Let's say there's an occasion to get the whole family together - a wedding, a significant anniversary, a big birthday, a family reunion - and you think that seems like a great time to get photos with the whole family and individual family units at the same time. But trying to coordinate that many people, that many households, that many outfits, that many moods, that many opinions, that can all be pretty stressful, especially if 'it's all your idea.'
So what can you do to tone down the tension and make sure everyone has a good experience?
Have a photo list of all family combinations you want photos of ready for the photographer. This will help the photographer be able to determine how much time will be needed for the session, but it will also help keep things on track with a checklist. And making that photo list in an order that makes sense - starting small, adding onto that group little by little, (or vice versa) then switching groups - helps a lot, too.
Make sure everyone is fed and watered before the session starts. But then bring back-up snacks and drinks. No one is in a good mood when they're hungry. And having snacks on hand that can also be handed out between photos can work as quick bribes for kids who are getting a little restless.
During the session, be okay with flexibility and switching up the plan when necessary. Maybe you have a small kiddo who isn't scheduled to be in one of the first photos, but they show up in a great mood and the parents want to capitalize on that before it potentially turns. It's okay to ditch the order of the list if it's for the benefit of getting the best out of everyone. But make sure that someone is keeping track of what photo combinations have been done and which haven't so you don't accidentally forget one by skipping around.
With a large group, it's best not to be too nit-picky about wardrobe. You can state a preference for a certain color palette or theme, but within that, let people wear items they want to, whether they're most comfortable in jeans and a shirt or in a dress with accessories. Don't risk having people show up grumpy because they're in clothes they don't like, aren't comfortable in, or don't feel their best in.
If your session will have small children, bring along a couple of their favorite toys or books. At any signs of discontent, you can take a break with them and let them play or read to them. And if the worst case scenario is they end up only smiling for photos if they get to have their stuffy with them, then that's fine! What a fun memory for when they're older and they can remember how much they loved that particular item. Plus, isn't having a small distraction in their hand better than having a crying toddler for the photo?
When there are physical considerations for any participant, keep that in mind when choosing a location, determining how many different locations you'll use, what props you have (blankets, chairs, stools, etc.), and the terrain. If there is someone who is somewhat limited in mobility, keep your location(s) close to a place you can park, fairly level ground, and bring along seating if that would be helpful as well. Even without mobility considerations, with a larger group, having some seating options to put people on different levels can be really helpful so you can avoid having everyone stand in a straight line.
Last tip: have a sense of humor. When you have a bigger group of people, you're going to have opinions and attitudes and preconceptions and ideas about the importance of photos. Kids will take turns having meltdowns. Adults will take turns rolling their eyes or snapping at their spouses. The weather might even go back and forth with cooperating. Keep in mind the reason you're there: everyone is together, maybe for the first time in awhile; the people there all love each other, even if you can't stand each other sometimes; and having photos together is important for so many reasons. When something goes wrong, laugh about it, adjust as necessary, and move on. Don't get hung up on little things not going to plan. Don't get frustrated with little snafus. Enjoy the company of people you love, let your photographer take the reigns, and remember how grateful you will be to have photos of all these people you love at the end of it all.