Family Session Style Guide

Well, hello! Welcome! If you've made it here, that means you've already booked a session with me and are here to learn my session styling tips!

I have photographed a lot of families over the years, and seen so many different color combos, styling, matching, coordinating family outfits. And over the years, I've been able to recognize what types of outfits and colors typically photograph best. 

So, if you're ready, let's dive in! I know family photos are a big commitment and investment with booking the photographer, choosing outfits, coordinating schedules, and keeping the kids fed, happy, and napped (or not napped depending on the age!).  I put this guide together because I want you to TRULY LOVE your photos, to help them feel timeless and beautiful, and to be everything you've dreamed of.

What to expect

Here's my little table of contents to this guide! With this info in hand, you'll be a pro at choosing the perfect outfit in no time. Here's what we'll talk about.

Dressy vs. Casual

Texture -  Patterns - Fabrics

Men's Fit

Colors & Palettes

My Method

Where to Shop

Inspo Collages

General Session Tips

Okay! Let's get started! I'll try not to be too long winded! :)

Dressy  Vs.  Casual

It can be hard to choose which direction you want to go for family photos--more dressy or more laid back. I will say that most of my families (moms, if I'm being real) choose to do a slightly dressier look--with the mom in a dress and family in a dressy/casual look. See the photo below for example! 

 

 

trisha-shelley-photo-4920.jpg

If I were to share my preference (but rememberthere are always exceptions to the rule), I typically recommend dresses. Dresses tend to be the most flattering on a women's figure, they can add texture to the photo, give you something to hold on to, and they certainly dress up the session a bit.  Recently I've had more rompers and cute high waist pants which are darling, but if you're going for the safe bet, the dress is the way to go! 

trisha-shelley-photo-9493.jpg

Texture & Patterns & Fabrics

I love texture. Texture can help take your look to the next level. Whether it's the sleeve style on your shirt/dress (I LOVE an interesting sleeve!), ruffles or layers in dress, embroidery, etc. Patterns are okay, but if you do them, you want something that's not too big, busy, or distracting! You are what we want our focus on, not a wild pattern!

I'm not usually too picky with fabrics, but I will recommend one thing--try to avoid clingy fabrics/knits. Instead go for more cotton or flowy, non stretchy materials. These tend to hang much nicer and photograph very well. Some of my favorite fabrics for dresses and kids clothes are cotton, linen, tulle, lace, chiffon.... But there are so many fabrics out there, so just follow my one recommendations of avoiding the clingy/thin stretchy fabrics/knits and you'll be good! :)

Men's Outfits

Here's a few general rules I like to follow when picking out men's outfits:

-Slim cut is almost always, usually, just about every time....better. It might be hard to convince them, but slim cut shirts and pants are usually the way to go. I'm not talking skinny jean tight, but definitely jeans that are more fitted. That goes for shirts too. Fitted shirts (not too tight), the kind that aren't baggy photograph the best. Baggy clothes tend to look a bit slouchy in photos.

 

-When in doubt, go neutral. Almost always, you'll be trying to coordinate his outfit with the outfit you've already picked out for yourself. Neutrals are always, always a winner! 

-Make any sort of pattern small if you're going to do them. 
 

-Don't feel like you guys have to be matchy-matchy! Coordinating is the way to go!

-This probably goes without saying, but really try to avoid graphic tees and text on shirts! 

-Lastly, when in doubt, Pinterest it out :)

Colors and Palettes

In my time as a photographer I have seen and photographed many, many families and couples with every color scheme imaginable. Over the years I've found that certain colors consistently photograph and edit better than others with my style of photography. So, here they are!


I'm a big fan of pastels and soft earth tone colors. Sage green, pastel blues, tans, blush, cream, etc. Basically a soft tone of any color. I prefer to stay away from bright pinks, bold oranges, and reds because they can bring out red hues in your skin.

