Have you ever tried to pose an elementary-age set of siblings, only to have one or more of them dissolve into a crying mess before you’re able to capture a single frame? When it comes to posing young siblings, I’ve discovered that things run more smoothly when I take a slightly more relaxed approach to posing, and I’ve compiled a few posing tips that will hopefully help you capture meaningful photos of young sibling groups a little more easily.
1. Get them close together
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that when I’m photographing groups of siblings, the favorite images are almost always ones in which the kids are closer together than they might usually sit, or stand, in day-to-day life. So now I usually begin every session that involves young siblings by asking them to hug each other, or put their arms around each other. If one sibling is very young, I have them sit down with the younger sibling on the older one’s lap. It’s a simple direction, but one that young children understand, and it really makes a big impact.
These images are most often family favorites, and are usually the ones that I see gracing Christmas cards and photo canvases in their living room. Most parents usually request at least one photo of both kids looking at the camera and smiling, and this is also where I most often try to fulfill that request.
However, as a mom I can tell you without a doubt that the amount of time that elementary age siblings will stay this close together before they start bickering or crying is usually pretty limited, and it’s in your best interest as a photographer to have them move on to something different before they totally dissolve into chaos. So, get them close, and then pay attention – if you notice that either sibling starts getting a little aggressive with their love, and starts squeezing the other sibling’s waist or neck, it’s time to move on to something else.
2. Give them something to do
Once it’s time to move on from hugging, I usually give the kids a small instruction that will keep them close together, but will also keep their hands occupied at the same time. For example, in the above photo I asked my girls to stand back-to-back, and hold hands. This kept them close physically, but also prevented some of the aggressive tickling that was starting to happen just before the photo was taken. I also often ask kids to stand facing me and hold hands, which achieves the same effect, and seems to be a favorite among parents as well.
Another thing to try is to have the kids lay down. I usually keep a few quilts in the back of my car for this exact purpose, and you would be surprised how quickly this simple suggestion can calm rambunctious kids down and allow them (and you) to refocus. Once they’re laying down, try asking them to look up at you, hold hands, close their eyes, give each other butterfly kisses, or to touch their noses together. Again, pay attention to both the subtle, and not-so-subtle, cues that either child may be giving that they are ready to move on to something new.
3. Let them be themselves
As nice as it is to have a perfect photo of everyone looking at the camera and smiling, I also know that some of my favorite images of my own girls are the ones in which their personalities really shine through. So, give the kids you’re photographing an opportunity to show you their personalities as well! Ask them to sing for you. Ask them to pose like their favorite superhero or princess. Tell them a knock-knock joke, then ask them to tell you one. I’ve yet to meet a kid who wasn’t totally game to give me a silly face, and usually the most genuine smiles and laughs quickly follow the silliest of photos.
You can also combine tips 2 and 3 – give them a small suggestion like “sit on the ground with your feet touching each other”, and then sit back and watch the way that they interact with each other naturally. Hand them each a flower or a leaf, and ask them to tell you a story about it. These are great opportunities to capture images that are more candid, while still allowing you as the photographer to have a bit of control in terms of posing.
Sometimes, I cycle through some variation of these tips two or three times in the course of a session, and I’ve found that the variety is really helpful in preventing the kids from getting restless and bored. Overall, the key to posing young siblings is realizing that you simply can’t approach posing in the same way that you would with senior portraits or formal wedding portraits. Elementary age kids simply won’t hold a pose that they find to be the slightest bit awkward or uncomfortable, no matter how good it might look. Instead, give young siblings gentle direction that allows them to relax and be themselves, and watch their little personalities shine!
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