A little bit of planning will go a long way in making your family portraits look fantastic! As your photographer, I'll help you select a location that when printed, your images will perfectly fit in with your home's decor. What to do with your hands, feet, etc. is also another concern; I've got you covered there too. I'll guide your family through a series of easy and natural poses that will keep everyone relaxed and produce fantastic images. What can you do? The right clothing choices can transform a family portrait from pretty, to stunning.
Here are some key tips to help you prepare for your family portrait session:
Tips for her...
Start with mom. Let's face it, she's the family COO so I recommend she select her outfit first and then build the family around her keeping the following guidance in mind. When choosing colors for your outfits, I recommend selecting richly saturated jewel tones or softer, more muted shades. By avoiding ultra-bright, bold colors, it will help bring all the attention to your faces and let the eye focus on the way you feel about each other.
The camera loves emerald, ruby and cobalt as well as shades of soft pink and muted blues, mixed with sophisticated neutrals like heather gray, creams, navy and leather brown. Jewel tones and softer color palettes fit beautifully into almost all natural outdoor environments.
How to flatter your features...
Three-quarter length sleeves create an awesome slimming effect on all arms, so be on the lookout for an option with a longer length sleeve. You could also bring a cute jacket, blazer or cardigan along too. Skinny straps or strapless dresses have the opposite effect on arms on camera, so I recommend avoiding those whenever possible if your goal is a set of slimmer-looking arms.
Our eyes are naturally drawn to the brightest part of any image which should be the face, bare arms compete with that so better to put a bit of cover on them. Heels elongate women’s legs, making them look fabulous. Closed-toed heels in particular look great on camera because they carry out the line of your leg all the way down to your toe. If you're worried about walking around a park with heels on, bring a pair of flats to wear when moving from location to location in between photos.
Make a statement...
Pairing an accessory or two with your outfit can really help bring some extra dimension to your images, and be a nice tie-in when you’re coordinating with a group. Big statement necklaces bring a lot of pop to the photos, while the smaller, delicate ones are not as noticeable on camera. The opposite holds true for earrings; large earrings distract from your face, so better to go on the smaller side for those. Belts, bracelets and earrings bring great visual interest, so choose one or two that don’t compete for attention.
When thinking of jewel tones, think of jewelry and precious stones; amethyst, sapphire, and gold. Below is a swatch of jewel tones and a family that did a terrific job of incorporating them into everyone's clothing choices.
Once you've settled on an outfit for the woman, it's time to start building around it for a harmonious and visually interesting color palette.
Tips for him...
Long, fitted pants and closed-toed shoes are the most sophisticated and masculine looks for men. They draw attention away from his legs and feet and place it where you want it: on his handsome face. So, for your session, it’s best to leave the shorts and sandals at home as well as any pants that are loose or baggy. Fitted dress pants or fitted colored pants work best on camera. Solid shades of gray or navy are a strong compliment to most women’s outfits, whereas pinstripes or plaid patterns tend to distract the eye. I also recommend staying away from graphics and logos.
Next time you walk by a store like Nordstrom, you’ll notice the male mannequins and models are always wearing several layers at once. Layers on men look great on camera, so even when it’s hot outside, trust me when I say that it’s worth an hour of discomfort for portraits that will last you a lifetime. Adding another layer will bring extra dimension and visual interest to your photos. Blazers, vests and coats up the level of any look. If the temperature permits, he could even consider adding a v-neck sweater with a pop of color from a long-sleeved collared shirt and tie underneath. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative with layers!
Mix it up...
Many men love to mix a suit coat, blazer or sport coat with a different pant color. It adds some extra visual interest, and breaks up the color tones. I’m a big fan of this fresh take on a timeless classic.
It's all in the details...
Brown leather dress shoes compliment almost every look, whether he’s wearing a full suit or a blazer and colored pants. Ties, bowties, pocket squares, colored socks, belts, tie clips, suspenders, vests and watches are sharp compliments to any outfit for men and boys alike. Sneakers never look great in a portrait, so start preparing the boys now! :)
Any pastels, from baby blue to soft pink, will look great with a neutral foundation like navy blue, gray or khaki. Below is a swatch to give you some ideas of what pastel clothing you may already have hanging in your closet as well as a family that did a great job of adding pops of pastels into a navy blue base.
Prepping the Family
Coordinating the entire family...
It's key to keep in mind that your outfits will look the most cohesive on camera when the color palette and wardrobe pieces coordinate, but don’t actually “match.” In fact, I recommend that you avoid thinking about “matching,” and instead think about what “goes” together. This will create more visual interest, and allow each personality to shine through.
How to Mix Colors...
The goal for coordinating a family is to visually break up the colors and shades so that you’re not all wearing the same color on top and bottom. The more we can mix that up, the better. I encourage you to think about planning each outfit with “dominant colors” and “accent colors” in mind. A dominant color is the color that you see the most in an outfit, while an accent has a smaller piece of visual real estate. When you’re planning each family member’s outfit, if you can aim for each person to have a different dominant color, and then tie in and vary the accent colors, it’s going to look great all together.
For example, if you’re wearing a blush dress, soft blue earrings and nude heels (blush being your dominant color), then the man could wear a navy coat with a white button-down and gray pants, paired with brown leather shoes and maybe even a blush pocket square (making navy his dominant color). Your daughter could wear a soft blue top with a white tulle skirt (making a soft blue her dominant color) while your son wears light beige pants with navy suspenders and a white button down (making white his dominant color). Now each person has their own dominant color while still incorporating a few touches of the others that will pull all the looks together. This will break up the color visually and highlight each personality. This is where selecting mom's outfit first and building from there can be really helpful.
Don't Forget the Pups!
I often photograph families with their dogs so let's not forget about them! You're always welcome to have your dogs wear anything sentimental, no matter the color, because it will add extra meaning to the portrait. But if not...we love our Cowboys, but a bright blue collar with writing on it will detract from your portraits. I suggest selecting muted colors for collars and leashes or borrowing my brown latigo leather collars and leashes which are classic and I have available for you to use during your session.
The most important thing is that everyone be comfortable in their clothing. A suit coat may not be your husband's everyday cup of tea, but if it fits well, he'll be happy with how he looks in the photograph. If it's ill-fitting and tight, that's all he'll be able to think about when he sees the image; how uncomfortable he was for that hour.
On the topic of jeans, I love 'em. I know most other people do too. I like jeans for a family that is most comfortable in them and truly representative of them and how they roll. That being said, a dark wash will photograph more pleasingly than a light wash and be sure to go with a good fit - nothing too loose or baggy. Also note that if everyone wears jeans on the bottom, it will be even more important to coordinate a harmonious and personalized color palette on the top.
Don't be afraid to purchase new clothing for your session, after all, this image may be hanging on your wall for a few years - you want to love it! Many clients also send me cell phone pictures of the outfits they're considering, so please do that if you'd like me to weigh in on how something would photograph.
Tracy Allard of Penny Whistle Photography is a Certified Professional Photographer with the organization Professional Photographers of America; a designation held by fewer than 2,500 photographers nationwide and a hallmark of consistency, technical skill, artistry and professionalism. Penny Whistle specializes in both on-location and studio photography providing pet, equine, family, couples & engagement and high school senior portraits as well as corporate headshots and commercial photography services in her studio located in historic downtown Carrollton as well as on location in Coppell, Grapevine, Southlake, Flower Mound and surrounding communities in Dallas – Fort Worth, Texas.