question I get asked the most is “What should we wear for our pictures?” I get it —it’s really hard to know what will look good together, and also what will look nice on camera!

I don’t have any formal training in this area, but I have learned a LOT over the years—both as a photographer who aims to make my clients look their absolute best on camera, and as a wife and mother who wants her family’s pictures to turn out beautifully! 

Today, I’m going to share with you my best tips for coordinating outfits, and share some examples of past client sessions where clothing choices added to the overall effect and outcome. But here’s the surprise—I’m ALSO going to share with you my own process! I created a video that I’m linking at the bottom of this post to show you my thought process as I go through the exact same experience that you do every year—selecting clothing for my own family pictures. I hope you’ll learn something from it, and that it’ll make things a little easier for you the next time you’re choosing clothes for a session!

10 Tips for Dressing Your Family For Portraits

1. You don’t HAVE to buy new clothing for everyone! Last year, I pulled clothing together for our pictures almost entirely with things we already had—I only bought myself a sweater and my husband a button-up shirt. If you’re not in a position to shop for new outfits for the whole family, that’s totally fine! You can still pull together great combinations if you first raid everyone’s closets and look for common colors/styles.

 Photo Credit:  Melissa Hakes Photography

Photo Credit: Melissa Hakes Photography

2. DO NOT start with your kids. I know, I know, we all want our kids to look cute! But I promise, they’ll be adorable in anything you put them in. Instead, start with either yourself or your spouse. If your husband doesn’t have strong opinions about what he wears, then start with your own outfit! Sometimes, though, it’s easier to start with the guy, especially if he has specific styles or colors he prefers. In my video below, I explain that I’ve learned to start with my husband’s ‘look’ first—that’s what works best for us.

3. Along those same lines, make sure you LOVE what you’re wearing, and that you feel GREAT in it. If there’s anywhere it’s worth investing in a new outfit, it’s for you! “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”—and it’s true in pictures, too. If you feel great in what you’re wearing, you’re going to be THAT MUCH happier with your pictures.

5. Solids and simple patterns photograph best. Unless it’s a really important part of your personality, I suggest staying away from super-busy patterns. Also, really thin stripes/tiny checks can play tricks on the camera’s ‘eye’. And you CAN mix patterns—you just have to be smart about it! It’s really difficult to explain this, but I show you an example in my video!

6. Accessorize! Add layers, jewelry, scarves, jackets, belts, hats, etc. These add visual interest and depth/texture to photos, and help tie everyone together! (P.s.They also give you something to do with your hands while shooting, helping you look more natural on camera).

 Photo Credit: Marquette Laree Photography

Photo Credit: Marquette Laree Photography

7. Casual or Dressy? Both have their place, but if you always lean more towards casual, I 100% suggest going outside your comfort zone for a more sophisticated, put-together look. Blazers, suits and ties, cocktail dresses, heels…speaking from experience, it’s FUN, and you’ll feel like a million bucks! My guess is, your spouse and kids will, too! 

8. Don’t forget shoes! I really suggest you pay close attention that everyone’s shoes ‘belong’ together. That doesn’t mean you have to buy new shoes for everyone, but they should all be similar in style. If one person is wearing dress shoes, and the rest aren’t, it sticks out! If someone is wearing running shoes, and everyone else is wearing boots or neutral-colored lace up shoes, that draws attention, too. If possible, I always recommend steering clear of everyday running or walking shoes, or children’s shoes with characters on them.

9. Clothing with recognizable brands, or writing of any kind, tend to draw attention away from the subject’s face and relationships, so I always recommend avoiding these items for pictures!

10. Everyone’s clothes should fit really well. I can’t over-emphasize this! A trim-cut suit or dress pants and shirt flatter a male figure SO MUCH BETTER than one that’s a little too big, wide or long. The same is absolutely true for women’s clothing and children’s, as well! Clothing that is not too big, nor too tight, flatter the figure and make subjects appear thinner on camera!

In Real Life

Want to see all these tips in practice? I spent some time today planning my own family portraits–here’s what I’m pulling together for our session in a couple weeks! I think we’ll go with the first combination, but I’m really glad to know I’ve got a second option that I would love as well!

I recorded my thought process while making my choices–If you can look past the first-time-recording mistakes, I’d love for you to watch this little video to see what goes through my mind, what I still plan to add, and how I chose colors and patterns! 

That’s it! Now, you’ll look Ah-MAZE-ing at your next portrait session.

Have a great day, Friends!

Erin 🙂 


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photography by erin richins
 kind people are my kinda people