What to wear for your family portrait session?

Not too long ago it was popular for the whole family to wear white shirts and blue jeans. In fact, your Google search will probably return lots of matching outfits in family portraits. These days, however, the trend is to coordinate, not match for a couple of reasons. First, this is the best way to show off each family member’s unique personality. And second, not every outfit looks good on every person. Those white shirts will wash out most skin tones, and not every cut works on every body.

So when my clients ask me, “What should we wear,” I feel their pain. It can be difficult enough dressing oneself, let alone making a small brood coordinate and look fashionable while taking into consideration the weather, the backdrop, and whether or not the young ones’ outfits will show grass stains. But don’t worry! I’ve outlined some simple instructions below to help you narrow down your wardrobe choices for your next family portrait.

Coordinate outfits


Now, this doesn’t mean everyone has to 100% match with khaki pants or jeans and a white shirt! You want to complement each other’s outfits by choosing colours that work well together. I find that if everyone is wearing the same clothing, people will all tend to blend in together and there won’t be too much pop and life to the images.


Use colours & patterns


Colours are everywhere around us and bring things to life… why not bring your images to life as well!  Again, be sure the colours you use coordinate with each other and you don’t just end up looking like one big rainbow family! Prints and patterns are a definite NO. This includes logos. Avoid prints of any kind and pattern. No matter how small the print or the pattern, it will become a distraction.  


Dress for the season & location


Obviously, you want your images to make sense. One typically wouldn’t be wearing jeans, boots, and a jacket to the beach in the Summer so why would you for pictures?  Dress the part and be aware of your location. For example, if you are shooting at the beach, ladies wear a pretty dress and sandals, put dad in a short-sleeve shirt and shorts or pants (which you can also roll up), put your little girl in a sweet Spring or Summer dress, etc. You will want to make sure that everyone is on the same page and coordinates in both colours and styles.




One of my favourite “tips” for clothing choices!  In the Summer months, this may be more difficult to pull off but during all of the other seasons, definitely layer your outfits.  Not only will it provide more visual interest in each photo but it will also allow a lot more variety in your shots and poses. Have a ton of images of yourself in just your dress or cute top and jeans?  Throw on a little sweater or jacket and a hat and you have entirely different look.


Personalize It


These are YOUR images and of course, you want them to speak volumes about you and your family.  Discuss things your family enjoys doing together and bring “props” and accessories that will help compliment who you are.  If your family enjoys playing music together, bring your instruments to your session.  If your family enjoys boating, suggest doing your session on a boat or at the very least near the water.  Bring along items that will represent who each individual is.


Plan ahead


Make sure you have given yourself enough time to think about all of the details of your session. Plan ahead so that #1 you can truly think about your photos and everything you want out of the session, #2 you aren’t rushing and stressing out right before your session, and #3 if you have decided to go for a new look for your session or someone gets a bad haircut, you still have time to fix things if you need to.


Makeup & hair


Hairstyles should be SIMPLE and MUST be off the face. Hair falling down onto the sides of the face create distracting shadows. Bangs that come down too low onto the face will keep light from getting into the subject’s eyes – the very most important part of the face. It is always a great idea to have your makeup and hair professionally applied for your photography session. It will make a huge difference in how you look and feel


 Ladies & their shoes

I’m all for a sassy pair of shoes, however, they may make for a very long and painful session. If you plan on wearing heels, be sure to bring a pair of flats or flip flops that can help you get from point A to point B without any pain.  You can just swap them out as you need to.


Lay out all the clothing onto a bed. Shoes, socks, stockings – everything should be included…shoes, too! Then, take a careful look at the collection. If your eye goes to any one item in particular, you can be certain that the same thing will happen in a photograph. That item should be changed. Clothing should not be too tight or too loose.  


  • Unfitted t-shirts. This includes any kind of loose t-shirt or sport top.

  • Anything with logos or graphics. In my experience the only acceptation to this rule is children who cannot yet walk (because they literally cannot object to being dressed in hilariously ironic and adorable clothing).

  • Ball caps or practically any other kind of hat. Though you’ll see fashionable hats on Pinterest, that fashionable hat will leave a shadow over your eyes and a red ring around your forehead.

  • Sleeveless shirts, strapless tops, or halter tops. This is not a hard rule, but I recommend that people wear sleeves. The brightest part of your photographs will be the most noticeable. Because our faces are generally always exposed to the sun and our arms often aren’t, the skin on our arms is usually lighter than our faces. This can be exaggerated in photographs, and result in a very distracting arm situation.

  • Anything that shows your bra straps or under pants.

  • Cargo pants.

  • All white or all black.

  • Velcro sandals, any kind of running shoe or skate shoe, or crocks.

  • Snuggies. (I’ve never seen it happen, but I thought I better put it on the list just in case.)

  • Hoodies.

  • Short dresses. A short dress can significantly limit your ability to pose comfortably for your photos. Test out your favourite dress to see if it’s appropriate for your session by sitting on the ground. If you cannot comfortably sit in it, it will be best to choose a dress that is longer or opt for pants.


You’re looking fabulous now! It’s easier to dress for family portraits than you might think. Practically any pattern and texture is great, and you can feel free to mix and match styles to show off your personalities. By focusing on cuts that look best on each individual family member, everyone will arrive at your session feeling confident. And when you mix neutral colours you’ll be sure that your family portrait will still look great 20 years from now

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me before your portrait session. Thanks.


Mahsa - Lily Pic Photography