what to wear for family photos

What NOT to Wear to Your PDX Family Photo Session

What NOT to wear to your next family photo session with me

I’m always talking about what to wear for your family photo session, but what about the things to avoid? Sometimes it’s easier to just read what NOT to do, rather than the millions of possibilities of what would look amazing, right?

Also, keep in mind that these are just my opinions, and things I’ve realized I don’t love after photographing families for 10 years. Feel free to ignore any and all of this if you like the opposite!

All photos in this post are great examples of what you SHOULD wear ❤.

And if you look closely, you will see that I’ve hidden some links to super awkward family photos throughout this post, too ????

Do NOT wear the wrong shoes

There are two ways you can go wrong here.

The first is wearing uncomfortable shoes that you can’t move around in during your photo session (yeah, I’m talking to you, moms!). Most of my sessions involve play, so if you’re in heels, it’s going to be really tough to let loose and enjoy your family. I also have many locations that require a bit of walking, which would be difficult in heels. If you really want to wear them, I’d suggest bringing another option you like for the more playful images, and save the heels for a few select photos.

The second way you can go wrong with footwear is to wear a style that doesn’t go with your outfits. Specifically, any athletic shoes typically don’t look great. Also, any shoes with neon on them (even the soles!) really stick out and draw focus. I also don’t recommend all white shoes (unless they’re sandals) because they stand out too much. Especially on guys. Know what is a great color for guys, though? Brown. Can’t go wrong with brown.

One more thing… don’t forget to plan socks! This is probably the very last thing anyone ever things about. But if your kid is wearing bright neon socks and your colors are earth tones, then the socks are going to stick out like a sore thumb. Make sure the socks don’t have logos on them that are visible above the shoe. You’re all going to be moving around a lot, running, sitting, etc. Socks will show at some point, I guarantee it, so plan it out ahead of time.

Below is a photo with great shoe choices!

Please don’t wear too much blue!

Okay, this is a personal preference, but I’ve found over the years that any time clients wear tons of blue, something looks off to me. Maybe because I tend to edit warm, and love to play with the golden sun, and blue sucks up the warmth from the image. So if you’re wanting to add blue to your session, stick to only one article of clothing (or two if one is a pair of jeans). And always avoid bright blue! My favorite shades of blue are a bit dirty. That sounds funny to say, but I just mean they are muted and not bright. The example below shows a family who added only one blue item and it’s a great shade! There are also other warmer colors to balance it out and keep their images from looking too cool.

styled photography in portland

Avoid wearing clothing that doesn’t fit well

Seems obvious, but it’s an important one. Let’s focus on guys, here. Dads will be throwing their kids in the air and lifting their arms a lot, so a shirt that is too short isn’t ideal. Test the shirt out at home! Lift arms above your head and see how it looks.

Another thing to consider in this same realm is the length of the mom’s dress. Don’t wear anything too short for the same reason… arms lifting and bodies swaying.

Another mistake that moms can make is to wear a dress that doesn’t cover their bra correctly. If needed and you’re comfortable with it, skip the bra and wear pasties so you don’t have to worry about it! Constantly adjusting bras isn’t going to lead to a carefree session. 

Do not wear the wrong pattern

So this one can go wrong a few ways. Don’t wear a pattern that’s too big, it overwhelms the subject. But at the same time, you don’t want a tiny pattern if the colors are too contrast-y (a light and a dark color together). A perfect example of this is men’s shirts that have tiny checker patterns because it looks trippy when photographed. Same with super close-together stripes. Below is a great example of good patterns.

Matching outfits are out, coordinating is in

I know it was a big thing for a while to wear matching outfits/patterns but I really love when there is a variety of colors and patterns. So if you’re shopping and see mommy and me outfits or matching sibling outfits… just keep looking! The main reason for this is that anyone wearing the same color is going to blend into each other. It looks much better to have a separation between people so you can see where one person ends and the next starts 😉 If you want to wear the same color as someone else in your family, just pick a different shade so there is a difference. See how in this example below, everyone is in a different color so you can really see where each person is, even though they are all super close? That’s what we want. And definitely never put your entire family all in different shades of the same color, you want variety.

Family sitting together in the columbia river gorge

Don’t wear turtlenecks, high collars, or hoodies

Covering up the neck area is not very flattering and can add bulk, so if you need to add extra warmth in the colder months, wear an extra layer or stylish jacket rather than wearing a turtleneck. This also applies to tightly wrapped scarves. I want to see that neck!

When dressing little boys in the winter especially, be careful of the collar! If you pick up your child, does the collar stick up and cover your child’s face? Even if the answer is “sometimes” then I suggest you choose a different sweater. The same goes for vests and anything that could potentially block part of your child’s face.

Hoodies aren’t a great idea because the hood can flap in the wind and it ends up looking weird. It also just feels too casual to me.

what to wear to your family photo session

Avoid putting your family in the wrong colors

I’ll start by saying this is all my personal preference, but if you like my work then you probably agree with me, right? Lol. I’m not a huge fan of black clothing items. All the details get lost in the shadows and it also just dulls your images. Dark gray, dark wash jeans and dark olive are great substitutions for black, though! But maybe not navy, because again, I don’t love blue, haha.

