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  • Writer's pictureDonnna Coulon

Coordinating Colors: What to wear for family photos

Updated: Jan 1, 2022

The million-dollar question we get from most often… “what do we wear?!” We hear it most with families who aren’t sure how to coordinate colors or styles. We decided to put together a bit of a guide with a few ideas, perfect for varied seasons, weather, and styles.

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When I was growing up a family photo didn’t seem to be official unless everyone was wearing jeans, the same color shirt (and more than likely that meant white ones on the beach in Florida or Alabama.) I swear, I thought this was the official family photo format until college when social media transformed my perspective. (It took a lot for me to admit that!) But after years in the photography industry, taking notes from the Kardashian Christmas cards (I’m ashamed that’s true) as well as the fashion and photo industry, I am proud to say my perspective has evolved.

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Still, so many people have come to us over the years, having made the same assumption - you match in family photos. If this is you, I’m here to free you from the prison of bad traditions and let you know a simple fact that will make family photos a million times easier in the future: “You do not have to match!”

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Everyone can wear a completely different color, & that is perfectly OKAY. In fact, (dare I say it), it’s even better! The goal is not to match but to coordinate. Also, you don’t have to coordinate just ONE shade or even one type of material. I know this is all mind-blowing; (At least it was for me years ago) but all jokes aside, this new way of family photos takes the pressure off entirely. Here are a few great ideas in terms of coordinating outfits.

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Comfortable and seasonal

Choose outfits that go along with the season, pulling inspiration from fall colors or vibrant spring patterns. Flannel during the winter months is very popular and one patterned shirt or dress can give you several color options to coordinate with. If you have small children, choose outfits that are comfortable and they can move around in. It’s extremely hard to get sweet candids of a sweet girl who is miserably itchy from a tulle or sequence dress, or a handsome little guy whose bow tie in his neck is obviously making him bonkers. Family photos should document your family and there is no need to dress in a way that isn’t typically your family!

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Dress it up

If your family doesn’t mind getting decked out in their Sunday best, slacks, dresses, and sport coats always make for some classy family photos. Be mindful of the season though, this is not the best idea for summer or even spring in south Louisiana unless you know there will be a breeze. I personally love the way navy and khaki coordinate for formal photos, but this same style can be accomplished in an affinity of colors.

Complementary colors

If you know your photo location, consider the area and the backdrop before deciding on your outfits. If you will be outdoors in the spring, coordinating olives and greens is ill-advised. The green trees around you will swallow your entire family and you simply won’t pop off the backdrop. Pink however looks phenomenal on green and can really set you apart from the trees in the background. The same concept goes for bright backgrounds or a white home - you might want to avoid white or neutral colors and go with something a little more vibrant to set you apart.

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Bold Patterns

Another common misconception about photography is that everyone should be in a solid color. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Now I don’t recommend everyone show up in a different pattern, as mom's polka dot shirt might clash with sissy’s cheetah print skirt, grandma’s floral dress, and pop-pop’s buffalo plaid. When it comes to patterns I usually recommend picking one (and building from there). Throwing in a pattern is a great way to add some variety to your photos and make the portraits more interesting!

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Neutral colors and Brown + Black can mix

When in doubt, stay neutral. There is nothing wrong with doing what you know and if you’re not positive certain colors will photograph just perfectly, stick to some safe neutral colors like gray, khaki, white, black, cream. Now, that being said, growing up it was a fashion fo-pas to mix brown and black. In 2021, that isn’t an exact science. If your outfit is black and gray, you wouldn’t wear a brown belt alone. If you’re wearing a khaki tux you might not want to confuse people with black shoes. However, you can tastefully coordinate those colors. Notice in these images that there is a gentle mix of gray, charcoal, and khaki. It’s subtle and it looks amazing!

Earth tones

I love mustards, olives, creams, browns, burnt oranges, and all the earth tones alike. As mentioned previously - you likely want to double-check your location before coordinating earth tones. In the right place, earth tones look like magic on camera, and I’ve noticed this is especially the case for in-home sessions. I’ve also noticed my eyes tend to love earth tones most in a barnyard or fall field when the trees are amber and the grass looks like hay!

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family photographer near me lafayette la

Dark tones

If the world around you is bright or dull be the color that draws the eye. If you’re taking photos at the color factory in Houston, or even downtown Lafayette, you don’t NEED to go bold, but sometimes it’s exactly what the backdrop needs. One of my favorite all-time family sessions was in an amber field in the fall near sunset. Nearly everyone in the family was wearing such dark and bold colors and it photographed beautifully against the muted backdrop of the November landscape. This may not work in the spring - so again, be sure to be mindful of the season and overall color of your location.

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Mix and match textures and accessories

You don’t have to strictly coordinate different shades of the same cotton shirts. I love seeing a mixture of textures and styles. A girl in a cute flowing dress with a cute gent in a sweater. Other examples include fur and lace or accessories like hats and scarves. I’ve also seen jeans mixed and matched well to bring an overall theme to a session while still giving the eyes a variety of colors to enjoy.

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and finally...

Don’t be afraid to sparkle!

If your family is not the type to take photos often, go all out. Bring the shimmer and the sparkle, just remember not to overdo it! I love the sequin dresses on the girls coupled with subdued neutral suits on the guys. Since the patterns were so bold, the colors were a little tamer and it worked out perfectly!

family photographer near me lafayette la
family photographer near me lafayette la

So to recap:

  1. Comfort

  2. Coordinate your colors

  3. Complement your surroundings


Call me - you know, to book one of these adorable family sessions of your own ;)

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