These tips have been complied over many years of working with families and helping them answer the questions of “what should we wear?” Some of these are common tips that many professional photographers share with their clients, others are things that I have complied over the years on my list of “things I wished I told my clients before their session”.
the bottom line is that no matter what you decide to wear for your session, make sure that you are comfortable. This applies to colors, cuts and styles of clothing. What you wear is a form of self-expression, so let’s capture you and your family and those personalities!
So you booked a photo session, now what? How do you choose your outfits?
If you are not sure where to begin, start with one item you like and build the rest of the wardrobe off of that. For example, if there is a checkered/striped shirt or flower dress that you like the color/pattern of, use it as your color palate and draw the rest of the outfits from there. The colors don’t have to match exactly; they can be a lighter or darker version. As long as it looks like all of the pieces go together.
Use the Rule of Three when choosing a wardrobe color scheme. Pick three colors (one being a neutral) and put together outfits with those colors. More than three colors can seem a bit busy. Neutrals include black, white, gray, navy, khaki, etc. Once you have selected your colors, pick coordinated variations of those colors for everyone to wear.
Focus on coordinating rather than matching. The awkward days of everyone wearing the same color shirt and pants are over! You want to infuse color and personality into your photos and clothing helps you achieve that. SIMPLE patterns add visual interest and texture and makes you and your images stand out! If you stick to three colors (as per rule of three), you should be fine!
Some people choose to purchase outfits specifically for the photo session. If you decide to do so (you don’t have to), make sure that you buy cloths that fit. I know that for my kids I always buy cloths that they can grow into – they grow so fast and I want to get the most out of them, but for pictures, you actually want them to fit just right. If the cloths are too big, they will look sloppy. Choosing clothing that fits just right will give the outfits a more tailored look.
Purchasing outfits from one brand can help make sure that the colors coordinate well together. Some stores that have adult and children clothing (think Gap, JCrew, Abercrombie, Old Navy, etc.) took the guesswork out of finding outfits that go well together. Traditionally, for each season, they come out with a clothing line for each section in a certain color pallet, sometimes they even have coordinating patterns in adult and children sizes.
Lay all of the outfits on a bed and take a picture. If the outfits look good together in the picture, you are good to go! Make sure to send a copy to your photographer so they can advise on them and also think about what props to bring with them. For me, the image of the outfits helps me plan the session.
Wear what you are comfortable in and what makes you feel good! If you are not comfortable with what you are wearing, it will show in the pictures. If you never wear a certain item or style of clothing, don’t wear it for your photo session! So if you don’t wear dresses, or skinny jeans or heals on a regular basis, don’t wear them for your photo session. Depending on the season, jeans and a nice top or sweater, cute sandals, wedges, flats or boots, or a maxi dress will look great.
Make sure that your outfit choices are not too contemporary. Hopefully you will have these images displayed in your home over a long period of time. You don’t want to look back at your pictures 30 years from now, and say, “what were we thinking”. Timeless classic styles with a current fashion element work great.
Avoid colors that are too bright. If colors are too bright, such as fluorescents, they cast shadows/reflections necks, faces and hair which look unnatural and take away from the subject. Natural and primary colors, and their versions, translate best in photographs; versions of red, yellow, blue, plum, burgundy, wine, goldenrod, navy, olive, rose, mustard, gray, cornflower, etc. are good go to colors. If you do select a bright color for your palate, I would advise to use it for your accessories as a POP of color. Just remember, the PEOPLE are the focal point of the pictures, what they wear should only accentuate the image and not detract from it.
Choose colors that will stand out in a natural setting. If you are having pictures taken outside in the middle of a luscious green park, don’t make green your primary outfit color – you will blend in. instead, choose a color that will make you and your family stand out and COMPLEMENT the setting. Depending on the season, you can choose a color pallet that will enhance the time of year and surroundings. If you want to take this one step further (if you plan on displaying these pictures in your home, which I hope that you do), try and choose colors that will compliment your home decor.
Accessories and layering are key! Obviously the focus is on you, but these two styling tools help add a finishing element as well as depth and interest to an image. A denim jacket to wear over the dress, a sweater or a tailored jacket over a plaid shirt, hats, belts, scarfs, gloves, headpieces, sweaters, accent jewelry are just some examples of these items. Adding and removing layers changes up the look and feel of the photos and they can also be used as props. But remember too many accessories will be too busy – so only use them when it makes sense.
Let’s talk about the weather! When we plan for a photo session, we have an idea of what we want the end result to look like and outfits play a big role in that. Fall sessions on a cool day with sweaters and boots – can you see it? But Mother nature doesn’t always cooperate and often the temperature can be unseasonably warm or cold. So that fall session with sweaters and boots on a day when it is warmer than expected, will result in your little people being too hot and uncomfortable and that will show in the images. If it’s a spring session and you planned for pretty strappy sundresses and the temperature is too cold, your kids will be too cold and that will come through as well. So make sure that you plan for temperature variation and have a backup in mind (this is also where layering comes in handy especially for colder than expected days). Jackets, undershirts and tights are great options for those unseasonably cold days, and having a button-down shirt as a backup for those unseasonably warm days. If you or your children are uncomfortable (too hot or too cold) it will make for unhappy people, a not pleasant experience and it will show in the images. So keep an eye on the weather and have a backup plan!
Location, location, location! No I am not talking about real-estate, but the location of your session will also set some guidelines as to what to wear. For example, stiletto heels and a horse farm or a park with gravel paths will probably not work well together, same for boots on the beach. Fancy dresses and suits will work better in an urban or a city session rather than a farm or a beach. If you are going for a more urban setting, then graphic tees are great, otherwise try to avoid logos and labels, they can be very distracting in an image.
Kids & Shoes. I know that I have touched on shoes a bit, but they still need a section dedicated to them. Shoes are very important part of the ensemble. If you purchase the cutest outfit for your little ones, but then put on their light-up neon gym shoes, flip flops, crocs or character shoes, it throws the whole look off. Depending on the look and location, think converse, neutral color sandals or flats, Toms, a Sperry like boat shoe or boots.
Glasses. I recently had an extended family session where two members of the family wore glasses that had transition lenses. Since the session was outside on a sunny day, the lenses transitioned and were dark throughout the session, which did not look great in the images. Some clients have taken their glasses off, but then their pictures don’t look like them since they wear glasses on a regular basis. So if you or someone in your family requires to wear glasses and they have transition lenses, please consider purchasing “fake” glasses with a similar frame for the purpose of the session or bring along a pair that does not have transition lenses.