I decided to write this family session style guide blog post to help ease the pain of trying to figure out all the do’s and don’t s of what to wear to your family session.
What Every Client Needs to Know
I am so excited about your portrait session! Whether I am capturing your sweet family, or celebrating a special moment in your life, like a birthday, anniversary or new baby, I am so honored to help you create memories you’ll cherish for a lifetime. I’ve created this guide to help you get the most out of your photos, and by the time you’ve read through this blog post, you’ll have all your questions answered and feel more than ready and prepared for your session. Then I’ll take care of the rest! Your only job is to be yourself, laugh a lot and let me create photos you’ll love forever. I can’t wait to get you in front of my camera!
Choosing Time & Date
I’m a natural light specialist because I believe that natural light, from the sun and its reflections, creates photographs that feel fresh, timeless and trust to you. I begin all portrait sessions two hours before the scheduled sunset during “the golden hour,” when the light is the dreamiest. I use a sunset calculator online to determine the scheduled sunset for the date and location you’d like to do your session. Then, just subtract two hours to figure out your start time. Remember, the sun sets much earlier during the colder months of the year and much later during the warmer months, so make sure to factor that in when choosing your portrait session date, especially if you’re taking off work or have evening plans afterward. To get the most out of your session, please plan a buffer when getting ready so you can arrive a few minutes early to your session and be ready to start on time. I am only able to shoot when natural light is still in the sky, so I’ll want to take advantage of every minute we have together before the sun goes down. If you’re wearing two outfits, save your favorite one for the second half, and if you’re wearing one, arrive in that.
QUICK TIP: My weekends fill up fast and far in advance. You can get a Fast Pass to the front of the line by scheduling mid-week or off-season.
Selecting the Right Location
The location of your portrait session is up to you! Like you see throughout this guide, most of my clients choose to showcase the natural beauty of our home state. For most of my sessions, outdoor, open-air environments are always my first choice. I love shooting in wide-open natural spaces because the light is divine, especially during the golden hour. There are great options all around the state, so even if you’ve never seen me photograph in a specific spot before, I’m always up for exploring a new spot together!
Think Outside the Box
This is the time to think outside the box! I encourage you to brainstorm unique locations that you might have special access to that most people don’t. For example, maybe you, or someone in your personal or professional network, can secure permission to a location that would otherwise be off-limits, like a beautiful private estate, country club or resort. Maybe it’s a family ranch, upscale hotel or even a boat, airplane hangar or a rooftop view. The sky is literally the limit! Spend a few minutes thinking about it and checking around. You’ll be surprised with what you come up with. Plus, if something seems out of reach, just remember: you never know until you ask! My clients have secured permission to some pretty amazing places in the past. If you get stuck or need inspiration, check out my blog and keep browsing through this guide. I have some great go-to locations around town that we can always hit, too. Just let me know which type of session you’d love and we’ll go from there! Easy. Peasy.
Destination Portrait Session
Your portrait session includes travel time anywhere on the windward side of Oahu, Hawaii area. If you’d like to go somewhere outside the city, I’m up for the adventure! The travel fee to places on the leeward side is an additional $100. I love traveling and am actually on the road quite a bit. I’ve done different types of sessions from all over the island, and everywhere in between, and even on neighboring islands, too, so if I’m already going to be in or near an area you’ve always dreamed of doing your photos, and we can coordinate our schedules, let’s set it up. I would love to make it work! If you’d like me to meet you in a destination outside of Oahu for your portrait session where I don’t already have plans to visit, just let me know and I can get you a custom quote.
Styling your Session
Want your photos to look more editorial? Bring a little extra something with you! Haiku Lei’s bring an extra “wow” factor to just about everything, especially when they’re worn as a crown. You can also bring fresh flowers which create a “wow” factor when attached to something like a bicycle basket, tree swing, tent, picnic basket, balloons or car bumper. Whether you want to incorporate larger items like classic cars or bikes, or smaller ones like blankets or hats, even planning for just one extra styled item could be a fun way to make your session more unique.
