5 ways to photograph kids together without bugging them

  • two brothers hugging picture by Celeste Pavlik

5 ways to photograph kids together without bugging them

Often, I am asked…. How do you get all your boys to sit for you at the same time for a picture?

Or how do you get them all to cooperate and look so natural?

Or, I’m told, it’s so great how your boys like to be in front of the camera AND with each other!!

Well, the truth is, it’s not so much that my boys like to be in front of my lens, it’s more about what ‘I do’ and ‘don’t do’ before I ever click that shutter. Seizing the opportunity to document those moments when they are being themselves; playing together, sharing a silly joke, tickling one another, and even just sharing a quiet moment is a huge part of who I am as a photographer.

I want to remember and I want them to remember what it was like growing up together as brothers and friends.

A brother is a friend given by nature. – Jean Baptiste Legouve

brotherly love photo by Celeste Pavlik

I’d like to share a little bit about my process of documenting my boys together.

I found that over the past couple years as I look through my portfolio a good portion of my work emphasizes the relationships between my boys. It’s an amazing feeling to look back at various times in their short lives and see the evidence of how special their bond and sibling connections are to one another.

I hope that someday when they are older they will look back at the many photos I made of them and be transported back in time to those strong bonds of brotherhood.

brothers laughing togethe by Celeste Pavlik
brothers on the soccer field by Celeste Pavlik

To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time. – Clara Ortega

two brothers having a staring contest by Celeste Pavlik

So what is the key to documenting those special bonds that your children have with one another in your photography?

1. Stealth mode

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it…. be stealth; don’t let them know you’re there! Invest in a long enough lens that you don’t need to be right in their face (I own both the Canon 100mm f/2.8 and the Canon 85mm f/1.8).

My kids don’t like having the camera in their face that much. The dynamics change when you as their parent and photographer are inserting yourself in to ‘their’ time. The goal is ‘capture them as they are’ not how they are when you’re watching.

I always acted different when my Mom or Dad was around. Just let them be little and do their thing.

boys playing together by Celeste Pavlik

2. Anticipation and patience

Not always easy to do, but the more you practice this way of shooting the easier it gets. Be ready for those moments before they happen. Learn who and how your children interact.

Do two of them play better together than the other two? Does big brother have a really special bond with little brother?

Begin to study the dynamics of their sibling-hood and as you do you’ll begin to be more equipped to capture the really special moments before they happen.

brothers telling jokes by Celeste Pavlik

3. Make it more than a snapshot

Whether you have 2 children or 10, I believe you CAN create photos with all or most of your children in the same frame and make it portfolio worthy.

I have 4 boys, ages 8, 5, 5, and 5. It can be tricky sometimes. It’s easy to become lazy with the rules of composition when you’re shooting for the sake of documenting their childhood.

But for me, I enjoy being able to document those real, raw and organic moments that happen in the lives of my boys with the strength of a true photographic artist.

backlit photo 4 brothers by Celeste Pavlik

4. Direct your subjects without directing

Set the stage; pre-plan an activity you know they enjoy doing together.

It’s okay to suggest, let’s have a tickle party, or can you tell your brother a secret? Or how about suggest they play a simple game like pass it on or ask them to have a staring contest.

Just whatever you do in your ‘directing’ say it once, and then let the story unfold in front of you. Let them be authentic. The less direct I allow myself to be, the more engaging they are with one another.

It’s only when I am totally okay with just letting them be that I really relax and shoot from my heart and not from my head.

That brings me to…..forget posing! I have found it is difficult to capture an honest and authentic interaction between the boys if I try to pose them too much. Instead of posing them, ask them to play, sit, or be in a particular area where you like the light or location.

boys laughing together by Celeste Pavlik
brothers playing on a swingset by Celeste Pavlik

5. Avoid eye contact

Yes, avoid it!! Time and time again we, as photographers worry that a photo is ‘no good’ if our subjects do not make eye contact with us and our viewer.

Of course there are many reasons that you would want eye contact. However, hopefully here I have shown you compelling reasons why eye contact is not always the most important factor of creating a strong photo.

