2024 What to Wear for Beach Pictures Made Easy

what to wear for beach family photos in Hawaii by alison bell, photographer

What to wear for beach pictures affects your final images. There’s no way around it.

I’m not a stylist, I’ve never loved shopping and I loathed trying clothes on, even as a kid.

But with over a decade of photographing families – and most of that happening on the beach – I noticed what worked and what didn’t – even at the same location!

There’s so many factors that play into a photo session:

  • Location
  • Season
  • Cloud cover
  • Weather
  • Kid’s attitudes & cooperation
  • What to wear
  • The right photographer
  • Feeding everyone

You can’t control most of the factors like cloud cover and weather – or even the kids’ attitudes. BUT we can control what to wear for beach pictures and I’m all about making it as easy as possible.

There’s nothing easy about family photos – from the date, the photographer, what to wear all the way to what to print, I’m here to help!

I’ve written this massive post to help you decide what to wear for for beach pictures!

Looking for what to wear for beach pictures for an extended family? I’ve got that too!

What You Wear Matters

What to wear for hawaii famil photo outfits

I tried to avoid it for years. But the fact is it matters. 

It may not make or break the anything, but planning out the details of undergarments, colors and movement will go a long way to a great experience and even better photos!

Get every tip, trick, and clothing idea I have from 12 years experience all in one place.

BEACH GUIDE graphic by Alison Bell, Photographer

DSC 7962 by Alison Bell, Photographer

Hi! I’m Alison, your chaos coordinator, toddler briber, and parent commiserator. Oh! And Oahu family photographer!

As the ringleader of my own 4-boy circus, I know how hard getting family photos can be.

I run my photo session like a party. I give you something TO DO so you don’t feel awkward wondering, “Where do I put my HANDS?!”

Dad is playing with the kids, everyone forgets what’s ACTUALLY happening, and you look amazing bc you’re actually enjoying yourself. #whoknewphotoscouldbefun

Fast. Fun. Done.

What to Wear for Beach Pictures – Family

What to wear for beach pictures doesn’t have to be super complicated. My best tips can be boiled down to a few tips:

  1. Start with mom
  2. Decide on 2-3 colors
  3. Add neutrals
  4. Keep covered

Start with Mom

I always suggest starting with Mom for any photo session for a couple reasons:

  1. Mom needs to be covered
  2. Mom needs to be comfortable
  3. Mom needs to feel confident
  4. Mom is the pickiest

That about sums it up, right?!

If you find a fabulous dress with a print, go off that dress for your color palette!

But if you were to start with everyone else because they’re easy, you’ve boxed yourself into a corner as far as color goes. So pick your outfit (hopefully a dress!) first and build out your color scheme from there. We’ll talk about how to pick that color palette in a moment!

For me, I had my dress picked out MONTHS before we had our photo session scheduled – before I even had my photographer confirmed! I found it, I knew I wanted beach photos and I knew the color complemented our location.

What I look for in a dress

A dress on the beach needs to move. That is the number one reason I love dresses on the beach!

That rules out:

  • Pencil skirts
  • A lines
  • Stiff material
  • Short skirts that hit above the knee

I also work out a lot and love the way my shoulders look so I purposefully looked for a dress that was sleeveless.

But I know with four boys, I need to be covered and comfortable which rules out all strapless tops. So I needed a tank, halter or spaghetti strap top.

So when we did our last family beach photo session, I when with a green halter chiffon dress from Vici Collection that hit the ground with a long slit.

What to wear for beach pictures by alison bell, photographer

Four-point Mama Check

You might be surprised, but the vast majority of wardrobe problems come from what Mom is wearing. Eeek! It usually has to do with under garments showing… so I developed this 4 point check for you!

While you’re wear your photo clothes, stand in front a full length mirror

  1. Put your hand on your hip – any underarm side bra showing? Did your bra strap slip?
  2. Lean forward in front of a mirror, resting your hands on your knees – whatcha see? (That’s what I’ll see too through the camera!)
  3. Sit down – did you flash yourself? Is your dress long enough?
  4. Are you comfortable sitting on the floor? Think about your waistline


Bonus! White pants accentuate panty lines. Do you have them?

If any of these are an issue, you may need to re think your wardrobe.

β€ŒThey aren’t ALL deal breakers. It just depends on your the number and ages of your kids and how good you feel in it!

The younger your kids, the more covered you need to be! A toddler pulling on the short skirt a knit Tshirt dress is going to make problems up top! If your crew is small, you’ll need to be able to squat, kneel or even lean over them without issue.

Pick a Palette

This can be easy if you’re wearing a print or pattern – just go with the dress!

You only need 2-3 colors before you had neutrals (we’ll get to that in a minute!)

If your outfit is solid, there’s a few options:

Use Design-seeds.com

This website houses hundreds of beautiful color palettes of 4-7 colors that all look beautiful together. Even though its no longer being updated, as long as its live, its super helpful! On the left sidebar, scroll until you see the Labels section. It can be hard to read but there’s loads of colors to sort through!

