Siblings have a relationship like no other. They can be super close one minute and fighting the next.
Still, there is something special about the fact that they have each other. It’s only natural to want to document that special relationship in images, whether photographing your own children, as a professional for other people’s kids, or hiring someone to photograph your siblings.
Tips for photographing your own kids:
1. If you want the traditional posed, smiling picture of all your kids, enlist help.
Especially if your kids are young, getting everyone posed and looking your way can be hard. Often the best way to get everyone together is to put the most cooperative child where you want everyone set up. Get yourself set up next, then have a second adult put the toddler, baby, and/or other children in place when you are already ready to snap the shutter. Once everyone is in place having a second person to get their attention while you concentrate on shooting can be very helpful as well.
2. Don’t forget to photograph the little moments.
You capture the birthdays. You capture the dance recitals and sports games, but don’t forget the snapshots of your children doing day-to-day things together. You don’t have to wait until everyone is dressed in their Sunday best or until the house is clean. For example, my oldest used to read to my youngest almost daily when they were younger. I’m so glad I have photos to help me remember this special part of their relationship. Especially as photographers, it can be easy to wait until the “perfect” moment to take pictures, but so many of the in-between moments make up the things you never want to forget.
3. Embrace imperfection, especially when it really captures some aspect of their personality or relationship.
I completely understand, wanting that “perfect” image of everyone beautifully dressed, snuggled together, and smiling for the camera, but if those are the only images you take, you are missing out on the images that will someday remind you of what made your children so special. While I love images like the first one above, and many of the ones below, my favorite images are generally the ones that capture some special part of their personality as well as how they looked that particular day.
Tips for professionals:
1. Get to know about the kids before the session.
I send out a questionnaire with each session. The survey is brief, but I find it so helpful to know if a child is typically bashful around strangers, if they hate the grass, or are terrified of dogs. With siblings, I like to know what kind of relationship they have — huggy, playful, teasing, etc. Just knowing a bit about them before the session can help it run more smoothly. The image below was one of the first frames of the session. If the kids aren’t overly shy I find the beginning of the session can be a great time to capture the more posed, smiling images.
2. Know mom’s top priority.
Especially with multiple young children, the window of cooperation is going to be small. Knowing the one image mom or dad wants most means that you can be sure to get it while they are cooperating. And be sure to ask, because, while the snuggle together smiling for the camera image is often the one mom wants, sometimes they have a different vision. Maybe they are envisioning a large canvas over their fireplace of their kids playing ring around the rosie or a sunset silhouette of them all holding hands. Knowing what she really wants is important. I do find that unless a kid is just too shy to warm up enough to cooperate, when smiling and facing the camera is the number one priority, that’s a great shot to get first before I get the kids having fun.
3. Read the kids during the session.
Yes, finding out about the kids beforehand is very helpful, but you still need to pay attention to how they are acting. Even if Mom or Dad said little Suzie and Johnny spend all day snuggled up close, if you try to get them together and they are very resistant, you may need to try something else first and come back to that image if it is an important one for the session. Also, talk directly to them. Listen to them. If they need some time to warm up and you can give it to them by photographing one sibling individually while the more shy one watches that can be a great way to get the session off on a good track. Even though Mom thought everyone would be ready to go from the beginning, this little one was very wary of me at the beginning of the session, but once I won over her trust she was so sweet and talkative.
4. Have a big bag of tricks.
With little ones, I find having a designated spot, such as a set of stairs to sit on, helpful. If I’m not sure there will be someplace at the session, I’ll bring a blanket, chair, or even a bit of tape to mark the spot where I want them to be. I bring toys that make noise, sing silly songs, put something near my lens and ask them questions about it. I also try to prepare the person who books the session that while we will capture everyone looking at the camera that there can be magic in other images as well. For example, while this is primarily an image of these two boys’ backs, I just love how the younger one is looking up to the older one knowing that big brother will lead the way for him.
Tips for clients:
1. Come with everyone ready to go.
Before you agree to a session time, make sure the time of day works for your kids. Once the time is chosen, do everything you can to have everyone fed and ready to go when that time arrives. It’s hard to get great pictures of your kids if they are starving or eating as we go. Often photographers carefully pick the session time to have the best light for portraits. You will want to make sure you arrive at the location with plenty of time to get everyone ready to go by the time the session is supposed to start. Otherwise, you might not have time to get all the photos you are hoping for. Every photographer is different, but I like to tell my clients to prepare their kids to cooperate, yes, but also set the tone that this should be a fun experience.
2. Be ready to jump in or hang back.
Sometimes, when the kids seem nervous, I will ask parents to jump in for a photo or two, even if the session was supposed to be a siblings only session. This can help the kids see that getting their picture taken is easy and not something to be nervous about. Conversely, sometimes getting some distance between you and your kids can help the session run smoother. It depends on the kids. And finally, while it almost never works to get great eye contact with the camera when everyone is calling the kids’ names, I will sometimes request one parent to stand directly behind me and do what always makes their kids laugh. This works especially well with school age kids who often have a very forced smile in these situations.
Kids are so good at reading emotions. If mom is stressed, they will be stressed and way less likely to cooperate. During the session, as much as possible, let the photographer take the lead, and you just relax and have fun. Also, it can be very helpful to have age appropriate expectations for your little ones. For instance, three year olds generally can’t go from pose to pose for an entire session. Photographers expect them to need breaks. I know you have a lot invested in these photos and want everything to go perfectly, but if you can relax it’s much more likely everything else will fall into place. Plus, you never know the sweet in-between moments that might have been captured during what felt like in-between time to you and your kids.
Kristin Ingalls, Washington
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With her Nikon D700 and assortment of prime lenses in hand, Kristin loves to take portraits and describes her style as “organic and clean/pure with just a hint of whimsy.” She has an art/design degree from college and worked for years as a designer but like so many others really got into photography once she had children. In her own words, “I started to capture our family life, and somewhere along the line I got bit by the photography bug.” Her ideal day off would consist of shooting for herself, spending time with friends, and some quiet time alone curled up with a good ebook and possible a Starbucks/Tazo Iced Green Tea and chocolate. With her husband and three daughters, Kristin currently resides in Kirkland, WA.