Without eye contact, it really draws your viewer in on an emotional level and they will begin to create the story that is between your subjects.

two brothers hugging picture by Celeste Pavlik

I love talking about this topic and hope that you’ll share your photos right here in the comments that you have captured of your children together! And of course, always happy to answer questions. Thank you!

About the Author:

Known for her dramatic use of light and admiration of black and white photography, Maryland photographer Celeste Pavlik has a gift for capturing a wide array of emotions in her honest and organic imagery of her subjects. While the subject of her lens is most often one, or all four of her sons, she also immerses herself in the quietness of macro and still life photography. Receiving acclamation in several juried shows, she is finding herself happily pulled in to the fine art world. Celeste is a Canon photographer, Lensbaby lover, freelensing fanatic and enjoys processing 90 percent of an image in ACR with a final polish in Photoshop and or Lightroom. Besides photography, Celeste likes to spend time with her boys, explore new places, bake and snuggle in one of her well loved quilts. Visit Celeste Pavlik online.
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20 Comments

  1. Arturo Mijangos Feb 26 2015 at 11:32 am - Reply

    Great photos, and I like the part about no eye contact, it is hard to move away from it. You made me look for more candid takes.

  2. Iris Feb 26 2015 at 11:59 am - Reply

    What an awesome article. Thank you so much for sharing from your heart!

  3. JanTyler Feb 26 2015 at 12:36 pm - Reply

    Such beautiful, beautiful work…and such a fantastic article. I loved all of your suggestions–especially the part about “directing without directing”. It is such a simple little thing that makes such a huge difference in the authenticity and connections in your images. I love your work so much! <3

  4. Renata Feb 26 2015 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    Such a great post! I love photographing my kids together and rarely pose them

  5. Sergey Feb 27 2015 at 12:06 am - Reply

    Love these photos! Thanks for all the great points!

  6. Patty Feb 28 2015 at 10:27 am - Reply

    i love this. Thank you for all the tips. My girls spend most of their days saying how much they hate each other but there are moments where they are so connected and these are some great tips to help me capture those moments.

  7. Lisa Benemelis Feb 28 2015 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much, Celeste, for opening your heart and sharing your insight on photographing your children. Beautiful children – beautiful images!!

  8. Julie Van Dasselaar Mar 01 2015 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    Totally enjoyed reading this. I have three boys and Love capturing pictures of them together. Thank-you for this with us. My goal this year is to improve my black and white images. Here is one I took of them sharing the iPad πŸ™‚

    • Julie Van Dasselaar Mar 01 2015 at 12:31 pm - Reply

      I meant * thank-you for sharing this with us πŸ™‚

  9. Destin Mar 02 2015 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    I love how you catch the sweetest, most cherished moments. This is my favorite type of photography. I have found it hard to capture my clients candids this way, if I don’t know much about them. For a few months I got caught in having the right back drop, pose them this way, because it is the “norm” and it is what they expect. I quickly pulled myself from that and make it clear my intentions before a family decides to book with me. I want real, authentic pictures. How do I do that with milestone pictures and family portraits?

  10. Nichole Mar 09 2015 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    Such a great article! I need to be better with capturing my boys. They are getting older and I don’t want to miss their connections.

  11. Jodie Mar 10 2015 at 5:49 am - Reply

    What a fabulous tutorial! I love how you have inspired me for a new project to undertake! Thank you!

  12. jennifer nobriga Mar 10 2015 at 9:58 am - Reply

    gosh your images are just gorgeous celeste and thank you so much for this!! i need to do this more with my kids <3

  13. Jonathan Karwacki Mar 15 2015 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    Great article, I also find that the more you have your camera out and the more your kids, or friends, get used to you having it and taking photos then the more of their everyday lives it becomes. They get used to it, forget that its there and you are able to get those candid shots you are looking for.

  14. Diane Mar 29 2015 at 2:17 am - Reply

    I loved your article and the stunning examples. Thank you

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