Being a photographer that offers family outdoor photoshoots around Llanelli,, Burry Port, Pembrey and Gower areas, I am often asked for advice on how to dress for photography sessions.
There is a lot of advise on clothing that is common to all sorts of photography sessions. I will start by covering that and then add a section at the end that will cover specific colours that work particularly well with spring/summer photoshoots at the beach. Beach is one of my favourite ever locations for family outdoor photoshoots and we have to agree we are spoilt for choice around this area! We are surrounded by such gorgeous beaches, be it in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire or the Gower Peninsula, I can only be thankful for the privilege of being able to shoot in these amazing locations!
So, what would be my main advice regarding clothes for outdoor sessions?
Make sure everyone is happy with what they're wearing.
For me this comes before anything. The internet it filled of perfect images. Perfect families, perfect homes, perfect clothes. The truth is though, perfection is not dictated by Instagram....our lives are already perfect. Yes, it's lovely to have outfits that look great in the photo, but keep in mind these are story-telling sessions. Do you have a toddler that won't part with their Batman t-shirt? A stylish teenager whose outfit/style crashes with the lovely pastel tones of the rest of the family? Anyone in the group who for whatever reason doesn't feel comfortable on the sort of clothes the rest of the group will be wearing? If changing their outfit means changing their mood for the session, believe me, the outfit is really not that important.
I'll show you an example bellow! This was a Mother's Day session done in studio. The mum and the younger kids came dressed in smarter outfits and with coordinated colours. The older kid, a teenager (or pre-teen, I actually don't know for sure), came more informal and sporty. He has sensory issues and would have felt miserable and distracted into a different, more restricting sort of outfit. Now look at the photos: they are just perfect! All kids were happy and relaxed. They were willing to be photographed and the bond between family members so beautiful to see!
Look at those smiles....who would be willing to trade that for a fancier shirt or smarter trousers? Certainly not me! This photo is everything it needs to be!
So the bottom line is, lovely outfits might help to compose a photo...but the photos are made by the people in them and their emotions. When in doubt, let go of the perfect image and go for the perfect mood!
2. If possible, avoid big logos or drawings that call for a lot of attention.
Sometimes it can be helped. And sometimes a certain piece of clothing has meaning for us, and we want it to be in the photo. That's perfect. But if there isn't any special reason to have them there.....visually, it's easier to work without the distraction of big logos/drawings. They tend to create a focus point, distracting from the main subjects and from reading the family photo as a whole. Writing is particularly distracting because automatically our eyes tend to go for the letters and find a meaning in it.
3. Use patterns with moderation.
Patterns are ok, actually, I am a big lover of beautiful patterned fabrics, but it's better to have into account how they fit in the group. Does it all go together? Are there patterns clashing with each other? Most examples for family outfit combinations tend to use one patterned piece of clothing and keep the other ones in the same group plain, within the same colours. Having said that sometimes, combined patterns work together. Use your judgment, set out all the clothing together: does it work? Are there any elements clashing? Is it harmonious? If in doubt, then maybe stick to just one main pattern.
4. Try to keep the style consistent.
Again, if possible. If it fits your family. If it fits all the elements in your family. Visually, it helps. But again....emotion speaks a lot louder than clothes!
5. Keep it real!
What I mean by this is.....we're covering outdoor shoots here. It's better not to bring clothes/shoes you're terrified of getting dirty. Especially with children, some of the most amazing moments happen when they are happy and having fun. They might get sand everywhere. They might get a bit wet. They might get a bit of mud here and there. It happens. If you have clothes you absolutely need to keep spotless, maybe a studio session would be more adequate? Talk to me, we can discuss it! But when going for outdoor sessions it is preferable to have a bit of leeway and maybe avoid clothes that need to remain spotless.
6. Coordinating or matching?
Personally, I prefer coordinating. A colour scheme that works well together, a general style that defines the group, rather than everyone wearing the same or very similar clothes. But at the end of the day it all depends on what you want from the photos. Matching has a function too. It shows unity, it's fun, it's a different way of saying 'we belong together, we are one''. Coordinating says more 'we're part of a whole, but we're all also so different between ourselves'. There is no right or wrong, it's whatever suits your family.
Now that we've talked about general rules, I would like to get into colour schemes that better suit a Spring/Summer photoshoot at a beach location. With colours, it might be easier to choose a main colour and combine it with one or 2 others that work well with it. You can either go for colours that are similar, or for colours that are complementary. When using colours that complement the main one, sometimes all you need is a little splash of colour to make it work. It could be a scarf, a hair band, a tiny part of the pattern, jewellery, shoes..... You don't need to use all the colours in the same proportion.
This family for example did a great job of using complementary colours, and including a couple of patterns that fit well with the rest of the group:
I will show a group of different colour patterns. It doesn't mean you have to use all the colours in that pattern. These are just suggestions of tones that work well together. you might want to choose a couple or three of them. Blues, corals, purples and yellows are a nice starting point for summer beach clothes. I am a big lover of colour so I often go for complementary tones. Plus, in a bigger family, it might be easier and give you more freedom of choice. But using only tones that are close together on the colour wheel is another very valid option.
I have put together a few examples of outfit coordination with some outfits I found around my own house. In my family, I tend to wear more patterned fabrics than the other members, so I found it easier to choose one of my dresses to start with and coordinate the rest of the colours based on the colours around that pattern. If you have one family member that is more particular about what they wear than the others, maybe starting with their outfit can make the process easier?
Denim with white or a bright pastel colour always works really well in beach shoots too and it's sometimes an option we find easier to find around the house:
This family for example had a central pattern (mum) in blues and greens and white, with the dad and the boys going for similar tones. Note also how the boys are wearing the same sort of model top but in different colours. All of this result in a sort of style and colour harmony that makes the photo work really well: