When a newborn comes in to my studio with an older sibling/s, the sibling photo is almost always at the top of every parent’s list of “must have” images. There’s nothing sweeter than a photo of your children together – welcoming your new member of the family. But any baby photographer will tell you that, depending on the age of the sibling and their cooperativeness on the day, the sibling shot can be the hardest photo to achieve!
Here are my top tips on working with siblings – especially the under 3s (the most notoriously difficult older siblings to work with!).
Tip #1 – Engage the Older Sibling
On first meeting your clients, make a special effort to engage the sibling in a non-threatening but friendly way. You’ll gauge very quickly the personality of your little subject. They may be very shy or they may be more outgoing. If they are shy you’ll need to take your time with them a little more so you don’t scare them. Get down to their level. Make funny jokes – a favourite of mine is to pretend to guess their age and purposely get it very wrong to help them feel at ease. Remember that to a little person you are a big scary stranger in a big scary new environment. Take your time with them and let them warm up to you and the space. Also remember that they have just experienced a HUGE change to their little world – the arrival of their new sibling. No doubt they are feeling overwhelmed at the change to the family dynamic and all the attention that this new little person is having. Most siblings react really positively to a grown up showing them some attention instead of the new baby which may have been stealing the limelight.
Tip #2 – Attempt the Sibling Photo First
When a sibling attends my studio, I always make a bee line for attempting the sibling image first. Why? I find that when young children first arrive in a new space they can be a little more shy and less inclined to be running around exploring every nook at cranny of their environment. They’re usually a little intimidated by the new space, the lighting equipment, the new face (mine!) and camera. I try to take advantage of this small window of time and capture the sibling image before they get too comfortable and less interested in me and what I’m needing them to do.
I’m also mindful that it’s my goal to get the sibling out of the studio space as quickly as I can for all of our sakes! They typically find the studio environment very boring and it can be distracting for the parents (and me as the photographer) if they’re running around the studio getting in to everything. Not to mention that there are lots of hazards around – lighting equipment that can be pulled over, heaters that are hot etc etc. I also find that when the older ones leave the studio there is an obvious sigh of relief from my clients who can focus on their newborn and creating a calm space to focus on getting their photos.
With all this in mind, I usually attempt the sibling photo first. And then I do the family portrait including the sibling. If all goes well – this usually takes about 15-20 minutes. I inform my clients that they need to arrange for Dad to take the sibling home/to a local cafe or park, or a family member/friend/babysitter to come and collect the older sibling.
Tip #3 – Keep the Newborn Safe
As the photographer, you will need to gauge very quickly the type of photograph that you can safely achieve with the sibling. This will depend on a few factors such as the age of the sibling, how cooperative they are, whether they are calm and happy to follow instructions, or whether they are very active and not inclined to sit still for long. As a rule of thumb, I usually err on the side of caution when it comes to the types of sibling photographs I will attempt. The very safest newborn shot is of both the sibling and the newborn laying down with an aerial image of them both. You can take this image with the sibling cuddling the newborn, or in cases where the sibling is very young or otherwise not cooperating/very fidgety – with the sibling simply laying down next to the baby. This means that if they suddenly decide they no longer want to lay on the blanket, that the baby is not going to be harmed.
ALWAYS have Mum or Dad sitting right next to the older sibling for safety. This will also help them feel more relaxed as well by having them close by.
If you have a very young sibling under 3, or you have any concern that the sibling is going to roll on/drop/get distracted and run off – then the laying down pose is the best thing to do.
Of course, if the sibling is older or is very mature (you will still need to have parents there just in case) and calm, you can attempt other types of sibling shots which are more advanced such as sitting poses with the newborn held by the sibling. ALWAYS have a parent sitting right out of shot though just in case!
Tip #4 – Composites to the Rescue!
Knowing how sibling images are usually so important to our clients, we need to try our very best to get them the shot. Sometimes this means that we need to enlist the help of some Photoshop trickery to achieve this if the older sibling is not cooperating. In cases where I have a sibling who really doesn’t want to be near their baby sister/brother, I enlist the help of a favourite toy or other distraction to help. I can photograph both the baby and the sibling separately and then merge the two images together in Photoshop to make it look as though they are blissfully besotted with each other 😉
Tip #5 – Bribery and Corruption
Older children are clever. They can sniff out a parent’s desperation for the elusive sibling image a mile away and use this to their own advantage. I have had cases in the past where a 2-4 year old has thrown a whopper tantrum just because they don’t want to have a photo. (Don’t be embarrassed by this if this happens! It happens to the best of us). While it’s probably not something you want to do day-to-day at home with your child, if all else fails sometimes a bit of bribery can be the difference between getting a sibling photo to treasure forever, and getting no photo at all. I always leave this up to the parents to decide if they want to partake in this. But if you’re comfortable with bribing your child with a reward for cooperating the results can be astounding. I have literally witnessed children pick themselves up from a crying, screaming pile on the studio floor, brush themselves off and lay down next to their sibling cuddling them sweetly. The power of bribery!
I hope these tips help you with your siblings in your next newborn session!
Amy Tong is a newborn photographer in Sydney, Australia specialising in natural, timeless images of babies and their families since 2012. She is a fully accredited member of the Academy of Newborn Photographers.