How to Choose a Color Scheme for Family Portraits

Family portraits are exciting. As photographers, it is our job to produce the highest quality work possible for our customers and that means that we need to do a little planning before the shoot. Having a consultation with the family (or at least one parent) will insure that we make the best looking photographs possible.


Family portrait photographers have a lot of backdrops and props, but the one thing they have the littlest amount of control over is what the family will wear. It's important to coordinate this with the client before they come in for the shoot, otherwise you will have everyone wearing mismatching outfits and emphasis will be placed on the individual instead of the family. You also don't want to have the attention taken away from the subject's faces, which is what will happen if Dad is wearing polka dots. You don't want the clothes to be too busy. Avoid clothing with designs and choose solid colors.

Avoid mixing dark and light colors. Pick one of the two and make sure everyone's outfit is either completely dark or completely light. The wardrobe should look great, but it should also feel like a team uniform where everyone dresses similar. You should also avoid short sleeves because they take attention away from the subject's faces. 

While you want the family to look great, you don't want anyone dressed too stylish. Fashions are fads, and nothing dates a photo more in the near future than an outdated fad. Your family will appreciate the timeless look of the photo, and it will also gives the photo more longevity in your portfolio (we all know how important the portfolio is in getting future work).


So, now that we know our family will all dress alike, the next step is choosing the color scheme. The possibilities for this are endless and vary according to tastes. But, your strategy should be to pick colors that complement each other rather than contrast. Remember, the faces are what is most important and you don't want to take attention from them.

Here are some combinations that you may find you like:

  • Dark pants, and dark, deep red tops against a grey gradient backdrop
  • Dark pants, and dark, deep blue tops against a green backdrop
  • Suits for the men, and dark dresses for the women, against a richly colored forest backdrop

*Try to avoid using the same color for the clothes and the background. Although this does give the most attention to the face, it makes the rest of the image look flat. You want the colors to be different so the portrait appears layered.

The preferences are ultimately up to the individual tastes of the family. Your job as the photographer is to guide them in making the choices that will result in the best portrait possible. This means that you should also have a variety of backdrops on hand to complement the colors that they decide to wear.

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