How to Photograph Siblings Without a Fight

It’s the holy grail of parenting…the elusive sibling photo where all of your children are looking at the camera and smiling happily in the same shot. You know, the one that can be used on greeting cards or in picture frames without considering an elaborate head swap in Photoshop?

No, it’s not easy, but it is possible with patience and planning. Here are some tips and tricks to get your kids looking at the camera and making a normal face for photographic evidence of their adorableness:

Perfect Timing for Sibling Photos

Timing is Everything

If children are tired, hungry, hot, cold or bored, this mission is over before it ever began, so choose your time of day carefully. The most flattering natural light happens in the early morning or evening, but if that doesn’t work with your family’s schedule, find some shade for your photo shoot. Direct sunlight is unflattering and can cause squinting and complaining, so do your best to avoid it. Also, be prepared for this session to end quickly–don’t count on a bunch of outfit or location changes. Have a few ideas but remain flexible; the very best shots are rarely planned.

Don't Say Cheese Sibling Photos

Don’t Say Cheese

I know, I know, saying, “Say cheese!” seems like the thing to do. Don’t do it! You’re basically begging for an inauthentic grimace of a smile since that’s what most kids have been trained to deliver when given that command. Instead, put them in position and engage your subjects in a game of Simon Says, challenging them with cues to do things like make a sad face, or to meow like a cat. Zoom in on their faces and click the shutter button often; the true magic will happen between commands as they laugh at their own silliness.

Best Sibling Photo Tips

Eyes Wide Open

A very common problem with groups in general, but especially with children, is that someone always tends to blink as the photo is being taken. Reduce this problem and eliminate forced smiles by asking kids to close their eyes and to open them and make their happiest face when you say the magic word, which needs to be something a lot funnier than “cheese.” Personally, I pull out the potty humor at this stage in the game because desperate times call for desperate measures.

If your camera is able to shoot in burst or continuous mode, try that; now that we’re not paying for film or processing, always go for quantity. You might accidentally catch that split second of sweetness.

How to Take Sibling Photos

Together but Apart

Something about siblings in close proximity can cause random outbursts of mild violence, which isn’t a scene that most people want to include on the Christmas card. (Just think of how much more interesting holiday mail would be if we published the outtakes instead of the 1 in 100 shots!) Reduce the odds of sibling rivalry by posing against different sides of the same tree or having the children lie head to head facing opposite directions as you shoot from overhead. Consider using furniture, a low-hanging tree branch, or playground equipment to position them on different levels within the same frame. Yes, we all know it shouldn’t be necessary, but no harm comes from giving everyone a little space.

Ideas for Sibling Photos

Give Up Your Ideas

Sometimes it’s just not going to happen. We often have that picture perfect photo in our head. Realizing that it won’t be a reality is disappointing, but you’ve got to let it go. Accept that you have a limited amount of control when it comes to photographing kids. When all else fails, I ask siblings to hold hands (or just to stand near each other if in combat mode) and take 10 steps away from me while I photograph them from behind. I’ve also challenged kids to a staring contest with a “no smiling” rule, which is an easy guarantee for grins, or I’ve asked them to sit back to back and completely ignore the camera and each other. Sometimes these simple shots end up being the most stunning. I often end up even feeling a little bit grateful for their frustrating refusal to pose the way I had planned.

Great Sibling Photos

The key when it comes to raising kids is creativity, flexibility and patience, and photographing them is no different. You have to have a plan, or several, and be willing to give them all up on a whim. The very best part about sibling portraits is that no matter how they turn out, they will be precious one day. Through the gift of time, even the most frustrating photo shoot will become a fun memory as your children grow into people who are different from the not-quite-smiling little faces in those photographs of the past.

Ashley McCann is the mom of two boys, a word nerd, a font elitist, a crazy cat lady, a reluctant yogi, a hedgehog owner and a newspaper columnist. She spends her time on the beaches in her hometown of Naples, FL and blogging, both personally at and professionally for and others.

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