Tips + Techniques

Extended Family Portrait Sessions: Tips for Natural Shoots

September 15, 2021

By Vanessa Brack

The past year has made many of us realize that we need to cherish our older relatives while they’re here. It’s vital to document the expansive affection that grandparents and extended family members have for their families. With the world opening back up and older family members getting to see their loved ones again, I predict that extended family portrait sessions will be hugely popular in the next year. More than ever, families are craving connection and photos that document it. Since the pandemic, we’ve been reminded that nothing is more important in the world than family.

[Read: 4 Family Posing Tips for Dynamic In-Home Portraits]

So much of family photography is boring and stiff. My style is intimate, relaxed and filled with emotion, and I’m passionate about capturing emotional connection using this more natural style. Pretty locations and styling are great, but what we’re delivering to our extended family portrait clients is how these moments made them feel.


holding hands family portrait photography pose

Let’s start with the practical tips. When making a shot list, keep in mind that these photographs will be treasured even after a loved one has passed. It’s tough to address this, but the photos we take may be used at funerals and memorials. A grandparent’s portrait will become even more valuable and priceless when they’re gone.

[Read: Basic Portrait Posing that Every Photographer Can Master]

On a personal note, when my mom passed away suddenly a couple of years ago, my kids rediscovered and found a beautiful comfort in the photos of them with her. With this in mind, I add the following shots at extended family portrait sessions in addition to the group photos:

  1. Individual portraits of everyone, especially the older relatives
  2. Portraits of spouses and partners together
  3. Each grandparent with grandkids
  4. Adult children with their parents
  5. Specific shots the family wants to honor special relationships


extended family portrait session with grandmother, mother and children by vanessa brack

Now, let’s move on to creating an intimate feeling to your extended family portrait sessions. Think about how you act when you hold a loved one close. Most likely, you’ll take a deep breath and close your eyes. Because of this, I often ask the family to:

  1. Move in close with no space between them
  2. Take a deep breath
  3. Blow out through their mouth
  4. Close their eyes

Seriously, magic is made with this technique! Let them know they can talk to each other and that it’s okay to laugh. Capture the pose from all angles, then come in close. Those cropped shots of heads touching, hair blowing across the face and hands laced together expand upon the story of intimacy and connection.

[Read: Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Photography in the Great Outdoors]


vanessa brack extended family portrait session between grandparents posing tips

Sometimes, older family portrait clients are not as comfortable in front of the camera during extended family portrait sessions as the younger generations.


I let them know that I understand if they feel uncomfortable and that it’s my job to make beautiful photos—not theirs. I make sure to chat with each older family member and maybe crack a dorky joke or two. I tell them my most important rule: Don’t look at me unless I ask you to.


I move through my intimate poses that I described above and then move on to playful poses. I have them play with their grandchildren by walking together while swinging arms, twirling, giving them light tickles, and telling them their silliest jokes.


When I’m shooting extended family portrait sessions, I ask them to show me their unique traditions. I’ve made some lovely photos while they show me their secret handshake or sing their special song together. Even if you can’t tell what’s going on in the shot, they will remember what was happening and how it made them feel.

Photographing humans makes my heart happy. I’m looking forward to busy season and having beautifully imperfect, extended family portrait sessions in front of my camera. I’d love to know if these tips were helpful and any new nuggets of info you have to share with me. Find me @vanessabrack on the socials and at I can’t wait hear from you!

Vanessa Brack is a Yuma, Arizona-based photographer specializing in portrait shoots with newborns, maternity clients, families, couples and high school seniors.