There are only so many times your family can be photographed in white shirts and blue jeans, but it sure beats some of the options. Coordinating Christmas sweaters. Carbon copy looks for the whole family in universally unflattering shapes. An overabundance of plaid. No wonder so many families fall back on the white-and-denim uniform. It’s easy, accessible, and most of all, not embarrassing. After all, it’s a challenge to dress an entire clan for a family photo shoot. If you are dealing with an array of conflicting options, or simply want profesional input, consider hiring a stylist. The small investment can pay off big in results (and sanity). (For more info on in-person and virtual styling services, see the information at the end of post).
1. Coordinate, Don’t Copy
Your mini-me doesn’t necessarily have to look like your mini-me. Identical matching styles are rarely fashionable or flattering. One way to keep the entire family looking unified is to coordinate with colors. As a rule, all white and all black are hard to pull off in photographs, and so are stripes. Jewel tones are pretty on everyone, or pick easy-to-wear shades like gray, blue, or red. Pick 2-3 colors that are flattering for everyone in the family, and work those into each outfit in varying degrees. Try one of these gorgeous color combinations:
2. Turn up the Texture
Add interest, personality and life to your family photos with texture. Whether it’s a nubby sweater, a tweedy scarf or a fur vest all add dimension, as well as details like jewelry, hair accessories and even socks. Here are some pointers on pulling this off:
- Add interest to monochromatic looks through the use of various, contrasting textures. For example, a color as potentially drab as gray can be a stylish, sophisticated look for the whole family through the use of texture. Try a cozy boyfriend cardigan over a silk blouse, add pearls, velvet jeans, and snakeskin flats, all in the same shade, for instant elegance. Dad can try a chunky grey sweater, perhaps with some tonal stripes, worn over a printed gray cotton button-down, gray jeans, and suede loafers.
- Incorporate dimension and interest to outfits through the use of accessories. A simple cotton or wool jersey dress comes to life when paired with metallic. Try mixing high-gloss metals, such as a chunky gold link necklace, with subtle metallics like matte gold shoes. An armful of bangles, a great bag with metal hardware, or even a shiny down vest worn over the dress add further interest. Incorporate this metallic element in subtle ways in the whole family. A watch on Dad. A headband or a ballet flat on a little girl.
- Consider using texture in unexpected ways. I recently spotted a gorgeous, very-grown-up look in which the woman wore a beautiful thick turtleneck, a knee-length tulle skirt, and stilettos, all in a lovely shade of grey. The tulle skirt, essentially a grown up tutu, was an unexpected touch, and added drama to the image.
- When choosing pieces for a photo shoot, editing is key. Remove any superfluous accessories and wear only the pieces selected for this shoot. Remember that everything you wear contributes to the overall look, so it should be chosen with care. A couple of well-chosen elements make a much stronger impact than countless randomly chosen ones.
- Consider adding an element of surprise to each look through the use of texture. An outfit with soft, matte or even cozy textures becomes more interesting when paired with a single, shining item, like a gleaming metallic shoe. A denim jacket is an unexpected foil to a lace dress. Motorcycle boots lends edge to a velvet tunic. A patent leather hat brings a tweed dress to life.
- Keep your layering elements appropriate to the season. In cooler seasons, use quilted down, cashmere, wool, velvet, fluffy angora and mohair, and fur. In summer, try silks, satins, lace, eyelet, pique, cotton, and lightweight jerseys.
- Texture is also an important element in makeup. Gleaming metallic, matte powders, glowing highlighting creams and fine shimmers can all be used to add interest to a look.
- Pattern is another way to add texture to a look, and mixing patterns is a trendy look right now (also seem in conflict with the advise in #8). The most foolproof way to do this is to contrast pattern size (i.e. a small pattern with an oversized one) while keeping the colors similar. If you choose to do a stripe or a plaid, it is most effective when used in small doses. Avoid wavy prints, as they can odd and appear to move on camera. Really tiny prints are probably also not a great choice, because they won’t show up well. In general, a larger print, whether it’s a floral, stripe or dot, works well. And don’t be afraid to mix prints among family members. Just unify the look with color. For instance, Mom can wear a striped navy/white shift, dad can wear a plaid shirt in navy/white, a little girl can do a polka dot in navy and pink, and the son can wear a solid.
