Having family photos taken when I was a kid was a very different experience than it is now.
We’d dress up in our Sunday best, pack in to the local photographer’s teeny studio, and spend the rest of the day blinking the flash out of our eyes.
“Wardrobe selection” for our photos was straightforward: Wear your favorite church outfit. It didn’t matter what color it was as long as it fit you well and looked nice.
The results were… mixed at best.
Okay, that’s not my family, but we basically looked just as disjointed. Luckily that was the thing back then, so nobody batted an eye.
It’s true that wardrobe and styling can elevate your photos.
Choosing styles, textures, prints, and colors that work well together can give your photos that extra “something.”
And some photographers will even offer an entire closet of clothing items you can choose from and wear at your session, for free! How stress-free is that?
I was surprised to learn soon after starting my photography business that the amazing clothing choices I was seeing on Instagram weren’t happy little accidents at all. They were evidence of careful, intentional styling on the part of the photographer, in collaboration with the client.
How to hire a photographer
Part 1: editing style
Part 2: posing style
Part 3: digitals, prints, turnaround, and backup plans
Part 4: editing expectations
Examples of styling in action
Let’s look at some photographers who use styling really well to enhance their images.
In this first example, note the colors and the textures (velvet, faux fur, lace, the knitted dress).
Alex Morris is one of my all-time favorites. She consistently incorporates a gorgeous rust color into many of her shoots (see second post below).
Annie is one of my mentors, and she has a full client closet full of lots of flowing dresses. The chunky knit cardigan on mom in the image below works hard: it provides texture, color, movement, and its off-the-shoulder shape imparts a decidedly relaxed vibe.
Photographers offer varying levels of styling as part of their services.
The amount of wardrobe and styling guidance you get with a photographer can vary widely.
- Level 1. No specific guidance. You’ll be trusted to make good choices on your own.
- Level 2. A little guidance, a list of “things to avoid,” but you’ll choose colors and items on your own.
- Level 3. More specific guidance, with a list of “do’s and don’ts”, possible color palettes, and suggestions on accessories, shoes, and fabrics.
- Level 4. Working closely with you, the photographer will help you style your family in colors, textures, and patterns that both flatter you and are on-brand for her. She’ll help you (or provide tools to do so, like Style & Select) create outfits for your family from new or existing pieces.
- Level 5. This option is fully directed styling with a client closet—a photographer’s own curated inventory of clothing for you to choose from. Most client closets contain dresses for women and girls and clothing for baby, but every collection is different. You’ll have a little try-on sesh, pick some items and combine them with new or existing pieces to dress your entire family.
There are also infinite possibilities that lie between these options, like my approach!
My wardrobe and styling process
After booking a family session, every client receives my Wardrobe Guide, which is primarily to cover the major do’s and don’ts.
I know wardrobe selection is the most stressful part of family photos for some people (ahem, me included) and I am not all about making it even worse. It’s intended to guide decisions, not tell you how to make them. Comfort is key, but feeling good about yourself is paramount.
For those who are comfortable styling their family, the Wardrobe Guide ensures they’ll be styled in a manner that most often results in happy, comfortable families, which in turn means awesome photos!
I also provide an optional personal styling service. Personally, I hate shopping for picture day outfits for my husband and kiddos, so this option is great for my clients who feel the same way! It totally takes the stress out of wardrobe planning. I used it for my recent family photo session and it was glorious.
Styling is a big part of family photos, and photographers are getting more hands-on to guide clients toward the colors and vibes that sync up best with their photography style.
When vetting your next family photographer, think about the styling assistance you want and need.
Do you have it handled without any help? Or would you prefer to put it in someone else’s capable hands? Ask your potential photographers what they offer and how the process works.
The final installment in the How to Hire a Family Photographer series is up next, and we’ll be talking about locations.