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?
Read the tips below to give an idea of where to start. Also, new to IBR in 2020 and available for all clients, is an online interactive styling tool that will carefully curate clothing options for you and your family based on your style and color palette.
Pick your outfit first. How you (the mom) look and feel in these images is hands down most important. Let's be real, moms hardly ever get into the pictures, they are the ones that are taking them, so make sure that you LOVE what you are wearing for you session before you focus on everyone else. Yes, you first, you will be able to find something for your "picky dresser" a lot easier than finding something for yourself. Also, you are the one who will be cherishing these photos for years, you are the one who will cry tears of joy when the photographer gets it right. The little ones are already all sorts of delicious and adorable. The teenage girls will most likely hate how they look, and the teenage boys will mostly not care. Your husband, well, he is who he is and mostly likely pick something to wear last minute. So, pick your outfit first. Don't forget about those accessories and shoes!
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 complement each other.
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, army green, etc. Once you have selected your colors, pick coordinated variations of those colors for everyone to wear.
Focus on a complimenting look 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 clothes that fit. I know that for my kids I always buy clothes 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 clothes are too big, they will look sloppy. Choosing clothing that fits just right will give the outfits a more tailored look.
Avoid The "Opposites" effect. When coordinate outfits, sometimes it is easy to concentrate on two colors and incorporate tops and bottoms in those colors. This can often create a "mix & match" feel or color blocks, where some family members have blue tops and tan bottoms and others have tan tops and blue bottoms. This limits which family members will be placed next to each other in order to avoid repeating the pattern or placing family members that have a similar outfit next to each other. Incorporating patterns like plaids, stripes, florals as well as textures such as lace, etc., can help tie the outfits together and avoid the opposites effect.
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 or leather 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 ok, 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, Vans, neutral color sandals or flats, Toms, a Sperry like boat shoe or boots.
Try on everyone's clothes well in advance. Look at outfits from all possible angles, not just standing and looking straight in the mirror. Try squatting, sitting, leaning forward, etc. The kids’ outfits should work well for play and motion during your session (think snuggling, tickling, twirling, flying and hanging upside down).
It's all in the smallest details. You went through great lengths to curate your outfits for your session, so don't forget the final detail - iron/steam your clothes before your session.
Let's talk about the unmentionables - undergarments. What you wear under your clothes can be just as important as the clothes that you choose. Visible undergarments can be distracting. Plan on doing lots of moving during your session - walking snuggling, squatting, sitting, etc. Make sure that your undergarments will support an active session and that you will not need to keep adjusting everyone's clothing throughout the session. Bloomers are highly recommended for little girls who wear dresses and belts for little boys whose pants may be a bit loose. Double sided tape is your best friend for those more neck plunging revealing looks.
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.
Digital Watches. It seems that these days we are all connected and invested in our technology. And although digital watches are a great way to keep us connected and tell time, they can be very bulky and distracting in pictures. They also take away from the timeless feel of your images. My recommendation is to wear a regular watch for your session, or some bracelets to cover up that tan line.
A few other things to avoid:
Putting the accent color in everyone’s outfit. Doing that can end up looking a little over done. A good rule of thumb is to have the color appear in at least half of the outfits.
Everyone in blue jeans. Same color blue jeans can end up looking really matchy matchy. Add in some gray or black denim, change things up with a skirt or a dress. Just don’t have the same color blue jeans across the board.
Khaki pants. They don’t photograph well and typically add 20 lbs.
Mixing whites and off white/cream. I have never been a big fan of a bright white shirt. I prefer a little off white or cream tones, it compliments skin tones better and does not reflect the light as much. Mixing white and off white also makes the off white look dirty.
Tiny plaid, small stripes & complicated patterns. These don’t always translate well in-camera, and actually create an effect called Moiré (a pattern that occurs when an object being photographed contains repetitive details (such as checkers, small lines, etc.) that exceed sensor resolution. As a result, the camera produces strange-looking wavy patterns)
Clothes that are stiff. We will be doing a lot of moving - sitting, squatting, etc. Wearing clothes that wrinkle easily or look stiff will not photograph well. Think flowy and comfortable.