Planning Family Portraits: The Importance of Location and Wardrobe

We’ve all seen those beautiful, artistic family portraits that are just out of this world and thought “I wish I had a portrait of my family like that!”

Generally there are three things that really MAKE a family portrait: 1) the family and their expressions  2) the location  3) the wardrobe.  When it comes to photographers, we can only do so much about the first one.  Either your family is THAT family and they can follow directions well and are willing to cooperate or they aren’t.   We can help with posing and we can guide your family with their expressions, but the rest really is up to the family and whether or not they can or will do it.   The other two, though, your photographer should definitely be able to help you in making the proper selections.

The first thing to consider when planning family portraits is what KIND of family portraits you want.  You have to consider the style of your home.

Is your furniture and decor high-end, rich, classic with lots of formal furniture? If so, you may want timeless, classic, formal portraits.  In that case  you will want to select a photographer who can offer in studio portraits and who has a selection of classic formal backdrops. The benefits of doing family portraits in the studio are that there are fewer distractions like passing cars, wild life, etc; there are no weather concerns like wind, heat, cold, rain, or snow to ruin your plans; and the portraits will be consistent with the same lighting,  a selection of coordinating or complementing backdrops, and a variety of seating arrangements.

Is your home ultra-modern with lots of sleek design elements, exposed brick, chrome fixtures and ultra-modern chic lighting?  If so, you have options.  You can choose a formal portrait session like the one above or you may want a location that blends with those elements such as a urban location. The benefit of choosing an urban setting is that the time of year doesn’t really impact the setting.  It won’t matter that the leaves have fallen or that the grass is rather dead.  Another benefit of most urban settings is that you have a lot of options within walking distance.

Maybe  your home is  more rustic, homey, with lots of wood and country accents?  Then you will want to choose a location that makes sense with that decor: a small field or little patch of woods.  Unfortunately there are a lot of down sides to these types of locations: insects, heat, wind, rain, season and more can affect the experience, but when it all comes together, you can get the look you want and have a portrait that will fit with your decor.

Then there are those homes that have a little bit of this and a little bit of that.   Those are the homes that have the most options because any of the choices above will work.

The final big decision that has an impact on the final look of the images is the choice of wardrobe. I get more questions about “what should we wear”  than anything else.  The answer to that question is complicated.  Your wardrobe style should reflect both your personality AND match your location.  Showing up for formal high-end portraits in an old university football t-shirt and a pair of plaid golfing shorts isn’t going to give you the look you are after.   That’s not to say you have to wear a tuxedo either, though. I can totally envision a formal portrait with the husband in a plain white tee, the wife wearing a long, red maxi dress, and the kids in classic polos with khaki slacks.

Look at this formal portrait by international superstar portrait artist, Sue Bryce. (see more Sue Bryce at

In addition to the style of clothing you need to choose, colors must also be considered.  The best way to decide on a palette for your wardrobe is to look at your home.  What colors are going to look best hanging on your walls?  That should drive your outfit choices. You want the clothing to compliment or coordinate with your home colors so your family portrait looks like an intentional piece of art.  If your whole home is a variation of oatmeal and cream, then maybe you want your wardrobe to continue that monochromatic theme.  Or maybe you want to add a pop of color to the room by choosing rich complementary jewel tones.   If your home is full of earthy colors, then you might want your wardrobe to have those same earth tones: mustard and sage and eggplant.

Here is my own family portrait from Bookout Studios in Huntsville.

I chose an in-studio photographer because I knew I needed as few distractions as possible for the small children, we had a limited time frame for portraits and couldn’t afford for them to be re-scheduled, and I didn’t want to deal with wind blown hair or sweat or flushed cold cheeks.   Our wardrobe was chosen based on our personalities, including my youngest daughter’s bold pop of color in her leggings.  The color palette coordinates with the colors in my home, which is primarily neutral. Again that pop of color in the leggings is exactly what my walls needed.

If you need  some inspiration, check out these Pinterest


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