March 31, 2021

Spring & Summer 2021 Family Photos – What to Wear Outfit and Inspiration Style Guide

My passion is capturing photographs of heartfelt moments for families to savor forever as keepsake memories. Whenever I'm not helping your family, you can find me loving on my own. Camping trips, boba tea, and card games are our favorite ways to connect!  

I'm Kelly


Greensboro Family & Lifestyle Photogapher

What I love about this family’s outfits is the mom’s dress has a gorgeous pattern that draws in colors from her daughter’s dresses. The daughters are in different complimenting dresses and dad is in the perfect light blue button down shirt to tie it…

What should we wear for family photos?!

Have you found yourself smiling more lately? After a long, hard winter the change of seasons seems to bring such joy! The lighter colors come out. Our toes start to wiggle free. Everything feels fun again. Perhaps that’s why so many people choose to do family photos this time of year? Nature’s artwork is on full display with the spring bloom. Plus, the warmer weather makes it a super pleasant time to capture your growing kiddos on camera. 

Looking for family photo outfit ideas? You’ve come to the right place!

Choosing attire for a photo session is a bit more complex than pulling a few favorites from the depths of your closet. Why? Things that look great in person, don’t always translate on camera. And let’s be real here… Professional photos? They’re an investment! You don’t want to leave your outfit to chance.

The goal is to find a style that’s authentic to your family, but feels special at the same time.

Your outfits should be cohesive not “matchy-matchy.”

If your head is spinning, don’t worry. Let’s break the process down step-by-step. And I’ve got a little industry secret for you—-the key places photographers shop! These brands have a reputation for interesting textural details and clothing that creates dreamy, earthy, and ethereal imagery. So let’s dive in!

sunset summer family session at a lake outside Lafayette, Indiana with Kelly McPhail Photography


Step-by-Step Guide to choosing your Outfits

Here is a quick step-by-step guide to our top tips and best advice as you choose your outfits!

1. Choose the Location.

Before you even consider what outfits you want to wear, talk to your photographer about location options and what you most prefer. Will you have a casual beach session or will you be dressed up downtown? Will you be frolicking through wildflower fields or hiking to an epic mountain location? Your location actually matters a lot as you choose your outfits. Consider the vibe you are going for first as you select your outfits and then work with your photographer to choose a suitable location.

2. Start with mom’s outfit.

It can be hard to know where to begin, but think of it as building blocks. Start with one outfit and then you can build upon that. My recommendation is to start with mom (or daughter), since women’s clothing tends to have more colors and prints. And let’s be honest, we are more picky about how we look, and moms are typically pulling the outfits together anyways.

My best advice is for you to wear a dress in your favorite color. Not only are dresses flattering, but you will feel good in it. If you hate dresses, think about a skirt/top combo, but choose something that is slightly dresser than your everyday look. Opt for high quality fabrics (not t-shirt material) because they hang better.

3. Choose a color palette.

After you’ve chosen mom’s outfit, think about 2-3 coordinating colors, some neutral and one of which pops and brings life to the outfits. I’ve created a Pinterest board with summer family photo outfit ideas! Go check it out!

Also, the color palette you choose will affect your appearance and the overall look of your photo. Warmer colors like peach, cream, brown, will give your photos a soft glowing look, while bold and vivid colors will produce a brighter and sharper appearance.

Daddy kissing baby girl during a sweet moment at their lifestyle family photo session in West Lafayette, Indiana.


4. Think muted colors.

Avoid overly saturated and bold colors, as they distract in the photo. Look for MUTED versions of the same color. For example, if you have a bright hot pink shirt, try a muted dusty rose instead.

5. Coordinate, don’t match.

Gone are the days when everyone wears matching white polos and khakis for family photos on the beach. Choose colors that complement each other but are not overly matchy-matchy. For example, avoid wearing the same color top as your spouse or putting your girls in the same matching dresses.

After mom’s outfit is chosen, begin to find 2-3 coordinating colors that complement. Need more inspiration? Check out my Pinterest board!

