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What to wear for your family photoshoot

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

Family photo on Otago Peninsula overlooking the harbour and Dunedin
A neutral colour scheme incorporating blues, whites and gray allow all the focus to be on the family interactions and the golden colours of the landscape to glow. The pattern mix with the small pattern on the shirt and the bold stripes add a nice element of interest.

Family photos are all about the interaction, emotion and connection, so if it’s not a fashion shoot does what you wear matter?

Yes, it does! Remember, these are photos you are going to hang on your walls and cherish for years to come.

A little bit of thought and planning beforehand will not only take away any photoshoot day stress, but will really make your pictures sing!

Here’s 15 tips to help you with choosing your outfits for your photoshoot.

1) Pick you palette first

Pick 3-4 colours and use this as your starting point. Think in terms of tones such as earthy tones, neutral tones or natural tones. Everyone can still express their own sense of style within your colour scheme, but it will all tie together nicely in your pictures.

Family portrait taken in the garden at Larnach Castle, Dunedin, NZ
Earthy tones combing olive greens, browns and blues bring this extended family together in their group picture. Coordinating different families can be a challenge, but it's well worth the time and effort..

2) Don’t match: coordinate

Your colours or tones don’t need to be exact matches, in fact it looks better if they’re not. It will add more interest and you want the final result to look natural, not contrived.

Action family portrait of a family playing on the beach in Dunedin, New Zealand
A gorgeous mix of warm oranges and dusky pink perfectly set off with dark navy. Kids shoes are often in shots so choose something neutral and simple.

3) Make use of colour

Don’t be afraid to use colour. I love it when there are bold pops of colour in the frame. Not everybody needs to be wearing colour, in fact it looks better if just a few people are wearing colour and everybody else is in complementary neutrals. Stick to just one or two happy colours to really help them zing!

Lovely, simple colour choices with blues, darks and whites allows all the attention to go on faces and interactions.

4) Mix solids and patterns

Mixing your colours up with solid blocks of colour and colour picked up in different patterns can add interest and help break away from the matchy-matchy feel. If you have more than one person wearing patterns try to choose patterns that are different.

Some nice addition of texture and pattern with an overall warm colour mix of pinks, purple, dark blue and brown.

5) Find your statement piece first

You might find a dress for yourself or a kid’s bold outfit first and then work to those colours when choosing the rest of the family outfits.

6) Be yourself

What’s your go-to outfit that you love and feel comfortable in? That might be the perfect piece for you. Pick clothes that let you run and be carefree. If you like wearing jeans then look no further! Then all you have to find is the tops.

Family portrait taken on Aramoana Beach, Dunedin, NZ
It's important to be yourself and feel comfortable as this will create a lovely relaxed, natural vibe for your shoot. The earthy green and brown tones suit this outdoorsy and adventurous family nicely. The greens are all very different but still hold together, while the brown pants bring in some warm earth tones.

7) What’s your backdrop

Think about the location of your shoot. Is it at the beach, a hilltop, a field of long grass or a forested stream? The big thing to watch for here is if you might have a lot of green in your pictures make sure your colour scheme works with green.

A mix of neutral grays and darks combined with mum's plum-coloured dress allowed the autumn colours from this shoot to really sing and add a lovely golden quality to the images.

8) Look at your home

What’s your style and colours in your home, especially those rooms where you will hang your photos. You want to make sure the colours of your clothes are going to fit with the colours in your house, especially if you are having your photoshoot in your home.

9) Textures feel nice

I love textured fabrics especially when I’m coming in for those tight crops. Natural textured fabrics tend to look good in any outdoor location.

Textures can come with woolly hats and jerseys, but also with floaty silk scarves and dresses that twirl and float are a great way to add movement to pictures.

Portrait of a girl by Dunedin photographer Edith Leigh
Hats are the second reason why I love shooting in winter (the amazing light all day long is the first!). Hats can bring interest and personality with added colour and texture. It can look great if they pick up a colour from somebody else's outfit too.

10) Layer and accessorise to your heart’s content

This is the stuff that will give your images some punch by adding pops of colour, interest and personality. Cardies, hats and scarves can be pulled on or off. If you have a favourite family blanket or quilt definitely bring that along too!

This gorgeous little wolf hoodie is from The Wolf and the Wildling, an NZ kids and baby clothes company.

11) Stay away from heavy branding

Nothing will date your photos faster than clothes with heavy branding or big writing emblazoned across the front of them. Instead of looking at the faces in your pictures your eye will keep getting drawn to those heavy graphic elements.

12) No characters

Yes, your kid might love their Elsa dress or Toy Story t-shirt, but you might want to skip it for your family photo session. Reminder: these photos will be going on your walls and you want to enjoy them for years to come, many more years than the Frozen trend will stick around!

Family portrait shot in long grass at a location in Mosgiel, Dunedin, NZ
A simple palette with soft pinks, purples, blues and white, with a mixture of patterns coordinates nicely so all the focus can rest on the family.

13) Lay it all out

If you’re not sure lay all the clothes out on your bed and see how they all sit together. This should help you spot anything that might need re-thinking.

14) Find inspiration online

I’ve put together a Pinterest board to give you inspiration and examples of colours and outfits that work well. Take a look at what you’re drawn to and start there.

15) Bring more than one outfit to your shoot

It’s a good idea to have another bag with second or third choice options. I know it’s a pain going to all this extra trouble, but remember, these photos are going to last you a lifetime.

A few extra minutes to get your clothing choices right is time very well spent.



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