- Color is another way to layer and add texture. Pile on the jewel-tones for a glamorous look: a deep purple cardigan, gold silk blouse and garnet skirt make a striking combination. Work these colors in small ways into the whole family’s look. For example, a little girl can wear a purple dress, the dad can have the collar of a garnet-colored button-down peeking out from underneath his navy sweater, and the son can wear mustard yellow corduroys.
3. Shine Your Shoes
I recently did a photo shoot where, at the last minute, the shoes didn’t turn up. I had all of the models go barefoot. Nothing ruins a great shot like a beat-up pair of shoes. This is not the day for crocs or trainers. Instead, the entire family should don their best footwear for the occasion, or else ditch them altogether in favor of (well groomed!) bare feet. Here, a few pointers:
- Keep footwear age appropriate. Nothings take the timelessness out of a shot faster than a child wearing grown-up shoes. Save heels and platforms for another occasion. Simple ballet flats, maryjanes and sandals are best.
- Every woman knows that shoes complete an outfit, and this is the time to pick a really fabulous, wildly impractical pair that will elevate your whole outfit. If your purple suede four-inch platforms make you happy, use them as the statement accessory for your look.
- Stay away from mandals (sandals on a man), plastic shoes, flip flops and other dubious forms of footwear. Keep it classy.
- Use shoes as a simple way to unify the family’s look: sparkly silver flats for a little girls, gray loafers for dad and son, and a silver pump for mom.
- If you decide to go shoeless, make sure that feet are well-groomed, but stay away from anklets or toe rings. Polish is nice but not necessary if you prefer a more casual look.
- Shoes are also a great way to express your family’s personality. A horse-loving clan are right at home in cowboy boots, and they are especially charming when worn with more formal clothes. An outdoorsy family in glossy, colorful rubber boots, either all in the same color or in a rainbow of colors and neutral clothing, is a striking look. Or take the concept even further by wearing very simple outfits and using the shoes to tell something about each family member. The more obvious the statement, the more successful this is. Try a pair of sparkly princess shoes (not the plastic dress-up ones, please) on a little girl, or a favorite pair of character rain boots. Mom can wear red cowboy boots. And dad can don his favorite golf shoes, boat shoes or motorcycle boots.
- Heels are always a flattering pick for women, so even if you don’t normally wear them, consider slipping into a pair for the shoot. They will help enhance your posture, create a longer line, and generally make a more flattering silhouette.
4. Aim for Classic But Current
The best pictures aren’t going to make you cringe in a few years. Ditch the extremely date-able trends and stick to classic shapes like sheaths, straight-leg pants, and button-front shirts. But timeless doesn’t need to be dreary. If your style tends to be trendy, classic shapes like the ones below can make the color or pattern of the season more palatable in years to come. Classicists can pull timeless pieces from their existing wardrobes and update them with current accessories. Details such as color and texture are additional ways to make these items your own. Here are a few other ideas to make your wardrobe choices stand the test of time:
- A sheath or shift: This classic dress style features a straight, usually sleeveless shape that is flattering and timeless. Make it current with playful accessories. For example, modernize a navy sheath by adding color with a jacket, or add menswear elements with a pair of tweedy, chunky heeled pumps and an envelope clutch.
- Button-down shirts: A tailored, well-fitting crisp button down is extremely elegant on a woman, but because it is so simple, the details have to be perfect: a gorgeous fabric, French cuffs, a beautiful color and a fit that nips in at the waist and hugs the arms. A simple tailored or casual button down is also a nice choice for men and boys, and in a softer fabric will even work on a little girl.
- Trouser pants: A darker colored pant in a seasonless wool crepe that falls straight from the hip to the hem elongates legs, especially when worn with the requisite heel. A strappy top or sparkly shoes add glamour to this wardrobe basic.
- Dark wash jeans: A dark pair of jeans in a uniform wash, with no fading, rips, or whiskering, is another flattering look, especially in a shape that suits your body type. Avoid overly detailed pockets, embellishments or contrast stitching. Pair these classic jeans with a slinky top and high-heeled sandals or wedges to make the look current.
- Wrap Dress: A wrap dress is extremely flattering on a well-proportioned body type, and it never goes out of style. It also offers the perfect backdrop for a statement accessory or two.