Find a complimentary print

When you have on outfit (yours!) decided, try to find a print with multiple colors that complements what you’ve already got – boom a color palette! Pull from those colors and you’re good to go.

Beware of large crazy prints as they can look rough in camera – but also remember every rule can be broken!

You’re almost always safe with a micro check, gingham, or plaid – but when in doubt, reach out because that’s what I’m here for!

Shop at one store

Many stores like Gap, Old Navy and H&M design their collections around one color scheme already – boom there it is!

If you can find a line of kids clothes that works with your dress, you’re practically done!

Consider your location

The beach is a bright and neutral space, and my style of photography lends itself to a bright and vibrant colors.

Use blacks in moderation and avoid a palette of entirely dark or jewel tone colors

Two light colors and a dark color

If you’re still stumped on colors, or even if you want to double check what you’ve got, I like to use two light colors and a dark.

Adding a dark color brings contrast the photos and I love me some contrast!

In our beach photos I had:

  • Light green dress
  • Light blue button on the boys
  • A pink top

All three of those are light colors. So I added a dark neutral:

  • Navy

This is far from a hard rule! A palette of all light colors often works really well.

But do avoid a palette of all dark colors.

Vary the Textures

The next step after you have some color is to very the texture. Texture is the feel of the fabric. Some great ideas for beach photos are:

  • Chinos
  • Seersucker (a personal favorite!)
  • Denim
  • Linen
  • Chiffon
  • Cotton
  • Jersey
  • Voile
  • Chambray
  • Leather!
  • Lace
  • Crochet

You can also very the texture with embroidery, ruffles and other design elements built into the garment.

When It came to dressing my four boys without matching that’s exactly what I did-

  • One boy was in a dry fit short
  • Another in embroidered chinos with a tiny shark
  • Another was in a cotton drawstring short
  • Finally one in basic khaki chinos
  • My husband wore navy chinos

What to wear for beach family photos without matching by Alison Bell Photographer
My crew in our own beach photos! You can see how I dressed each of them similarly, but different.

Add Neutrals

Ah! The easy part! Add in neutrals to round out the ensemble. Neutral colors are:

  • White
  • Navy (yes!)
  • Charcoal
  • Light grey (my preference over charcoal)
  • Khaki
  • Black (but use this very sparingly on the beach! Actually, I would avoid it.)
  • Denim

What to avoid for beach photos

  • Low cut tops
  • Skirts and dresses that hit above the knee (hello wind!!)
  • All black shirts, pants or dresses
  • All jewel tone colors
  • Pleated anything (although I think it counts as a texture…)
  • Cargo shorts (personal preference!)
  • Penny loafers
  • Crocs
  • Tennis shoes of any kind
  • Stiff or tight dresses
  • Pencil skirts
  • Baby doll dresses
  • Cargo shorts for Dad (Flat front chinos are similar but more elevated)
  • Bright neon colors: Neon colors can be distracting and cause color casts on your skin.
  • Athletic tennis shoes: Go barefoot on the beach
  • Large logos: logos can be distracting.
  • Babydoll dresses: Dresses that are very loose and no form to them can make you look larger than you are. Especially if bending over to pick up your kiddo.
  • Everyone in jeans: Change it up with different colors or styles of pants
  • Cargo shorts – Especially on Dad. A chino short Is more upscale and flattering to the whole Image.
  • Loud patterns: They are often too distracting. Do not take away from the main focus: YOU!
  • Don’t overly match: Coordinate instead. Choosing several colors instead of only two will allow you to tie in more variety.
  • Avoid too much black: The photo looses depth if everyone is in all black. Instead, choose other colors such as whites, tans, greys, or ivories to break up the black.
  • Same patterns: Don’t mix the same patterns twice. i.e. all boys in plaids. All girls in Floral. Instead, mix a pattern with a different pattern (stripes and florals).

What to Wear for Beach Pictures – Ideas for Mom

  • A long flowy dress tops the list
  • Wide leg linen pants or trouser
  • Midi dress with movement

Avoid: stiff material, tight fighting anything, low cut necklines

What to Wear for Beach Pictures – Ideas for Dad

Dad is pretty simple. The hardest part for my husband is finding something he hasn’t already been photographed in!

  • Button up
  • Polo
  • Henley T-shirt
  • Flat front khaki shorts
  • Relaxed chino pants
  • Linen pants

Avoid: cargo shorts, white tee shirts

What to Wear for Beach Photos – Ideas for Girls

If you can get her in a dress, do it! Same rules apply though – nothing short or too low cut. For tween and teen girls, its especially important to avoid baby doll dresses. The wind alone may blow her skirt up! But it also can limit the ways and she sits in the sand.

