So you’ve found a date that suits and booked that professional photographer for that family photo shoot you’ve been planning for ages.
Now the day is almost upon you and you’re madly checking the weather and trying to figure out what everyone should wear.
And it’s almost time to meet the photographer.
And then, all of a sudden, the panic can set in.
This happened to us a few years ago when we organised a photo shoot to capture our boys when they were 5, 3 and nearly 1. We’d spent a bomb on professional photos for our two eldest children a couple of years earlier (you know, in that phase when you’ve decided you’ve finished your family and then, woops, you go on to change your mind) and decided we wanted some professional photos to capture our youngest as a baby.
The day arrived and while I had thought about what the kids would wear, I hadn’t given much thought to what I’d wear.
In fact, I wasn’t even expecting to be in the photos. That may sound a little odd but I’d fractured my ankle and was wearing a moon boot at the time. Being in a photo was the last thing on my agenda. The plan was to capture the kids at home so I thought photos of the kids would be the focus.
Despite this, our gorgeous photographer Rachel Devine suggested that Mr SnS and I feature in a few shots. We did, and she ended up taking one of my most favourite photos of our family ever. We don’t look perfect (I didn’t even wash my hair that day or have a much needed spray tan) but it perfectly captures the happy chaos of our lives at this time.
I’ve spoken to other friends who’ve similarly panicked or not really had the time or mental head space to think through what a family photo shoot may involve. Booking the photographer feels like the main job but really, there is a lot more that can be done to ensure that the photos capture your family at their best and are photos you’ll look back on with pride and gratitude.
With this in mind, I approached two friends, Rachel Devine of Rachel Devine Photography/Sesame Ellis and Rebecca Jewell of Little Red Photography, both of whom are professional photographers based in Melbourne, who photograph their own and other people’s children regularly and have photographed our family or me (Bek took these photos of me for Missy Confidential last year).
I asked them to provide us with tips to ensure that we are prepared for our next shoot and have some idea of what to wear or avoid wearing. In the second part of this series, I’ll share some outfit ideas for the whole family.
What should people avoid colour/print and style wise for a photo shoot?
Bek: Firstly I should say up front, that the main thing is to be comfortable. A family photo shoot should be a relaxed and happy event. Wearing clothes that make you feel comfortable will help you to ease into the shoot.
It’s not so much about what to avoid, but what works best for you and your surroundings.
For instance, if you are having a garden shoot, surrounded by lots of leafy green foliage, muted greens, browns and oranges will only aid in camouflaging you. If it’s a dreary, overcast day, you might want to re-consider wearing whites and greys and going for a pop of colour or contrast instead.
Contrast is your friend. Make sure you set yourself apart from your background.
Next, look to your skin tone. If you are about to pop on your favourite red winter knit, have a look in a mirror (in natural light if possible) and look for any colour reflections underneath your chin. Does the colour of your top give your skin an altered appearance? Does it make your normally rosy complexion more ruddy. Does that grey top make you look washed out, or does that rusted colour give your skin a sallow appearance?
Use colour & contrast to bring out the best in your features and skin tone. As I’m writing I just noticed a woman walk into the coffee shop with black jeans & a black top – nothing too fancy at all! But my attention was immediately drawn to her face and blue eyes by the lovely white scarf with little bluebird pattern.
In terms of what to avoid, the main thing I suggest people avoid wearing are any clothing with large logos or motifs/characters. These graphics, particularly logos and well known characters can really detract from the focal point – your lovely faces. Peoples eyes will naturally be drawn to those in the first instance.
Rachel: I think that people should avoid any overly branded clothing and outfits that are too casual. I want to see people looking comfortable in their portraits, but I also want to see them looking like the best versions of themselves. Tracksuits are hardly ever a good idea as wardrobe for a professional portrait.
For example, I think it is wonderful that my son loves Skylanders, but I would not dress him in his Skylanders branded hoodie for a professional portrait. That garish combination of colours and characters might make him happy right now, but it will not stand the test of time in a proper portrait. I certainly capture him in his favourite clothes in snapshots, but would select something more timeless and less distracting for a professional session.
What colours/prints (if any) and styles work best?
Rachel: I like to have a mix of fabrics for texture. Lace is beautiful for little girls or as an accent for a woman.
Knit jumpers are something that photographs well. I also like to suggest layers so that there is some visual interest to the outfits. Putting a solid colour cardigan over a dress or a blazer with a t-shirt and jeans can add just that extra little touch of style that makes a portrait special.
While I would advise people to stay away from bright whites on a regular basis (as bright areas of white clothing draw the focus away from the subjects) I do think that everyone in white on the beach or in a white studio looks gorgeous. The hi-key effect is lovely.
