Ah, one of the most common questions photographers get asked, and my answer to it!
As a note before we get started, this is my opinion based on my experience and how I run my business. Some photographers have closets of clothing for their clients to select from, some photographers won't even take your pictures if you don't select from their wardrobe options, and some photographers won't bother to give you advice on what to wear...
My first response to this question is always "Wear something that you're comfortable wearing." Now, I get it - sometimes we want a reason to buy a new outfit, or sometimes we want a reason to get glammed up, or maybe we don't love the current state of our body so we're not feeling comfortable in anything. Odds are, if you're thinking about getting family photos taken, you're already after a certain look and feel to the session. What does that mean? You might have an image (or images) in mind - if it's early summer, maybe you're daydreaming about flowing dresses on a sandy beach - if it's fall, maybe it looks like cozy sweaters or blankets and a cup of hot chocolate. A few things to consider in this first step:
- What is the location for your session?
- What will the weather be like on the day of your session?
- Will the setting impact your wardrobe choices?
Don't wear a sleeveless blouse in the middle of January - if you're freezing and standing in front of trees or plants with no leaves or flowers, you'll look slightly out of place. Similarly, don't wear a warm sweater in the end of June - you will get hot, it will mess up hair and make up, and you won't enjoy yourself. That saying "You're never fully dressed without a smile"? I don't expect full smiles for the duration of your session, but if you are not comfortable, it will show up in your expressions even if you're great at fake-smiling. Also? The entire idea behind having photos taken is to preserve a moment in time - do you really want to have images around your house that remind you that you were too hot/cold or your feet were killing you in those crazy heels? Probably not, even if they were the most spectacular shoes you own.
The second part of my answer is "Coordinate, don't match". Gone are the days (thank goodness!) of families showing up for pictures wearing khakis and white polo shirts no matter their age or gender. For this one I usually suggest that you find an outfit for the family member who is the most particular about what they wear - often times that's mom, but always consider your kiddos - if your daughter's personality will shine wearing a twirly dress, let her wear the twirly dress. If your son prefers t-shirts to button downs, go with the t-shirt. Avoid graphic shirts or text, and avoid excessive prints and patterns. A few things to consider for this step:
- What type of session are you having? (For example: Newborn sessions usually feel soft and bright - wear light neutral colors (white, cream, pastels))
- What are your children comfortable wearing? What expresses their personality?
- Will the outfit look good and be comfortable to sit/stand/walk while wearing?
Finally, wear clothing that looks like you. To get that quintessential family portrait, you need to look like yourselves. It's fundamental, but true. If you're planning on buying an outfit for a photo session but would never wear that outfit again, don't buy that outfit. If you're buying it and will absolutely wear it again, you just want something fresh for photos, by all means, shop on! If you're three year old wears the same dinosaur t-shirt every single day no matter how stained and tattered it might be, let him wear it to the session (or, at least, let him wear it under a sweater...or let him change into it for a few photos at the end). The idea is to document your family in this moment - if that's a messy top knot, nursing tank and yoga pants, that sounds perfect for your newborn session...it's who you are right now living this life. If you love dressing up and so do your children, go for it!
Be authentic. Be you. Your beauty will shine through, I promise.
I have a bunch of wardrobe example images that I happily share with all of my clients to get you thinking in the right direction. Seasons (pops of jewel tones in winter, light and airy colors in the summer) play a big part in clothing, as does location (if you're shooting in a park with a ton of greenery, avoid wearing green). When in doubt, go with a color family - everyone in shades of blue with a few pops of color from accessories (think scarves, jewelry, shoes) almost never goes out of style. And for some extra quick tips:
- Shoes matter
- Just say no to competing stripes - one person in stripes can work as the pop of pattern/color, but I wouldn't suggest more than one person in stripes.
- Avoid oversize clothing - it's easy to think that baggy clothing will hide things we want to hide. The opposite is actually true - bulky clothing will add...well...bulk to your frame. That's less than desirable for almost every body shape and size.
- Think of your home decor - this is advanced, but solid advice - if you're home is decorated in one color palette and your family photos contrast sharply with that, you probably won't want to display those images.
- Bring a change of clothing for the little folks...if a spill or a fall happens before or during the session, a back-up plan is ideal.
One more bonus thought - if you're unsure, mix things up by adding layers - men can bring a nice jacket or sports coat, women can bring a jacket or cardigan - slightly different looks can be easily created by popping a jacket on or off. (I'm not talking a full outfit change here...let me know if you'd like a session with multiple outfits and we'll talk about the details!).