What to wear for your portrait session

Not sure what to wear for your upcoming portrait session? Don’t worry, I’ve got you!

The date, time, and location is set, and family photos are on your schedule. Now for the big question: what should we wear? You’re investing time and money into your portraits, so you want to look good. Planning for family photos can be overwhelming, but I’m here to help make it as fun and stress-free as possible!


Tip #1: Coordinate, but don’t match.

The goal is to coordinate but not match entirely – if two people wear a navy shirt, for example, you’ll blend into each other. Trust me, you do not want to show up all wearing the same color shirts and pants… unless you want to look like a singular blob of white shirts and jeans, lol! Instead, choose different colors and shades to visually break up your outfits. When you’re planning your outfits, try laying them out next to one another to make sure there is enough visual variety and contrast between them. Accessories (bows, necklaces, bowties, etc.) can be a great way to tie each person’s outfits together with accent colors.


Tip #2: Choose your colors wisely.

The colors you choose will have a HUGE impact on how your photos look! Personally, I love light, neutral palettes. Light blue, blush pink, cream, light grey, and khaki are great neutral staples that can be paired with strategic pops of color. Of course, you should dress in a style that you love! Decide if your style is more light and airy or bold and vibrant and dress with whatever color palette speaks to you. If you’re feeling more colorful and vibrant, be careful that the colors you pick aren’t too bright: bright, neon colors can be distracting and can even create a color cast on your skin (which you don’t want!). Neutrals, pastels, and jewel tones tend to work best.

If you’re planning to print and hang your photos, consider where you might hang them in your home and how the colors you pick will look with your wall color and decor. That may help you choose a color palette! For our latest family portrait session, I chose soft blues because I wanted a light and airy feel (which worked really well for our beach session!) AND because we have a lot of blues and greys in our home and I knew these photos would look great on the wall.


Tip #3: Mix up patterns and textures.

I like to add some visual variety and contrast with different prints, patterns, textures, and layers… but don’t go overboard! Too many solids can be boring, and too many patterns can be busy. Pairing one solid color with one bold pattern is a good rule of thumb.


But be careful when choosing patterns: some tiny patterns cause something called “Chromatic Abberation” in digital images, making your clothes look funky on screen. Tiny stripes and polka dots often have this effect, so try to avoid patterns smaller than a quarter. If you’re wondering whether or not your pattern will create chromatic abberation, take a test photo of your outfit with your camera phone. Does is look weird until you zoom in? If yes, choose something else!


Tip #4: Dress it up!

If you love to dress up, this is your chance! You really can’t be “too dressed up,” so don’t be shy if you’ve been wanting to buy a new, gorgeous dress. You don’t have professional photos taken all the time, so you might as well have fun with it! Dressing up more than normal will give your portraits a timeless and classy look.

Long, flowy dresses are SO flattering and will give you lots of movement in your images (hello, twirling pictures!) Guys can’t go wrong with khakis and button down shirts or sweaters. Try to avoid having one or several members of the family being too casual while the other is more dressy, as that can look awkward. Leave the tennis shoes, graphic tees, bold logos, sunglasses, and baseball hats at home… and guys, make sure your phone isn’t in your front pocket!

Having professional hair and makeup done can make your session feel even more like a “treat yourself” day. And don’t forget your nails! (I’ll be honest… I usually forget my nails, which is why I’m reminding you!)

And if dressing up isn’t your thing and a more casual ensemble better tells your family’s story, by all means, dress however you’re most comfortable! Your session is about you and your family and how you want this moment in time to be remembered. You can easily put together a beautiful, casual look using the same styling principals (and casual outfits are great for cold weather! Hello boots and scarves and sweaters!)

You don’t have to go shopping to find a great outfit, but if you’re looking for places that won’t break the bank, Amazon actually has some really beautiful dresses for an affordable price! You could also check out Rent the Runway for affordable but high-end looks.

Oh, and a note on shoes: high heels and wedges photograph beautifully, but you might want to pop a pair of flip flops in your purse for walking around between locations 🙂 There might be rough terrain and I want you to be comfortable!


Tip #5: Style around mom.

From personal experience, I love to pick my outfit first and then choose my husband’s and sons’ clothes based around what I’m wearing. Because let’s be honest, mom is probably the driving force behind your family session, so she gets to pick!

One tip that might make it easier to coordinate colors is to choose a multicolor dress or shirt. Then you can pull specific colors in that pattern to dress the rest of your family members.

Choose clothing that flatters your best features! If you have any areas that you’re self-conscious about (and I think we probably all do!), avoid clothes that draw attention to that. Try on your outfit beforehand to make sure you’re comfortable moving around in it, and take a couple of test pictures to see if you like the results! Originally I had ordered a very tight dress for my maternity pictures, and while it was pretty, I just couldn’t hide the line from the spandex I had on underneath, so I scrapped it! If you find yourself having to adjust your clothes a lot (pulling fabric up or down to stay in place), you’ll probably be more comfortable in something else.


Tip #6: Consider the season and location

What colors will be present at your session location? Brightly colored autumn leaves? Soft blues from the lake? White marble at the DIA? Choose outfits that compliment the scenery. Pastels are beautiful in the spring and summer, but rich jewel tones are lovely in the fall!

Of course, you want to consider the weather too! You don’t want to be miserable if you’re too hot or too cold (this is especially true for little kids! We want them to be comfortable and happy!)

If your session is seasonal, like a Christmas Tree Farm session, consider whether or not you want your outfits to be holiday-themed or more neutral and timeless.

Here are some of my own family outfits at the Christmas Tree Farm. I think they look nice for the holidays, but I also have some of these maternity photos displayed in our home, so I like that our clothing doesn’t shout “Christmas.” If you’re wearing red and green, you may not want those photos to hang on your walls all year long.

But if your goal is to have the cutest holiday cards EVER, dressing in typical holiday colors is so fun! It’s up to you!


Tip #7: Good luck and have fun!

I hope these tips and tricks have been helpful! I’m always here to chat outfits (you can even send me pictures of what you’re thinking of wearing before your session… I love that!) Happy styling 🙂


September 5, 2020

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