Style Tips: For Her
Because you always want to remember this.
Don’t Be Afraid to Dress It Up
Have you thought about rocking a romantic gown, tulle skirt or Haiku Lei crown but just never had an occasion for it? This is your chance to do it up! Remember: There is no such thing as “too dressed up” when it comes to your portrait session, so don’t be afraid to have some fun! If you don’t want to add a new permanent piece to your collection, a lot of our clients love Rent the Runway for their session because it’s such an affordable way to feel like a million bucks. Other clients love having a great excuse to bring a new permanent piece (or two!) into their closet!
Quick Tip: There’s no such thing as too dressed up.
Say Yes to the Dress
Dresses and skirts look most stunning because they really flatter every female body, especially on camera — which is probably why the red carpet is always full of so many dresses and not very many pantsuits! I recommend avoiding pants and shorts for your session and saying yes to a dress or two instead.
Long, full-length, flowy dresses and skirts look amazing on camera because they bring extra movement to the photos. Especially when juxtaposed with nature, like the desert, forest, plains or beach. Consider softer fabrics like chiffon or tulle which allow for beautiful movement in the images.
When considering the length of your dresses or skirts, it’s also a good idea to factor in whether or not there will be little ones in your photos. If you have smaller children, I’ll likely have you sitting or crouching on the ground to interact up-close with them. Cute, shorter cocktail-length dresses photograph beautifully, but if you have little ones in your photos, a floor-length dress or skirt, or perhaps a cute midi-skirt, will make moving around with your kids much easier, and look perfect on camera, too.
If you’re an expecting mother, I always recommend floor-length gowns or maxi dresses. These dresses create the best silhouettes to flatter your figure and really highlight your bump. A lot of my expecting mothers love to incorporate Haiku Lei crowns or headpieces as well. I offer these dresses to my clients so if you want to see my private collection please let me know.
One or Two? It’s Up to You!
You can bring one outfit set or two! Most of my clients who choose two outfits will bring one “wow” dress, and then another slightly more casual dress that has a “date night” feel. But if you want to bring two “wow” dresses and forgo the more casual dress altogether, give yourself permission to do it! The camera loves runway-esque apparel and so do I!
Remember, though, you don’t have to bring two looks if it’s too stressful to coordinate or if you’d rather just stick to one fabulous look. One outfit that you love will be so much better than one outfit you love and another you’re not very excited about. And if you stick with one outfit set, you won’t have to spend any of your time changing halfway through, so I’ll be able to sneak in a few more photos! So, one or two? It’s really up to you!
When choosing colors for your outfits, I recommend selecting softer, lighter tones and more muted shades. By avoiding ultra-bright, bold colors, it will help bring all the attention to your faces and let the eye focus on the way you feel about each other. The camera loves shades of soft pink and muted blues, mixed with sophisticated light neutrals like heather gray, creams, leather brown and white. That softer color palette fits beautifully into almost all natural outdoor environments and especially complements the desert.
Flattering Your Features
In my experience, every woman regardless of her shape has an area of her body that she’s self-conscious about, so recognizing what area that is in advance is key. Choosing flattering silhouettes and colors that complement your natural features is the best way to ensure you’ll love the way you look in your photos.
Three-quarter length sleeves create an awesome slimming effect on all arms, so be on the lookout for an option with a longer length sleeve. You could also bring a cute jacket, blazer or cardigan along, too. Skinny straps or strapless dresses have the opposite effect on arms on camera, so I recommend avoiding those whenever possible if your goal is a set of slimmer-looking arms.
If your toes are showing in a sandal or bare feet, you might want to schedule a pedicure before your session so you don’t regret letting your feet show. These little tricks make all the difference!
Quick Tip: Bring a pair of easy-to-kick-off flats to wear when moving from place to place in between photos. Your feet will thank you later!
