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What colors to wear for family photos

By: Christopher Todd

Award-winning Orange County photographer specializing in people with 20+ years of experience

What colors to wear for family photos

By: Christopher Todd

In this article, my goal is to help you decide on what colors to wear for family photos. I take the guesswork out of selecting the perfect color palette, offering insights on how to harmonize, coordinate, and leverage a thoughtful color scheme. 

Table Of Contents

    What Colors To Wear For Family Photos | Examples & Tips

    Trying to figure out what colors to wear for family photos is one of the most stressful parts of planning a family photoshoot. I know when I am capturing the essence of a family in a photograph that those photos become priceless and a form of artwork. Every hue and shade contributes to the narrative of togetherness. As families prepare to freeze the moment in time, the question of what colors to wear becomes pivotal in shaping the visual story. 

    One of the biggest challenges when planning portraits for moms is deciding on what to wear. I am here to help you on this journey and to take the stress out of finding the best family photoshoot outfit ideas.  

    I can tell you from over 20 years of photographing families in California that what families wear plays a huge role in the outcome of their portraits. With that being said I have put together this comprehensive guide on Choosing and Coordinating Colors for Family Photos.

    From understanding the basics of color theory to practical tips on achieving the perfect balance, join us as we navigate the world of hues and tones to ensure your family portraits are not just pictures but timeless reflections of the love and connection you share. 

    If this sounds a bit overwhelming please continue to scroll through the blog as we offer examples of color schemes and ways to choose the best colors to wear for your entire family. 

    Learn about Christopher Todd Studios' family portrait photography.

    1. Stick With Neutral Colors

    Another name for neutrals is earth tones. Think of them as toned-down softer colors that feel more relaxed. Neutral colors are much better to pair together than bright saturated colors and will make Mom's job of coordinating outfits much easier

    Family of five sitting on couch together
    Neutral Earthtone Swatch Example 1
    Neutral Earthtone Swatch Example 2

    2. Use A Color Palette Or Color Scheme

    This can help to create a cohesive and visually pleasing look. Choose a few key colors and incorporate them into each family member's outfit.

    A simple way to think about color schemes is to break all colors into two categories. Warm or Cool. Keep all of your outfits either warm-toned (yellows, browns, oranges) or cool-toned (blues, purples, greens). Read on to learn more in-depth about color schemes.

    Color Wheel Warm Cool Example

    PRO TIP: Think About Seasonal Colors:

    Consider the season when planning your color scheme. For Fall warmer tones like reds, oranges, and browns work well. While in Spring cooler colors like pastels and light blues may be more suitable. Seasonal colors can enhance the overall mood and atmosphere of your photos.


    family of five standing in nature park wearing earthtone outfit example for Fall photos


    family of four standing on beach with dads hand on daughters shoulder wearing spring cool color outfits.

    3. Choose Colors That Complement Skin Tones

    It's essential to choose colors that flatter each family member's unique skin tone. Warm tones like reds, yellows, and oranges work well for those with Olive skin tones, while cool tones like blues, greens, and purples are better suited for those with pale fairer skin tones.

    Some shades may complement or enhance different complexions, while others may clash. Oftentimes I like to recommend clothing colors that enhance eye color. A good example of this is a blue shirt for anyone with blue eyes.  However, don't forget to consider individual preferences.

    Asian family of four holding young girls up.

    4. Avoid Matching Outfits


    While coordinating colors is important.  However, don't make the mistake I've seen most often by having everyone wear the exact same outfit.

    Analogous Color Scheme Outfit Example

    Instead, aim for a mix of monochromatic or analogous colors in the warm or cool-toned palette.

    Reasons not to wear matching tops, or have everyone  wearing the same color

    1. Individuals blend into each other and don't stand out
    2. Personalities get lost in the photo
    3. The photo becomes dull and unappealing 

    Balance Bold and Neutral:

    • If you have a bold or dominant color in your scheme, balance it with neutral tones like white, beige, or gray.
    Family of four holding hands walking on beach

    5. Use Patterns Sparingly

    My rule of thumb is to wear 2 solid-toned outfits for every pattern outfit. Some other great strategies for coordinating patterns and solids

    Coordinate, Don't Match

    I love how in this photo the dad is wearing a white shirt so he stands out and the mom has opposite stripes. The earthy tones and flowy dresses they chose work perfectly for this photo. 

    Pro Tip:  Mindful Pattern Use:

    • Incorporating patterns can add depth and texture to your photos, but be mindful of their scale. Mix smaller patterns with larger ones and solid colors to avoid a busy or chaotic appearance.
    family of 10 wearing coordinating color scheme for portraits at the beach during sunset

    BONUS Personal Style

    It's important to let each family member's personal style shine through in their outfit choices. This will ensure that everyone feels comfortable and confident in their clothing.

    Pro Tip: Once you have chosen a color scheme and a palette start with Mom's outfit first this could be the base outfit. I suggest starting with Mom's outfit first because once Mom loves what she is wearing, the rest of the family with build on that and fall into place. 

