Tips for a successful multi-family photography session

It’s warming up and many are thinking of summer plans and gatherings with families far and near.  If you are like many, you will be meeting loved ones you haven’t seen in years and you’ll want to document your time together.  Hopefully you can hire a photographer that knows how to manage a multi-family session.

I live in the beautiful area of Northern Utah called Bear Lake, and my summers are filled with meeting multi-families for portraits.  Not many photographers specialize in multi-families, so to help you and the photographer you hire, here are some tips to guide you and make your photo session go smoother and happier for all involved.

1. If you can, choose a photographer who lives at the destination of your family vacation.  She will be the most familiar with locations perfect for family sessions.  She may even have access to private spots not available to the public.

2. Communicate with the photographer exactly what you are expecting from the assignment.  Is the big family group your top priority?  Is this the grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary?  Do you want lifestyle photographs of a day at the beach?  Do you want grandkid shots with grandparents? Share a list with your photographer about what you want.

3.  If you have babies that will be tired and ready for sleep during the summer “golden hour,” let your photographer know that a morning session will work much better for your group.

4. If you can, let the photographer choose the location.  Yes, tell her your ideas, but let her find the place from those ideas.  Before you meet, she will take the time to research the best location that meets you needs.  She will also choose a spot that has great lighting that will give the best possible portraits. And if she is passionate about a location and the results she can get there, you will be happier with the outcome.

5.  Make sure you have the photographer’s phone number in case you have trouble meeting up.  Many families are at vacation spots where streets are unknown.  Makes sure you can reach your photographer if you find you get lost.

6.  Arrive with well fed kids.

7.  Most likely you will be out in the summer sun.  Bring water especially for kids who get grumpy when they are hot and thirsty.

8.  Be aware of days playing in the sun that proceed your photo session.  Your photographer will love that she doesn’t have to edit sunburned faces.

9.. Know that some kids do not like attention on them while their pictures are being taken.   Imagine having five adults around the photographer yelling the child’s name and smile.  It can be overwhelming and confusing on who to look at.  And often the photographer’s directions can’t be heard.  The best approach is to let the photographer alone with the subjects.  Your photographer should know how to get the children comfortable and looking at the camera.  With just one voice directing, the kids are less confused on where to look.  And you will be happy with a photo of all of them looking at the camera.

10. If you are doing family, individual and multifamily shots, plan on the process taking up to two hours.  And let your whole group know ahead of time.  One way to ease the time waiting turns, suggest with the photographer that family units show up in timed intervals.  So not everyone is there waiting around for their turn.  I have used this approach on several families and they have loved how fast the whole session went.   For example, for a family of 5 adult married children, plus their kids,  I will have two family units show up first.  I’ll take their individual family portraits.  By the time I’m done with them, I’ve scheduled the rest of the group to arrive.  Everyone is there and we photograph all the multi-family group shots.  Once they are over, the two families that have had their pictures done, are excused to leave.  I finish up with the remaining 3 family units.  I’m there the whole time, but everyone isn’t.

11. Wear appropriate shoes for your location.  I take clients to  areas that have sticker plants, bugs, and sometimes wet dirt, so I advise them not to wear heals.   And if you shoot by a lake like I do, bring bug spray for everyone.

12.  The best tip I’ve learned this summer for multi families –   Have your photo session  scheduled on one of the first days you are there.
Earlier this summer, I had a mother of young children tell me they should have scheduled their photos with me earlier in the week, because the kids have had a week long of staying up late with cousins, and grumpy times, and being off nap schedules.  She thought her kids would have been better for pictures at the start of their vacation.  A great tip!


I’ve noticed that family photos can be stressful for parents, and with so many involved, lots of confusion.   So give control over to the photographer, laugh and enjoy your time together!
Happy gathering!