How to: Photograph Young Siblings

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Family portraits are hard.  There’s a good chance everyone involved has varying levels of interest in taking a great portrait.  I’m usually the one in the bunch groaning, so I’m here to tell you how to make future family shots a little less painful, specifically portraits of young siblings.

It all comes down to making it quick, easy and safe for the little ones.  You’re not going to walk away with fifty amazing portraits, but if you get one great shot, the squawks and squeals are all worth it.  In previous posts, we gave you a primer on photography, newborn portraits and kid candids.  I advise skimming those posts to get a better understanding of light and photography before setting up your mini models.

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1. Set up the shot + Test your settings

All great portraits start with nice lighting.  Find a room with nice natural light; it makes all the difference.  You want the light to be bright, but not direct.  Think of a room lined with windows with sheer white curtains, which is exactly where these shots were set up.  Next set up your camera.  If you are using a DSLR, it will probably go something like this:

  • White Balance – This depends on your light source.  It’s okay to leave your WB on Automatic, but it’s best to set it each time you pick up your camera.
  • ISO – low! 200-800 would be best. ISO should always be set at the lowest number possible for the scene you’re shooting in.  Know that the lower the ISO, the better the overall quality of photo file.
  • Shutter Speed – Fast! Kids move quick. First and foremost I want to freeze the action and avoid blurry photos so I’ll always shoot at least 1/250 of a second, most likely 1/500 or faster if available light allows. Photographing kids is a great time to use S-Priority mode.
  • Aperture or Fstop – Depends on the situation, but I tend to lean low, like 2.8. I like a shallow depth of field to keep the central focus of the photo on the children, not on the busy background, but this really depends on the scene.  You’ll develop your own preferences over time.
  • Shoot on Continuous Shooting or Burst mode so that you don’t miss a moment.
  • Stand back and zoom in.  This is always a good move when it comes to portrait photography, but especially with kids.  Cameras and lens are large and confusing, you want them to look natural not terrified.

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2. Keep the toddler happy with bribes and such

As you can see, Alex is holding a ‘sharp tool’ which is really just a car key, but these things keep him happy.  We know, we know, keys and sharp tools are dangerous, but that’s why they’re so much fun, duhhh!  In order to keep Alex interested in taking sibling pictures, we let him hold the coveted key.  When it was time to smile for the camera, we took the key away, but his smile stayed.  In-between setting up shots and keeping newborn Luc happy, we would allow Alex to hold the key again.  This little behavior and reward exchange works wonders for kids, especially when you’re making them do something that’s b-o-r-i-n-g. Stick to special toys, not videos or food because sometimes videos are longer than you expect (and the newborn can only handle so many photos in one afternoon) and food can get messy quick.

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3. Pass off the baby

This step is important.  You don’t want any of your kids getting dropped or hurt in the process of taking precious pictures that will just ruin the whole shoot 😉  Make sure the older children understand how important it is to be gentle while holding their sibling.  Thankfully Alex took this job very seriously, but we always made sure we had his full attention before trying to set Luc on his lap.

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4. Stay close + Keep shooting!

Make sure mom or whomever is monitoring, stays right outside the frame.  You’ll want to make adjustments and comfort the newborn constantly.  It really only takes ten seconds to get that stellar shot, the rest of the time you’re trying to keep all the mini models happy and content.

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5. Take breaks, switch scenes & wrap it up

Remember to take breaks often.  You want to shoot in quick little spurts so the toddler doesn’t have a fake smile plastered on his face and the newborn isn’t beet red from crying.  This entire shoot took only twelve minutes! I shot 203 photos and the entire time we were constantly adjusting baby Luc and repositioning Alex’s hands.  After we got at least one good shot in one pose we moved them to the couch to try for another.  It’s important to keep everything flowing and not to get stuck in one position just hoping for the right moment.  If it’s not working, it’s not working, move on, switch it up and keep shooting. You don’t want to traumatize your kids by making them wear buttoned down shirts and stand in the hot sun for hours, you want it to be quick and painless so that they’re willing to do it again in the future and often!

I hope these little tips and tidbits will come in handy next time you’re photographing young siblings.  If you’re not comfortable behind the camera you could always hire a professional.  It might cost you a pretty penny, but it is totally worth it.  Try to keep in mind that you’re not paying for time when you hire a photographer, you’re paying for the whole happy experience and the memories that will be captured.  Like I said, this entire shoot took twelve minutes, but Katie was able to make adorable birth announcements with these photos. Imagine all the relatives she made smile with that one single shot. Great photographs are truly priceless and worth the money (says the photographer 🙂 ).  Happy shooting!

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