Nailing Your Portrait Session Style: Tips From a Former Photographer

Today's Blog Post Author is a great friend of mine and mentor that I adore completely. She is Kimberly of She's a former photographer turned business coach and motivator, so when I say she knows her stuff... She KNOWS her stuff. 

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So you've booked your session, and the panic has set in. You're standing in Kohls close to tears because you've been there for two hours and are STILL empty handed (except for your toddler, who is having a MAJOR meltdown). You've come up with about 1,083,9845 half outfits, only to veto them and start over again. Why the heck did you book a photography session?! This is just. too. hard. Only, it doesn't have to be! Check out these tips for putting together dreamy outfits without losing your mind in the process!

If the idea of putting together outfits for a photography session feels completely overwhelming, you're not alone! It can seem like a heavy task, especially if you have a family to coordinate. More so if you have a daughter who won't let jeans touch her legs and a son who will only wear Superman shirts. Or if you have a grown person who won't wear sweaters because they itch and only wants to wear gym shoes and doesn't want to do his hair because "why can't I just wear my Bears hat." Let's be real. (not that I've ever had experience with that or anything...)

Luckily, there are a few easy tips that can make pulling off an epic ensemble a breeze.

Think of the big picture (literally)

What do you plan on doing with your images? As a former photographer, I can't stress enough how important it is to DO SOMETHING with your pictures! Order a canvas to go above your couch, make a fun collage wall on your staircase, create a coffee table album. SOMETHING.

Before you get all Britney Spears circa 2007 (you know, when she lost her marbles and shaved her head), take a deep breath and envision what your end goal is for your images! If you're going to have a canvas, where will you hang it? How does the room look? Think about the colors you use in that room, and the general vibe your decor has. If the room is super modern, having your session near a farmhouse and wearing country looking colors won't work, just like if your living room has a vintage farmhouse feel you might not want to do your session in an edgy ally wearing couture.

By focusing on what you'll do with the images, you'll make figuring out a style SO MUCH EASIER!

Aim to coordinate, not match

Y'all. It's not the 80's. The days of everyone wearing jeans and white shirts are over. Say it with me, OVER! Though I do wish stirrup pants would make a comeback...

That being said, if matching light jeans and white t-shirts is your absolute favorite look ever, go for it. Be authentic (we'll get to that later!). But if you want my advice, get a little more creative! By coordinating each outfit instead of making everyone match, you'll create images that are much more visually appealing!

Let's say you've decided you want to go for a country vibe because a vintage looking barn would look beautiful in your living room that is mostly whites and rich woods. You choose a location that has a big gray/white barn, and some fields in the back.

You have to dress both of your kids, and your husband. Choose one main color and a few accents. Perhaps you go with a cream colored dress, and brown boots, your husband wears jeans with a gray chunky sweater, your daughter wears a flowy cream shirt with a faux fur vest, with black leggings and brown cowboy boots, and your son wears jeans with a gray button up shirt and cream sweater.

The key is to tie each outfit to the next, in subtle ways!

Create Depth

The more you can play with depth through layers and fun accessories, the more interesting your photos will be! A few ways to spruce up your outfits are:

  • Scarves
  • Blazers
  • Jewelry
  • Layers (think vests, sweaters, etc.)
  • Fabrics (lace, pearl details, etc.)
  • Belts
  • Hats (NOT baseball hats, unless you're going for some sort of sports theme)

When in doubt, bring too much! You can always take items away, but if you don't bring things you're limited to your options. 

Get Comfortable

If someone is uncomfortable in their clothes, they won't be excited about taking pictures.

Aside from the fact that you don't want anyone fidgeting, whining, or feeling self-conscious, you want your images to look authentic! The more comfortable someone is, the more likely they will be to be themselves, and that is KEY to a successful session.

If your daughter never wears dresses, don't force her into one just because you think it would be adorable (not even if your mother-in-law insists and even sends you a dress she picked out for the occasion). She'll likely feel awkward and will be pulling at it the entire time. Or worse, she won't be used to maneuvering in a dress and your photographer will charge you extra for having to spend oodles of time trying to move her dress to cover up her Barbie undies post-processing.


These aren't the biggest tips, but these ideas will help, too:

  • Start with one outfit you love, and build outwards. Instead of trying to piece everything together at once, find a piece that speaks to you and put that outfit together, then fit everything else in with it.
  • Watch the patterns. Too many patterns feels busy, and detracts from your images!
  • Consider the location. If you're shooting in a forest, avoid greens. A beach, stay away from tans. Make sure you're not going to blend into the background.
  • Don't be too trendy. Remember when acid wash jeans were all the rage? Eek. The more neutral your outfits are, the more timeless your images will be.
  • Head to stores with expected color palettes and put-together outfits. I love the Gap for my six-month-old because their colors are generally more neutral and muted, and ADORABLE. Plus, their sales associates are usually super nice, so they're great helpers. Banana Republic is one I like for my guy and I because they have those same more neutral tones. If you can find a store that styles their pieces and sells clothing exclusively, it's usually easier to find coordinating pieces AND find sales associates that can act as your personal stylist!
  • Don't forget the small stuff! Nails should be free of chips, or not polished at all. Don't try anything new with your skincare regimen or hair right before the session (overdoing the self-tanner the night before can be a DISASTER). Have your guy exfoliate the night before, and put moisturizer on everyone's face before you leave the house. Get haircuts a few days ahead of time so you have time to correct anything, and can play with styling a little before the big day. Be mindful of everyone's shoes (you might be surprised how much an old pair of beat up sneakers can ruin an outfit).

Here's the thing, you have an AMAZING resource at your fingertips, your photographer! I always giggle at Nicole's last name, Nicely, because she is so ridiculously kind!

Her personality and her last name could not be a better match. She gets serious joy from helping you create magical moments, so lean on her! Ask questions, tell her when you're going to the store and see if she'll be around so you can email her some options and get her input, and talk to her before you hit your breaking point! She's there to make this process fun, but she'll never know you're stressing unless you tell her. So speak up!

Nicole has a few awesome Pinterest boards you can check out to get some ideas of outfits; you can find them here:

Appealing Color Palettes

Outfit Inspiration

Remember, it's the love between the people in the photos that matters. THAT is what your photographer can't wait to capture. If you really can't wrestle your kid out of her Frozen leggings, go with it. While an amazingly styled outfit is swoon-worthy, it can't compare to belly laughs and authentic smiles. In thirty years, you won't see the images for how spot-on your outfits were. You'll tear up remembering the way your daughter, now away at school, used to bury her head in your shoulder while twirling her hair when you carried her. Or the way your son wouldn't put down that darn T-Rex for a year straight. On your hardest days, you'll see your best friend, partner in crime, and remember what it is that you're fighting for (even when he's left dirty underwear on the bathroom floor AGAIN and you've been on the losing side of that battle for decades). Especially when the harder seasons hit, because they will, eventually. When you really think about how precious these images will be one day, the details barely matter. Have fun, be yourself, and give your photographer a huge hug for me, because she's truly da bomb dot com!


 If the idea of putting together outfits for a photography session feels completely overwhelming, you're not alone!