Make a Statement
Pairing an accessory or two with your outfit can really help bring some extra dimension to your images, and be a nice tie-in when you’re coordinating with a group. Big statement necklaces bring a lot of pop to the photos, while the smaller, delicate ones are not as noticeable on camera.
Belts, bracelets and earrings bring great visual interest, so choose one or two that don’t compete for attention. Fresh florals in a crown can be a really romantic touch for you or your girls as well.
Go Pro: Hair & Makeup
Professional hair and makeup is on the top of most of my clients’ checklists because it looks amazing on camera and removes the stress of getting ready on your own. This is the time to treat yourself! Whether it’s lash extensions or blown-out hair, professional hair and makeup will give you an extra boost of confidence in front of the camera, and it always photographs like a dream. If you’re working with a makeup artist, have her apply your makeup in natural light, if possible, so that it looks fresh and not too heavy. Plus, that’s the type of light I’ll be shooting in, so it’ll give you the best expectation of how it will translate on camera. Most of my clients feel like their professional makeup is “too much” at first since it’s more than you would wear on a normal day, or that they’re false lashes look too big, so if you feel that way at the beginning, don’t worry! Good makeup artists know how to get it all just right for the camera — and my clients always love the final result. If you need a recommendation for hair and makeup, I work with the best in the business and have a go-to team! They’re sweet as pie, talented as heck, unbelievable professionals and wonderful people. You’ll LOVE them! Just let me know and I’ll send you their information. I know they’ll take good care of you!
Quick Tip: Confidence. It’s always the best accessory.
Skip the Spray Tan
Although it might seem counter-intuitive, I recommend that you do not get a spray tan before your session, even a few days prior, because it tends to photograph orange even when it’s applied subtly and by a professional. Your actual skin tone will photograph the most beautifully and naturally.
Fashion Tips: For Him
Because dapper and debonair never go out of style.
The Best Fit
Long, fitted pants and closed-toed shoes are the most sophisticated and masculine looks for men. They draw attention away from his legs and feet and place it where you want it: on his handsome face. So, for your session, it’s best to leave the shorts, sandals, and jeans at home, too, as well as any pants that are loose or baggy. Fitted dress pants or fitted colored pants work best on camera. Solid shades of gray or navy are a strong complement to most women’s outfits, whereas pinstripes or plaid patterns tend to distract the eye. I also recommend staying away from graphics and logos.
Next time you walk by a store like J. Crew, you’ll notice the male mannequins and models are always wearing several layers at once. Layers on men look great on camera, so even when it’s hot outside, trust us when we say that it’s worth an hour or two of discomfort for photos that will last you both a lifetime. Adding another layer will bring an extra dimension and visual interest to your photos. Blazers, vests, and coats up the level of any look. If the temperature permits, he could even consider adding a v-neck sweater with a pop of color from a long-sleeved collared shirt and tie underneath. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative with layers!
Mix It Up
Many of my guys love to mix a suit coat, blazer or sport coat with a different paint color. It adds some extra visual interest and breaks up the color tones. I’m a big fan of this fresh take on a timeless classic.
It’s All in the Details
How to Prep Your Man
Most men aren’t overly excited to take photos for two hours, because they don’t have an expectation of what’s to come and why it’s so important to you. Take fifteen minutes to educate and empower your guy. Tell him why you chose me and my style of photography. Show him your three favorite sessions that I’ve done, explain why you love them and express to him how much it means to you. Trust me, once he knows it’s important, he’ll light up the camera for you! The most common thing I hear from guys before photo sessions is this: because of a bad experience in the past, they don’t like taking photos or don’t think they’ll be good at it. By the time I’m done, though, they can’t believe how fast it went and just how much fun they had!
Prepping Your Family
Because they won’t be little forever.
Coordinating the Crew
As you’re coordinating your outfit with your family, keep in mind that your outfits will look the most cohesive on camera when the color palette and wardrobe pieces coordinate, but don’t actually “match.” In fact, we recommend that you avoid thinking about “matching,” and instead think about what “fits” together. This will create more visual interest, and allow each personality to shine through.