Beach photo clothing ideas for girls:

  • Midi dresses
  • Maxi dress
  • Leggings & tunic

Avoid: Baby doll dresses, tight or stuff fabrics

What to Wear for Beach Photos – Ideas for Boys

Beach photo clothing ideas for boy are similar to Dad, but they can go a more relaxed on the cargo shorts πŸ™‚

  • Button up
  • Polo
  • henley shirt
  • flat front shorts
  • Relaxed chino pants

Avoid: sweat pants, athletic shorts, character shirts

What to wear for beach pictures by Alison Bell, Photographer

Additional Tips for Family Beach Photos

What to wear for beach pictures goes beyond pants and a shirt. Add layers of necklaces, scarf, a hat, texture and movement all add up.

  • Accessories: Jewelry, hats, suspenders, knee high socks, cardigans, vests, and hair bows can add layers and help coordinate across multiple people..
  • Multiple colors: Choose a 2-3 colors color palette in the same tone and sprinkle in some neutrals to avoid matching .
  • Patterns and textures: Don’t be afraid to mix patterns such as florals and stripes, or plaids and polka dots. Adding in textures such as velvet, lace, crochet can also add visual interest.
  • Colored pants: If you are going for an all neutral look, or blue denim jeans can throw off the overall look. Instead, use complimentary colored chinos such as navy, khaki, grey, etc.
  • Outfits with movement: My favorite Picking outfits that can be flowy and show a lot of movement for the girls can create magical images. Stay away from stiff and tight fabrics. Flowy maxi dresses and skirts are a great options. If you are wanting a more casual look, wide leg pants, colored trouser pants, or shorter dresses (never above the knee!) are also a great option.
  • Flattering fits: Accentuate what you love and don’t hide your entire body. Shift dress can create unflattering illusions, instead, select a flowy wrap maxi that accentuates your curves without being too form fitting.

My favorite online boutiques to shop for beach photos

Shopping online is definitely the easiest, but beware of return policies! Some of these stores only allow returns for store credit, which means you can’t buy multiple sizes of several dresses without being out a good chunk of change.

Start now with shopping for yourself, even if you don’t have a photographer or a date set.

Give yourself plenty of time because Lord knows when its go time you won’t be able to find ANYTHING. Its never too early to shop for yourself when it comes to what to wear for beach pictures. Ask me how I know πŸ˜€

What are your favorite dress shops?? Let me know because I’m always looking to help make what to wear for beach pictures easier!

Use Style & Select for What to Wear for Beach Pictures

All of my clients get complimentary access to a customized styling tool specifically for family photography called Style & Select. All neons, graphics and crazy prints/patterns have been weeded out by real family photographers! This tool has been invaluable for deciding what to wear for beach pictures!

Plus, you can search reputable retailers and wardrobe ideas by color combinations!

If Pinterest & StitchFix had a baby, this would be it!

You simply put in your ages and gender, preferred style and color choices and BOOM vetted clothing perfect for photos. Drag and drop your favorites to a board for each person and email it yourself!

If you love it enough to buy, you can straight from the app! But there’s no obligation to make any purchases.

Don’t forget to add pieces you already own for your beach pictures!

Hire a Stylist Consultant

When in doubt, hire it out! Seriously, its a thing.

My friend, Jenn Mapp Bressan of Tiny Closets Tons of Style will consult with what you already own to style your whole family. She focuses on mom first (as you should!) to make sure you’re comfortable and covered. Her philosophy is built on capsule wardrobe so she won’t send you out to break the bank.

She’s been featured on several daytime news shows included Good Day DC.

For real, hire out your photo styling!

What to Wear for Beach Pictures for Extended Families

Extended families are much different than all the advice above, its just a lot of people! Its easy to let everyone else decide what to wear for beach pictures, but a little curation goes a very long way. Example – your SIL won’t show up in a neon yellow dress. (True story)

The easiest thing to to wear on the beach for extended family photo sessions is pink & blue. Everyone has some shade of the two colors that almost always play well together.

Add in your neutrals and you’re good to go.

Pinks & blues also look great on the beach!

What to wear for family photos on the beach by alison bell photographer

What to Wear for Beach Pictures – It matters!

Your clothes matter, there’s no way around it. But it doesn’t need to be overwhelming and you definitely do not need to do it alone. There’s nothing easy about family photos, but what to wear for beach pictures matters. You can’t just let everyone make their own decisions.

I’m here to help at every step!

  • I want to see what you pulled together on Style & Select.
  • I want to be a sounding board when you can’t figure your husband’s shirt.
  • I want to help make the hard decision between two options!

I literally did all of these things with my own family photographer & friend just days before our session when I changed up the whole plan last minute.

I’m here to help you decide what to wear for beach pictures!

More Ideas for What to Wear for Beach Pictures

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I'm a USMC spouse, South Carolina native, recovering homeschool mama of a 4 boy circus. They've taught me the most important facet of family photography: KEEP IT FUN!

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I find joy in chaos. The louder, the better!

I'm a USMC spouse, South Carolina native, recovering homeschool mama of a 4 boy circus.

They've taught me the most important facet of family photography: KEEP IT FUN!

hey, I'm Alison!


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