I also like spots, stripes and plaids together with block colours if they are subtle and of the same tones. I think just a touch of those extra elements on one or two of the family members makes the collection of clothes together look interesting and slightly spontaneous.
Above is my daughter Gemma – as you can see, the colour of her dress just made her natural cheek colour pop with peach. This is such a simple shot but it’s not boring.
From your experience, is it better if everyone is matching (wearing the same/similar thing) or variations on a similar theme?
Rachel: I prefer to see people in outfits that don’t match, but go together. Like those that have a similar colour palette.
I think that the portraits of families in uniforms of matching t-shirts and denim jeans looks so dated. It also erases any individual personality from the members of the family who are pictured. Unless it is the hi-key look of everyone in white as I mentioned before … even then, one can use different fabrics and styles to keep things interesting.
If the perfect moment arises and you get a gorgeous shot of your own kids in mismatched outfits, just go black and white.
Bek: People often ask about wearing matching clothes. Typically I’d advise against doing this as it is a little dated – but this is really personal preference. Family photos with everyone wearing matching jeans and white shirts don’t appeal to me – but they might to you. If you wish to style your shoot a certain way, you should feel comfortable in doing so. These photos are going on your wall in the end! Your photographer should respect your ideas and styling.
Lastly on the list of things to avoid, if matching outfits aren’t your thing, it’s a good idea to ring around and get a rough idea of what everyone plans to wear.
Are there particular colours that should be avoided?
Rachel: Personally, I hate to photograph reds, oranges and bright pinks. Actually any neon or overly saturated colours make me cringe as well. But for me, red is the hardest to get right in photos. It can end up looking too pink or too orange and sometimes if not exposed perfectly, it can look both of those wrong colours at the same time! Oh how I hate to see clients show up with red clothing!
What do you think works best generally speaking?
Rachel: I love a semi casual look. I tell people that they can think about what they would wear to an afternoon at the theatre. Nothing too dressy, but something they take pride in wearing. Outfits that make them feel beautiful.
Bek: In terms of the types of clothing, shirts with collars are fantastic for framing the face.
Scarves are great for adding colour and interest, as are statement necklaces or other pieces of jewellery.
Hats and caps are fine, but don’t hide the eyes.
Shoes …. people usually forget about this part. Make sure your shoes are neat and go with your outfit. They don’t have to be top shelf, but ensure that they are clean and in good appearance.
If you are wearing a button up shirt, be sure that the buttons don’t pucker.
If you are wearing a sheer top, think about your clothing underneath – particularly if your photographer is going to use additional lighting.
Think about clothing that might slip or sit off the shoulder – some photographers will charge you for cloning your bra strap you didn’t want to see from your favourite image!
If you wear foundation, ensure that the coverage is even and there are no lines around your neck. If you go for the spray tan, that’s absolutely fine, but just don’t overdo it or you could appear too orange or muddy looking.
If you are a hair up person, make sure you choose a style suitable for the day – you don’t want to constantly be fighting the wind blowing stray hairs over your face.
Does any of the above change if the photos are taken inside or in natural light?
Rachel: Background should always be taken into consideration when choosing outfits for a portrait. If the images are to be taken at sunset in a field of yellow flowers, the family would look amazing wearing a palette of violet, blues and cyans as they are the colours opposite yellow/orange on the colour wheel. The yellow of the field and the warm (orange) tone to the light will be set off beautifully by their opposing colours.
The same family might look amazing in a warm toned collection of clothing (think tans, brown and oatmeal) in a studio session though where the background and lighting can be controlled.
And finally, is anything else that you think might be relevant?
Rachel: Think about jewellery and shoes as well. Nothing can ruin a shot faster than ratty sneakers or a giant necklace that takes away from the subject’s face. When investing in the services of a professional photographer and the expense of high quality prints or canvases, it is a good idea to give consideration to all the details as these images will be family treasures and gazed upon for many years.
Bek: Personally, I love it when people add a bit of colour or drama to their outfit. I adore good blocks of colour and statement accessories.
If you love prints, by all means wear them – your clothes really to help tell a story about who you are. One of my favourite shoots included a mum who wore a pair of pants which were all kinds of crazy loud colour and pattern. But it was teamed with a plain block colour top and scarf. Our session was taken in the concrete courtyard of the Abbotsford convent – a very old and run down background. She just made the photos come to life!
Again, a huge thank you to Rachel and Bek for sharing their photos and expertise with us all. We appreciate it so much. You can find links to their websites and blogs above. x
Have you had a family photo shoot? Did you feel confident about what to wear? Were you happy with how it all turned out? Did any of the above surprise you or would it help you in future?