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Family Portrait - what to wear?

October 2006

We are scheduled to take our 1st family portrait/pictures. I'm uncertain what we should wear? I do not like the pictures I received from friends where they are all dressed the same (khaki's and blue shirts, jeans and white shirts, etc. etc.), the outfits are usually blah and don't express everyone's personality. Does anyone have any advice? I would hate to cancel the sitting because of my indecisiveness. Say Cheese


we recently had our family portraits taken. we also didn't want the same outfits for everyone, but also didn't want any clashing colors. so we kind of settled on a color palette (navy blue, white, green), just to make sure one wasn't wearing fuschia next to someone in red. i think that's the important thing. people can wear different colors, as long as they look good together. the photos turned out great
The reason you see people in blah matching clothes in portraits is because that is often what is recommended by photographers. The theory is that the faces in the portaits are what you see first if the clothes aren't competing for attention. And I have to say, I have a portrait of my sister's family in which they all wore ''whatever'' and it looks like crap. It just looks like a snapshot from an event, not a nicely composed professional photo.

Have you considered black and white portraits? The clothing color would be less of an issue in that case. You could also have everyone wear clothes in the same color family, say a range of blues, purples, deep magentas, etc. That's what we have done with my husband's family and it looks nice. No patterns on the clothes, though. It really stands out and it is the first thing people see. If your kids are young, they could be naked or just wear overalls with no shirt...that is a popular look.

Another argument in favor of the khakis or jeans with plain shirts is that the photo doesn't look totally dated in 5 years as styles change. That is something to consider, too. A photo with toned-down clothes looks timeless.


As a photographer myself I recommend to my clients to stay away from loud, distracting clothing patterns. No stripes, polka dots, plaid, you get the picture (no pun intended :-)

I typically suggest staying with solid colors in a similar color palette so that you're not clones, but you are a cohesive unit. When you look at a family portrait your eye should typically go right to the subject's face, not your shirt.

For lifestyle portraits of kids and such I think bright colors and some patterns are fine. It depends on the type of photograph you are having made. Will you be in a studio or out and about in a park? In any event, have fun! Kristy