And on the opposite end, wearing bright white is also not my favorite. It can cast bright spots onto faces in certain light, or look blue rather than white. Off-white and cream are great, though, and also white lace is fine because it has so much texture.

Neon! Don’t do it! ????

Always add in some neutrals (like cream, brown and gray). Choosing too much color and not enough neutrals is a mistake. For example, do NOT have everyone wear different shades of purple and yellow. Instead, have someone in a floral dress with some light purple/mauve (avoid bright purple), another person in a light yellow, someone else in cream, and another in brown. This way the colors aren’t so in your face and everything flows nicely. Example below:

Do not get too formal for your photo session

Obviously, you want to look nice for your photos, but it’s more of a relaxed vibe. We are going to be playing games and having fun so wearing bow ties and blazers just doesn’t make sense. For dads in particular, I’d stay away from dress pants and business shirts because they tend to look uncomfortable, and the point is to have fun! Also, basic long-sleeved business shirts are too puffy so they just aren’t flattering in photos (plus they have no texture so they look too silky to me). 

best portland fun family photographer

Stay away from logos, characters, and words on clothing

You probably already know this, but it’s super important not to wear any words, logos, or characters of any kind on your clothing. Even that tiny Nike or Carhartt logo in the top corner of your t-shirt is going to draw the eye there rather than the subject of the photo… your family! That’s the entire point of your photo session so let’s keep the attention on you.

Don’t put babies in skirts

I would absolutely recommend that any baby or toddler who will be held more than 50% of the photo session should not wear a skirt or dress. One reason is that their diaper is probably going to end up showing. You can definitely get some cute bloomers but there is something else to consider. Parents are always trying to make sure they don’t squish the skirt so they put it over their arm while they hold the baby. But then it looks like she’s just floating there. My images are all about connection so I want to see your arms wrapped around your little girl, not a floating baby.

So here’s a better option! Put her in a romper! Or a cute top with cable-knit tights and ruffle-butt bloomers over them. Or adorable baby bell-bottoms and a top. Something without a skirt. There are lots of super cute options out there!

baby girl in bell bottoms on beach

Try not to forget the little details

Check for the small things that sometimes go overlooked:
-Scrunchies and hair-ties on wrists
-Food in teeth or on kids’ faces
-Watches that are too modern (they just really stand out and date your photos)
-Phones or keys in pockets (or anything, really. Empty those pockets!)

what to wear

Lastly, don’t forget to be yourselves!

Infuse your own personalities into your outfits if you can. If your daughter loves twirly dresses then put her in one, but if she hates them, go for some bell bottoms with a knotted tee or a romper. If your little boy is obsessed with the color orange, find a way to incorporate that into his outfit. Obviously, I love to photograph the movement of a dress but if that’s also not your style, add the movement in another way, like wearing a lace duster/kimono over your jeans and top. You want to look good but you don’t want to wear things you are uncomfortable in. So next time you are asking yourself what to wear to your family photo session, remember to put some of your own style into it!

photo session in vancouver washington and portland oregon

So what should you NOT wear for family photos?

  • Athletic shoes or uncomfortable shoes
  • Socks that don’t go with the rest of the outfits
  • Too much blue
  • Clothing that doesn’t fit well
  • Patterns that have too much contrast (example: a light background with a dark pattern), small checkered pattern, or close together, thin stripes.
  • Matching outfits!!! Don’t do it!
  • Turtlenecks, high collars, or hoodies
  • Bright white, neon, or too much black
  • Formal clothing
  • Characters, logos, and words on clothing
  • Skirts/dresses for babies
  • Digital watches (like an apple watch)
  • Anything in your pocket
  • Messy faces or dirty teeth
  • Hair ties on wrists

Learn More About What to Wear to Your Next Photo Session

Now that you know what NOT to wear to your family photo session, hopefully, that will help you figure out what you SHOULD wear. And if you want to read more about styling, check out my What To Wear page. It has suggestions on where to shop and lots of good tips and examples. If you’re looking for where to purchase clothing, I have lots of recommendations in the following articles, but you can start by searching for dresses online, or beautiful little girls and womens dresses, baby clothing, or outfits for all ages here.

Here are more blog posts I wrote on the subject of what to wear:

Patterns: What to Wear for Family Photos

What Colors to Wear for Family Photos

What to Wear for Maternity Photos

What to Wear to Your In-Home Lifestyle Session

How to Prepare for Your Overcast Photo Session

How to Create Movement with Styling for Your Photography Session

You can also get inspiration from my Pinterest Board where I pin outfits I think would look great in photos.

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  1. I love family photos. Yes, you are right about being yourself. Many of us want the photos to be ‘perfect’ but it’s not about being ‘perfect’. it reminds you to be the unique family as you are.

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