6. Add variety with subtle patterns.

They say that variety is the spice of life right? To add depth and interest to your photos, create dimension by having primarily solids with a few coordinating subtle patterns and textures. Patterns are great in small doses and add a lot of your photo. Avoid bold, large prints that can distract from the photo though. You want your family photos to be about you and not merely your outfits.

Layers are another way to add variety with cardigans, shawls, scarves, etc.

Family outfit ideas for your family pictures. Mom in a white lace dress, baby in a purple romper from Bloom Kids Collection and dad in a light blue button down shirt with sleeves rolled in West Lafayette, Indiana with Kelly McPhail Photography.

A lifestyle family photo session in West Lafayette at the Purdue Horticulture Park as the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

6. Fitted clothing is your friend.

While flowy shirts and dresses are currently in style, they can hide your shape and be less flattering in photos. Find clothes that are neither overly baggy nor too tight, and think about balance between your upper and lower half. If you have a flowing skirt, chose a fitted top, and with a loose top, choose skinny jeans. It’s all about balance, folks.

7. Dress for the weather.

You might have the perfect outfit on, but if you’re freezing or sweating to death, a family photo session can quickly unravel. Layering is the perfect solution for those chilly evenings or sweltering August days! Remember, little ones get cold more quickly than adults when temperatures are low, so pack a cardigan or sweater for them. Cold kiddos = sad photos…keep those kids warm!

8. Just Be Yourself.

Don’t dress like someone else you saw on Pinterest just because you found an amazing outfit idea. You want these photos to represent the real you and your family and not be something that you aren’t. This might mean you wear shorts or torn up jeans or a boho vintage thrift store dress. Just be you!


A mother has a sweet moment with her two little daughters in a summer field in West Lafayette, Indiana during their family photo session

Choosing outfits for family photos can be challenging but having a color palette in mind can help as you coordinate outfits with each other. Looking for a family photographer who will help you pick the best outfit combinations? Contact Kelly McPhail…

9. Coordinate with your interior style.

How you decorate your home says a lot about you and your style. Consider coordinating your outfits to your home décor, as you will likely display your photos on your walls. For example, if your house is decorated in white muted tones, don’t wear bright and bold outfits.

10. Opt for classic over trendy.

Super trendy clothes are so fun because they look amazing now, but think about classic styles and outfits that will not make you cringe in 15 years.

11. Include your kids.

Involve your children in planning and choosing outfits. They will be much more excited about family photos if they like what they’re wearing. This doesn’t mean that you should let your daughter wear her favorite princess dress. Instead, incorporate their favorite color. Please don’t make them wear something they hate. You want your kiddos happy for your session!

12. Only one outfit needed.

Don’t overly complicate family photos by bringing multiple outfits for everyone. Kids usually HATE changing clothes and can end up cranky afterwards, not to mention it takes time away from your session. If you have a drooling baby, put a bib on them until you arrive at the session, or alternatively, change them into their outfit right when you arrive to ensure clean clothes.

13. Remember the shoes.

Shoes have the power to complete an outfit or completely destroy it! Think about your session location. If you are in a field, for instance, you won’t be able to walk in those stilettos. Avoid bright white shoes, all athletic sneakers, and kids’ shoes with cartoon characters and sparkles. If you just can’t find shoes you love, consider having the family go barefoot for the session (just bring shoes to walk around at the location!).

14. Don’t wait to try on your clothes until the day before.

Try on your clothes well in advance so you can switch it up if something isn’t working. Look at your outfit from different angles and move around to make sure it works for lifestyle photos. There’s nothing worse than a gorgeous v-neck dress that keeps gaping wide-open to show your bra as you cuddle and tickle your kiddos.


Family Photographer Carmel Indiana

Family outfits color palette with peach, brown, tan, and caramel colors. Think muted tones when choosing outfits for your family photos. Bold and bright colors can often distract from your family pictures.

Overall Tips


Most importantly, you want to feel comfortable in what you wear. You don’t want an outfit that keeps shifting out of place or falling down. Choose clothing that allows you to play with your kids, move freely and feels good on you. For guys this means that shirts that look good untucked are usually better since you will be playing and moving around with your kids and you don’t want to have to keep tucking in your shirt.