Some of the best family portraits I've seen are ones where everyone is in complimentary colors, but individual outfits. A friend of ours does this, and I asked her how she plans it, and she told me that she picks a color palate and then gives everyone their choice of clothing from within this palate (every child has the choice of 2-3 outfits.) This works very well since everyone doesn't have to be in the same color for the pictures (as long as the colors are complimentary, the pictures turn out great!) and this allows for the individuality it sounds like you are looking for Good luck.
For your family portrait, I suggest wearing unobtrusive plain colors that will not draw attention away from the person. The point of family portraits, at least to me, is the faces and eyes of the people, so you don't want the clothing to detract from the faces. For my family, with light skin and fair hair, we wore darker solid colors and were in a dark-ish background at a studio, and the portrait is lovely. If you will be in a studio, they will choose the background that you want or that they think looks best, but if it will be outside or in your home, take the background into account in color, light or darkness, and busy-ness. The one thing you do NOT want to wear, in my experience, is any kind of print or plaid. I recommend solid colors or a VERY subtle pattern at most. The photographer in our case specifically suggested dark reds, blues, or browns. I hope this helps. happy with our picture
I'm guessing you are opting for a color photo, but if black and white is an option, that is one way to avoid most color- clashes. As for the ''matchy'' outfits some people wear for photos, I too get creeped out by them. We've had some luck by just staying within the same general palette, and steering clear of busy patterns, logos, etc. Assuming it's 2 adults + kids, I think it's easiest if one parent at least wears something ''boring'', ie. white-ish shirt/blouse, jeans/khakis, and then perhaps the other adult who wants to wear something more colorful doesn't have to worry about clashing. Keep in mind that ''most'' of the time, the photo set-up will hide adults' pants/bottoms. And then you can work the kids' wardrobe around the adults Besides, their clothes are smaller, so any clash won't be as noticeable as between adults. More than anything, just have fun. We have some awful photos taken last year after I'd just given birth, and my husband is missing a button AND has his cell phone hooked to his pocket, while my breastmilk was leaking through my shirt. We didn't even order them but always crack up at them when we see them at my in-laws anon
Why, holiday sweaters, of course! J/K. I am with you about not liking the all in jeans and khakis thing. It is a misled attempt to look ''timeless'' when actually it screams ''late 1990s Gap ad''. I think you should wear (and dress your family in) whatever you wear for a special occasion, or just what you wear on a regular day. Look like you are all going to the same place, but don't dress in the same exact outfits, colors, or patterns. (Exception for the kids--they can dress alike if you want.) Avoid anything that is going to be too distracting or really clash with someone elses outfit, but that doesn't mean you are bound to blue, black, and beige. anon
The reason photographers recommend people wearing the same thing for a portrait is the picture looks cleaner and you focus on the people, not the clothes. Especially if you have a lot of people in the photo. While it's great that everyone has their own individual taste in clothing, I'm not sure if the family portrait is the best time to express this. I was against the matching thing for a long time but in comparing portraits of my family over the years, I have to say, when we all dressed alike (or close to it) they looked more modern and everyone just looks great. it doesn't have to be khaki pants and white shirts tho. It would depend on if you're doing it in a studio and what type of back ground and such, but maybe everyone can wear black. I've seen photos like that and you mostely just see the faces. Or, bottoms can be individual but all the tops should match. anon
We took a family portrait with 14 people, grandparents, parents and kids. Our portrait was taken outdoors in a park so we dressed casually. Some wore jeans, others wore khakis. Everyone wore a different shirt or top, but in a range of shades of blue or purple. (These were the colors we decided on as a family.) Choosing 1,2 or 3 different colors was suggested by our photographer. You can choose the colors you like, but keep them complimentary so they don't take away from the photo. You want people to look at your smiles, not your clothes anon
I recommend plain white or black shirts for portraits. No logos, no stripes or frills. The clothes don't date the picture so much and you focus more on the faces of the people. K
I'm with you - sometimes those identical outfits are a little too perfect. BUT... when I was a teenager, 5 of us went to take a portrait. 4 were each in bright primary solids, and I was in a burgundy flowered blouse. The pics were HORRIBLE.

So maybe you can just agree to wear outfits that complement each other and are in the same color families. Like any variation of navy/burgundy/forest green - if that's your style. Or each person picks their favored outfit, and you decide ahead of time if they'll all look harmonious together or just liek an eyesore, and then you make some compromises. My Eyes Hurt


A good family portrait should draw attention to your lovely, smiling faces, so the clothes should not be distracting. Solid colors, simple lines, and timeless styles will serve you well. Patterns don't always photograph well and can look busy, and super-trendy outfits may look super-dated a few years from now. I agree that you don't want to be too ''matchy-matchy,'' but on the other hand if you're taking a color portrait you may want to put on all your outfits and check that the colors work well together and don't clash. I've also heard that though many of us like to wear black, it's not the best color to be photographed in. Have fun!
For our family photos, my husband and I wore black and we dressed my daughter in bright colors. The pictures turned out really nice. The black and white photos were really crisp and the color ones were great because my daughter stood out. anon

Being more photogenic

Jan 2006

Does anyone have any advice about taking better photographs? When I look at pictures of myself everything seems to look bad ... double chin, weird smile, slightly crazed eyes ... people consider me to be attractive in person yet all of the features that look ''exotic'' in real life just look odd in pictures. Any advice? Funny Face in Photos


