When this question comes up, folks usually have one of two reactions. For some, this question moves to the forefront of their mind from the start, eventually steamrolling over more important questions such as “how do we get there” and “did I feed the children today.” For the other type, this question won’t occur until the last minute, at which point a frenzied whirlwind of clothes-changing ensues. This results in everyone arriving to the session looking as though they’d fled some sort of imminent disaster. Either way, I wanted to offer a practical guide to choosing outfits prior to your session in order to look your best. My hope is to make the process as stress free as possible, and answer the question of what to wear to your family photo shoot.
The clothes everyone is wearing should allow them to bend, squat, dance, run, jump, sing, somersault, and skip without restriction. If your photographer is any good, you’re going to be doing everything you can to escape stiffness, so it’s important not to wear clothes that will encourage it. That being said, please, no cargo shorts (dad.)
Please, please don’t force kids to wear something they hate or that’s uncomfortable, a suit jacket on a two year old is really adorable but if they hate it then you’ll end up with photos of a cute jacket on a miserable person.
Speaking of cargo shorts, the following articles of clothing and outfits are not recommended: Tank tops, shirts with writing/logos, sunglasses, hats, and weird jewelry/accessories. And the following are strongly not recommended: speedos, a burlap sack, rainbow suspenders, bolo tie, your aunt’s wedding dress from 1974, leisure suit, hula hoop(s), a steampunk ensemble, a beard of bees, a t shirt but no pants, and/or sequined leotards.
It can be helpful to have one person pick their outfit and everyone else build around them rather than having a fashion free-for-all. However, it’s okay to let everyone’s preferences and personalities to show through in what they decide to wear, so let the kids have a say in picking their outfits. Do this by getting a few appropriate outfits together and letting them pick one, rather than telling them they can wear whatever they want, since that runs the risk of them choosing to wear nothing at all.
I’m not personally big on matching outfits since that’s not something you’d do for any other occasion, but if it’s what you think would look best then go for it. But also, please don’t. However, wearing complementary tones can be a good thing, for instance having everyone in muted earth tones or vibrant colors. You just don’t want to have everyone in muted colors and one child in neon orange, it creates a distracting rather than harmonious photo.
We’ll meet or Zoom beforehand to talk about this but it’s a good idea to think about where you’re planning to hang wall art when choosing what to wear. Take a look at your decor and consider colors and tones that match or compliment how the room is decorated.
Again, it’s important to keep comfort at the forefront of your mind when choosing outfits, especially for kids. Wear more layers than you think you need (sweaters and long underwear are your friend!) if it’s cold outside and go with short sleeves and skirts/dresses if it’s hot out. Also consider where the shoot is taking place. For instance, if we’re doing it at the farm, avoid bright whites, anything overly formal, and stilettos.
I will do my best to point things out during the shoot but some smaller details that can be distracting in a photo include having a bunch of stuff in your pockets (I firmly believe everyone deserves pockets but this is usually an issue with men’s clothing,) garments that become weird shapes in certain positions (pants that tent can look…awkward), making sure everything that should be is buttoned, zipped, etc.
If getting your hair cut/styled is something you do regularly anyway, consider timing it so you get it done a week or two before your shoot. This is not at all a requirement but a fresh (but not too fresh) cut/style can give you some extra confidence, and it’s just nice to feel cute. To be extra fresh, you could do a blowout/styling the day of, or even get makeup done professionally, all totally up to you, the bottom line is that the better you feel about yourself the better your photos will turn out. Also, I’m aware that hair is not clothing, but I consider it the biological clothing of the head.
Every full service session with me comes with a complimentary wardrobe consultation. This can be in-person or virtually and can be part of your pre-shoot consult or scheduled for a separate time, and basically we can go through your closet and decide together what will look best for you. This is an optional service, but I always strongly encourage families to take me up on it, because it’s free and can make a huge difference.
Above all else, please don’t stress or have a TFM (Total Family Meltdown) over your outfits for a family photo shoot. It’s my job to tell you what to do so you end up with natural-looking photos that you fall in love with. What to wear for your family photo shoot is an afterthought when love and joy are the main subject.