San Diego family at Lake Hodges in San Diego, CA

What to Wear to a Photo Shoot?

When my kids were little and I scheduled a family photo shoot, I never had any idea what to wear. It was the biggest struggle for me because I was in charge of trying to arrange wardrobe options for everyone in the family. I wanted to wear something that was comfortable and that I would typically wear in day-to-day life, but just a step above that. I ended up choosing things like jeans and a nice sweater, or I would choose a dress but one that was fitted and knee-length. I needed help figuring out what would be best.

Over the last 4 years, I’ve photographed families wearing a wide range of clothing options – from casual jeans to fancy gowns, and everything in between. And I’ve made many observations about what works and what doesn’t. I’ve also come to understand how much wardrobe can make a difference in a family’s images.

So let’s start with what works.

Colors. So many beautiful options for colors. Since I shoot in outdoor locations, I’m a big fan of including Earthy tones – beiges, tans, browns, and greys offer a great base to olive green, rust, marigold, blues. I love starting with just a couple colors as a starting point and then adding complementary tones.

I love this blog post here that gives examples of Earth tone palettes in terms of interior design, but the concept of these colors translates well to clothing options. These tones photograph beautifully in outdoor spaces. Another reason I love this particular post is to get you thinking of colors in terms of how you decorate your indoor spaces. When you receive your beautiful printed artwork from your session, if you’ve chosen clothes that work with the colors in your interior rooms, then the artwork will beautifully complement the space.

Mother and son wearing orange, cream, and green clothing in San Diego Family Photography session

Family of 5 wearing earth tones clothing in San Diego Family Photography session

Fabric. When it comes to fabric, I love classic cotton, but I also love non-traditional fabrics like chiffon, tulle, lace, and satin – anything that allows easy movement, and the more of it, the better. I like to avoid anything that may show wrinkles or that may easily bunch. But even more than the fabric, I love different textures and layers – items with fringe or ruffles, chunky cardigans, cable-knit items. Adding layers such as a vest, a scarf, a cardigan, or a wrap can add more dimension and beauty to the image.

Solids, Patterns, and Stripes, oh my! With the right proportion, it’s possible to incorporate all 3 into your session. I like to stick with mostly solids and then pepper in a pattern or stripe. When it comes to patterns and stripes though, the idea is to not overwhelm or be too distracting. It’s meant to add interest, but not detract from the main part of the image which is the love and connection of your family.

Recommendation for Women. My favorite thing to suggest for all mothers is a maxi dress, a long flowing skirt, or an A-line style dress – something that may be fitted through the torso and then flares out above the hips and has flowing movement. This type of dress flatters all body types and the movement in the dress helps capture emotion in the image. It can be long sleeve, short sleeve, or even sleeveless or off-the-shoulder. Long skirts and kimonos also work beautifully. Of course, this may not be every woman’s preference and I can certainly work with you individually to customize wardrobe options.

Family of 6 wearing beautiful clothing in San Diego family photography session

Family of 3 wearing earth tones clothing in San Diego Family Photography session

Family of 3 wearing earth tones clothing in San Diego Family Photography session

So what doesn’t work then? Just a few things that I try and steer families away from when it comes to clothing. I like to avoid logos or words on clothing. I try and avoid neon colors or bright shades of any particular color, specifically bright reds and oranges. If they’re within those color families but deeper in color or more muted, it can work, such as burgundy or burnt orange. For women in particularly, I try to steer away from tight and/or short dresses/skirts because it limits your range of motion. Secondly, I just ask that women are mindful of bra lines, either visible straps or if the bra can unintentionally be seen through the shirt in color or outline. If you have a dress where a bra doesn’t really work for it, but you’d still like some coverage, I recommend using these.

Thank you for reading this post. I hope you found it helpful. When I help families with wardrobe and styling options for their photo shoot, I always like starting with the mother first. Then I move on to the girls, the boys, and finally with the father. Setting mama’s outfit first helps set the color palette and tone for the session. I’ll be linking posts below where I write about some of my favorite stores. I’ll be starting with women’s clothing first and going on from there for the rest of the family. If there’s anything else you hope I cover about what to wear, please feel free to comment below.

More Information? Check out these posts:

Part 1

Where to buy women’s clothes for photo shoots? [Part 1 of 4]

Part 2

Where to buy women’s clothes for photo shoots? [Part 2 of 4]

Part 3

Where to buy women’s clothes for photo shoots? [Part 3 of 4]

Part 4

Where to buy women’s clothes for photo shoots? [Part 4 of 4]

Girls’ Clothing

Where to buy clothing for girls for a photo shoot?

Baby & Toddler

Where to buy baby & toddler clothing for a photo shoot?


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Kim Belverud