Family Photography

The 5 Best Styling Tips for Family Photos

December 17, 2020

As a long-time family photographer, one of the main questions my clients come to me with is, “How should I style my family for our pictures?” And it makes sense, too! We often see these perfectly curated family images on Instagram and blogs, with color-coordinated outfits, pristinely designed homes, and sweet, smiling kiddos. And you […]

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As a long-time family photographer, one of the main questions my clients come to me with is, “How should I style my family for our pictures?” And it makes sense, too!

We often see these perfectly curated family images on Instagram and blogs, with color-coordinated outfits, pristinely designed homes, and sweet, smiling kiddos. And you might look around your own home to see: Amazon boxes that still need to be broken down, your youngest still in his Christmas jammies (even though it’s 4 pm and July), and milk-crusted cereal bowls towering high in the kitchen sink.

Or, is it just me?? And if you’re like most parents on planet earth, your little ones may very well (strongly) prefer to dress themselves and pick out their own… well, *unique* outfits more often than not. So how in the world do those families on the ‘gram get it together and look so pulled together in their family photos?!

I’ve got answers for you, mama. Let’s talk about my tried-and-true tips for styling your whole fam to get gorgeous and cohesive family photos, every single time!

Tip #1: Mamas, pick your outfit first.

It can be overwhelming to try to pick out a bunch of cute, stylish, and also timeless outfits for your whole crew (especially if, like my family of 7, there are a lot of you)! So instead of trying to pull the best of the best from everyone’s closets simultaneously and see what coordinates well together, just start in one place. Your own closet.

I mean, that’s more fun anyway, right?! Think about it: You’ll feel most relaxed AND confident if you pick out your clothes first and wear something you love and feel great in. So, start with your own clothes, shoes, and accessories, and then you can pick everyone else’s.

It might seem counterintuitive (kinda like the whole “put your breathing mask on before your kid’s” on an airplane) because you’re so used to putting your kiddos first. But just trust me, once you have your outfit picked out and you feel good about it, you’ll be in a better headspace to sort out everyone else’s!

Tip #2: Choose coordinating outfits for everyone else.

*Important note alert!* Perfectly matching outfits are SO ‘90s. Like, if you have a family photo of everyone wearing white cotton shirts and blue jeans on the beach… You were probably raised in the ‘90s. And hey, no shame to parents 25 years ago. That was cool back then, but I think we can all admit it’s a little overkill now, and not to mention, not super representative of each individual family member’s personality!

Instead, pick colors and tones that coordinate and complement one another. Try to stick to a certain theme (like neutrals, or cool tones, or grays and whites), but don’t overthink it. Basically, you don’t want one kid in a bright yellow sundress, another in a lime green tee shirt, while your hubby’s wearing a maroon sweater and slacks. It just doesn’t go, you know? 

Try to choose a color palette with three or four colors that most of the outfits incorporate (again, use your outfit as the base!), and avoid neon or super bright colors. They’re just hard to photograph and distract from your family’s natural beauty.

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Tip #3: Subtly mix in textures & patterns.

You may feel more comfortable having everyone in solid color fabrics, but you can also feel free to mix in a couple different patterns and textures to add some more dimension and character! The key here is, less is more. If one child is wearing stripes, don’t put the whole family in stripes and polka dots and plaid. That’s just too busy and too much.

Think of blending complementary tones, textures, and patterns: a cream linen dress on you, tan corduroy overalls with a white cotton long-sleeve tee underneath on your little boy, and your hubby in a sage henley with nice jeans. Definitely steer clear of any clothing with characters, brand names, logos, or words printed on them. Simple, clean, and comfortable is best here!

Tip #4: Don’t forget accessories and your environment.

If you’re taking photos in a grassy field, you might not want everyone in a bunch of green and beige tones because they’ll just start blending in too much with the surroundings. Neutral colors are usually safe and best, but just be aware of where you’ll be getting photos done and try to pick tones that work with the surroundings, not against them.

And… bring accessories! A cozy throw, a sun hat or beanie, a bouquet of flowers, coffee mugs, picnic supplies, or a ball for the kids can act as fun props in some of the photos. They’ll add some interest to the images, and they’ll give you and your fam something to focus on or play with, rather than feeling the need to “pose.”

Tip #5: Get your littles involved!

The key to getting your kids to wear coordinating outfits and excited to take pictures is letting them in on the process, not just dictating what to wear and when it’s going to happen. But, that doesn’t mean you need to give them total and complete free reign!

Pick 2 or 3 outfits for them that would work for the shoot, and allow them to select their favorite. Give them some options for a few accessories and props, and let them pick one to use in some of the photos. This gives them some buy-in for the process and gets them excited to participate, which will only equal better photos in the end!

Most of all, you and your family’s comfort is key above all else. You need to feel good in order to look your best, so don’t overthink it or put your fam in a bunch of outfits they’d never wear. Stay true to your personalities, let the kiddos get involved, and above all else, let your creativity shine through! Family photos should capture the individuality of everyone in your family in this season, so the clothing is really better left simple and comfy.

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  1. Karissa Cosentino says:

    This is amazing! Thank you for sharing such valuable & helpful information Jillian!! Truth bomb I don’t read blogs, I get bored easily but as I was reading, I truly felt like I was having a great conversation over coffee with one of my besties sharing her passion, knowledge & skill sets! FULLY engaged & entertained through it all! (Side note I’m just a mom looking for all the advice, not a photographer) thanks for sharing this awesome piece! I look forward to reading & learning more from you! 😍

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I’m Jillian Goulding, a photographer and educator raising babies and building my life in Sacramento, CA.

Over the years, I’ve transformed my side hustle into a thriving photography business that has taken me and my camera to the beaches of San Francisco Bay, the pages of People Magazine, and the screens of Extra TV.

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