Family Session Guide

What to Wear to Your Session

Creating a beautiful portrait of your family is partly technical and partly artistic.  By hiring a professional photographer you don't have to think about most of these things...except for  your clothing choice.  How you dress plays a major role in the artistry of your finished portrait, so it will take some thought and planning.  Choosing clothing for your family session can be  challenging, and even overwhelming.  Even more so when you consider that your family portrait will hang on your walls for years, and will even be handed down to future generations!  I want you to look your very best, and to make you the focus of your portrait so to help you with this I've compiled a list of suggestions and tips.   

Clothing Style

  • For a family portrait I usually suggest a semi-casual look. Choose clothing that makes you feel good and that everyone is comfortable in. Make sure you can move.

  • Choose clothing that is classic and timeless. Trendy clothing will make your portraits look dated very quickly.

  • Fitted clothing is better than loose, flowing clothing. Fitted clothing shows your shape, but loose clothing can actually make you look bigger.

  • Choose clothing with sleeves, at least 3/4 length. Bare arms draws attention away from your face and can make your arms look larger.

Clothing Color

  • A simple rule to remember is that white and bright colors stand out and makes things look bigger, but black and dark muted colors hides things and makes them look smaller. This means that dark clothing is slimming and doesn't draw attention. Dark pants or skirts are always a great choice. I wouldn't recommend white pants!

  • Having everyone totally matching in white shirts, black shirts, or khaki pants is a very classic look. Personally, I love a family in black and denim! And I think kids in white and denim are super cute too.


  • My favorite option is to choose a color palette with two or three colors and co-ordinate everyone around them. First choose one or two neutral base colors, like black (charcoal) and taupe. Next choose one or two complementary colors like blue grey (denim) and brown, and finally choose ONE accent color like camel, or berry, or another. Then everyone can choose their own outfits based on those colors and you’ll all co-ordinate without being overly matched. To make this even more effective try to consider the foliage at the time of your session and pull in one of those colors.

NEUTRALS: charcoal, black COMPLEMENTARY: blue grey ACCENT: camel

NEUTRALS: charcoal, black COMPLEMENTARY: blue grey ACCENT: camel

NEUTRALS: black COMPLEMENTARY: blue gray ACCENT: berry

NEUTRALS: black COMPLEMENTARY: blue gray ACCENT: berry

NEUTRALS: taupe, beige COMPLEMENTARY: blue grey ACCENT: purple

NEUTRALS: taupe, beige COMPLEMENTARY: blue grey ACCENT: purple

NEUTRALS: black, white COMPLEMENTARY: blue grey, brown ACCENT: red

NEUTRALS: black, white COMPLEMENTARY: blue grey, brown ACCENT: red

NEUTRALS: charcoal, black COMPLEMENTARY: blue grey, navy ACCENT: none

NEUTRALS: charcoal, black COMPLEMENTARY: blue grey, navy ACCENT: none

NEUTRALS: black, taupe COMPLEMENTARY: blue gray, navy ACCENT: none

NEUTRALS: black, taupe COMPLEMENTARY: blue gray, navy ACCENT: none

NEUTRALS: white COMPLEMENTARY: blue gray ACCENT: camel

NEUTRALS: white COMPLEMENTARY: blue gray ACCENT: camel

NEUTRALS: white COMPLEMENTARY: blue gray ACCENT: camel

NEUTRALS: white COMPLEMENTARY: blue gray ACCENT: camel

  • Avoid choosing clothing with patterns, include clothing with graphics on them, such as cartoon characters, big logos and labels. It's best to stay away from patterns altogether, or have only one person in a pattern and have everyone co-ordinate around it. Solid colors are generally the best choice because they are less distracting.

  • Avoid choosing really bright colors, neon colors, as well as red, orange, and hot pink. These colors usually don't photograph well.

