What to wear to a family photo session

What to wear to a family photo session is a question I encounter frequently. The suggestions below are intended to help guide you towards what to wear to a family photo session and increase your understanding of how clothing styles and colors can impact your personal portraits.

“Working with Pamela to get our family portrait was a great experience! I had worries about how the kids would cooperate and if our clothing would be alright. Pamela set my mind at ease from the tips on her website beforehand to the actual shoot, instructing the children and adjusting hair, etc. Her eyes caught details I could not have seen and the resulting photographs are priceless.”  ~ Audrey Y.

what to wear to a family photo session Fairfield, CA


~First decide upon a color family for your clothing. Will colors be warm (browns/earth tones) or cool (blacks/grays/blues)? Whichever you choose, make sure all subjects stay within it for a more pleasing presentation and be sure the selected palette complements the skin tones. Darker colors help bodies to blend with the background more readily, allowing the faces to be the focus. Light colored clothing does the opposite. :) One suggestion is to lay all clothing out from the shirt to the shoes and see if any one person’s clothing draws the eye too much. If anything does, consider switching it out as it will have the same effect in your finished portrait.

~White tops can make pale skin look even more pale, or even cause red skin tones to be more prominent. Pinks and reds are best avoided, and especially so by anyone who has a lot of red in their skin as it will not flatter.

~Clothing should fit well, neither too tight nor too loose, nor too long in the sleeves or legs. Clothing that is too loose will make you look shapeless.  You may think you are hiding parts of yourself you do not like, but the reality is that dressing in loose and less fitted clothing makes one appear larger than they really are. I want you to be the focus, not your clothing. With this in mind, it is best to choose solid colors and avoid fabrics with much pattern or really busy small patterns/colors, especially if a group is to be photographed.

~Ideally, clothing should be longer sleeved (3/4 or more) with pants to the ankle. The more bare skin that is shown, the less focus is on the faces of the subject(s). If leggings or hosiery are to be worn, they should be darker in color factoring in the tones of the all clothing.  The eye will always be pulled to the lightest portions of the photo so keep this in mind when pairing tops and bottoms. For instance, if you wear a dark grey top and white pants, your top half will look diminished and your bottom half will appear accentuated. A collar or scarf can help to define the neck and slim it visually. If you decide to wear a scarf, look at yourself in a mirror from different angles (and sideways) to make sure you like what you see. Tops with wide necklines, such as boat neck necklines, visually add weight.

~Pops of a single color (or similar hues) are a great idea and can be added through scarves, jewelry, shoes, hair accessories, removable vests, etc. When selecting your clothing and accessory colors, you might also consider where your photo will hang in your house and the surrounding decor colors of that room.

~One can never go wrong bringing an extra shirt  for those who may perspire easily or an extra outfit  for younger children, just in case.

family photo sessionPERSONAL GROOMING

The camera misses absolutely nothing! Please be certain that all facial grooming is as desired. This includes beards/whiskers (5 o’clock shadows), eyebrow shaping/trimming/plucking, and any other facial hair. Correcting grooming issues is not always possible in the editing process, and requests to do so will incur additional editing fees per image.


~Hair that is styled close to the face or obscuring the face will affect the ability of light to reach the eyes, as will long bangs. A good portrait will show light reaching the eyes without excessive shadowing. 

~If you color your hair regularly, make sure to do it or touch up the roots at least three days prior to your session so the color has time to soften and appear more natural. It’s also best to refresh haircuts about a week before your session. The week of the session is probably not the time to try on a new cut… just in case. ;)

~ Make-up should be natural with soft transitions in the colors around the eyes, and foundation blended smoothly under the jaw line. White makeup does not photograph well and draws attention away from the eyes. Foundation with sunscreen can affect your skin tone (making it more ashen) in photos. 

~Make-up will be seen as photographed so please choose colors carefully and thoughtfully  being careful in how heavily you apply it.

~Pale skin can benefit from the appropriate tone of bronzer, etc. being lightly applied along the hairline, under jawbone, and under cheekbones to add definition.


If anyone to be photographed has a lot of red in the whites of their eyes for any reason, the use of eye drops that remove redness is quite beneficial and really helps the eyes to look fresh in the photos.


The day of your session is a great time to get a fresh manicure/polish and pedicure as hands are in many shots (or feet!) and chipped polish can be very distracting and is not something that will be edited. Nail polish color is best kept neutral or within the color palette of the clothing in the image. A more pleasing image will be the result if one avoids nail polish of a color that does not fit into the overall photo color scheme.


While I love a great tattoo, I also understand that you may have one you do not wish to be visible in your photos. If this is the case, you might want to consider applying tattoo cover-up makeup or wearing clothes (or your hair, if applicable) in such a way that it is covered. Tattoo removal, while usually possible, is not part of standard photo editing and will incur a significant additional cost per photo. In any case, do let me know if you prefer your tattoos more or less visible as it can be addressed to some degree by body placement.


Bring it! ;)  Please feel free to bring any special item that is an extension of your family or child’s personality (ie: favorite toy, stuffed animal, hat, pet, etc.) to be included in some shots. If the family dog is to be part of the photo, please let me know in advance and plan to have a trusted person there who will not be photographed to supervise it and hold it’s leash.