- A-Line skirt: An a-line skirt, so named because it is shaped like an A, with a hem that is wider than the waist, is flattering for all body types. Pair it with a chunky sweater and boots for a look that is classic but still youthful and fun.
5. Flatter Your Figure
If you are going to immortalize an outfit, you might as well make it a good one. Ask the client to sit, stand and pose in front of a mirror in your ensemble to make sure that it fits and flatters.
- If you carry much of your shape in your hips, you are what The Stylist Online calls a Style Dial ® #2. Draw the eye upwards with a beautiful short statement necklace, a gorgeous collar, or a top with interesting details at the shoulder. A-line skirts, empire waist dresses (those that are fitted just below the bust), horizontal necklines and straight-leg pants are all very flattering silhouettes for you. Keep pockets and other details around the hips minimal.
- If your body is proportional, meaning that your hips and shoulders are about the same, and your waist is defined, then you are a Style Dial ® #1. You will be more flattered by vertical lines, such as a v-neckline or a long necklace. Look for fluid lines, wrap dresses, belting at the natural waist, and boot-cut pants.
- If your shoulders and hips are proportional but your waist is not defined, and your body shape is straighter, then you are a Style Dial ® #3. Create the illusion of a waistline by adding interest at the hips and the shoulders through the use of epaulets, collars, embellishments or color. Ruching at the waist helps to further define the waistline. The best pants for this type are a graduated flare.
- All body types look gorgeous in wrap tops, a-line skirts, and jackets that are cinched at the waist, so these are universally flattering options.
- Not sure how to direct the client on body type, check www.TheStylistOnline.com for links to our blogs, helpful Pinterest boards, and stylist tips for flattering each body type.
6. Making Up
One of the most dreaded makeup blunders in photography is foundation flashback, which is when the flash bounces off of your foundation, causing your face to appear to be a completely different color than the rest of you. One of the main culprits is foundation with sunscreen, primarily the natural whitening sunscreens like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Switch foundations for the shoot, or applya colored matte face powder (T. LeClerc, Ben Nye, Make Up For Ever) to the face to counteract this. Do not use any HD powders or foundations, because they will cause flashback. The rest of the makeup should be bolder than your everyday look. Don’t be afraid of color. You should make sure there is definition on the eyes, cheeks and lips, because these features tend to fade in photographs if they are not accented with makeup. And while the color should be deep or bold, it should also be flattering. Stay away from harsh, garish colors or overly trendy makeup looks. Berries, reds, corals, plums and pinks are your best picks for lips and cheeks, and choose deep jewel tones for eyes, as well as grey or black. Beware of doing a very dark, smoky eye, as it may cause your eyes to look like they are sunken. And lastly, powder, powder, powder to eliminate shine! If you will be doing makeup for a photo shoot, consider watching one of the many excellent makeup tutorials on YouTube. I recommend the videos of makeup artist Wayne Goss.
7. Grooming for Guys
Some men are reluctant to switch up their style for family photos, so it is important to make sure that (change of reader to family…maybe say “the husband”, or the “man” feels like himself no matter what he is wearing. That said, the details matter at least as much in men, as there are fewer of them. Make sure his shirt and pants are clean and well pressed – no dingy whites. Shoes should be clean and shined. And socks should match the pants, not the shoes. Nothing like a white athletic sock peeking out from a pair of khakis to throw off a whole shot. If he’s game, add interest with details like a cool knit cap, a great watch, or a scarf, when appropriate, as long as these items don’t make him unrecognizable.
8. Artful Accessorizing
It’s trendy today to pile on statement necklace, add armfuls of bangles, and layer multiple colors, but ten years from now, these details will date your photo (This is in line with Timeless #4, but in conflict with the other “trendy” examples). Instead, pick a couple of gorgeous pieces that you love and limit it to that. If they are sentimental or meaningful in some way, even better. For example, if you always wear your grandmother’s watch, or your wedding band, don’t remove them for the picture. Add a single beautiful necklace or cuff, or layer on a few delicate long chains, and you’ll keep the focus where it belongs: on you. This rule of thumb applies to the entire family. One or two carefully selected accessories make a stronger statement than piles of careless ones.
- Men, by nature of their choices, are limited in accessories anyway, which can be a good thing. Eliminate superfluous jewelry (necklace, bracelet) and stick with a wedding band and a bold watch. For added interest, incorporate one of the colors from the shoot into the look through a contrasting watch face.