Don’t forget earrings, bracelets, hats, or other accessories that help complete your outfit! Ladies, please avoid necklaces as they have a hard time staying in place and can get tangled up in those cuddle and tickle moments with your kids.


Texture is a striking feature and adds great dimension to your photos and helps them stand out. Examples of texture include chambray, faux fur, chunky knits, lace, tweed, wool, etc.


Apply your makeup in natural light so that you know how it will look for outdoor photos. Apply just a little bit more than you usually would and make sure to blend foundation well with your neck. Stay away from nude lipsticks as they wash you out, but do make sure to wear lip gloss (chapstick for everyone in the family so they don’t have the dry lip look). If you’re comfortable with it, help your eyes pop with natural length fake eyelashes.

Family Photographer Indianapolis, Indiana

A lifestyle family session in West Lafayette, Indiana with two young toddler girls. Wearing burgundies, blues, and pinks.

Please Avoid…


Steer clear of cargo shorts, baggy jeans, and oversized clothing.


Thin stripes and tight plaids distort in printed photos and appear zig-zaggy and thus should be avoided.


Avoid outfits that are too formal for your setting. If you are in a natural area, a tuxedo, formal dress, tie/bowtie, might feel out of place.


Dads, leave the shorts at home and opt for pants so your hairy legs don’t distract from the photo.


White has the tendency to wash out complexions. Choose ivory and creams instead.


Dark colors (e.g., navy blues, black, dark browns and grays) should be avoided, since they appear black in photos. Also, dark colors can wash out your complexion and create an overly dark feel in the photo. Overly saturated colors can distract from the photo, so look instead for muted versions. For example, if you have a bright yellow dress, think about a mustard or gold dress instead.


Neon colors can reflect onto your face, causing skin tone problems in your photos. That neon green shirt will reflect upwards on your face and cause you to look green!


Logos or text on clothing is distracting. Avoid shirts that have logos (even just a simple Nike check mark or Polo horse is distracting).


Unless you absolutely love your arms, avoid strapless or sleeveless tops. Sleeves are typically more flattering for everyone!


Guys, it’s best to avoid wearing white undershirts that hang out of the top of your shirt or sleeves.

Athletic Polo Shirts

You might love your Under Armour quick-dry polo but it’s not really the look you want to go for in your family session. Avoid athletic polos or quick-dry shirts and opt for more timeless fabrics.


White tennis shoes, athletic shoes, and character shoes (think Disney princess shoes) should all be avoided. Leather shoes, casual sneakers (think Converse), sandals, slide-on canvas shoes, and wedges are all great options.


Low-cut shirts can shift during the session and leave you a little more revealed than you intended. Clothing that is overly tight and clings to you is uncomfortable and can leave bulges and bumps in places you don’t want.


An adorably cute moment with your baby can be ruined by the green-lined diaper that is hanging out of a little romper or dress. Avoid baby clothing that doesn’t completely cover those little Pampers.


If you typically wear glasses, wear them for your session. But if you have polarized or transitional lenses, consider taking them off. Dark glasses will cover your eyes in the photos.

Family photos in West Lafayette, Indiana. Baby is wearing a mint romper and mom is wearing a white lace dress.

My Favorite Stores to Shop for Family Session Outfits

Baltic Born (my personal favorite for women’s dresses)

Jessakae (women’s dresses)

Chicwish (women’s dresses/skirts)

Lulu’s (women’s dresses)

Joyfolie (women’s and girl’s dresses)

Free People (women’s dresses)

Bohme (adorable boho options for women)

H&M (best for kids outfits (specifically boys) and men’s and women’s pieces)

Zara (a little something for everyone)

Bloom (local Lafayette, Indiana kid’s boutique)

Anthropologie (unique pieces for women with gorgeous textures)

Buck Mason (quality neutral toned options for men)

Nordstrom (a little something for everyone)

Rent the Runway (great option to rent a dress if you only plan to wear it once)

Fillyboo (expensive but gorgeous dresses for women (bump friendly as well)

