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Coordinating Large Family Photos

What do you think of when you hear the word 'Summer'? Immediately I think of The Sandlot, going to the pool, popsicles, BBQing out on the deck, and my kids going to bed way later than they normally do.

What else comes to mind? Family Reunions.

Whether or not that makes you cringe or gets you excited, summer vacations are often spent with family. Grandma might request a proper family picture, which makes sense since it's often the only time families come together, sometimes after years at a time. No matter how big or small your extended family might be, coordinating a large family portrait can be complicated and stressful, but there are tips to making it easier. How do I know? Well, I personally coordinated my own family picture this past June!


This past year I grew jealous of all the "over the mantel" worthy family portraits I had taken for my clients, especially the extended family session I did for the Bartko family. With a few weeks to go before our family reunion (we just call it "The Beach"), I sent out an email to my family with all the details and the biggest headache behind planning a session: what to wear.

STYLING YOUR SESSION: I've talked in great detail about how to best style your session, but with 28 people to coordinate, many might throw their hands up before they even begin. I decided to make it as easy as possible for all of us involved. I chose a color palette that was very gender neutral and that contained colors that everyone has in their closet. Since you're already on vacation and have spent money to prepare and travel, it's best if you can eliminate any additional expense.

Navy, Light Blue, Khaki, Yellow and White

If white shirts and khakis is the only way you can think to coordinate and make a family photo happen, by all means, do it. Time is precious and it's better to take any photo than none at all. However, by simply giving your family members a palette to choose from, they can incorporate their own style and personality into their looks which makes a family photo all that more precious and unique.

ADAPTING: With a large group, you're going to have a lot of personalities and temperaments, especially when dealing with children. Our dream was to take the photo above at the beach, but it was incredibly windy the day we set out to take our photo. The ocean waves only escalated that. I probably don't need to say it, but wind =/= hair do not mix. Also? Children =/= Ocean, too tempting. We scratched our initial plan in favor of another location within walking distance, with less wind, and plenty of shade for optimal lighting. 

CHOOSING A PHOTOGRAPHER: Of course, I have a business to run, so I would encourage you all to invest in a photographer for your family portrait needs! However, large family groups can be much more expensive to invest in. Why? Well, 28 people. Let me just sit that with you for a moment. Large family groups will typically involve a lot of coordination, more frames (and often, head swapping to get everyone just right which involves more extensive editing in post), and more poses. I like to incorporate not only a large family group portrait but also individual smaller family portraits, and singles of each child if I can. etc. There are advantages to large portraits however - if each family unit chips in, the cost of a session could actually be less expensive than if you were to invest in a session on your own.  

For our family portrait, we opted for no photographer. Blasphemy? Perhaps. However, I wanted full control over the images and editing the final product. (Most photographers opt to trade in that instance, and being from out of town a trade would not have been possible.) Since we only wanted to take 15-20 minutes for our family portrait, such a short session would not have been worth the time for a photographer to take out of their schedule. In our case, a tripod and remote was efficient for the needs of our family - only a few portraits were needed with me in it, and the remainder I was able to take myself. My awesome nephew (who uses SLRs frequently for his video projects) was able to work my camera and take awesome photos when I was needed in front of the lens. Photography runs in the family, clearly.


After a few outtakes while we tried to get the tripod and remote control just right, we finally figured it out and snapped many portraits so there would be plenty of "heads" to choose from. It's ambitious to think you can get 28 people to look at the camera all at once with perfect smiles, but it's not practical!

COMMUNICATION: When going into a large group session, it's important to know what shots/pairings you want and communicate them with your photographer. In this case, that person was me. I knew what shots I wanted and we whipped through them before anyone could wander off. This saved time and saved the session from going haywire. Communicating this with your family helps as well, so everyone is on the same page.

Capturing an image of just the "original" bunch was very important to me.

Speaking of "originals", I think these two lay claim to that title!



A less formal shot of the Grandkids - all 17 of them!

Each family snapped an individual shot as well, so that all of the families have coordinating images. 

I can't begin to tell you how exciting it is for me to finally have these photos. When I first saw everyone in the beach house getting ready, everyone looking so polished and coordinated, I was on the verge of tears. It was a vision finally coming to fruition, and more importantly, I just think my family kind of rocks. These will be images I will cherish for many, many years to come. 

*For more help on styling your photo session, check out more do's and don'ts here!
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1 comment

  1. Awesome job, Kelli :) Makes me happy to see it too! Hurray for great family photos!

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