I've struggled with the same things! I almost always look better in candid photos than in staged ones, so the first thing I do is try my best to relax. Easier said than done when you're already stressed about looking funny in the photo, but try! If possible, I find a longer photo session, rather than just a single shot, helps me relax. Also, through experimentation in front of a mirror (sounds crazy, but try it!) I've found out a number of things: I look best when I turn my head to a 3/4 angle; I generally look better with a half-smile than a full one in posed photos; holding my shoulders back and down a bit gives me a flattering posture. If you plan to smile try to laugh so your eyes are engaged and the smile looks genuine. And photographers are always telling me to keep my chin up, so that must be worth something, too. It can be hard to balance relaxing and thinking about all these details, but I have found my photos have improved quite a bit since I started all this stuff. Good luck! looking better
My job requires that I am photographed constantly, after so many strange smiles I have learned what is key. Before the photo is snapped, relax your face - then focus on something really pleasant, like picturing your child doing something funny, the instant your photo is being snapped. Works everytime. For double chin, you need to look up slightly and turn your head to the side slightly. kim
People make fun of me because I have the same face in every picture but it is because I figured out years ago what looks good in a pic. Part of your problem is probably people are snapping shots when you are not expecting it. So start by watching out when you see a camera around. Analyze the problems with your pics and practice a face in the mirror that fixes it. For ex., double chin--keep your tilted slightly chin up, never down. Notice if you have a good side and tilt your face that way toward the camera. If it is that important, you have to do what models do and develop a look. Or, just toss out the bad pics! Photogenic
Photography has been an important hobby of mine for the past twenty years and one thing I have learned is that the relationship between the photographer and their subject/s is the most important factor in the quality of the photo. I would suggest having a friend who you trust, and are close to, and who knows their way around a camera, spend an hour or two having fun, laughing, while they snap away with the camera. As hard as it might be, forget about the camera and have fun. I think you will be surprised at the results. steve
Here are a few tricks. 1) To avoid double chins, have the camera angling down, like from above your head. 2) Instead of facing the camera head on, a 3/4 view of a face is usually more flattering. 3) Whatever is closest to the camera looks the largest, so if you want your bottom half looking smaller, lean forward some how (like over a chair or a bench); 4) cover up the parts you would rather not see (e.g., stand your kids in front of your thighs). 5) Relax and look natural - think of something funny so that you have a natural smile on your face. 6) Lighting is key - photos taken in the shade or on a cloudy day give the skin good color. Try to avoid using the flash. 7) Put on lipstick - it makes a big difference. Helena
I think most people think they are not photogenic. I think I am very unphotogenic, especially as I age. For me, the way to deal with this is to try and not care so much. Our society has taught us that we should look a certain way. Therefore, when we don't measure up, it is yet another way to find fault with ourselves. Be easy on yourself. Try to think of yourself as unique. That is probably how the friends who you say think you are attractive see you. They are not looking at a photo. They are looking at the whole picture. That us what you need to do. Have you seen yourself in videos? That presents a much truer picture of how you look to others. signed, Been There Susanne
Long ago I learned that you should tilt your head slightly down - you'll have to play with the amount to find a balance between a double chin and a wide nose - I think cocking your head slightly to one side works too as long as your chin isn't too high. Jill

High Pressure sales & Photographers

Dec 2006

We got a family photo session taken with a photographer. The photo session took 3 hours- the kids loved it- so the photos turned out great. I tried to get my husband to commit to how much we wanted to spend before going into look at the results but all he could say was lets see how they turn out and if they are great- get them. Well they were great and I felt physically sick after ward and my husband was in shock at the cost. During the viewing I would say no, the photographer would say really? you have to get that one and my husband would say lets get it. I have learned to choose a photographer that allows you to buy the proofs, or proofs come with the sitting fee, and allows you to view the photos privately or on line. Any other suggestions out there? Has this happened to anyone else? Sucker


I would advise that in the future you and your husband agree as to how much you are going to spend before going shopping. The photographer used your husband's desire to spend more than you would have liked to on the pictures to sell them and it worked. When my wife and I go shopping, we always decide in advance how much we are going to spend. That way when people try to sell us on things, we come across as a united front and we can't be manipulated. Anon
Your posting made me feel sad! As a photographer who deals with clients and sales all the time I was bummed to hear that you had this experience. Please don't think all photographers are this way! What should have happened is that the photographer should have prepped you for the cost by saying something during your intitial consultation. For example, ''typically my clients spend around $1000-$3000 for final art prints''. My clients receive a ''proof magazine'' (12 images up on 8.5x11 size prints which are spiral bound) and online hosting for 60 days included with the session fee. That's my way of doing it, but there are so many different ways that photographers package their offerings. No way is right or wrong, they are just different. Kristy
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