    Consider the Location:

    • Take into account the setting where the photos will be taken. The colors of the background, such as the natural landscape or the walls of a studio, should complement the chosen color scheme for your outfits.

    How do I use a color wheel to plan family outfits?

    I've always found color to be fascinating. As an artist, I have been using a color wheel for many years. Whether it be for painting as a hobby or deciding on where to place a family based on what colors they have chosen with the background of our photoshoot. It comes naturally for me to see how colors work together in portrait photography. Understanding a color wheel can be very beneficial to those planning outfits for family portraits.

    Color Wheel Example

    A Simple Explanation Of A Color Wheel

    • It is a circular diagram of colors arranged by their chromatic relationship.
    • It is a visual tool that helps artists, designers, and anyone working with colors understand how different hues relate to one another.
    • The color wheel is based on color theory, which explores the relationships between colors and the visual effects of these relationships.
    Primary Secondary Tertiary Color Wheel

    Understanding The Color Wheel

    When it comes to choosing the right colors for family outfits, it's important to understand the basics of the color wheel. The color wheel consists of:

    1. Primary Colors: The three primary colors—red, blue, and yellow—are positioned equidistant from each other on the color wheel. These colors are considered fundamental because they cannot be created by mixing other colors.
    2. Secondary Colors: Secondary colors are created by mixing equal parts of two primary colors. They are orange (red + yellow), green (yellow + blue), and purple (blue + red).
    3. Tertiary Colors: Tertiary colors are the result of mixing a primary color with a secondary color. These colors include shades like red-orange, yellow-green, blue-purple, etc.

    Color relationships on the color wheel

    To pick out harmonious colors for family outfits, start by using the different color relationships on the color wheel.

    • Analogous colors are next to each other on the wheel and create a cohesive look.
    • Complementary colors are opposite each other on the wheel and provide a bold contrast.
    • Triadic colors are evenly spaced around the wheel and offer a balanced look.
    Color Harmony Mono Chromatic


    The easiest formula for cohesiveness when planning what color to wear for outfits is monochromatic. This is because it only uses one color on the wheel. The colors suit each other perfectly because they're all from the same family.Sticking with different shades of a single color for a timeless and polished look. 

    Color Harmony Complementary


    Pair opposite colors on the color wheel, such as blue and orange, for a bold and eye-catching look.

    • Complementary colors are positioned opposite each other on the color wheel. Examples include red and green, blue and orange, yellow and purple. Using complementary colors in design or art can create a vibrant and visually striking effect.
    • A good way to incorporate a complementary color scheme would be to choose colors that complement the background of your photos. For example, if you decide on a park and the leaves are turning yellowish orange look at a color wheel and see what complements those colors. 
    Color Harmony Analogous


    This involves colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. They usually match well and create serene and comfortable designs.

    • Using an analogous color scheme will harmonize the colors you choose.
    • It creates a smoothing look in which one color dominates, one color supports, and the other color accents.
    • This is especially useful when photographing families between 3-4 members. 
    Color Harmony Triadic


    Triadic color schemes involve three colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. This creates a balanced and harmonious look.

    Color Harmony Tetradic


    Square color schemes, also known as tetradic, use four colors evenly spaced around the color wheel. This scheme is similar to the triadic, but it offers more color variety but requires careful balancing. 

    Understand Color Relationships

    When putting together family outfits, it's important to consider the color relationships, and how each color will work together. Consider the overall look and feel you want to achieve and choose colors that work together whether it be a monochromatic, complementary, analagous, or tetradic relationship. By understanding the color wheel and using it to pick out harmonious colors, you can create stylish and coordinated family outfits for any occasion.

    What is a color scheme? 

    A color scheme is a grouping or selection of colors used in a design, outfit, artwork, or any visual composition.

    • It serves as a guideline for organizing and arranging colors to create a visually appealing and harmonious result.
    • Color schemes are based on color theory, which explores the relationships between colors and their psychological effects also known as color relationships. 
    Reds Monochromatic Color Scheme Copy
    Blues Monochromatic Color Scheme

    How To Use A Color Scheme For Family Photos

    When it comes to choosing the right colors for family outfits in photos, it's important to consider the overall color scheme. One way to do this is by using a color palette as a starting point. A color palette is a collection of colors that work well together and can be used to guide your outfit choices.

    A common starting point for choosing a color scheme for family photos is to take inspiration from the location or backdrop. For example, if you're taking photos at the beach, you might choose colors that are reminiscent of the ocean, such as blues, greens, or warmer tones from the sun and sand.

    Beach Color Scheme Example
    Family of four wearing shades of blue standing in front of pier at beach.

    Another important consideration is the size of your family. Larger families may need to incorporate additional neutrals or fewer colors to avoid overwhelming the photo.

    Large Family Outfit Examples Neutral Colors Solids Patterns

    When choosing colors for family outfits, it's important to consider what to wear and what not to wear. It's generally best to avoid wearing all the same color, as this can look too matchy-matchy. Instead, opt for coordinating colors that complement each other.

