Mom holding her two kids - how to pick colors for photo shoot

How to Decide What Colors to Wear for Family Photos

Color Schemes and Ideas to Wear for Family Photos

I’ve had to dress my own family for our yearly photos, so I know how overwhelming it can be to try and decide what colors to wear. There are just so many options! I’ll give you a great starting point and inspiration for awesome color combos, and hopefully make it a bit easier for you.

What colors look best for family photos

What colors to NOT Wear (much of)

I’ll start by saying that this is my personal preference, and not everyone will agree. But I’ve been photographing families for over 10 years and by now I have developed a style and figured out what colors I just don’t enjoy when it comes to family photos.

Black: I find that it dulls the image. Also, details get lost in the darkness. Having a small bit of black isn’t a big deal, but an entire dress or shirt is not something I’d recommend.

Dark Blue: Super dark blue can have the same problems that black has. I just don’t love it. But again, small amounts don’t bother me, and jeans don’t count.

Neon: Aside from being so bright that it will draw the eye right to it, rather than to the subjects, it also can cast colors onto skin. It’s just a mess. Avoid neon on any article of clothing (even the soles of shoes!)

Bright White: Bright white tends to end up looking blue in photos, rather than actually looking white. It takes a lot of work to get it looking correct while editing. It also is so bright that it can cast bright white onto faces and wash out skin. Off-white or cream are great, though! And you can probably get away with a bright white if the article of clothing is textured (like lace or something). 

Bright Red: Red is one of the hardest colors to photograph. It often casts colors onto skin, just like neon colors do. Dark reds are beautiful, though.

Bright Blue: Okay, so I’m just really not a fan of blue for photos at all unless it’s in small doses. But bright blue is just too much for me. Especially if you’re booking an outdoor session, it just looks unnatural in nature. I’m not into it. I really love warm images, so when there’s too much blue, it cools everything down and my eyes don’t love it as much. Maybe I’m weird.

Understanding the Color Wheel

If you don’t feel like learning this, feel free to skip to the next section. This is for the super serious people who want to understand a bit about why certain colors go together and how to figure that out.

color wheel - understanding what colors to wear

So here’s the color wheel. You can use it to pick out colors that go together. If you look at the last row of the image below, you’ll see a bunch of different ways to pick out colors that will look good together. You can use any of these color relationships on the color wheel to find harmonious colors. Just start with one color, and check out what colors will work based on the different patterns. More on this below.

Also keep in mind that you’re going to want to choose muted versions of these colors, as the color wheel is super bright. 

color wheel, color theory diagram

Using Color Relationships to Choose What to Wear

Complimentary: As shown in the graphic above, complimentary colors are directly across from each other in the color wheel. If you want to really make a statement and stand out, this is the way to go. I’d suggest using one of the colors for a base, and then adding the other color in as an accent (a smaller piece of clothing, or maybe in a pattern so there isn’t too much of it.) Example: Below dad is in an olive green, and mom is in maroon (red and green are complimentary)

complimentary colors - family playing with their baby boy

Triad: If you make an equal sided triangle, you can select three colors that will look really good together. This is also pretty stand-out so you will want to again choose one or two colors as the main colors, and use the other one or two sparingly. Example below: Turquoise, yellow-orange, pink (in the flowers)

family dancing and playing near cliff - what colors to wear for family photo shoot

Square & Tetradic: Four colors on the color wheel that form a square or a rectangle. It may be difficult to use four colors in one family’s outfits, but it can be done when choosing patterns with some color, or smaller accents. I’d suggest again picking one or two to be used more, and the other two or three in small amounts, or choose very muted versions of the colors, like in the example below. Example: We have tetradic colors, but very muted versions. Blue, purple, and orange, with a subtle amount of muted yellow in baby’s striped romper.

Family of five standing with greenery around them - what colors to wear for family photos

Analogous: Three colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. This would be more subtle. Example: The flowers in mom’s dress have red-orange and orange, the little boy’s outfit is a muted red-orange, and the little girl’s dress is a yellow-orange. The orange flowers surrounding them also help to create this Analogous look.

Mom holding her two kids - how to pick colors for photo shoot

Monochromatic: This would be the same color but in different shades (lighter or darker versions of it). I love it when this is used for two or three people. Maybe mom is in a dark green dress, and baby is in a light green romper. But then you can still add in other colors (or maybe neutrals) for the rest of the family. Example: Mom and daughter are in two shades of pink, dad is in a neutral, and both the boys are in two different shades of blue. So we’ve used monochromatic colors twice!

This is obviously just a starting point, but you can use this to help figure out what goes with what. Or just ask me for recommendations if you aren’t sure 🙂

Neutral Colors Are Your Friend, Wear Lots of Them to Your Family Photos

Neutral colors are typically not found on the color wheel and can also be referred to as earth tones. They go with almost anything, and I suggest using a lot of neutrals, and only a small amount of other colors. The brighter the color, the less there should be. Neutrals are things like off-white, gray, cream, taupe, etc. Here’s a bunch of neutrals/earth tones to inspire you! You can even create outfits using only neutrals and it looks really good. But adding in some color is great, too!

neutral earth tones diagram

Sticking to all or mostly neutrals the easiest route to take, because all neutrals go together, so you can’t mess it up!

Here’s an example of a family that wore all neutrals:

And here’s a family that wore mostly neutrals but added in one pop of color in mom’s dress:

Family ticking each other - PDX family photos

Color Schemes and Combos that I Love

I’ve created some color schemes for you to get inspiration from when deciding what colors to wear for your next family photos. You may need to add more neutrals or use a few less colors depending on the size of your family, but these are a good starting point!

collage of colors to wear for family photos
color schemes for family photography
three different color palettes for family photos
colors that look good for photos
muted color schemes for family photos

Where to Shop

There are so many choices here, but I’d suggest starting with Zara and H&M for the boys, I’ll usually find a solid men’s Henley or sweater at Kohls or Target, I love Joyfolie for little girls, Jamie Kay for babies, and for women there are tons of amazing places: Free People, Jen’s Pirate Booty, Roolee, Joyfolie, Wren & Ivory, and Vici. There are lot’s of options out there that I love, these are just a few ideas to get the ball rolling.

If you’re in a hurry and need something quick, you can find tons of things on Amazon! I’ve saved some ideas for men and boys here, ideas for girls here, and ideas for women here.

Other What to Wear for Family Photos Posts

If you’re interested in learning more about what to wear for family photos, more than just colors, I wrote more on the subject:

Patterns: What to Wear for Family Photos

What to Wear for Maternity Photos

What NOT to Wear for Photo Sessions

What to Wear to Your In-Home Lifestyle Session

How to Prepare for Your Overcast Photo Session

How to Dress for Winter Family Photos

I also have a What to Wear page on my website, and you can get inspiration from my Pinterest Board where I pin outfits I think would look great in photos.

Book Your Own Family Photos

If you’re in the Portland, Oregon area and interested in booking your own family session, you can take a look at my portfolio, pricing, and availability, or send me a message if you have further questions! I’d love to plan a fun family session with you!

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