When it comes to photographing newborns, my heart definitely goes to natural, unposed images. So I am always thrilled when a client contacts me for a newborn shoot and mentions that there will be siblings involved as capturing interaction and emotion is my absolute favorite thing.
But a session photographing a brand new big brother or sister comes with its own set of challenges so you need to be well prepared.
Here are some tips that really help me make these sessions enjoyable for everyone:
1. Meet your family before the shoot
This is the ideal situation. When a maternity session is booked prior to the newborn session, I know everything will go smoothly. The maternity session is all about big brother or sister, we have time to meet each other, to play and become best buddies… when I come back for the newborn session they are excited to see me again and they know beforehand that we are going to have fun!
If there is no maternity session involved, meeting them, even briefly, during a pre-consult can definitely help. When the session comes around, they already know you and the ice will be broken even before you enter the room.
But meeting up prior to the session might not be an option for you. Don’t panic, there are still 5 more tips to help you run successful newborn-sibling sessions!
2. Prepare, prepare, prepare!
Before any shoot I hold a phone pre-consultation. When siblings are involved in a newborn session, they definitely are the main topic of this pre-consult. Knowing beforehand how they are handling the situation, their personality, their favorite games etc. definitely comes in handy during the shoot.
However, the goal of the conversation is also to explain to the parents how I will handle their children (see points 3 and 4 below) and how I suggest they themselves behave during the shoot so that we are all on the same page.
3. Make the siblings feel special
This is probably the most important point. When a tiny baby is invading your family life, your world is upside down. Big brothers/sisters often feel insecure and neglected during those first days of having a newborn at home so if they think that this session is all about the baby (again!!) they may be resentful and uncooperative.
So as soon as I enter their home, my goal is to make them feel that the session is about THEM, first and foremost.
I always make sure that I talk to big brother/sister first, introduce myself, chat a bit about the time we will be spending together…all before I even lay eyes on the baby. This is something I will discuss with the parents during the pre-consult, so that they don’t feel like I am not interested in their newborn!
Once the ice is broken, I will always ask big brother/sister if they would show me the baby. Some of them are pleased to do so while others refuse, but I always give them the opportunity to introduce me to “their” baby. If they chose not to, I never insist and go meet the newborn on my own.
During the session, when siblings are around I will always engage them in what I’m doing, explaining my every move, or asking advice. “Do you think your little sister would like it if we sang her a song?” “Oh, she is crying! What do you think she is trying to tell us?”
I also love to ask them if they have their own ideas about the shoot. When I said to this little guy “Let’s take a picture of you and your little brother. What should we do?” he immediately suggested that he play music to him and grabbed his guitar! I never would have thought about this but I definitely love the outcome!
4. Let them be
The key point to having siblings to cooperate in a newborn session is to always give them the choice. If they feel forced to do anything, they will probably do the opposite of what you want them to do.
So my session workflow is entirely built around the siblings.
I usually start with the siblings shots first, because big brothers/sisters are usually more cooperative at the beginning, but also because as I said previously I want them to feel that the session is about them. If you start the session with, let’s say, pictures of Mom holding the new baby, you are pretty sure to get jealousy issues!
Be prepare to break your own rules, though. If at the moment I thought I would do the siblings shots, big brother isn’t into it, I make sure that I don’t put any pressure on him. “Okay, you don’t want to do it now? No problem. You can go and play in your room, and come back when you’re ready. In the meantime, I will take a few pictures of your sister”.
You can be sure that most of the time, the option to be left aside while you’re focusing your attention on the baby is the best motivation to finally be in the picture. But it will be HIS choice, not yours.
This topic is also a must-discuss during your pre-consult because when that moment happens you need to be sure that Mom or Dad won’t pressure the child into cooperating and that they will be comfortable with your way of handling it.
After a few pics, especially if big brother is a young kid or a toddler, he will probably be done. Again, no pressure – let him leave the room, do his thing, and come back a bit later when he wants attention again.
Having another adult available at that moment to play with him in another room is invaluable. It will be the perfect moment to do pictures of Mom or Dad (depending on who is playing with big brother at that moment) with the baby, or pictures of the baby alone.
5. Safety first!
When doing those siblings pictures, always have baby’s security in mind. Using a bed or a sofa (or any soft surface) is probably your best option, and make sure that Mom or Dad is standing right next to them at every moment. It is far better to spend some time cloning Mom’s hand out of the pictures in post-processing than to take any risk of baby slipping off his brother’s arms or falling down.
(For this picture, their Mom was with them on the bed the whole time, carefully watching the baby’s position and safety).
With younger kids and toddlers, it’s even better to actually include Mom or Dad in the picture (holding big brother and the baby at the same time, or sitting right next to them).
When several siblings are involved, ask the oldest one to hold the baby while the other one is snuggling around.
Swaddling the baby can be really helpful too, he/she will be much easier to hold.
Using pillows can help ensuring a firm and safe position.
Holding the baby is not the only option. You can pose the baby alone, safely lying on the bed, and let the siblings find their place around him/her.
You can also have them all laying on their backs. Make sure you interact with the older kids in order to catch sweet expressions. Again, have Mom or Dad stay very close the whole time, in order to prevent any careless move that could hurt the baby.
6. Photoshoot with benefits?
Finally, the touchy topic: bribing.
I don’t usually need to do it but it is also something you want to discuss beforehand with the parents. If the kid is done but you really need that extra family pic to close the shoot, then having a little incentive to buy you a few minutes of patience can be useful.
I owe this picture to the promise of a nice piece of chocolate. And when you think about it, is that really so wrong? Having a little brother is not easy every day so why not enjoy an unexpected benefit?
That’s it! Enjoy your next newborn/siblings session, and remember that preparation before the shoot and flexibility during the shoot are the keys to success!
What are your tips for shooting newborn/sibling sessions? We’d love to hear them – share with us in the comments!
Lisa Tichané, France
CMU Instructor | CM Mentor
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Maybe it’s because she’s “a bit silly” or maybe it has to do with her being “a child at heart” but Lisa has an incredible talent for photographing babies and children in her fun, clean and playful style with her Canon 5d mark III, 35L, 50 f/1.4, 24-70L and 135L. She is the instructor of CMU’s Shooting 204: Capturing Joy and the author of Photographing Toddlers | a recipe for success. Marseille, France is the place she calls home along with her boys where they love to play, jump, run, make silly faces contests and wild pillow fights. She does enjoy some quiet once in a while where she can browse the web with her coffee and chocolate. Laughter is a must have, though, as she states, “a day without a good laugh is definitely a lost one for me.”