How to Mix Colors
The goal for coordinating a family is to visually break up the colors and shades so that you’re not all wearing the same color on top and bottom. The more we can mix that up, the better. I encourage you to think about planning each outfit with “dominant colors” and “accent colors” in mind. Dominant color is the color that you see the most in an outfit, while an accent has a smaller piece of visual real estate. When you’re planning each family member’s outfit, if you can aim for each person to have a different dominant color, and then tie in and vary the accent colors, it’s going to look great all together.
For example, if you’re wearing a blush dress and soft blue earrings (blush being your dominant color), then he could wear a navy coat with a white button-down and gray pants, paired with brown leather shoes and maybe even a blush pocket square (making navy his dominant color). Your daughter could wear a soft blue top with a white tulle skirt (making a soft blue her dominant color) while your son wears light beige pants with navy suspenders and a white button down (making white his dominant color). Now each person has their own dominant color while still incorporating a few touches of the others that will pull all the looks together. This will break up the color visually and highlight each personality. Most of my moms choose their dress first and then build the rest of the family’s outfits based around that.
Remember, I recommend selecting those softer, lighter tones and avoiding those ultra-bright, bold colors. The camera loves shades of soft pink and muted blues, mixed with sophisticated light neutrals like heather gray, creams, leather brown and white. Feel free to vary the shades of the colors, too. That softer color palette fits beautifully into a natural environment, and can easily be paired in so many different ways.
Mixing Up the Pieces
If you have multiple children, don’t feel like you need to put them all in the same type of outfit. For example, one of your daughters could wear a dress, while the other wears a skirt. One of your sons could wear a bowtie, while the other one wears suspenders. Mixing up the wardrobe pieces will bring great visual interest to the photos.
Prepping Your Little Ones
Before your session, pack a bag with snacks, water and any small objects (like toys or lollipops) that might help me get their attention when it’s time for them to look at the camera. If they are old enough to understand you, it’s a good idea to prepare them for what’s to come before the session starts. Explain how much the photos mean to you so they know to be on their best behavior. A lot of families discuss and pick something fun in advance as a treat after the session if they’re good listeners, like an ice cream cone, for example. It also helps if their bellies are full and they’ve has some good rest beforehand. Once you prepare them physically and mentally, then feel free to give them (and you!) grace! They’re little, and I know that some days don’t always go as planned. I’ve seen it all and will make sure to get you great photos, regardless of their moods. My goal is to make this as fun and stress-free as it possibly can be for you and your family!
Photo Delivery Timeline
24 hours: Social media sneak peek with one of my favorite photos
1 Weeks: Blog post with some highlights of our time together
2-3 Weeks: Online gallery with all of your final, retouched, high-resolution images
I know I just gave you a lot to think about. I created this guide to help make your portrait session experience something you’ll look back fondly on for years and years to come. At the end of the day, though, the location you choose and the outfits you select won’t matter nearly as much as the memories you make together. Your future memories are the most important thing to me, and I want your session to be a time for you to just be yourselves and enjoy it. Have fun together. Laugh a lot. And I’ll take care of the rest!
Portrait Session Checklist
1. Set date, time and location with Brooke
2. Review guide for style tips
3. Schedule hair, makeup and nail appointments
4. Choose your outfits
5. Pack a bag with:
– Flats or flip-flops for walking between photo spots
– Second outfit (if you’re doing two)
– Touch-up makeup
– Water bottle (for warmer sessions)
– Snacks for the little ones
– If you have a toddler or younger, small eye-catching toys (or lollipops) to hold their attention
I can’t wait to see you soon!
Here is my pinterest inspiration board for a family session.
I’m a birth, newborn and maternity lifestyle photographer serving Washington DC, Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, Reston, Leesburg, Manassas, Gainesville, Haymarket, Stafford County, Prince William County, and Fredericksburg. I am located in Stafford, Virginia and I’m available for travel in the Virginia, Maryland and DC areas.