What to wear?

The most commonly asked question by my clients once they have booked is what to wear for my photo shoot.

Memorable family portraits take careful planning, and the clothing you choose is very important to your portrait’s success.  Planning your clothing for your family photo shoot will help us to create an artwork of  a very personal nature. As a decorative focal point in your home or office, it will serve as a reflection of your good taste, as well as an expression of your personal style.  I hope the following guide lines will help you in preparing for your shoot and picking out clothing and props appropriately with the sample colour schemes.


General Clothing tips


  • Very simple garments always photograph best.  No frills or loud patterns.
  • For adults turtle necks or V-necks are flattering provided that neither is exaggerated in style. Avoid very wide or particular deep V-neck garments, as well as bulky cowl neck sweaters that completely hide the neck.
  • For children, make sure they can fit into the outfit and haven't grown out of it since you bought it.  Something they feel comfortable in, ie not too starchy.
  • Long sleeves are essential for teens and adults, as bare arms call attention to themselves and will over power the face.  At the very least cover the upper arms.
  • Wear clothing that fits but does not pinch, you will look larger in tighter clothing, but tent like clothing goes too far!

Harmonious Colour Schemes - Outdoor

In the same way as when you decorate your home, you need to be wearing the same colour tones and compliment each other with similar hues if at all possible.  Below are some ideas of colour combinations for you to try matching up to when you're planning for a location shoot.  Choose clothing in the same tonal ranges so no single member of the family stands out because the clothing is too light or bright compared to the rest of the group.

I would pick no more than 3 colours for your groups clothing

Spring photo shoot

When being photographed in a green park in spring, it's best to stick to neutral hues and soft tones.  You cannot compete with the greens so you need to pick colours that don't jar with it.  If it's a shoot with bluebells or daffodils for example, you could introduce some soft blue or yellow into the garments but again neutrals also work in these environments too.  This means creamy dresses/tops for example.

This is a colour scheme based on the bluebell woods, so any of these colours would work

colour pallete for bluebell woods

outdoor photo shoot

Summer photo shoot

For a summer photo shoot where the trees are a deep green and the grass can be straw yellow, you should choose neutrals/creams/beige, if the grass is still green then you don't want to clash against it with any solid colour so stick with something that will compliment the greens or at least not jar with them.

Here is a colour scheme for high summer, you can also consider a highlight colour if there are some great pink flowers out at the time or red poppies for example.

Autumn photo shoot


For park photo shoots in Autumn, you have a lovely rich colour pallet to choose from, from browns and rusts to navy and dark green.  Compliment the changing tree colours, any autumnal colours in your wardrobe bring them along, just remember scarves and coats need to be in this scheme too.  These are not pallets that you have to match every colour in your outfit, just see if you can find clothes that have mainly these colours in to get the best fit.


 autumn colours for photo shoot


Winter photo shoot

Winter shoots are more to do with browns and greys so go for the darker colours which will make your faces stand out a bit more.

winter clothing pallet

Family photo shoots in Hampstead

Urban photo shoot

For urban scenes, it's best to go for darker hues, again nothing too loud in colour or pattern.  Maybe navy and brown with neutrals.  All black looks good too in urban environments, but this is not to say that a little girl in a red coat won't look amazing amidst the grey urban environment.  So give me a call if you're not sure.

Urban colour pallet

Contrasting Colour Schemes - Outdoor

The above colour pallets are aiming for blending in with your environment and maybe highlighting colours that occur in nature.

You could of course decide to have a more dramatic impact by choosing the opposite colour to the overriding hue.  For example in the summer grasses which are predominantly yellow/straw coloured, you could really stand out in a Purple top. Another example would be, wearing a red coat in an overriding green image.


Look at the colour of the environment in the colour wheel and see what is exactly opposite...these colours will stand out the most.  So in the autumn, against a rust coloured tree, you could wear blue to stand out.

Stand out colours



The Studio colour schemes

The goal of any fine portrait … is to direct the viewer’s attention to the face or faces in the portrait. Simple long sleeved garments in medium to dark tones of brown, rust, burgundy, green, or blue are pleasing choices when photographed against a dark background (the studio has dark brown and dark grey backdrops so these will be perfect here).

Proper clothing allows the face to dominate the portrait. all other elements should be secondary.

  • Bold stripes, tartan, checks and prints are confusing and do not photograph well.
  • Especially bright colours, such as red and orange will completely overpower the face and ruin a portrait.
  • Light colours look fab against the darker backgrounds however you should avoid light colours that approximate your own flesh tones such as peach, beige, tan, pink, white, and yellow. Choose a colour that compliments your skin...I know that I cannot wear peach to save my life (I'm a red head with freckles..and peach looks deathly on me).  Darker shades look great against the paler backdrops.
  • Siblings should choose simple garments within the same tonal ranges. So they should all be wearing beige and white rather than 2 of them in this neutral kit and the other one in a darker outfit.  Light and dark tones together create visual confusion, as one subject comes forward and the others recedes so tell the group to aim for a specific colour range and maybe send them this blog

The Studio has a dark grey backdrop which is great for putting softer colours onto, so don't go for bright blues or reds, soft tones of browns and creams, soft pink or soft blue are fine too.


grey backdrop in studio

studio what to wear

Grey chiffon on grey background

The brown backdrop at the studio can handle warmer colours but again keep the tones down, we don't want any bring colours as they will overpower your face and even the background.


Children's Portrait Photography Ideas


wearing brown on brown background

I don't normally use the white backdrop except for maternity shoots as I find it not so forgiving, but if you wanted to use the white, then wearing white/soft grey/pink colours look fab on it..

white backdrop

So I hope this has given you an idea of how you can find clothing that will work for your shoot.  Give me a call if you need to discuss your options.  Do bring props, scarves, hats etc that fit the colour scheme as they will help to make the portrait your own.

Susan Porter-Thomas London based family photographer BSc MSc LSWPP


+ 44 7815 864 884

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