    Example Family Photo Matching White Shirts Blue Jeans

    In summary, when choosing the right colors for family outfits in photos, using a color palette as a starting point and considering the inspiration and size of your family are key elements to creating a cohesive and visually appealing color scheme.

    The best way to get great family portraits is to use a color scheme for your photos. Learning how to use a color wheel will help you plan outfits and get ideas for family photos.

    Pro Tip: Christopher's Favs

    For family photoshoots, I like to start with a monochromatic color scheme.

    1. Just pick a base color and use different shades.
    2. Next, add in a pop of color that is complementary.
    Monochromatic Bule Colors With Complementary Pop Of Orange
    Family of four wearing fall color outfits under structure.

    My Color Wheel Cheatsheet

    This will help moms harmonize and coordinate family outfits. It is a perfect tool to use to understand color relationships, create harmonious color schemes, and make informed decisions about color combinations that work. It's widely used in various creative fields, including painting, graphic design, interior design, and photography. I have also found a color wheel to be very beneficial for color coordination for family pictures.

    Remember to choose muted versions of these colors also known as hues. For example red is a primary color and coral or pink is a hue or muted version of red. Look for shades and tones of the chosen colors to create a more subtle and elegant effect.

    Most Common Color Scheme Ideas

    There are several types of common color schemes, each with its unique characteristics. Here are some of my favorites to give you planning ideas.


    Earthtone Color Scheme


    Neutral Collor Pallets


    Pastel Color Pallete Examples

    Color schemes for Locations

    It is smart to consider the environment you will be photographed in when planning what colors to wear.

    At The Beach

    Beach Color Pallete For Outfit Planning

    At The Park

    Park Nature Color Pallets

    In The Snow

    Color Pallete Examples For The Snow

    In The City

    City Color Pallete Examples

    Color schemes for Seasons

    It is also important to pay attention to the different seasons or times of year. Coordinate complimentary outfit colors when colors change in the environment.


    Spring Color Pallete


    Summer Color Pallete Example


    Fall Color Pallete Examples


    Winter Color Pallete Examples

    3 Easy Steps To Pick Your Outfit Colors

    STEP #1

    Consider the location where you will be taking photos. Pick colors that either harmonize or contrast with the environment. Harmonizing your outfits with the environment creates a peaceful and connected feeling while contrasting your outfits depicts more tension and energy. 

    Outfits Harmonize With Environment

    teenage brother and sister embracing

    Outfits Contrast Environment

    Three generation of mother, daughter, baby on beach

    STEP #2

    Start with an analogous color scheme. Simply put pick colors that are next to each other on the color wheel, for example, Purples, Grays, and Mauve.  This is the easiest color scheme to pick clothes.

    family of four in park with tall trees looking at each other.

    STEP #3

    Accessorize with pops of bolder colors to add more contrast to the image. I like to add bolder colors that are complementary to your main tones.  

    small boy wearing yellow shirt jumping during low tide looking at reflection in sand

    Where To Shop For Family Outfits

    With a color scheme in mind for your family portraits it's time to put a plan into action to find the perfect outfits. Hopefully, this is the fun part for you, but if shopping isn't your thing I have some suggestions to get the ball rolling. 

    First, start by looking in your closets. With an idea of what you want to wear see if you already have any tops, bottoms, or dresses. It's ok if you don't. These top clothing stores have got you covered. Here are some stores that will help you get started.

    For moms: Bohme, Zara, Gap, Target, Amazon.

    Keywords to use in search: maxi dress, tulle skirt, tuckable sweater.

    Dads: Zara, Target, Kohl's, Amazon, Old Navy.

    Keywords to use in search:  Chino pants, dark wash jeans, crew neck sweater, henley top, button-up top

    Boys: Zara, Target, Kohl's, Amazon, Old Navy.

    Keywords to use in search: Henley, button-up, flannel, khaki pants 

    Girls: Zara, Old Navy, Rylee + Cru, Target

    Keywords to use in search: Pattern dress, tulle skirt, knit sweater, flared pants, woven top

    For those last-minute shopping needs, Amazon is always a quick and convenient option. With its vast selection of clothing and fast shipping, you can easily find the perfect outfits for the whole family with just a few clicks.

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    Some of our most frequently asked questions from our families?

    Have more questions? Get in touch with us to start planning your family portrait today.

    Meet Your Family Photographer

    Call Me Chris

    I won't bore you with too many details, but I will say that I consider myself to be the luckiest guy in the world and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to merge my passion and career.

    A couple of quick things about me personally. I was born and raised in Orange County. I currently live with my family near Huntington Beach where I love to surf or be in the ocean with my boys.

    My passions include art, traveling, and of course photography.

    Male photographer holding camera.

    Meet Your Family Photographer

    Male photographer holding camera.

    Call Me Chris

    I won't bore you with too many details, but I will say that I consider myself to be the luckiest guy in the world and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to merge my passion and career.

    A couple of quick things about me personally. I was born and raised in Orange County. I currently live with my family near Huntington Beach where I love to surf or be in the ocean with my boys.

    My passions include art, traveling, and of course photography.

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