In the picture above, you'll see that the bride chose a bright green dress for her engagements and it was STUNNING! So you can go bold if you want. If you do, I recommend just one person wearing the bold color and then the other family members wearing more pulled back simple neutral colors. 

55ec35e7ce537e8f77e022ef8a9b8c16.jpg
dda46bf66e5cc121b34eb9dd021744c4.jpg
de23f04cc7296abb492751fcb1053adc.jpg

Color palettes are one of my best kept secrets. And there's a specific way I recommend using them. First, I recommend not sticking to a particular palette as you start your search for the perfect outfit but to rather follow my general outfit tips and search for your dream outfit first, then we'll build from there! (Mostly talking to you moms out there!) I want you to feel incredible in what you're wearing, so that means you get first dibs on outfit choices! ;) 

Second, after you've found your dream outfit, that's when you can pop over to Pinterest and search "[dress color] color palette". (Example: "blush color palette") You should see a bunch of beautiful options like the ones above pop up. Pick one or two palettes that you love and then you can use those Palettes to base the rest of the family's outfits on! 

Third, I screenshot all my outfit ideas for my family, and use an app like Pic Stitch or Unfold to piece together the outfits to see if they'll look good together. I'm sure there's way better apps, so feel free to use what you like/have.

 

So, let me walk you through this!

 

 1. Pick mom's dress first:  I've scoured the internet and found this gorgeous dress I want to wear for my session. I've checked to make sure the fabric isn't a stretchy knit, I've looked for an interesting sleeve, I love that the ruffles create a pretty texture, and I know it'll kind of hide any areas that I might be self conscience of. 

My Method

Screen Shot 2020-08-27 at 9.12.59 PM.png

2. Pinterest Color Palette: Now that I've figured out my dress, I'll turn to pinterest and look at color palettes I like. For this dress I would type in "pale blue color palette" or "baby blue color palette". Here are a few color palettes that stood out to me from my search. 

a66f6f268b8702bd2a492aaf1e0fa61c.jpg
4236f1743ae45187a6785bd55d3bb961.jpg
49852c0cb97cdf0b4714cf9c4b2e3eb9.jpg
2819894ec919e36f180f69916d23ef74.jpg

3. Pinterest kids clothes ideas: Now I'll use these palettes to search for my family's outfits. For this particular dress, I'm keeping in mind that it is a long dress in a slightly brighter color, so I'll learn toward more of the neutral colors in my search. 

As I start my search, I like to head to Pinterest again and type in "children's fashion" or "children's neutral fashion" to get an idea of what's trendy or in fashion right now as far as kids go. I might expand my search as I get ideas like "girls jumper" or "boy linen romper" or "toddler boy fashion" or "girls fashion". A lot of times I do my best to shop my closet, but occasionally I'll splurge on a cute photoshoot outfit (and try to make it one they can wear to other things as well.) :)

I have a 6 year old daughter and a toddler son that I'm shopping/getting ideas for. Here's a few outfits that stood out to me as I was looking and considering the feel I want for my family photos. At this point, I'm not too worried about colors, more about getting inspiration.

St_Louis_Engagment_session_8001.jpg

I'll even search "family photos" and see if I like any looks from other people's family sessions that I might go for.

St_Louis_Engagment_session_7999.jpg

Images from Pinterest

4. Men's Style: Sometimes I'll do this with men's fashion too. I feel like my husband is the easiest to choose for--I usually just think "neutrals" and "slim fit". Sometimes for some crazy reason, he decides to grow an opinion about what he should wear to the session. If that ends up being the case with your man, and he reeeeallly wants to do the shopping himself, give him my tips, your color palette/colors you want him sticking to, and tell him the look you're hoping for--(think, long pants, button down shirt, sweater, etc.). Hopefully, he'll just let you choose ;) 

St_Louis_Engagment_session_8002.jpg

5. Shopping and Collage-ing: Now that I've gathered ideas, it's time for shopping and piecing together my ideas in an app. I like Pic Collage or Unfold for this. Below I've put together a list of places that have cute things (all at various price points). For me, I typically shop my closet first, and then turn to the internet to finish up what I need :) 

I typically like to shop for first mom, then girls, boys, and lastly dad . 

