Today's topic is siblings, in particular, how to shoot them (with a camera, people, geez.)
Let's start with a quick analogy.
My husband maintains that having two dogs is easier than one.
You just feed them and walk them at the same time so it's nothing extra; they actually help because they'll teach and play with each other.
While there is some truth to this statement, there are also other factors that he conveniently leaves out of the equation such as the vet bills, the crate training, the fact that just because they are both dogs doesn't mean they have the same needs at the same times.
There are benefits of having two dogs, for sure, but it requires a shift of focus and a different approach to say, walk two dogs at once (especially if one of your dogs is named Bourbon and hits borderline hysteria at every scurrying leaf or, God help us, bird on a jaunt around the neighborhood).
Photographing young siblings, as opposed to a singular child, likewise requires some different techniques. I chose to specialize in children's photography so if I didn't love working with children, be it 1 little tyke or 10, I'd be in trouble. The truth is, though, I do love it all and I've picked up some tricks for my photography toolbox along the way. Whether you're a professional or just hoping to get some sweet faces once in a while of your kids instead of this...
...these tips can help your cause.
9 out of 10 children love being tickled. If you engage them in a tickle fight with each other, you get them immediately together and with fun expressions. Note: sometimes it's not the tickling itself, but the aftermath of the tickle that lends the golden shot. Tickling, though well-meaning, can quickly turn ugly and painful (especially with boys) so keep this game short or just use it as a prompt for best results ;-)
2. Encourage their inner helper
Older siblings especially love to help. If you give them a job to teach or help the younger sibling(s) do something, they feel important and are usually more than willing to show off their big girl/boy skills. Try directing them with questions like,
can you help _____ walk down the stairs so she doesn't get hurt?
why don't you show ______ how pretty the water is? I bet she'd love it!
3. Simon Says
This a great way to interact with kids from behind the camera. Throw a couple easy ones their way like, "simon says touch your nose," "simon says jump!" and every once in a while hit them with something like "simon says quack like a chicken."
Inevitably, if they take the bait, they'll have fun playing along and fun = natural smiles.
Especially if candy is a treat for a particular family, kids will do anything for an m&m's. They were KEY for these little guys toward the end of our shoot!
This one is great particularly for older siblings with babies, but works for great for sisters as well. A simple prompt like, can you give _______ a kiss on the cheek!? followed by really hamming it up with the "awwwww's" can do wonders.
6. Whispering secrets
Again, great for girls to get them to interact if they are being particularly independent that day. A little old school game a telephone is always a hit and any time you can be involved in playing instead of just the weird lady behind the camera, you can major bonus points with your mini clients.
For extremely active siblings, encouraging the competitive spirit can win you some great shots. Make sure your shutter is cranked up to 500 or so, make a little start & finish line, then let them race! Again and again and again. After a while, you can try asking them to hold hands while they run. Parents will also appreciate your effort to wear them out.
8. Simple Props
Not to be overdone, but props definitely have their place with adding interest and engagement to a shoot with siblings. I'm not talking baskets and giant numbers to lean on a la school portrait days. Think more active props to encourage play and personality and don't take away from the aesthetic of a natural environment, like kites and books are always great incentives to play together.
9. Give them trouble
I know, it seems backwards. But this is great especially when there are parents involved in the shots. Often, each sibling is trying to do his/her own thing in a separate spotlight and they have no interest in being close together. Give them a joint cause, though, like sneaking up to scare mom & dad, and you have a starting point for getting everyone together. Alternately, just letting them explore something that isn't usually encouraged, such as poking the baby's ear, can be just enticing enough to refocus for an adorable shot.
10. Bring the pet!
We've come full circle for that pet analogy, but it's true that sometimes more is better. Just sometimes, though :-)
A pet can act as the diffuser or distraction from the pressure kids sometimes feel during a shoot. Everyone wants to play with the pet, so therefore, everyone is together and having fun. Of course, this all depends on the pet and the kids' relationship with said pet, but if he's well-trained and easy going, bringing Fido along for the ride will keep everybody in happy spirits -- pets just have that effect on us :-)
I remember one of my mom's most common phrases when growing up was,
boys, stop antagonizing your sister!
Siblings can butt heads, they can be ornery, and they can be stubborn, but they can also be super sweet and really love each other! Not every trick works for every kid or family so it's important to experiment with pulling these and other tools out during shoots.
Also, SUPER IMPORTANT...
...don't jump right in with these games and tricks if you can sense that you're dealing with a more reserved kiddo. It's important to get a feel for their personality and not overwhelm them with expectations and excitement early on, otherwise, you'll loose their trust. Take it slow and steady to let them know you're a friend before you even get started clicking.
I'd love to know your tricks or simple strategies for pulling out personality in your shots! Leave a comment below to let me know what works for you and if you try any of the strategies above!