  • For inspiration you can do a Google image search for "family portraits", or "family photography". Look at the images and you will usually get an idea of what you like and what you don't. Another place you can go for inspiration is my Pinterest page where I have lots of articles and clothing color examples.

How Will Your Portraits Be Displayed?

  • If you are planning on creating a beautiful wall portrait then you want to take your home decor into consideration. Choose clothing colors and style that match the room you want to hang the portrait in.

  • If you are thinking of Christmas cards you might want to choose clothing that is wintery and seasonal.

  • If you want to create a keepsake album then bring accessories and props that can be switched out to create different looks.

Textures, Layers, Props & Accessories

  • When choosing clothing think of adding textures, layers and accessories because they show off your personality and add visual interest to the portrait. They can also can provide a way to create a variety of looks during your session. The challenge is to have these things compliment you but not overwhelm, so don't overdo this.

  • Choose clothing with textures such as: denim, leather, lace, knitting, embroidery, fur, tweed, smocking, ribbons, buttons, ruffles, etc.

  • Create layers with sweaters, hoodies, jackets, vests, etc. and bring accessories like hats and scarves. Jewelery should usually be minimal. I generally recommend not wearing watches unless they complement the portrait.

  • Bring any props you would like to include in the portrait, such as stuffed animals, musical instruments, special blankets, books, etc. I often bring flowers to sessions.

  • Don't forget about footwear! Boots are a great choice and come in a variety of looks. I really discourage runners, sneakers and white socks.

Personal Grooming

  • I cannot stress enough the importance of having great makeup for the ladies. It really does make a huge difference in how your portraits will look. If you don't normally wear makeup that's okay, however I highly recommend that as a minimum you wear foundation to even out your skin tone and cover any blemishes, as well as lip balm to make your lips look soft and moisturized. In fact I even recommend lip balm for everyone in the family. If you would like to book a professional make-up artist please contact me. If you prefer to do it yourself please see my Makeup Tips page.

  • Wear your hair in a style that is normal for you. Professional hairstyling is also a great idea. Unfortunately Calgary can be a windy place, so take that into consideration and come prepared for fix ups.

  • Haircuts should be done at least 2 weeks before your session. This gives you time to get used to a new style, and for hair to grow back slightly.

  • Men should make sure to shave before the portrait session.


What to Bring To Your Session

 Together we are going to create some amazing photographs of your family, and have a great time in the process.   Before your session there are a few things to think about and a few things you need to bring to your session.

  • Any additional clothing and accessories that we discussed in your pre-session consultation.

  • A comb, or hair brush and hairspray for touch ups.

  • Lip balm or lip gloss for the entire family.

  • Comfortable shoes for walking. We will be walking around to various locations during your session so if you are not wearing shoes that are suitable for this please bring along an extra pair of comfortable shoes that you can slip into.

  • Dress for the weather. During the summer this isn't much of an issue, but during the spring and especially in the fall the weather can be changeable here in Calgary. Most people don't want to be photographed in bulky sweaters and coats, but bring them along so that you can slip them on when there is some down time during your session. This is especially important for your kids. We want to keep them happy and comfortable so that the session goes well.

  • Sessions take place outdoors in fields with grass and various trees and flowers, so if you have any allergies you may want to take allergy medication before the session. You don't want to be sneezing, itching and have red, watery eyes during your session. I sometimes bring fresh flowers, or snacks to the session, so if there are any other allergies I need to be aware of please let me know.

  • Any personal props you would like included in your photograph, such as musical instruments, books, teddy bears, etc.

  • Personal water bottles and snacks. Sessions can take up to two hours so a small snack is great to have on hand, especially for the kids.

  • I bring mosquito spray with me, but if you prefer a certain brand please bring it with you.

I hope this session guide has helped you!  If you want a second opinion on your clothing choices just give me a call, or  feel free to take a quick photo of the clothing you are planning to wear and email it to me, or text it to me at 403-680-8039.  If you have questions about what to bring, or anything else, just let me know.  I can't wait to photograph your family!