6 Tips for the Perfect Outfits for Your Outdoor Santa Barbara Family Photography Session

Posted in: Family photo session

Family of 4 with Dog Santa Barbara Family Photography outdoor session

There are a few questions I’m asked regularly as a Santa Barbara family photographer, and this one is at the top of the list:

“How should we dress for our family photo session?”

If you are the type who wants very specific and thoughtful guidance when it comes to picking the perfect outfits for your outdoor family photo session, then read on, my friend. You’re in the right place.

What is an outdoor family photo session like?

Your Santa Barbara Family Photography Session will take place at an outdoor location that we select ahead of time. The location of your session should inspire the way you decide to dress for your photos. Consider the weather. If you have young children, be sure they’re dressed comfortably for whatever the weather will be like that day. Layers are great since more often than not, the evenings in California are on the cooler side.

Also, consider the terrain. If we are on dusty mountain trails, closed shoes are probably a better bet than sandals. And if we’re at the beach, shoes are optional! We are usually pretty active during my sessions. We play, we jump, we have fun. If kids’ clothes are too restrictive, it’ll show through in their expressions.

Santa Barbara Family Photography outdoor session with family of 5

Tips for dressing the whole family

1. Avoid bright colors and busy patterns.

As a general rule, it is best to stick with muted, light colors or neutrals. When you wear bright or neon colors, it sometimes creates “color casts,” which means light reflects off of them and causes that color to show on skin and cause a tint. For example, a bright green shirt on dad could create a green cast on the skin under his chin and on his neck. A hot pink romper on a baby could create a pink/red cast on the face of the parent holding that baby.

Also, patterns that are busy usually don’t photograph well. They add clutter to images and sometimes have a moire effect, which is a visual effect that often happens when small, fine patterns are photographed. It causes unwanted, wavy lines in the image.

2. Texture and layers are your friend.

Instead of busy patterns, opt for clothing that adds some texture and interest to your outfits, for example: knit materials, buttons, lace, linen, chambray, etc. Clothing that moves and flows photographs beautifully – especially in an ocean breeze.

Thoughtful layers such as cardigans, blazers and vests are great as well. Not only do they add extra depth to your outfits, but they can keep you warm if the weather is cool and can provide an opportunity for more variety in your photos if you do some with and some without your jean jacket for example.

3. The devil’s in the details.

Nothing messes up an otherwise beautiful photo more than wrinkly clothing. Iron clothing beforehand and get kids dressed at the location if you’re worried about car seats or snacks messing up their outfits. Check your accessories and remove any you don’t want in photos, including smart watches, sunglasses or hair ties on your wrist. Make sure your nail polish isn’t chipped and that fingernails are clean. If you have a pet, bring along a lint roller.

Outfit ideas for mom

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4. Choose Mom’s Outfit First.

If you take no other piece of advice from this post, please take this one: choose your outfit first. “Secure your oxygen mask before helping others,” as they say. Your kids will look cute no matter what you put on them, and let’s be honest – your husband will wear whatever you tell him to. So, choose what you feel best in first and then let that help guide the rest of the outfits your family will wear.

Some colors I usually suggest are: ivory/white, khaki/tan, green (olive tone), pastel pink or blue, navy blue, and light shades of grey. When you choose the colors you want to use, think about what would blend well with the colors you see at the location for your session. Think about coordinating with the environment that will surround you. If your session will be somewhere with a dirt trail, like the mountains, try to stay away from darker colored clothing. Any time you have to pick up a toddler or child, their shoes will get that dust all over your outfit and it will show.

One item I usually recommend avoiding is scarves. They’re one layer that to me never seems to work well for photos. Sometimes they get out of place, and they also tend to just add bulk instead of be flattering. I also advise against wearing heels for outdoor sessions. Platforms or wedges are okay but heels will dig into grass and sand very easily and make moving around for our session difficult.


Check out Passport Habits in downtown Ventura at 542 East Main Street.

Wildflower in Newbury Park is a boutique at 421-B South Reino Road.

Outfit ideas for dad

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5. Coordinate Dad’s Attire.

Since these are outdoor photos, err on the side of a nice, casual outfit. There is no need to dress formally. Jeans and khakis are great options as long as they are in good shape. Try to stay away from pants that are pleated or that have cargo pockets. Layers that photograph well on men include blazers and cardigans.

