How to photograph extended family groups


After getting a nice family portrait order over the weekend I’ve noticed something.

My 3 best portrait clients this year were all extended families.

Extended family portrait sessions come with some unique issues you should be aware of, if you’ve not done one yet.

It’s rare you get to see everyone in the family before, or after the session because they rarely all live close to each other and everyone has different schedules.

You need to try and figure out who’s going to be the one paying for most of the photographs.

Normally it’s the person who contacts you, but not always.

Ideally you want to speak with that person at the consultation so you can help them understand how you work, get them excited about the photography and show them your products and prices.

As always, you want to be clear about your pricing. For extended families I give them a price list and stress it should be shared with the other members of the family.

The biggest difference between a normal family session and an extended family session is the in-person sales appointment.

You’ll rarely get to meet the whole family for this because it’s so hard to find a date everyone can make.

I always do in-person sales with the people who were most likely to place the biggest order. Again, this is normally the person who contacted me initially (i.e. the person who actually cares about the photographs). You’ll sometimes find that some parts of the family were kinda dragged along to the session and have no interest in getting more than one or two 7×5 prints.

For extended families I’m more relaxed about doing online sales for the family members who live far away, or who are less interested.

Interestingly I’ve never had a problem with the family saying “well can’t we all just see the photographs online if you’re doing it for them.” My experience is clients are happy to come over and see their photographs in person.

It’s all in the way you explain the benefits.

You don’t say “Once the photographs are ready you have to come over to my home / studio to place your order”.

That doesn’t sound enticing.

I say something like “Once the photographs are ready you’ll come over and see them all beautifully projected at a decent size so you can all sit round and see everything really clearly. I have this amazing software that enables me to show you the photographs from your session ‘virtually’ displayed on the walls of your home, to scale, and with my supplier’s frames around them. This makes it so much easier for you to choose what you’d like. I won’t be bamboozling you with hundreds of photographs – just 15-30 of the absolute best ones. If you have any tweaks you’d like to make, like seeing a photograph in black and white then I can quickly show you how it would look there and then. It makes the whole process quick and easy for you. Don’t worry, I’m only small so I won’t be bullying you into anything you don’t want!”

When they hear in-person sales described like this they see it as a helpful service rather than a daunting ordeal where they’ll be forced to spend more money than they want to spend.

I only put anything online once the in-person sales session is done. I also limit the amount of time the photographs are available online to encourage people to place their orders quickly.

One huge mistake I used to make was telling them I would quote them once I received everyone’s order because I may be able to offer a better deal depending on what they ordered. This meant the process dragged on for months while we chased people up for their orders and compiled it into one big order. I now treat each order within the extended family as a separate order and apply and discounts accordingly.

The photography session itself has it’s challenges too. The more people you have, the more important it is to pose people. It’s very hard to do a more natural, interactive photograph with 15 people.

Of course you’re going to break the big family down into all the little families too.

Consider the amount of space a large family group is going to take up because you probably won’t be able to use the locations you normally use. Plus, when there are so many people it often helps to have something you can pose people on, or around. Trees, chairs, walls, logs, fences etc all help to ensure you haven’t just got a bunch of people standing in a line.

 

To get nice natural expressions with so many people I ask questions like ‘Describe Bob in one word’, or ‘Timmy, who’s the smartest person in your family’ or ‘who’s the laziest?’ or ‘Who spends the longest in the bathroom’ etc..

Beware though, when you have 20 people talking and laughing like that you often get one or two people who don’t look ideal, so you have to fire off a lot of shots to get the magic one. It’s also wise to get some safe ones with everyone looking at the camera and not blinking. I do this by getting everyone to close their eyes and then open them on the count of 3.

I also tend to have the camera on a tripod so I can look over the top and get eye contact.

One of the technical elements you’ll need to remember is you’ll want an F number of around f8 or even more to ensure everyone’s face is sharp. Therefore you’ll often want the background a long way away so it still looks nicely blurred at those higher f numbers.

Extended family portraits can be extremely lucrative (especially as many photographers avoid doing them), but they do require some extra thought, extra time and good communication skills.

I’ve also noticed that extended family sessions tend to involve very closely knit families who are a pleasure to work with.

Have you tried photographing large family groups? What have your experiences been?

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