How to Style Your Family Portrait Sessions

Family portraits are such a special memory.  They preserve moments in time that you will never get back.  They also preserve fashion disasters, cheesy props, and hideous hairdos.  You know it’s true! So how do you avoid ending up on Awkward Family Photos (besides skipping all-demin jumpsuits) and look like someone just pinned you on Pinterest? 

My friend Whitney, who owns Whitney Scheibel Photography, recently snapped a couples/family photo session for us.  I’m absolutely in love with her work, and especially loved the way our shoot turned out.  I thought this was a perfect opportunity to answer a question I get asked alot–how do you style a family portrait?

How to Style Your Family Portraits

The secret to the perfect family photo is not to be too matchy-matchy.  Matching is okay.  It’s when you go for that perfect color match that you’ve crossed the line–unless it’s UK blue, and then you’re doing just fine!
Start with an anchor piece.  An anchor piece is that one piece of clothing that you just have to have in the photos.  In my experience, this usually ends up being a shirt.  You will create your entire family’s wardrobe around this anchor piece, and it ties the whole “look” together.
Base your color palette off of the anchor piece.  For example, if you choose a shirt for your child that has navy and maroon stripes, then navy and maroon are going to be your main color palette. If you are taking a 3+ people photograph, then mix the colors however.  This means that you can have mom wear a maroon dress and dad wear a navy gingham button-down.  If you have a 2 person photoshoot, such as with some of the pictures of just Chauncey and I, make sure the other person’s shirt picks up the accent color in the anchor piece.  Here, our anchor piece is an ivory shirt with black polka dots, so Chauncey dressed in a black shirt to pick up on the polka dots.

Make use of accent colors.  If your anchor piece is bright, then make sure to use neutral accents.  If your anchor piece is neutral in tone, then use bright accents.  Since our anchor piece was neutral, I accented with a moss green vest above, and then Kane and I accented with orange shirts below.  You can also throw in accent colors by using scarves, bowties, bows, jewelry, etc.

Same color tones, not exact same shades.  When you’re building your look around your anchor piece, please don’t try to match every shade exactly.  Here, Kane and I are both in orange shirts, but mine was brighter and more vivid, while his was more of a pumpkin orange.

Use props that are everyday items and that look natural in the setting.  Here, we pulled out my blanket scarf to add some extra pop to the shoot.

Make sure your clothing is comfortable.  If you put someone in itchy material or something too tight, they will be pulling at their clothes the entire time and the poses will look forced. 
These photos were taken at Jacobson Park in Lexington, Kentucky.  Whitney was such an amazing photographer!  She had great ideas and was very patient with Kane.  I was so pleased with these photos because they perfectly capture life with a toddler–always on the move!  You can check out the rest of our session on Whitney’s blog, and be sure to visit Whitney’s photography website as well!

Nice to meet you!

Hi there! I’m Tif Fannin, the blogger behind Bright on a Budget, based in Lexington, Kentucky. Bright on a Budget is a Southern fashion and lifestyle blog where I share everyday looks, beauty, and travel, along with a behind-the-scenes look at my life as a working mom of two. I have a penchant for bright colors + good deals. Follow along for posts that are relatable to the everyday woman.

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  1. 12.3.14
    Caitlin said:

    It's always interesting trying to capture photos of a busy toddler 🙂 I agree though, I love the ones that's how just what life is like because those are the moments you are going to look back on and cherish. Love all your tips, especially colors but not the same shade, if it's too matchy everyone seems to blend together!

  2. 12.3.14

    What adorable photos! They turned out really well, and your son is too cute! What a cute little family you have 🙂

    Natalie // Sprinkled with Pearls

  3. 12.3.14

    Love these tips! Your photos are beautiful!


  4. 12.3.14
    Kat said:

    Such great tips! And, all of your photos turned out adorable!


  5. 12.4.14

    Great tips! My husband's shirt was our anchor piece for our photos and I loved how the colors all came together.

  6. 12.4.14

    What sweet pictures! And that's a great tip about an anchor piece. Smart idea pulling out that blanket scarf!

    Katie @ Cup of Tea

  7. 12.4.14

    Beautiful photos Tif- I love the outfits you are all wearing. I know what you mean about the tips you shared as I learned them from a photographer/family member as well. Great post and I hope it changes the way people view dress code during photo shoots. Rachel xo

  8. 12.4.14

    Thanks, Caitlin! I thought you had some great tips as well, especially with the texture trick:)

  9. 12.4.14

    Thanks, Natalie! I was very pleased with them, and Kane is too cute for his own good.haha

  10. 12.4.14

    Thanks, Jill! These are keepsakes for sure!

  11. 12.4.14

    Thanks, Kat! I always get nervous about how a shoot will turn out, but this one was perfect!

  12. 12.4.14

    You all had some great family photos! The anchor piece is key!!!

  13. 12.4.14

    What other fashion blogger has gotten their husband in THE blanket scarf??? I think I should get a prize for that:) Thanks, friend!

  14. 12.4.14

    Thanks, Rachel!!! You all had wonderful family pictures when you had them done:) I thought about your school theme shirt when I made my UK comment!!! Meant to link this up and forgot to–it was so late when I did the post. I'll link up my Friday post though:)

  15. 12.6.14

    Spot on with all of your tips. I just love professional photos. I feel like it's stressful enough to pick out outfits and get everyone there so it's nice to relax and let the pros capture the shots. Cute pictures!