As a parent, nothing pulls on the heart strings more than seeing your babies interacting sweetly together. I have two daughters of my own and I’m constantly caught off guard by the surge of love I feel whenever I secretly catch one showing affection for the other. Not only does my heart feel like it could burst but there’s also that accompanying sense of pride. I’ve created these amazing little people who completely adore each other! My parenting skills are awesome!
Of course, that’s not always the case. The world is not made up of puppy dogs and rainbows and siblings do not always adore each other, especially when the eldest is not much more than a baby themselves.
Photographing new siblings can be the single most stressful part of a newborn shoot for parents, doubly so if one of those siblings is a toddler.
You may have seen a particular image and thought how simple and straight forward it looks…the baby lays nestled protectively in the arm of the older sibling. The older sibling gazes adoringly at the new baby. You’ve practised with your toddler kissing a baby doll and they’ve nailed it! Seriously, how much different can the real thing be? I mean, a baby just lies there, right?
You casually mention how you’d love a couple of sibling shots to your photographer. ‘Nothing too fancy, just a couple at the start would be great. We don’t need to spend too much time on them.’
You envisage the same scenario over and over in your head. Your babies will lie there looking ridiculously cute whilst your photographer takes the money shot. Said masterpiece will be posted to Facebook or Instagram and everyone will ooh and aah over the gorgeousness you’ve created. You’ve done the ground work, your toddler is prepared and this is going to happen, dammit!
And then…the day of your session arrives and your toddler decides that actually they don’t want to cooperate. They don’t want to sit still, let alone lie down. They want to crawl, run, explore. The adorable outfit you’ve painstakingly picked is looking a little creased. There’s the remnants of an ink stamp on your child’s hand. Where on earth did that come from? Is that bruise on their head going to stand out? Is that snot in their nose? ‘You can photoshop that out, right?’
Meanwhile, your toddler has gone into flight mode.
Who is this wrinkly, red, crying creature you keep trying to make me kiss? No, I’m not going near it! It’s wriggly and weird looking. When is it going back? No, it’s not the same as the doll. The doll was cute. Where are the toys? What can I play with? I’m hungry. I’m tired. No, I don’t want to hold the baby. No, I don’t want to sit in your lap. Yes, I do want your mobile phone or ipad. No, I’m not going to relinquish it for the family photos. Yes, I will touch the baby – I’ll cover his face completely so he can’t be seen. What’s that you’re waving in my face? Is that a biscuit? Yes, I do want it. No, I’m not going to wait until I’ve had my photo. You’ve shown it to me and I want it now! GIVE IT TO ME!
It’s a scenario I’ve watch play out a gazillion times over the years. And you can pretty much guarantee it’s going to happen any time a parent tells me how ‘good’ their eldest child has been with the new baby so far. They totally jinx themselves. Toddlers are going to do what toddlers are going to do.
Still keen for that sibling shot?
Before you despair, here are a few tips for photographers and parents to help make the experience a little less frustrating.
1. Take into consideration their age and capabilities
Have realistic expectations. If your child has never held their baby sibling, your newborn session isn’t the first time to try it. If your toddler is usually quite busy and rarely sits still, then it’s unlikely they’ll suddenly have the urge to lie down, still as a statue, nursing a wriggling baby for any extended length of time.
Instead, try presenting the baby in a way that the toddler can show genuine interest on their terms and in their own way. I have an antique cot prop that I love to use during sibling sessions. It’s the perfect height for a toddler or small child to kneel down or bend over to look at the baby. Quite often, they’ll spontaneously kiss their sibling or reach out to gently stroke their head.
Parents, if you’re attempting to capture your children at home, you might try putting the baby in a bouncer or bassinet. Anything that enables your toddler to interact with them safely, and at their level.*
2. Start off with something simple and then try adding variations
Most sibling photographs will have little stepping stones to gradually increase the difficulty of what the photographer is asking of the older child. For example, you might start with the child laying on a rug, carefully holding their newborn sibling. Eyes open, looking up at the camera.
This might be followed with eyes shut and snuggling a little closer with the baby. (And whilst this seems deceptively simple, a lot of small children have trouble closing their eyes in a natural, relaxed way.) It’s instinctive for them to want to move their hands or head.
The next image might be the older sibling turning to the baby, eyes still closed and planting a kiss on the side of the newborn’s face. (This one can be super tricky for little kids. I photographed one darling little boy the other day who kissed his baby sister with his mouth wide open like a crocodile about to eat her up!)
3. Let their personalities shine!
Be patient with your little one. It’s okay if they don’t do exactly as you or the photographer asks. If they reach out to gently caress their sibling when they’ve been asked to just look, just go with it. Some of the best images are created when children feel free to be themselves and sometimes some of the cutest memories are created from little ones doing exactly the opposite of what they’ve been asked to do!
Can you tell which kid is doing their own thing?
4. Play little games and tricks to get the best of them
Sometimes, I’ll have children who are reluctant to sit with their parents and new sibling for family shots. I’ll ask them to ‘help’ me make sure their parents are doing the right thing. Kids are always curious to look at the back of my camera and they especially love seeing photos of themselves, so with their family in position, I’ll show them a few pics. Then I’ll say, ‘Let’s take another photo but with you in it and then I can show it to you. But first you have to run as fast as you can and sit on Dad’s lap or give mum a big cuddle.’
If I make out like I’m going to chase them or tickle them, they’re off like a shot! It’s a great way to capture really cute, natural family shots whilst allowing the child freedom to move.
If I want a child to look at their sibling, I’ll often say something really silly and completely inappropriate to get their attention. ‘Is that a booger on your baby’s nose?’ It’s something they don’t expect you to say and it almost always makes them look, ergo shot done 🙂
5. Keep it short & sweet
Small children have limited attention spans. Yes, they might sit through a random 2hr omnibus of The Wiggles on Channel 22 with unsettling quietness, but this is unlikely to translate into doing exactly what you want for any extended period of time during a newborn shoot.
Be realistic about the length of time you want to spend pursuing sibling pictures as this will often impact on the rest of your session. You don’t want to use all your newborn’s sleepy time convincing your toddler to cooperate.
Be patient but practical. If it happens, it happens and if it doesn’t, be like Elsa and let it go.
For more sibling inspiration, visit our gallery here
*Newborn safety is always paramount. Never put your little ones in positions or situations, where they could possibly be injured.