It's hard pulling together outfits for your family's pictures. I get it!
But as someone who has done professional pictures for her family nearly every year for the past decade, let me tell you what not to do!
2011: Outfit ideas- Beginner's luck
Do I look tired? I was. This kid was running me ragged. But I still love these pictures.
Why they worked: everybody is wearing different colored tops, but they are all in the light blue/white space.
What I didn't like is that all 3 of us are wearing jeans. So the full body pictures look a bit more uniform. But no big deal.
2013: Outfit ideas that didn't work!
First off: 2012 is the only year skipped here. See that extra person in the picture below? He was all over 2012. But back to the photos..
I do not have a digital file of this picture. I love it because the kids look super cute but here's the disaster.
I thought, "We'll all wear blue. The theme will be blue and white." That worked last time, right?!
I'm wearing a bold navy/white stripe. Kid 1 is wearing light blue. Dad is wearing a shirt that is "technically" a navy/white check pattern. Kid 2 is in a navy polo.
Why this doesn't work:
1. Very small patterns read in front of the camera as an approximation of themselves. Dad's shirt looks like a pastel blue from far away.
2. Me and Kid 2 go together and Dad and Kid 1 go together, but as a group we all clash.
I thought putting this into black and white would solve the problem.
2014: Outfit ideas that were ok.
This is me out ahead of the neutrals trend that will hit hard in another 7 years. Who knew?
If I could go back in time I would change my sweater to a cool neutral.
But it's fine.
With a bunch of guys, the light blue shirt thing was honestly just easy to pull off.
I'm also not super loving the adults in jeans, kids in khakis thing. I wish we had mixed that up a bit.
2015: Outfit ideas that worked, and some that didn't
We did professional family pictures twice that fall. I don't remember why. But the shoots were completely different.
First shoot: again with the neutrals
Husband and Kid 1 are wearing the same sweaters as last year. Whoops!
Without the blue collars, all these colors go together better.
This is one of the rare situations where we were all in jeans and it doesn't bother me. Possible reasons:
1. I'm wearing tall boots so that adds visual interest.
2. Kid 2 is wearing a lighter wash of jeans so again, some variety here.
Second Shoot: Christmas!!
My thought process: grey & navy with a "pop" of red. (Pops of color were a big thing in 2015. So were statement necklaces.)
I was so committed to this concept that even though people like me-- with an olive skin tone-- look terrible in fire engine red, I said, "We're DOING THIS."
Did I learn my lesson from 2013 that small check patterns average out to pastels?
Not one bit!
Husband's shirt here is a very small red check pattern on a white background.
That's why it looks like pink.
Also- don't ever have one person in the family wearing red. The goal is to create balance. Not the eye-suck that is this flannel shirt.
2016: Outfit ideas that worked, and why
Full disclosure; this was the first year where I finally got the balance I wanted. I own a 24x36" canvas of the portrait of us sitting. It hangs in our living room and I love it.
Things to note:
THREE people are wearing different patterned shirts in these portraits! But it works. Why? If you squint, the colors in all the shirts even out to cool pastels in the blue color space.
Both boys are wearing khaki shorts - but we separated them visually so it wasn't obvious.
Kid 2 is wearing the same shirt Kid 1 wore in our first photoshoot. It's a cowboy style from Janie & Jack, fyi.
2017: Family outfits fail
Same problem as 2013: color factions with Team Burgundy and Team Dark Tops.
This was thrown together at the last minute and involved no shopping whatsoever.
In retrospect, this could have worked if Kid2 was wearing burgundy shorts and Dad had a grey top with jeans.
2018: Family outfits- unusual choices but it worked
This experience was The Hot Mess Express.
We were supposed to shoot on top of a mountain, but when we got there the wind was blowing 40+ mph. By the time we all made it to a park at the base of the mountain there were 15 minutes of sun remaining.
But I had gotten my makeup done and was wearing $300 worth of hair extensions. So we were going to MAKE IT WORK.
That 15 minutes involved liquid gold sunshine and I have three giant metal art pieces in my dining room that I adore.
Why these outfits work:
Yes, the kids are both in khaki shorts. Again. But at least they are different shades of khaki!
Yes, a lot of white shirts. But the texture on Kid 2's sweater, and the buttons on Kid 1's shirt give some variety.