Abercrombie (jeans and tops for men and women)

American Eagle (men’s shirts and jeans, women’s tops/dresses, and options for teens)

Lucky Brand (vintage henley t-shirts and jeans for men)

Elistory (kid’s boutique with modern vintage clothing)

Shein (cheap but unique options for women and kids)

Banana Republic/Gap (a little something for everyone)

Ann Taylor Loft (women’s tops/skirts)

JCrew (a little something for everyone)

Target (kids outfits and a few options for adults)

Amazon (always great in a pinch and surprisingly good options if you look)

Old Navy (affordable options for everyone)

Family Outfit Ideas

Below are five family outfit combinations with links to spark ideas and get you started! Have questions or not sure if your outfits go well together? Send your photographer a photo to get their professional opinion on how they coordinate and work with the location. Your photographer is there to help you!


Dad: Banana Republic Sweater, Pants, Shoes

Girl: Girl’s Bloom Mixed Cream Dress

Baby girl: Posh Peanut Long Sleeve Henley Twirl Skirt

Boy: Boys Gray Jeans and White roll up top,

Mom: Baltic Born Mauve Dress, Nordstrom Shoes


Mom: Baltic Born Kimono Dress

Girl: Target Dress, Target Shoes

Baby Girl: Bloom Blue Romper

Boy: Bloom Babyface Jeans, Amazon Henley

Dad: Old Navy Henley


Dad: Buck Mason Henley T-shirt, Abercrombie Jeans

Boy: Carter’s Jumpsuit

Girl: Gap Paperbag Waist Capre Pants, Janie & Jack Shirt, Mustard Yellow Amazon Sandals

Mom: Shein Floral Top, Free People White Jeans


Dad: Nordstrom Button-Down, Abercrombie Jeans

Boy: Gap Chambray Shirt, Bloom Mayoral Shorts, Boy’s Birkenstocks

Girl: Shein Jumpsuit

Mom: Shein White Shirt, Shein Pink Skirt


Dad: Buck Mason Chambray Shirt

Girl: Janie & Jack Dress, Target Sandals

Boy: Bloom Polo Shirt, Bloom Babyface Jeans

Mom: Shein Swiss Dot Blue Dress

A little girl in a yellow wildflower field in Lafayette, Indiana in a blue denim shirt and white shorts… with the biggest smile! Kelly McPhail Photography

priceless expressions from this little boy in Lafayette, Indiana at his family’s photo session with Kelly McPhail Photography

Looking for what to wear for family photos this summer? Here is a great color palette for a family photo session with purple, pink, tan, and white.

Summer family outfit ideas with seafoam green, white lace, tan and khaki.

Summer/fall family outfit ideas for family photoshoot with browns, gold, navy blue, and tans.

If you are still reading this…

…and feel completely overwhelmed, start with one outfit—probably yours, mom! Choose something you love and feels flattering on you, and then coordinate a few other colors and build from there.

Remember, these photos are about you, your family, and the love and connection you share! Having great outfits is the icing on the cake! If you feel comfortable and confident about how you look, you are much more likely to love your photos. I share all of this advice because I want your outfits to compliment and help make the photo, not detract from it.

Please don’t stress 🙂 Reach out if you have any questions. Let’s document these sweet moments and preserve these memories!

Your Family is Imperfectly Perfect

Your photo session day is finally here! Take a deep breath and enjoy the moments connecting and making memories together! If you feel stressed, your kids will sense it and likely fall apart as well. Each and every family is beautiful even with all the quirks, imperfections and and rough edges. Embrace who you are as a family and let’s capture that!

Also, your memory of the session is intrinsically tied to the photo…so my goal as a photographer is to create a fun and memorable experience, playing and making memories with your kids so that when you look back at your photos, you are filled with only the warmest of feelings and love for those you cherish most!

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My passion is capturing photographs of heartfelt moments for families to savor forever as keepsake memories. Whenever I'm not helping your family, you can find me loving on my own. Camping trips, boba tea, and card games are our favorite ways to connect!  

I'm Kelly


Greensboro Family & Lifestyle Photogapher