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  • Writer's pictureKelly

What To Wear?!

You've spent time researching a photographer whose style is perfect for your family. You've coordinated all schedules involved. The children have fresh haircuts and you've had your nails done. You've finally chosen the perfect location and the best time of day. It looks like you have everything worked out and are ready for your photoshoot, except the outfits!

One of the questions I most often get when preparing for a portrait session is, what should we wear? Unfortunately, there isn't one simple answer, however there are some guidelines I have found to work nearly every time. Below are 3 options that work for most people with almost any style:

1. Dress for your location:

If you've agonized over the decision for the best location to represent your family, and you've finally chosen the perfect spot, the last thing you want is to make it less-than-ideal by dressing for the wrong location/occasion. If you are planning for a park setting on a sunny day, more casual and summery attire will be more appropriate than your Sunday best, for example. Take a look at the example here for an excellent choice of beach attire.

As you can see in the above photo, each of the children is wearing something possibly a little dressier than they would usually wear to the beach, however it wouldn't look at all out of place in this location. This is a perfect example of coordinating outfits as well, where it is obvious that a certain color palette was chosen, but nobody is wearing the exact same thing.

In this next photo is another example of dressing for the location:

The family in the above photograph decided to have their beautiful Fall session at their waterfront cottage. They chose to coordinate matching denim pants, but opted out of a specific color palette for the tops, deciding to go with a "plaid" theme. Everyone looks great together, and it is obvious that they made an effort to dress a specific way for their family portraits.

2. Matchy-Matchy

The first thing clients usually ask when it comes to outfit choices is whether or not they need to match. Now, I have to clarify here, no you do not have to match exactly, but I do feel that choosing a cohesive color story is important. That being said, there is something fun about everyone matching exactly!

If you are going to choose to match everyone exactly, it is important to take everyone's style and complexion into account. For example, Mom may look terrific in bright red, but Dad's rosy cheeks and ginger hair may not lend as well to this color option. Or the older sister, with her olive skin and black hair may look marvelous in all black, but the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, pale younger brother will be washed-out and look even paler. In the photo below, you can see that the choice of more neutral-toned colors look good on everyone with their somewhat different hair colors.

If you are going to choose a completely matching color story, the theme is also very important. For example, the photo below shows a family and their love for the same sport's team!

3. Same, But Different

When I was little, my mom was a big fan of matching my little sister and myself when it came to portraits. Once I was a little older, I rebelled against this matchy-matchy theme and my mom settled with us by dressing us, as she called it, "same but different." The theory behind this is essentially buying everyone the same shirt/jacket/pants/etc but in different colors. Check out this example here.

The boys in the above photo aren't wearing the same color, or even really coordinating colors, but because they have the same shirt and the same jacket, in different colors, it is very visible and obvious that they go together!

4. Coordinating colors

When clients ask me what to wear, my favorite answer is to choose coordinating colors, but to not restrict which article of clothing is which color, or restrict the style. I am showing a few examples here.

In the above photo, you see that they chose a blue, white, and golden yellow palette, which coordinates beautifully, but nobody is dressed exactly alike.

Here, this adorable family has dressed in blues and grays.

In the above photo, this family has chosen outfits which pull pops of color from each other's outfits, without exactly matching. Mom has pinks in her dress which coordinate with both girls' outfits, and the son's teal shorts pull from mom's dress as well, with dad's white shirt matching with the son's. No two outfits are exactly the same, but all of them work very well together.

This family knew that we were going to be walking some of the downtown streets in Charleston in the Fall. Because of this, they knew that we would be seeing brick walls and cobblestones, and dressed in colors which compliment both the season and the setting. Also, with three different ranges of personal colorings, the outfits really managed to compliment everyone!

Bonus: What NOT to wear

Obviously, every session is different, every client is different, and every photographer is different, however there are a few suggestions I always give to clients as far as what not to wear.

I generally suggest clients do not wear a stark white. White looks great on some people, but if it is a sunny day, the sun will cause the white to be incredibly bright and reflective. It can be difficult to photograph white while keeping skin tones and background colors accurate. It isn't impossible, but will take lots of adjustments on the photographer's end, and if the photographer is spending 10 minutes micro-adjusting his/her camera, that is 10 less minutes you will have in your session!

I also suggest that hats be worn rarely. Hats can be beautiful style accessories, however they create shadows on the eyes and the face. HOWEVER, if you are having solo photos taken, as opposed to a group, hats are totally fine! Think of it this way, if there is a group of 5 people and person 1 is the only one with a hat, that one person will either have a much darker eye area/face than the rest of the people in the group. If there is only one person, though, the exposure can be compensated for the person's face and the hat is totally fine!

Finally, I highly suggest not wearing something you have NEVER worn before. Just think, when you get a new dress, a new pair of pants, or some new shoes, they may look amazing, but they will make you very uncomfortable. If you want to wear a new outfit, be sure to wear it at least once before your shoot so that you know how it will make you feel. The last thing anyone wants is to be uncomfortably fidgeting during their shoot. All of those uncomfortable feelings will show in your photos, and you will not like the way you look!

Thank you for taking the time to read my tips! I hope I was able to help someone out who may be ready to have photos taken! If you'd like to book with me, email me at!

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