Why should you book a portrait session with your extended family? It sounds like a nightmare right? Getting all those people together at the same time in the same place, happy, and smiling for pictures? How could you make that work with your family, and then there’s the question of what should everyone wear? Based on my 7 years experience with these types of sessions here is what I recommend for getting the best results from your session.
1. Plan your session when everyone is already together. Organizing large groups to come together for portraits isn’t easy. Most of the time family’s book a session during a special occasion such as a holiday, birthday, or anniversary. It is those times when everyone is generally together, or at least in the same town.
2. Talk to your photographer (hopefully it’s me) and tell her/him about your family. Are there any special considerations that need to be made? For example, special needs children, shy children who would benefit from a hands-off approach, or a Grandmother who only likes to be photographed on her right side? If the photographer is aware of your families needs it will make the session go much smoother.
3. Choose the best location for your family. Consider what your family loves to do. Do you often go to the beach, play at the park, hang out in Mom’s backyard? Those are ideal places for your session if they applies to you. Do you have lots of children in your group? You’ll want to stay away from distractions or dangerous areas. It would be very difficult for children to pay attention and smile for the camera if they are at a playground where other children are playing and they cannot. Avoid areas with lots of snakes, dangerous wildlife or debris on the ground. You’ll also want to consider how easy the location is to access, especially if there are family members who cannot walk very far.
4. Ask your photographer for advice about what to wear. There is no need for everyone to go out and buy all new clothing. I tell my clients to choose 2-3 colors that coordinate with the colors of the room where you will be hanging your portraits. Mix and match those colors among the family members. Mix and match the colors among the tops and bottoms as well. If everyone is wearing blue shirts and black pants it will look like a school uniform. It is more difficult on the eyes than a variety of colors and textures. I personally can give you the name of a fabulous stylist who can help you coordinate your outfits. She is fabulous!
5. Do NOT expect perfection. After all the planning, coordinating, bribing, and hassle it’s easy to be stressed out by the time you get to the session. You’ve done all this work and you want the most perfect portraits known to man. Every photographer I know tries to deliver that, but it’s not always possible, especially with large groups. There will always be the grumpy child, the reluctant husband, and the big stain on the clothing by the time you get there. Try your hardest to let it go. Those little quirks will be what makes those images special to you in the years to come. You’ll laugh at the screaming toddler and say, “Remember when Johnny wouldn’t stay still for even one minute?” None of us is perfect, and that’s OK. Talk to your photographer about your expectations and make sure you both are on the same page.
Below are a selection of images from one of m y extended family sessions. They only had about 24 hours where they would all be in town at the same time. They were so happy to be together, and that makes me happy.