Whether you are taking a family portrait for a special gift or you want to update your photo to include new family members, formal pictures of all the relatives together are treasured possessions for most people. However, nothing can ruin a group shot quicker than lack of color coordination. Having Uncle Brett show up in denim overalls, red boots, and his favorite white cowboy hat while the rest of the family is decked out in khaki pants and mocha sweaters will not make for the perfect family portrait. The key to getting a group shot to look as pleasing as possible is to have family members wear outfits that feature the same color scheme.
If there were a set rule on how to choose the coordinating colors for a family photo, it would solve a lot of problems. Unfortunately, no single rule exists that determines the best colors to wear for group shots, but you can improve your odds of success by asking some questions before the session. Find out what the background color will be, for example, or the location where the photos will be taken.
As a general rule of thumb:
- Have everyone wear colors that are complementary in shade.
- Avoid fabrics with large prints, patterns or plaids.
Typically medium shades of blues, greens or purples are flattering to most skin tones, but stay away from vivid shades of red or orange or stark neutrals like black or white. In addition to these basic tips, there are a number of other factors that come into play when deciding colors for family portraits.
If it's an outdoor photo session, then consider sticking with clothing featuring medium to dark colors, such as blues and browns. You might also consider the following:
- Beach photo shoots might require lighter tones, especially if the photographer wants to create a contrast between you and the sky or water.
- If the majority of your outdoor shots will be taken with a light background, then avoid wearing white colored outfits so you don't appear washed out or blend into the background.
- Traditional earthy tones, such as tan, gold, brown, and beige also work well for outdoor group shots.
Indoor photo sessions tend to be more formal than outdoor ones. Therefore, you should consider wearing darker colors. Your photographer can tell you what color backdrops he has in stock, and which colors he recommends your family members wear to the shoot. In general:
- Formal shots in which subjects are wearing suits and dresses typically look better in darker shades, such as black or navy blue.
- Males and females can coordinate outfits by choosing solids from the same color family.
- Jewel tones, such as burgundy, rich reds, and maroon, work well together.
Consider how the color of your outfit matches your skin tone.
- People with very fair skin should avoid wearing bright white as it may make them appear washed out in the photograph.
- Those with very dark skin should avoid wearing light colors, such as pale yellow or lavender, as the contrast in colors will appear distracting in a group shot.
- Regardless of your skin type, you should not wear extremely bright colors. Neon colored clothing is not recommended for family portraits.
- Outfits featuring bright shades of red and purple, or those made of reflective material are best left at home on the day of your photo shoot.
Your choice of color may also depend your own personal preference, and family members should be allowed to make their own selections within reason:
- Most professional photographers recommend traditional head and shoulder group portraits be shot in simple, long sleeved tops in solid tones of brown, burgundy, green, or blue.
- Consider discussing several choices that offer a harmonious look, even if they don't include subtle shades.
- Visual harmony can be achieved even if you buck the traditional color scheme of blue and brown and dress in pinks and grays.
Large Groups or Generations
Finding matching clothes for a large group can be next to impossible, especially if family members are traveling in from out of town for an event or for the photo itself. Here are some ideas that work for large group shots without forcing everyone to match colors perfectly:
- Consider choosing a color, such as blue, and having the colors fade from oldest to youngest. For example, the oldest person could wear a very dark, navy blue and the colors would lighten until the youngest in the family wears a powder-blue shirt.
- Neutral colors go well together, and you can introduce a pop of color here and there to add interest. For example, in a multi-generational photo, the grandmother might wear a burgundy top and her husband a neutral tan shirt. The next generation, her children, would wear tan colors with the oldest (or only boy or only girl) wearing a deep, jewel-toned green. Finally, the grandchildren could wear white and khaki with the youngest in a brightly colored dress or shirt. Alternatively, everyone could wear a neutral shade except the youngest.
- For a simple, clean look, have everyone wear a combination of black and white and add color from props in the setting, such as flowers, or in the men's ties, or from sashes around the little girls' dresses. When the color is only splashed here and there in small amounts, you can get away with a virtual rainbow of hues.
Keep It Simple
You don't have to be a professional stylist to color coordinate your group successfully. Have everyone dress in their chosen outfits and then assemble in front of a large mirror. Check the overall look of the grouping for symmetry and balance. Is it pleasing to the eye or is there a color or pattern that seems out of sync? If so, simply having that person choose a different color or style of garment should do the trick. When you achieve a look that looks good in the mirror, it should also look great on film.