Capturing genuine interactions between siblings is about half photography and half psychology.
Once you know your camera well and you’ve got your settings just right, then it all boils down to mind games. I love the fly on the wall approach to photography, but I’ll be honest with you here: I direct my kids all the time. I don’t pose them at all, but I ask them to do certain things in certain areas of the house to help facilitate genuine interaction in the right light. I don’t believe this makes the story any less authentic, and I’m able to get the shots I want as a result.
Getting my three-year-old twins to cooperate is less about what I’m asking of them, and more about how I’m asking it. Here are a few tricks that I use.
1. Make it a game.
Kids are pretty competitive by nature (at least mine are), so make it a game! I can get my brood to do just about anything with the simple phrase, “The first one to _____ wins!”
Now, I understand there is probably a statute of limitations on the effectiveness of this trick, but at three years old, it works every single time, so use it! “The first one that can get little Johnny to giggle wins!” Once they understand what you’re asking of them, they really can’t resist the urge. So get everyone to an area with great light, set it up how you want it, and then sit back and watch the show.
2. Bribes are brilliant.
If your kiddos are a little too old for a mere win to satisfy them, bribes are always helpful. “The first one to get little Johnny to smile wins a surprise!” A bowl of ice cream, a little toy, anything really.
You know what works best for your little ones. After a few minutes, they’re usually having so much fun they forget about the surprise all together, so go ahead and bribe them; bribe them every day (and the mom of the year award goes to….).
Kids are far more likely to be in good spirits with one another if they see that you are. So strap the camera over your shoulder and take a turn with hopscotch. Put the camera down for a second and try to score a goal. Not only will you feel better about yourself for participating, you’ll also get some amazing, genuine shots in between all the action.
4. Allow them to participate.
Be honest with them. Let them know that you’d like to get a few good photographs of everyone together, and that you’d like their help with ideas. Take their suggestions and run with it. Even if they aren’t even remotely close to what you were going for, oblige them. Make them feel like they are part of the process, and they’ll most likely be willing to participate in your ideas, too.
5. Interaction is interaction. Lower your expectations.
Yes, we all want that gorgeous photo of our kids happily interacting with one another, love and admiration written all over their faces, but that’s just not reality all the time. Kids fight, they bicker, they get upset, and sometimes they just ignore each other. Those are all great opportunities to capture part of their story.
Maybe your oldest rolls his eyes a certain way when he’s upset with his sister. Shoot it! Even the less than perfect moments are worth remembering, and I surprise myself all the time with amazing shots I didn’t anticipate just by shooting through the rough times.
6. Talk to them.
Every time I photograph my kids, I make sure I’m actively engaging them in conversation. I do give gentle directions if I want them to face a certain way or something, but I don’t bark orders at them. I talk about their favorite movie and what they liked about it, or I take suggestions on what they’d like to do that day.
I also encourage them to talk to one another. Yes, I’m pointing a camera at them the whole time, but I’m treating them like more than just a subject, and I think they really respond to that. Conversation also helps to draw out those real facial expressions.
7. Let go of perfection.
This one is really hard for me. I want everything to be perfect when I’m shooting. But the reality is life isn’t perfect!
So try and let go of those unrealistic expectations. Allow yourself to blow the highlights. Give yourself some slack with the composition. Just shoot it. See what you get, and then allow yourself the freedom to love it in spite of its imperfections.
Sometimes the shot is more about the feeling it conveys and less about whether is technically correct. This is a constant challenge for me, and I don’t anticipate that it will ever be easy. But I try my best.