Yes, I'm the only one wearing a true pattern. Does that bother you? Because the pattern is a large gauge, it still reads as a "white" (err, off-white) dress.
2019: Family outfits based on PINK!
"This is the one and ONLY time we're doing pink," said all the guys.
We tried this spot again and it was gorgeous. I knew that the background would be warm/golden so I went with pinks & khakis. A giant canvas of this oak tree shot hangs in my living room.
The pink thing was an excuse for me to wear this Free People dress. No regrets.
Lesson learned: husband is wearing the same red/white checked shirt as in the 2015 Christmas shoot. But this time around I knew it would read as pink in the pictures.
Also: pink is a fairly forgiving color- many different shades of it can play together nicely.
Aside: If you notice how I look way darker than the rest of my family - I was swimming 5-6 days/week at this point in my life.
I spent a lot of time photoshopping out tan lines on these.
2020: Family outfits based on blue & teal
I've got no real beef with the outfits here. They are totally ok. As you can guess, this fairly masculine color scheme is a direct backlash from 2019.
The only thing was that it was FREAKISHLY COLD during this shoot.
We were doing jumping jacks to stay warm.
And later, husband asked why I was wearing a little sundress when everyone else was in pants and dark colors.
That's a valid point. With a do-over I would swap out my outfit for something that matches the formality of the rest of the group better.
2021: Family outfits for a beach shoot
Over the pandemic I had become absolutely obsessed with this photographer in San Diego. And as soon as we were able to travel again, I booked her immediately because she did this one particular shot that I wanted.
This! The reflection and open sky? This exists as a massive metal piece of artwork that hangs over my couch in the family room. LOVE. IT.
Now about the 'fits:
EVERYONE is wearing different patterns here! Why does this work?
All the clothes are light colors.
The patterns all "read" as pale blues and teals.
The guys are all wearing different colored shorts for once!
I chalk this up as a major win.
Behind the scenes craziness:
We drove an hour from our AirBnB to get to the Del and the shoot got rained out. So we came back the next day and did this shoot for real. Even still, it was drizzling on us here. This, in July!
The wind was blowing so much that the photographer loaned me her sunglasses to wear on my head to keep my hair out of my face.
But it was so worth it.
This was the last photoshoot where I was still taller than Kid 1. How does this go by so fast??
2022: Family outfits for a formal shoot
Upon entering middle school, Kid 2 decided he was going to take things more seriously and wear a tie to school every day. We got him a 12-pack of bow ties off Amazon, and it got me thinking. We've never done a formal shoot.
Normally when I see everyone in the same shirt I think "soccer league" or "customer service team" photos.
The only reason I'm ok with all the guys wearing white shirts is because of this location.
It looks like we are going to an event.
The event is family photos. Ha!
My husband after this shoot: "Can we stop doing walking shots?"
A formal shoot at this point in our lives also made sense because both boys are playing instruments and doing performances. (Read: we already had black pants and white dress shirts that fit everybody. Ha!)
There were actually a ton of people here. I have no idea how we got this shot.
Lessons Learned over a Decade of My Own Family's Pictures
1. Skip family portraits AT YOUR OWN PERIL. You will never get these years back.
2. Physical artwork from your photoshoot is a MUST. Pictures on a hard drive are a waste. Hang canvases. Hang metals. Get big framed prints onto your walls. They will bring you joy.
3. Try considering the colors at the location when picking colors to wear.
4. Does everyone look like they are going to the same party? Pay attention to formality.
5. Squint Check: throw all the outfits on a bed, stand back and squint. Regardless of patterns, do all the clothes look like the same general color saturation? (All deep, rich tones, or all light/pastel tones?)
6. Is one person wearing RED? Get rid of that.
Now it's YOUR turn
I did not take any of the pictures in this blog. I hired other talented professionals so that I could be in these shots with my family.
I do, however, love to create portraits for other families. And help them navigate outfits and locations and create beautiful artwork for their homes.
If you live in or are visiting the Tri-Valley Area of California (Pleasanton, Dublin, Livermore, San Ramon, Danville, Walnut Creek etc.) get in touch today to discuss pricing, artwork, and availability!
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Samantha Grant Photography is based in Pleasanton, Ca and specializes in high school senior and family portraits.