Use the same color palette throughout all of the family’s outfits.


Iron and Resin is located at 324 E Main Street, Unit A, in Ventura. Not only is the shop a super cool place just to browse, but they have a great selection of clothing for men that photographs well and is high quality.

Revolution Board Company in Camarillo at 2235 Ventura Blvd is another great place for to shop for men’s clothing in person.

Outfit ideas for siblings

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6. Don’t Overthink Kids’ Outfits.

When it comes to dressing kids, don’t overthink it. First and foremost, they need to be comfortable. This is not the time to break in new shoes or force them into that pair that’s just barely too small. Have them try on their outfit ahead of time to be sure everything is comfortable and fits right.

Their outfits should mirror the color scheme and style of their parents so the images are cohesive. Involve your kiddos by giving them options you love and letting them choose what they love as well.

If you have a little girl who loves to twirl, make sure she is wearing bloomers or leggings under her dress. If you have a little girl who doesn’t like dresses, put her in a cute romper, overalls or leggings with a tunic – whatever she is comfortable in so her personality can shine. Accessories that are great for boys include suspenders, cardigans and puffer vests.


Little Bird consignment shop at 2538 E Main St in Ventura is an amazing place to look for pre-loved kids clothing.

The Nurture Cottage at 1213 Coast Village Road in Santa Barbara.

Two brothers at the beach Santa Barbara Family Photography

Santa Barbara Family Photography by Erica Hurlburt

Final prep for your session

  • If anyone needs a haircut, that’s good to do a couple weeks beforehand. It gives time to grow out just a little but will still look nice for photos.
  • As your session date approaches, lay out the clothes you’ve decided on and see how they all look together. Is the look cohesive without being too matchy? Sometimes this is a simple yes or no. But for those who need a second set of eyes, I’m happy to help.
  • The day before your session, make sure all wrinkles are out of the clothing, and if you have any chipped nail polish, go ahead and remove it.
  • I highly recommend bringing along a change of clothes for kids. If they get wet or sandy at our session, you don’t want to hear about it the whole ride home.
new family rustic outdoor session in Santa Barbara

Ready for your outdoor family session?

So there you have it. That’s my most thorough breakdown I can provide of all the things to consider when planning your Santa Barbara Family Photography Session outfits for your photo session. These are the biggest takeaways:

  • Create a cohesive look by incorporating a few of the same colors throughout your family’s outfits.
  • Make sure mom is not an afterthought.
  • Dress for the weather and environment where your photos will occur so that everyone is comfortable.
  • Consider getting kids dressed once you arrive at your photo location to avoid carseat/seatbelt wrinkles or stains from snacks-on-the-go.

I know it’s a lot of work to get everyone ready, and I know this is a lot to consider.

If you are a parent who is overwhelmed by decision fatigue, I’m going to simplify the process of selecting outfits for your entire family. When you feel good, you look good. Choosing your family’s outfits for your photo session ahead of time not only helps with getting ready when the session day rolls around, but it will really elevate the look of your photos.

Prior to your session, I am happy to provide specific feedback for you on the outfits you select. 

Most importantly, when photo time rolls around, it will be fun. We’ll play. We’ll laugh. We’ll move. It’ll be like we’re just hanging out, and you’ll end up with some fabulous photos that document the whole thing. I want you to enjoy the time you spend together in front of my camera so that you can walk away not only with memories of the good time you had, but with real and meaningful images you’ll cherish and display in your home for years to come.

Ready to set up an your Santa Barbara Family photography session with Erica Hurlburt?

Click here to inquire about setting up your own session.

Check out Erica’s family photography portfolio for more inspiration!

The Perfect Outfits for Your Outdoor Santa Barbara Family Photography Session

Erica Hurlburt is an award winning Ventura County Photographer & Santa Barbara Family Photographer who specializes in newborn, family and school photography. Her style tends toward cleaner, classic images, both in how they’re composed and edited. Her goal in every session is to keep things relaxed and fun and to create images that are both meaningful and unique.

Erica serves clients in Camarillo, Ventura County, Newbury Park, Thousand Oaks, Westlake,
Malibu, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Ojai and beyond.

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