Seven tips on what to wear – and what to avoid – for your portrait session

When this gentleman opened the door, I knew he was ready for our portrait session.

Barbara Bell Photography makes family portraits fun!

What’s not to love here? His sweet smile had me at “Hello.” He was dressed in his best sport coat, he later told me. {swoon}

Often when I talk with my clients about preparing for their portrait session, the number one question that comes up is, “What should we wear?”  This is true for parents wondering about their family portraits, as well as others wanting a memorable photo captured with their loved ones.

#1 – Everyone should feel comfortable in what they’re wearing.

First and foremost, I want my clients to be comfortable.   Not being comfortable translates into your facial expression, and as hard as we try, when we look at those photos years from now, we’ll remember how we felt on that day.

For example, my husband has a family photo of himself and his siblings.  When he first showed me the framed photograph, he told me how two brothers were teasing each other, and someone ended in tears when their mom yelled at them.  We laugh at this today, but I know his mom just wanted a photograph of all of her children before they went their separate ways as college and careers loomed large at that point in their lives.

Barbara Bell Photography near Chapel Hill, NC encourages you to print and frame your family photographs.

#2 – Everyone gets to pick a favorite  (or how to avoid tears on the morning of your session).

If your child insists on wearing his dragon costume to our session, so be it!

Often, children who insist on wearing their favorite clothes will oblige the photographer who asks for an outfit change.  Have backups at the ready. That shirt grandma sent?  Let’s get it in there between the dragon outfit and the end of the session. Everyone ends up happy!

Barbara Bell Photography brings out your child's best expressions during a family portrait session.

#3 – Wear a solid color, like a jewel tone

Another tidbit I share with clients is to stick with solids, whether they be neutrals or jewel tones.  Often these jewel tones lend a pop of color to the image.  Think sapphire, amethyst, ruby, or emerald.

This client did it beautifully with a bright blue top and this stunning statement necklace.

This mom rocked her outfit for her family portrait session in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Parents hold their children's hands for a while, their hearts forever.

And her smile? It lights up this entire image. {Adorbs, amiright?}

#4 – Mix and match tones in the same color family.

A monochromatic look works well, too.  Everyone is in a different shade of blue, thus allowing the eye to roam from person to person without any one color or tone to dominate.

A child with his parents enjoy a family portrait session with Barbara Bell Photography near Chapel Hill, NC.

#5 – Wear light-colored clothing

Light clothing like white shirts have a way of looking fresh in a photograph.  The classic look of white dress shirts and jeans is a classic look for a reason.  It unites all of the members in the family, like a thread woven through fabric.

A dad and his daughters in our family portrait session | Barbara Bell Photography Family Portrait Session in Chapel Hill, NC

#6 – Have everyone in the same color & then one person standing out with a complementary look.

Sometimes, this unified look will work with the boys having one color and mom being the pop of color in the group.

Capturing a family for their portrait session can often hold surprises.

#7 – Things to avoid

Busy patterns like plaid can often distract the viewer from the subject’s face.  Let’s do a little experiment, shall we?  See the celeb’s photo below?

what to wear and what to avoid for a portrait session

  • Close your eyes.
  • Count to 10.
  • Open your eyes and look at the image.

Where is the first place you looked?  Most likely, it was his suit. (I mean, that is a whole lotta plaid in one place.)  For a classic clothing look that stands the test of time, solid colors for the win.

Prints, patterns, and logos have this same effect.  They often distract the viewer, taking the focus away from the subjects’ smiles and expressions.

So there you have it – what to wear and what to avoid for your portrait session.  My goal at Barbara Bell Photography is always to make you look fabulous, and with these tips and tricks, it will help you plan your next family portrait session.

Are you ready to book today?  Give me a ring, drop me a line, and I look forward to meeting you and photographing you and your family at your next session.


Barbara Bell Photography creates heirloom photographs to inspire families to share their memories near Chapel Hill, NC.