How to Dress your Family and Children for Portraits

Sometimes, it is tough to decide how to dress your family and children for portraits.  Here are my top tips for maximizing your wardrobe choices the next time you step in front of the camera.

1.  Be Comfortable

If you feel uncomfortable in your chosen outfit, it will show on your face.  And every time you look back at those portraits, you will remember how awkward and uncomfortable you felt.  You do not want to remember that feeling for years to come, each time you see your family portrait hanging in all its glory on your wall.  Same goes for children.  If they don’t like the clothes, they may act like it.  Granted, I totally make my son wear things he ordinarily wouldn’t in photographs.  But then again, my favorites of him tend to be where he is wearing comfortable clothes and an equally comfortable smile.  Wear something comfortable, that you feel good about yourself in.

2.  Color Choice

Wear colors that compliment your skin tone, naturally.  Avoid any colors that are extremely bright.  Neon colors typically do not photograph well.  Pretty much everyone looks good in neutrals and earth-tones like brown, off white, navy, gray, tan.  Another thing that you want to perhaps think about is where you want to hang portraits in your home.  I often ask that question when prepping for a session.  Why?  Well, if you can coordinate your outfit, or your child’s, to match the décor in your room, your portraits will look at much better on your walls.  For example, this mom knew the colors of her nursery, and dressed the baby in a wrap to coordinate, and chose her clothes based on that as well.  Smart woman!

newborn in a wrap during lifestyle session


3.  Pattern

Solid colors generally photograph best, and you should avoid busy patterns.  But I love a classic plaid or some polka dots.  The thing to remember is that you do not want something distracting, and you do not want patterns that will compete with one another for attention.  Here's a family that did a great job with using a pop of pattern, as well as coordination (see number 4).

color coordinated family portraits

4.  Coordination

Gone are the days of family portraits where every person wore jeans and white button downs.  You want everyone to wear things from a cohesive color pallet, even if the colors are not exactly the same.  You don’t need to wear the same outfit, it is about having a cohesive look.  Think about complimentary colors and outfits, think about pops of color and bits of pattern.  The following families were pro at looking put together, without going overboard on the matching.

One tip is to use a pattern on one family member, and then build your pallet from that pattern for everyone else.  I like for children to have the patterned, more show stopping piece, and then for the adults to blend in more.  However, often times, you may find that women's clothing provides the most obvious anchor for your overall look.  Either way, having one anchor piece to base your outfits on can simplify the task.

color cordinated family lifestyle newborn photography
color coordinated family portrait and toddler portrait strongsville


5.  Avoid Graphics

Avoid lettering and characters on shirts, unless there is a real purpose for it.  We have all seen the 1990’s photos where people had giant Tweety Bird faces plastered on their chests.  They look silly and dated now.  Silly and dated is not what you ever want to think about your child’s portraits, or your family photography.  The exception to this rule is if your kid happens to adore the character and you want to capture that adoration.  I doubt though that all of those Tweety-shirted folks were Tweety’s biggest fan.  But hey, if you ARE looking to capture the love for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, by all means, I don’t want to stop that with a silly rule. 

Same thing goes with lettering on shirts.  Generally it is distracting, and it will pull focus in a portrait.  Our eyes want to make sense of letters and our brains will always read them.  So, beware of lettering that does not have a distinct purpose.  But as with anything, there are exceptions.  For instance, this dude clearly rocked his shirt:

toddler dancing in fedora

6.  Layering and Textures

Both layers and textures can add visual interest to your wardrobe choices.  Mixing various textures between your layers adds a great deal of depth, which is lovely for portraits.  One of the results of using layers is that you can remove them during the session in order to get more looks from a single outfit.  I love when a client shows up in a chunky sweater over a lace top.  Or when a little girl has patterned tights, a skirt with layers, and multiple tops. 

7.  Accessories

Accessories are the icing on the cake, the finishing touches that can really make your outfits look completely put together.  A plain, white, V-neck tee can seem basic.  Throw a nice scarf on and BAM!  Instantly, a put-together look, with layering and texture!  Go figure.  All that from one scarf.  Always a bonus if the accessory can be put on your little one at some point during the session.  Is there anything cuter than a little boy in his dad's giant hat?  A little girl with her mom's scarf? Or in her mom's high heels?  Pieces that can multi-task are always a great choice.

8.  Shoes

The biggest thing I can say about shoes is this: running shoes don't look good in anything but your marathon action shots.  They photograph terribly, and are generally in some crazy color scheme that compliments absolutely nothing. I'm not one who is generally bothered by tennis shoes.  I mean, Chuck Taylor's almost never leave my feet.  But think about what goes on your feet, your children's feet.  Cool, stylish sneakers?  Yes.  Dirty sneakers you wear for comfort?  Not so much. 

Hopefully this helps a bit.  A great place to do some research is Pinterest if you use it.  Just search for coordinating outfits or color pallets to get yourself started.  And as always, I’m here for any and all questions!