• Ashley Norton Photography

5 Tips for Dressing & Styling Your Family Photos

Updated: Feb 11

We've all been there―half your clothes are strewn across your bed, the floor, or halfway into the hamper in that I-wore-once-but-not-enough-to-wash-it pile. You slump down, cover your face, and cry out "I don't have anything to wear."

Okay, maybe not as dramatic, but I'm sure there's a *little* truth to that. Picking out outfits is hard, and coordinating outfits for families can be even more challenging.

To assist you in this process, I've created a list of my 5 top five dressing & styling tips I send to my clients before their session.

A young family stands in the middle of a golden field at Millerton Lake, California for family portraits. They hold their son's hand. Mom is wearing a long, blue and white stripped sleeveless maxi dress. Dad is wearing a dark blue shirt and tan pants. The young boy is wearing a striped blue and pink polo shirt with jeans.

1. Find Your Color Palette

I define color palette, or a color scheme, as a set of colors that are coordinated together to achieve the look you are going for in your session. The main goal of coordinating colors is to add dimension to the photos by making sure everyone isn't wearing the same thing.

Color coordination in outfits tends to work the best when you have 1-2 dominant colors, and 1-2 accent colors to tie them in. You would see the dominant color the most in the photo, while the accent color would fill in a few spots so the dominant colors don't take over the photo.

For example, you could wear a light blue dress, a blush necklace, and nude flats (light blue being your dominant color), your husband could wear a gray coat, white button-down shirt, nude/tan pants, black leather shoes, and a blush pocket square (his dominant color would be gray). Your son could wear a white button down shirt, light blue bow-tie, gray pants, and black shoes (dominate color being white), while your daughter could wear a white shirt, blush skirt, black bow, and gray shoes (blush being her dominant color). In this example, each family member has their own dominant color, but is also borrowing other colors and adding in some accent colors.

Dominant Colors - Light Blue, Blush, Gray, White

Accent Colors - Black, Nude

If you feel totally lost with all these colors, choose an outfit that you know you'll look amazing in, and base your color palette off that outfit. For example, if you choose a blush dress that looks amazing on you, but you don't want your husband to feel like a prom-date with a matching tie, then head over to Google Image search and look up blush color palettes. and you'll find quite a few options. Just a quick image search yielded these results:

  • Blush, navy, gray, coral

  • Blush, yellow, gray, teal

  • Blush, white, cream, yellow

  • Blush, maroon, cream

  • Blush, black, cream

I already feel less stressed looking at this list, and I'm not even the one having photos taken.

A young couple holds their baby daughter in Fresno County, California for a family lifestyle session. The mother is wearing a floral blue and white maxi dress. The father is wearing a white polo shirt with tan pans. Their daughter is wearing a pink onesie with a pink bow.

2. Use Neutral Colors

Did you notice any similarities in that list above? Each option has neutral colors! Neutral colors are colors like white, beige, ivory, gray, tan, mocha, charcoal, black, etc. that can compliment bolder colors in a palette.

Neutral colors come across great in photos because they don't compete as much with other colors, but can also add variation and depth. They also tend to be easier to find in multiple closets over more dominant colors like maroon, navy, or yellow.

If color palettes are just not your thing, just put most of the family in neutral colors, and add a few bolder, dominant colors in to help everyone pop.

A man and woman hold each other close in Fresno, CA for a couples portrait session. She is wearing a long, hand-made purple dress. He is wearing a blue shirt with tan pants.

3. Consider Other Decor

Where are you going to display these photos? Your social media, desk, hallway, living room? While the colors you choose may not matter in many locations, your living room may be a different story.

If you've got a strong color palette going in your home (we're all about the blue/black/cream right now), then I recommend matching that palette with the colors you choose for your session.

Now, you're probably not going to have someone walk in and say "Wow, these are nice but I wish you hadn't gone with that red/black/white palette. It doesn't match your interior at all." (If they do, please consider if you will be inviting them over again). They'll probably say "Wow, these are nice!"

Nice isn't bad at all, but it's not great or stunning or beautiful―which is what most want for their photos. A simple color switch can make the photos go from nice to gorgeous simply because they're framed well in reference to the other decor.

A young woman smiles at the camera in a grassy field in Fresno, California for her senior portraits. She is wearing a spaghetti strapped white floral dress with a white lace headband.

4. Accessorize & Layer

If you scroll all the way back up to my outfit example in the first tip, you'll notice that each person has at least one accessory. Pairing an accessory or two with your outfits can help you tie-in everyone's outfits, especially in a group.

Some of my go-to accessory recommendations for ladies are belts, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, bows, headbands, flower crowns, and watches. Some recommendations for the guys include belts, ties, pocket squares, bow-ties, and watches.

Layers can also help add in that last pop of color that seals everyone's outfits togethers. While it can be trickier in the warmer summer months, it's almost always worth the hour of discomfort for those lifelong memories. Layers can be found in vests, coats, blazers, scarves, and sweaters.

A recent graduate in Fresno, California smiles at the camera for a photography session. She is wearing a teal dress with a white lace sweater and a flower crown.

5. Go BIG

Have you wanted to go all out and wear a romantic gown, tulle skirt or flower crown but every event just seemed too casual for it? This session is your chance! Long, flowy dresses and skirts look amazing on camera because they flatter every female body by elongating the legs and making them look special in the shot.

It may feel odd to show up to a park, beach, or an empty field dressed-to-the-nines, but when you get those pictures back, you'll love how you look in them. And let's face it, if you don't like how you look, you're probably not going to want to share the pictures with anyone.

A black woman in Woodward Park, California stands with one hand on her hip, gazing across a dry field for a portrait session

Bonus Tip: Fitted dress pants or colored pants tend to look the best on men for sessions. It keeps the attention away from his knees/legs, and right where it should be: his face.

There you have it! This list is not all-inclusive and of course, you're always able to break free from it and do your own things because these are the family pictures that you're wanting to cherish for some time. Let them be all that you want them to be.

P.S. All of my clients receive a 10pg Styling Guide provided to then upon booking a session with me! It goes far beyond my list, and has soooo much valuable information in it.