Once I find a piece I love, I'll screen shot it, or take a pic (if it's from my closet or the store) in good light, and piece the whole family's look together in an app. If I have something similar in my closet I plan on using, sometimes I'll google an example of that and use it for my collage.

So, take a peek at all these combinations of outfits. They all have a slightly different feel to them. I love that it's an easy way to find my favorite combination. (Also, this makes it so easy to send your ideas to me if you want a second set of eyes on it :))

Tip: Do your best to find a photo of the outfit you're using with a lighter or white background, that way the backgrounds don't interfere with the mesh of colors from the outfits. It's not always possible, but it helps :)

Example Combos

St_Louis_Engagment_session_8003.jpg
St_Louis_Engagment_session_8008.jpg
St_Louis_Engagment_session_8004.jpg
St_Louis_Engagment_session_8005.jpg

Was that too many inspo pics? Which one would you choose? Did they each have a slightly different vibe? Also, I really may consider one of these combos! 

  • If you own the outfit, snap a pic of you/person wearing it in good (window) light against a white or light background to use for the collage. (Laid out clothes can work too if need be, but better on). If that's a struggle, google a combo like the one you own (like white shirt and khakis), screenshot it and throw it into the collage.

  • Include hats in the inspo collage, but smaller jewelry isn't necessary. 

  • Don't stress about adding shoes to the collage--just try not to make them too wild colored and you'll be good! 

And that's it! A little further below I've included a few inspo collages for you to get a feel of some different vibes you might go for. But, good luck! I'm sure you'll do great picking out an outfit! I can't wait to see it!

Quick Tips

Places to Shop

Sometimes finding places to shop for mom's dress or kids clothes that don't have wild prints or are the right fabric can be tricky. So if you're stuck, here's a list of Instagram shops, stores, or websites that I've found carry cute clothes. Don't feel like you have to use them!  Side note, I know everyone's budget is a little different. For me, I do justify spending a little more on my outfit, and maybe my daughter's outfit, and go cheaper on the boys. However, I also love to check out places like Kid to Kid or Once Upon a Child (second hand kid stores) to see if they happen to have anything awesome hiding in their racks to save me some cash!  

Women's Dresses

Kids Clothing

Inspo Collages & Palettes

St_Louis_Engagment_session_8010.jpg

Textured Neutrals

family_Session_outfits_8057.jpg

Warm Earth Tones

family_Session_outfits_8061.jpg

Cute & Casual

FullSizeRender.jpeg
family_Session_outfits_8058.jpg

A small pop of color

family_Session_outfits_8059.jpg

Going Glam

Little Black Dress

Camel and Tan Wonderland

General Session Tips

Here's a few general tips to help your session be the best it can be!

-Empty your pockets! Let's take all the keys and wallets out of your fiance's pockets before we start photographing! 

-Be on early! Nothing is more stressful than running late. I can't even tell you how many times our "stressed out, running late" arguments have put a damper on photos. When I look back at the photos, I want to remember all the good feelings looking at them. :) 

-Relax, and just try to enjoy your family. I will ask you to play with them and be a little silly. I do my best to read the comfort level of the kids and see how well they're doing, and choose poses based on that, which I know will look good. :)

Hair & Makeup

Some of my moms prefer to invest in having their makeup professionally done. If this not something you see yourself doing, I recommend doing your makeup a little bolder, wearing fake lashes, and even watching/practicing several wedding makeup tutorials on youtube. The camera doesn't always pick up on the lightest makeup, so even if you feel overdone, it'll probably do better on camera!

Thank you again

Again, I am so excited for your session! I hope you found these tips useful and that they help make the process of finding an outfit for the whole family a little easier! Good luck! And as always, feel free to send me an email if you have questions or want to run something by me!