Last summer, a new project was launched on the Click Pro Daily Project blog, All in the Frame, a challenge dedicated to all moms with three kids and more in the house, encouraging them to photograph their children together at east once a month.
As a Mom of three boys, this project resonated with me. I have realized over the past years that without a conscious effort to include them all in the frame, I always end up with individual portraits, or two of them interacting. But the age gap (my oldest is now 12 and the littlest one is 4) creates less and less opportunities for common games and activities, so I very rarely have them together in the same photograph.
When the project started, I decided to incorporate an additional twist. In my Capturing Joy workshop, students are often sharing how much they struggle to get happy images of siblings together. So I thought this project could be a wonderful real-life experience, allowing me to test new things that I could then use as teaching materials in the workshop: how to photograph 3 siblings together being obviously happy or joyful.
After almost one full year of practice, I must say that I’m totally hooked and that I’ve learned quite a few things along the way that I thought could be useful to others.
There are two main strategies you can embrace when trying to capture your children in the same frame:
STRATEGY #1: BE A FLY ON THE WALL
This is the most obvious strategy of all: keep your camera within reach and your eyes open, ready to identify spontaneous moments during which your kids are sharing an activity, and use a documentary approach, capturing what happens without interfering.
I have to admit that this is definitely (and unfortunately) not my strong suit. Once in a while, I’m grabbing an unplanned image that makes my heart sing as in the example below, but more often than not I’m disappointed with what I get.
However, there are other photographers out there who truly have a gift for documentary photography, so it might be a wonderful opportunity to consider. Among the crazy talented Click Pro members in our All in the Frame group, Sarah Wilkerson is a fabulous example of a photographer who can capture the realness of everyday life and make it a work of art. She is generously sharing her tips and approach with us:
I’m initially watching for two things:
- The obvious necessity of all the children in a contiguous space so that I can frame all four together.
- Remarkable light, which for me usually looks like sidelighting, backlighting, or some other dramatic interplay of light and shadow.
When those two factors converge, my window of opportunity to capture the moment is often short, and it sends me running for the camera. I keep my camera charged and ready on a high shelf in a central location alongside a selection of favorite lenses (my 24mm lens is invariably attached 90% of the time).
2. Technical Settings
On the dash back to the scene, I do a basic white balance and ISO adjustment for the general light with which I’ll be working; as a quick rule of thumb, that might look like 6500K + ISO 400 (outdoor bright shade) or 2800K + ISO 3200 (indoors at night). I’ll set shutter speed and aperture for the moment (this may change between shots), but with four kids usually on separate planes, I’m often shooting at a higher aperture than I normally I would, which is a departure from the way I’d often approach single subject scenes.
Next up is composition, and this is the best part for me. The beauty – and the challenge – of photographing all four in one frame is that no two frames look alike. Even when one child is still, it’s all but certain that one or more of the others will introduce movements, gestures, or positioning that change the composition moment by moment, so I tend to take a lot more shots than I would with a single subject. I try to make sure all four subjects are minimally overlapping and significantly separated from the background; by and large, I want each to occupy his own space in the frame, as this is critical to demonstrating artistic intention and control in your busy scene. Multi-subject shots also provide a great opportunity to introduce depth in an image, and you can try to frame the scene so that you have a subject appear in the foreground, a subject at midground, and a subject in the background; this works especially well in a scene in which the children are all present in one scene but not actually engaged in a shared activity. Finally, I love a composition that has tension of movement: two or more subjects looking or moving in completely opposite directions; this keeps the viewer’s eye moving throughout the frame.
STRATEGY #2: CREATE YOUR OWN OPPORTUNITIES
This is my personal approach 90% of the time. Instead of waiting for the perfect moment to happen, I much prefer to create the conditions for my visions to come to life. Here are my best tricks to make it work.
1. It’s okay to plan ahead and make things happen, as long as the emotion captured is real.
This is probably the most important thing I’ve learned about photographing my own kids.
There is one of Murphy’s law that every photographer knows a bit too well: perfect moments always happen in bad light or when you don’t have your camera with you. You know what I’m talking about, right?
Instead of being frustrated when it happens, I take mental notes of this perfect moment that caught my eye, to recreate it at a better time with my camera in hand.
For example, my boys play and wrestle on the couch almost everyday, but mainly in the evening when there is no available daylight. For this image, the only thing I did was prepare my camera and settings in the middle of a sunny Sunday, and then move the couch to a different part of the room. Of course, this unexpected change in the living room design was a big source of curiosity for my boys, who immediately wanted to try the new set up.
What they are doing on the couch, being their usual silly and energetic selves, is totally up to them. However, I intentionally created this photographic opportunity.
You might think I’ve cheated, and you’re probably right. But the interaction and expressions are authentic, so frankly it’s all that matters to me!
2. Anticipation is key
Sometimes you can identify a recurring moment that you want to document, and anticipate it to create a great photographic opportunity.
During our last family vacation, my kids were passing by this same street everyday when going to the beach, and this red wall had caught my eye. One morning I left the house a few minutes before them to make sure I would be standing where I wanted to be with my settings ready to catch the moment when they came.
3. Create the fun
This tip is very much related to my “capturing joy” obsession but you can make it work for more moody/serious shots, too.
The key to capturing your kids together in the same frame is to create an activity so irresistible for them that they won’t even notice you are photographing them. In short, create a fun or fascinating moment, during which you’ll happen to grab fantastic images. But make sure that it doesn’t look like a photoshoot!
This image is a perfect example of this approach. What kid doesn’t like to play in the sprinkler during a hot summer day? All I had to do was prepare my camera and settings in advance to be fully ready to capture the moment, turn on the water, and yell: “Look, boys!!! The sprinkler is on!”
4. Use action
We all know how hard it is to photograph siblings together. Whenever you say “Okay you guys, let’s take a beautiful picture of you together” the immediate result is grumpy faces and teeth grinding.
My main trick to make them forget about the camera and be together in the frame without them actually realizing that they are cooperating, is to give them something to DO. Something as wild and energetic as possible to make sure that they are going to fully focus on the action. Running, jumping, twirling, climbing… anything can work, as long as it requires their full attention so that they don’t notice that
- A. They are doing something together (eeek).
- B. Their mother is photographing them (double eeeeek).
5. Make your life easy
One of the most difficult things when capturing multiple siblings together, is to have them all doing a cute face at the same time. Have you noticed how siblings are always doing weird expressions as soon as they realize you have a camera in hand?
Release the pressure by taking faceless shots. You can tell fascinating stories full of emotion and connection without including your subjects’ face in the frame. It’s so freeing!
Silhouettes are also a great option when you want to focus on the action without worrying about your kids’ facial expressions.
Or you can embrace the silly faces for what they are, a perfectly real siblings moment.
6. Make a list!
Last but not least, prepare in advance the things you want to capture. Make a bucket list of those “All in the Frame” images you are dreaming to get, and use it as your inspiration source when nothing is happening spontaneously. At the beginning of each period, ask yourself, which one of these ideas is coming to life this month?
It doesn’t have to be crazy creative, it can be as simple as eating ice cream together or book-reading time… as long as it makes your heart happy and creates lifetime memories for your kids!
Now, it’s your turn! Please share with us your favorite tips to capture siblings together in the frame in the comments section below.