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10 Photo Session Style Tips

As we head into the busy season for family photos I thought I’d pop in and share some tips for styling yourself and your family for your session!

close up of one year old girl in red floral sun dress with blue flower headband walks across arched bridge holding mom and dad's hands and smiles at Gallup Park in Ann Arbor

1. First things first, BE YOURSELF. If that means you don’t take anything I say to heart and you do your own thing, MORE POWER TO YOU! I’m just here to help if you’re struggling to find a way to present yourself in your photos! I think the absolute best thing you can do is make sure you’re comfortable in what you’re wearing. Not just physically comfortable, but emotionally. Don’t change your style just for the photo session, most likely you’ll end up looking at your photos and wondering “Who is that person? That’s not me!” I know I look back at my wedding photos and every once in a while think, “Why did I decide on that color for my lips?” I mostly accept it now, but I kind of wish I had done it a bit differently. But, also, that’s a wedding and not a family session. Everyone looks different than your every day self on your wedding day!

Family of 5 sits on blanket in fall and has a tickle fest while laughing together

2. You don’t have to have the same outfit as everyone else in the photo! Sometimes that’s fun, but if you’re taking pictures so you can have updated family photos then it’s best to find complimentary outfits that go together instead of matching them to a T. Choose a few colors, like 2-3, that go together, then look within that spectrum to find your outfits. It’s even helpful if you shop at the same store for everyone. Places like Old Navy, Target, or J Crew will have a theme to their season’s clothing line and often will go well together. Can a few people match? Of course! But then maybe change up their shoes or other accessories to make them just a bit different. Can everyone match and will I still take your photos? ABSOLUTELY! Again, I want everyone to feel at ease during my sessions and if that means everyone dresses in the same maroon top then so be it. Who am I to judge?

3. Mix and match patterns the same as colors! However, don’t go too overboard with patterns as it can become distracting. This is probably the one area that I will kind of stick to my guns. There are certain patterns that will not photograph well and will sometimes ruin an otherwise great photo. I know from my time working on films that there are patterns that stylists will avoid because of what they do on screen. They will “vibrate” and hurt your eyes. It’s not often you’ll find a tight stripe on anyone in a movie or TV show. I dare you, go look! Well, same goes for still photography, though not necessarily the same as film. I’m a fan of stripes, and even tight stripes for photos, but HUGE patterns, or patterns with logos or bright complimentary colors can make you go a bit whacky when looking at them in a photo. They’ll vibrate also. If you don’t know what I mean by “vibrate” here’s an explanation.

Toddler girls snuggles with mom and holds hand while smiling at camera at Lavender Lane in Milan Michigan

4. Wear flattering silhouettes! What is a flattering silhouette? Whatever makes you feel good. Traditionally these styles fit well and don’t chop a person too high or too low (think of a too-short shirt [not a crop top that’s intentionally short] or a long, baggy t shirt and what that does to someone’s torso). Classic styles tend to embarrass us less when we look back on photos 10 or 20 years down the line. So if you want to look timeless in your photos, it’s best to shy away from trendy clothes and lean into the classic styles that don’t ever seem to go away.

5. Wear shoes you’ll be comfortable in. For a lot of my photo shoots we’ll be outside so you’ll want to find a pair of shoes that will not hinder your ability to walk across grass. Same goes for kids. Make sure they’re comfortable in their shoes otherwise it might show up on their faces that they are really not feeling it. Shoes should be clean (don’t necessarily have to be new) and free of logos or distracting patterns. They should add to your outfit, not distract from it.

father sits on bench while toddler boy stands next to him on the bench, both looking at each other laughing at studio session in ann arbor michigan

6. Finish shopping for your wardrobe 1-2 weeks before your session, especially if you’ve ordered online. We all know how long shipping times can be nowadays with all of the problems with USPS and the supply chain, so better be safe and order those outfits well in advance. It’s usually a good idea to order a few sizes too, especially for kids because you never know when a growth spurt will happen!

7. Do not cut your hair, or your child’s hair for that matter, less than 2 weeks before the photo session. This will give you time to fix any mistakes or regrets before the photos. It will also give your hair (or your child’s hair) time to grow out of that fresh cut, sometimes too short look. You’ll also want time to practice styling your new hair and don’t want to leave it to the last second. Which leads into tip number 8…

8. Practice your makeup or hire a make up artist 2-3 weeks in advance of the session. If you’re buying new makeup for the photos, make sure to get a few photos of yourself in the makeup ahead of time. HUGE SUGGESTION HERE! If your photos are going to be outside, make sure to take photos of yourself in your makeup OUTSIDE. If we’ll be inside, then try to find natural lighting, e.g. stand next to a window, to take your test photos. This will help determine if your makeup will look good in the photos you’re paying for! And as for a makeup artist, if you’re going to hire one do a test run beforehand. Make sure you’re on the same page before the day of.

9. Avoid going out in the sun for 2 days before your shoot so you avoid sun burns or weird tan lines. If you have to go out in the sun, make sure to wear sunscreen (like you should be doing anyways). Don’t get henna, unless you want it featured in your photos, and avoid anything else that may dye your skin ahead of the session. For example, don’t choose to tie dye shirts the day before, or make that secret family recipe that involves mashing beets with your hands. What recipe is that? No idea, but don’t do it.

Sisters explore together in beautiful greenhouse at Rustic Wild Arrow in Brooklyn Michigan

10. DAY OF TIPS: Iron your clothes. Remove items from your pockets, take off fitness trackers, and leave your sunglasses in the car (unless they play a part in your photo inspiration). Remove any items that may leave marks on your skin at least an hour prior to the photo session. If you’re wearing a strapless dress and don’t want bra marks, either wear a strapless bra or take that bra off long before coming out for photos! Also, make sure everyone is fed, adults included. The last thing we want is a hangry group sulking around because all they can think about is pizza. And make sure whatever snacks you bring won’t stain teeth or shirts if spilled.

Things to remember to bring with you to make your photo shoot as smooth as possible: baby wipes, stain remover pen, hair brush or comb, lip gloss, special props (e.g. favorite teddy, sunglasses [see above], hats), hair accessories, cute umbrella (for sun OR rain), and a jacket that goes with your aesthetic, or for function in between shots (think super cold or snowing).

Husband and wife cuddle and smile on a swinging bench in the morning light at Alber Orchard and Cider Mill in Manchester Michigan

So that’s it! Anything else you can think of that would help someone struggling to style themselves or their family for a photo shoot? Let me know!

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Hi I'm Emily! The Ann Arbor, Michigan based photographer behind Emmy & Ollie Photography, mama to two littles Oliver & Violet, and lifelong partner to my husband Ryan. I'm here to share about my life, my photo journey, beautiful moments, and tips to help you have the best photo session!

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