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How to Color Coordinate Outfits For Photos

Before a portrait session a lot of my clients ask me how to color coordinate outfits for photos. Most people are confused with the endless pairing of options. The thing is that it doesn’t have to be super complicated or stressful to put together a color coordinated outfit.

The easiest way I’ve found to color coordinate an ensemble is inspired by this video from Parker York Smith. In this video he makes this simple by breaking colors into three categories:

Earth Tones

Most simply put, earth tones are all the colors you’d find in nature. This includes bright, vibrant colors, and more muddy earthy colors with significant saturation. 

Neutrals

Neutrals are whites, pastels, greys and even dark charcoals. Less saturated earth tones fall into the neutral category at some point. Don’t get hung up where the line is between earth tone and neutral, just know that at some point earth tones can be desaturated to be classified as neutral.

Blacks

The last color category is black. That’s it.

Styling becomes really easy when you categorize all of your pieces as either earth tones, neutrals or blacks. If you’re a beginner, the easiest thing to do is dress yourself mostly in one category, and then add splashes from one of the other categories in your ensemble. Roughly 80% to 20% is a good ratio to start with.

Now that you understand the basic concept, let’s look at some sample styles so you can better understand how to build your own looks!

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How to Color Coordinate Outfits for Women’s Photos

a good example of how to color coordinate outfits for women
Earth tone theme with black focus

Earth Tones With Black Focus

For this example notice how the woman is wearing earth tone color pants, earth tone color shoes, and earth tone hand bag, and gold jewelry (which falls into the earth tone category). The focus piece that pops is the black shirt.

Recreate this Outfit

How to Color Coordinate Outfits For Men’s Photos

a good example of how to color coordinate outfits for men
Earth tone theme with Neutral focus

Earth Tones with Neutral Focus

In this example notice how the man is wearing an earth tone jacket, denim (earth tone) pants, and brown earth tone belt.

The focus piece is his grey shirt accounts for the neutral color pop. Also note how his belt buckle and dog tag are silver. Silver is considered a neutral color so these accents help to support the neutral color shirt.

Recreate This Outfit 

How to Color Coordinate Outfits for Family Photos

a good example of how to color coordinate outfits for a group
Neutral color theme with earth tone focus

Neutral Pallet with Earth Tone Focus

What most people don’t realize is you can also apply this same technique for color coordinating family photos. The only difference is that instead of thinking of the outfits individually, you’ll want to think of them together.

In this example notice how the family is dressed in mostly neutral tones with a splash of earth tones. The mother’s dress is neutral, the little boy’s shirt and long sleeve are both neutral and dad’s shirt is neutral too. Dad’s pants are earth tone as are his shoes. The young boy’s pants and shoes are also earth tones. The small baby is even wearing earth tone shoes, an earth tone jumper and neutral leggings and bow.

If anyone was wearing black anything for this photo it would clash with both the earth tone background and the rest of the group. Choosing a main color theme and then adding a sprinkle of another theme’s color throughout the outfits is a great way to color coordinate outfits for group photos.

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I hope this post helps you better understand how to color coordinate your outfits for photos. As you can see it’s really not that difficult once you know to start with a color theme and then accent it sparingly throughout the outfit. 

If you have a better way of color coordinating outfits, let me know how you do it in the comments. If you know someone who would find this helpful, be sure to share this post using the buttons below!

Jason Guy

I am a portrait photographer based out of Sonoma, California. I create portraits for people of all ages with the goal of making images that are timeless. Portraits you will look back on decades from now, and still love them just as much then as you do today. While flattering lighting and pose are important, capturing how others see you is what I ultimately strive for.

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