It’s true—what you choose to wear has a massive influence on the look and feel of a photo session. I’m not here to tell you that you need to buy a new wardrobe, wear something you don’t feel comfortable in or spend hours putting together outfit options, but after shooting hundreds of people, I can tell you that if you spend a bit of time curating a specific look for you and/or your family, you will most likely be happier with the final result.
This shouldn’t feel stressful. In-fact, I’m hoping the tips below will help take away so much of the confusion that comes with this part of the process and provide a bit of direction for what to focus on and how to achieve the ‘look’ you are hoping for.
Some tips for looking photo-ready
Wear something that reflects who you are
We do a lot of moving with kiddos, especially to get them laughing, so make sure you and your family are wearing outfits they are comfortable in (and that are uniquely YOU). It helps to be excited and at home in what you are wearing, like this Mama who rocked her favorite leather boots with a feminine dress. Look at what you normally wear and try to build off of that. Borrow items from your friends, Rent the Runway, shop consignment—but please don’t feel like you need to buy a new wardrobe. If you do decide to go shopping, use it as an excuse to buy that dress you’ve had your eye on for the past few months. Moral of the story…don’t buy your family outfits purely because you think they will photograph well, buy your family outfits if you adore the pieces and will want to wear them again. I feel strongly about this since I personally try to limit the clothing items I purchase for sustainability reasons. I’m currently attempting to go a full year without buying a new piece of clothing!
Take your look for a test ride
Put on whatever you are thinking of wearing and give it the ultimate test (in front of a mirror). Jump up and down, reach your hands up high, bend over at the hip, squat, spin, run a little, check out your booty! Give yourself a 360 view because that’s what the camera is going to see! Watch out for nip-slips, booty cracks, unexpected belly button appearances and anything so tight it was difficult to move! For kids, look for shoes that your toddler slips out of, sweaters that ride up and dresses that show a diaper. If wearing a lighter color, hold your hand beneath a layer of the shirt in bright light, can you see your skin? So will the camera! Light dress shirts are always a culprit. We don’t want to see the outlines of a t-shirt!
Hot Tip: If putting your little one in a dress, always pair with matching short-shorts or bloomers, diaper shots are not so fun. Shoes help pull things together and socks make an appearance so choose accordingly. Avoid overly tight clothing. Loose and flowy is generally better! : )
Coordinate colors and textures
Unless you are already a pro at styling your family, I would suggest starting from a neutral base and building from there. Neutrals (off whites, beiges, grays) and earth tones (browns, mustard yellows, deep greens, blues, rusty reds) are best at complimenting skin tones, especially on little ones. Choose one earth tone in addition to your neutral and dress the rest of the family in the same tones with variation. Use texture and patterns in the same color tones to create variety while also staying within the same color family. Avoid bright, vibrant tones (like bright pink), as they can be harsh on skin tones (unless you’re really going for a statement piece which I’ll always embrace).
Hot tip: Avoid neons, tiny dots or stripes and super busy patterns. Mix colors between tops and bottoms and avoid dressing anyone in the same exact colored top to avoid too much repetition in group photos.
Build from one look
Whoever you are, reading this post, choose your outfit first and base the rest of the family around you! Having a foundation to work from makes the rest of the decision making much easier.
Let the environment guide you
Take note of the weather and the season and dress accordingly. If your session is outdoors and its expected to be cold, have lots of layers on hand. If your session is indoors and you keep your home warm, don’t wear a big chunky sweater that will leave you sweating. Considering these things in advance will help make sure you aren’t feeling uncomfy the day of.
We will be in many different positions—standing, kneeling, sitting—so wear something that flatters these differentiations. I suggest a long flowy dress/skirt or jeans/pants that have a good amount of stretch! Layers are wonderful as well and help give that cool-season look.
Avoid tucked in or transparent dress shirts. Tucking can be awkward when you are throwing a kid around or doing a lot of bending/twisting. Thin dress shirts can sometime show undershirt lines in photos so be aware of the fabric choice. A good trick is to hold your hand under the fabric in daytime light, if you can see your hand clearly, then you can see an undershirt!
For the Littles
Comfort is king with little ones, especially between 1-3 years old when anything restricting or itchy ruins their day. I always suggest trying the outfit (including shoes) on your little several days before the session just to make sure they don’t decide it’s the enemy. Ask them to jump up and down and raise their hands, watch out for shirts and sweaters that ride up constantly. A onesie underneath is super helpful in avoiding the exposed belly! Pick them up in the mirror and see how the outfit looks while you’re holding them, this helps you get an idea of what I’ll see in the camera since we spend a lot of time close and cuddled! If choosing a romper for a kiddo under one, make sure to double check that the buttons/snaps stay put with a full diaper and moving around. Popped buttons and snaps happen more often than you think!
Hot tip: Never force a little one to wear an accessory that they don’t want. This includes shoes. Make sure you try things on them before the day of the session to see how they react. If you never put a headband on your toddler, they may be very against wearing one all of the sudden. Some kids need time to get used to wearing new shoes as well, give them a few days to break them in to avoid melt downs!
A few group rules
Avoid very skinny/close together stripes as these can look distorted in camera. Also avoid wearing any prominent logos, they can be really distracting! This can sometimes be an issue with ‘polo’ shirts that have a big logo on the chest, a kiddo can be all snuggled up next to a logo which I’m sure you don’t want featured in your family heirlooms. Pay attention to your socks as they might show when sitting.
Tips for Outdoor Sessions
I tend to bring my families on adventures so keep that in mind when choosing your clothing and footwear. I might ask you to walk through high grasses or deep sand and it’s possible we’ll wander through some muddy areas so please do not wear anything overly precious. Heels and white pants/bottoms are typically discouraged for this reason!
Tips for Home Sessions
We want your home session to feel comfortable and cozy so dress accordingly! One rule—no socks! Unless they are part of the story—like dads favorite funky pair gifted by a little one. General rule of thumb is barefoot in the house.
Day of Suggestions
In advance of your session, please remove all items from your pockets (ahem, I’m talking to you guys) as well as your wrists. Hair-ties can leave indentations which are visible in closeup shots so make sure you take them off at least a few hours before your session time. It’s up to you if you want to leave a smartwatch on. I recommend taking them off because it might be the equivalient of holding a rotary phone in 20 years and I’m hoping you look back at these images for generations to come : )
Still feeling stuck? Ask for help! Send photos of ideas or even ask me to coordinate for you! I’m happy to take some time to make sure you are comforable and feeling confident for your session. Just shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!
a Boston Area Family, Newborn, Elopement and Portrait Photographer living on the North Shore. Documenting humans in Ipswich, Hamilton, Wenham, Essex, Newburyport, Newbury, Gloucester, Manchester, Marblehead, Swampscott, Salem, Beverly, Winchester, Melrose, Boston (and more).