- Children should look like children, so limit the scaled down versions of adult accessories. If a single, oversized bow suits her style, go for it, but scale back her other accessories to perhaps a single, additional sentimental piece, like a slim gold bracelet. Ditto with gorgeous, oversized flowers. Bands of ribbon and thin headbands look beautiful on little girls. A striking headband or a little cloche can be sweet, but again, when one accessory makes such a strong statement, pare back on everything else. A boldly colored umbrella looks beautiful with a classic neutral outfit.
- Women can express themselves the most here. One of my favorite ways to add interest is through a gorgeous cuff in a strong color or a gleaming metal. If you prefer earrings, make sure they are visible with your hairstyle and not too distracting. Instead of a statement necklace, try adding a lace or pearl collar to a solid dress or blouse.
- A statement accessory is called that for a reason, so one is best, and two is pushing it. The eye needs the statement pieces to add interest, but it also needs a place to rest.
9. Think of a Theme
If it suits your style, and your family, choose a subtle theme to incorporate into your photo. The theme can stem from a setting, a family interest, or even the clothing itself. For our first family photo with my week-old baby girl, we all wore outfits with a touch of Burberry plaid, from my husband’s striped sweater to the plaid collar on my polo dress. The theme was subtle but consistent. Other ideas:
- Snowy white theme with layered piece in shades of white, fur accents
- Fall theme with tweeds, corduroys, and leather
- Vintage theme with soft, dusty colors of mauve, gray and blue
- Black and white pictures with simple, classic clothing
- English country theme with vintage bikes, classic tweeds, etc.
- Neutral colored outfits against a very boldly colored wall
- Black tie formal look on a white couch with a very simple background
10. Hair and Other Details
The best way to wear your hair is in the very best version of your natural, everyday look. Here are a few tips:
- Smooth out the frizz or invest in a blowout, and invest in a trim to clean up straggly ends.
- Anything extreme will appear even more so on camera, so be wary of ombre looks, hair that is too long, too short, too blonde or too black.
- You know your kids’ hair better than anyone, so pick a simple, flattering style that will last and that won’t require too much fuss. If your daughter’s hair always ends up in her eyes, consider a headband or a clip to pull it off her face, preferably one that stays put. Make sure your son’s hair is well-groomed but not so neat and slick that he is unrecognizable.
- Men, if possible, should be clean shaven, unless they wear a beard. No stubble.
- Wait at least a week or two between a new haircut and a photo shoot. Give yourself time to get used to the new cut and to work with it. This applies to the entire family. And it’s best to avoid drastic new hairstyles shortly before a shoot.
- Treat hair accessories as you do any other accessory, and keep balance in mind. A standout hair accessory, whether it’s a wide colored band or a flower, means keeping other accessories to a minimum. Limit yourself to 2 statement accessories (anything bold, oversized, or colorful), and keep the rest of the look simple.
With a little planning and realistic expectations, you can pull off a (relatively!) painless family photo shoot, with gorgeous results!
(For a certified stylist in your area, check out The Stylist Online, or consider one of our super affordable virtual services. And for more inspiration, check out the Family Photos, Family Photo Styling, and Family Holiday Photo Ideas.)
Nada Manley says
Thanks Natalie! I’m glad you found them helpful! Good luck on your shoot!
Nada Manley says
Thanks Briton! Glad you found the tips helpful! Have you picked the color scheme yet?
Nada Manley says
I like those dresses too, Sonja! And the colors are neutral so it’s easy to pick dad/brother outfits to coordinate.
Nada Manley says
Love that color palette Jenny! Do you have the outfits picked out. I’d love to see what you’ve chosen!
Jenny (@escape_inspire) says
Great Post.. Have some newborn photos to take and this will really help.
This post couldn’t have come at a better time–we’re going to do our family pictures this weekend, and I definitely need some of these tips. Pinning, too!
We are just starting to get ready for family pictures at Thanksgiving. These are great tips, thanks!
Sonja Pound says
Great list. I usually really dislike family photos because of trying to coordinate outfits. I like the first image in post with mom/daughter coordinated outfits.
Perfect timing. I think we’re going to be taking our family pictures this weekend. I think our colors are going to be black/white/denim/turquoise.