How to Photograph an Extended Family (featuring the adorable Hale family)

I loved meeting the Hale family and taking their photos at Dimple Dell Park! I had previously worked with Nikelle and done her maternity and birth photos with her adorable daughter Lydia. I was so grateful when she referred me to the rest of her family! After working with this great extended family group and many others, I wanted to share some tips I’ve learned and ways that you as a photographer can do a great job shooting extended families.

Extended Family sessions can be chaotic if your photographer doesn’t take charge and give you direction, so I make sure to communicate expectations very clearly (send emails with timelines, specific locations, your posing system, etc) I kindly tell them what to do and where to go during the session, and be just bossy enough so that nobody feels lost or confused. If you can balance that good amount of bossiness with kindness and remember to be open to their suggestions as well (remember you’re there to serve them!), you can not only give your families a beautiful gallery, but a wonderful experience they will treasure!

When working with a big extended family, I have a posing system that I usually use to help me work efficiently! Here’s a little bit about the approach I take and some tips to help you rock an extended family session give everyone in the family a wonderful experience.

  • Like I said, I’m very clear about timelines and expectations. I tell all of my extended families that we’ll have 90 minutes for their session. I let them know that if we get done before that, that’s great, but with the large range in family sizes that I get, I give my clients that big chunk of time just in case we need it. I work efficiently so we never need more time than that and they can get on with their days. I also make it clear that the number of photos they’ll receive also depends on the family size, so I don’t promise a specific number of photos, but I do promise a lot of photos and a good variety! 
  • I let them know that we’ll get 2 different poses of the whole group all together. Depending on how the kids are doing, we may do both poses right at the beginning or one at the beginning of the session and one at the end. If kids are cooperating and happy we will do both poses quickly and be done with the group shots. If kids are having a hard time and need to try again later, we’ll save the second pose until the end. 
  • After the large group, I quickly do individual family groups, (since at that point they’re already grouped by families) then quick individuals of the kids in each family, all the grandkids together and then the grandkids with grandma and grandpa so the kids are done. Yay! Then they can run wild to their heart’s content.
  • After that I do grandparents together, grandparents and their children, grandma with her daughters or grandpa with his sons. After that, grandparents get to sit back and watch and enjoy without having to get up and down much more! 
  • After grandparents, we move into different groupings of the adults such as all the brothers or sisters together. 
  • If we have additional time, this is when I can do any other requests such as a dad and son picture, playful/candid pictures of families who would like that, and any other photos your family would like. I let them know they can definitely come with a list so we don’t forget any thing you want!  

Of course I’m always flexible if there are reasons why we might need to do things in a different order, but in general, this system works great to give a good variety of photos and not miss any important shots! 

I also always try to help families with kids prepare by sending a photo of myself to show the kids so they can introduce me and asking them to let me know which songs, characters, or funny things they like to help me get genuine smiles! Not all families respond with information before the session so I go in prepared to be silly and always bring a feather duster so I can tickle kids and bring it right up to my camera so their eyes go there too.

The last thing I do is tell the families to bring whatever they want but not to worry. I bring little toys, snacks for the kids if they need something, and stools for families to use if they want! I try to make things as easy and stress-free on my families as possible so they know I’m going to take care of them.

Let me know if this was helpful as you prepare to photograph extended family groups!

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