Over the Fourth of July we typically travel up to Michigan to visit with my family. Michigan is such a nice place in the summer and early fall. I’m not a fan of the cold, but can definitely appreciate the snow.

This particular year, my siblings and their families also made the trek north. Both sets of my grandparents and my two uncles along with their families would also be in town over the Fourth. We immediately decided a family picture was something that had to happen. For the large family photos, we did not coordinate with everyone, just our immediate family.

Now, we have a relatively small family. I have an aunt and uncle and two cousins on each side of my family. That’s it. But, combine that with the nine great grandchildren under the age of 7 and you went from “eh, no problem” to “wow, that’s a lot of kids!”

We made it happen and only had one kid cry during the process.

On my mom’s side of the family, there are 23 of us. For this portrait set up, we utilized a bench, which I highly suggest when shooting families with little kids. It gives them something to do and helps put them all on the same focal level. We smashed as many kids as we could fit on to my mom’s bench and lined the adults up in the back and filled in the gaps where needed. I think it came out great!

On my dad’s side of the family, there are 23 of us again. We used a different location in the backyard, but again, put the bench to use. For this strategy, we had grandma and grandpa sitting with the great grandchildren and some grandchildren sitting on the bench. Again, the adults filled in behind.

Then, we did one final picture with both sides of the family, 29 people all together! For this particular shot, we lined the kids up in front, stacked the adults along the side and back and fired away.

The next day, we did just my immediate family, only 17 people this time.

Photographing and coordinating family portraits for this many people could have been an issue, but we made it easy and relatively painless. Here are my tips and tricks for photographing a seamless extended family portrait shoot.

  1. Create a shared Pinterest board. On this board, I posted a picture of a paint palette that we would all use to help choose our outfits. Since I knew the location of our family portraits, I knew that certain colors would not work.

For instance, where we were shooting had a red barn. I know that pink would probably not look good again the red barn, so we eliminated pinks from our color palette.

  1. Text photos of outfits. I told my mom, sister and sister-in-aw to all text me photos of what their families would be wearing and we coordinated it from there. This was fantastic, since we don’t all live near each other to coordinate in person. We also did a little shopping and texted possible photos of outfits to each other for help in choosing what to wear.

I feel like this eliminated a lot of surprise come picture time. I knew what everyone would be wearing and I knew it would all look good together, no matter who was standing next to whom.

  1. Have a plan. My plan for the morning was to photograph the entire family first. I used my tripod and remote timer for the photographs. Then, we broke it down from there. Grandparents with the grandkids, just the grandkids, then each individual family, then the kids of each individual family, and finally the spouses of each individual family. We wrapped up our photoshoot in less than 45 minutes.

Having a plan allowed for freedom in knowing what group was next and having that group ready to go. I only set up one or two poses per group since there were so many of us and the kids were getting fussy.  This kept things moving and the kids entertained.

On a side note, when scheduling pictures for families with little children, always double check when nap time is or when their happy time is for the best possible outcome.

  1. Be patient. I find that I have less patience with my family than I do with my clients. I expect more out of my kids than I do clients. I expect them to behave and obey. With clients, I am open to whatever comes my way and can just roll with it. I know kids will be kids, but there’s just something different about photographing your own kids. I can definitely understand the strains clients have with wanting their children to behave during a portrait session.

All in all, my family didn’t disown me and my mom is thrilled with the pictures. I hope these tips can help you in planning your own extended family portraits.