Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Photographing Multiples During Different Stages

Hi there! It’s me, Carleigh, owner and photographer over at Sweet Poppy Studios, with some great general tips for photographing your twins and also some age-specific tips I have learned along the way. I am an auntie to nine month old identical twin boys, and I have been photographing multiples for many years. Here are some general tips you can apply to every age:

Find the Right Light. Lighting is key when photographing anything, but it is especially important when photographing children. Children can’t control when they squint, so choosing lighting that makes it easy for them to give you a natural face is important. My first choice is always FULL SHADE. This even lighting will give you the best chance of a non-squinty, open-eyed shot. Second choice is full sun. It can be especially beautiful if you can keep your own shadow out of the shot! Avoid that splotchy, half sun/half shade scenario. In that lighting, it is hard to get an evenly lit shot, and you will likely detract from the beauty of your children with weird shadows and lines on them. This goes for indoor shots as well. If you have enough light to turn OFF your overhead lights, I would. Avoid the tones cast and the shadows they can create on faces by eliminating them.

Do Your Prep Work. Once you find your spot with the right lighting, get set up. Take a test shot before you bring your kids over to make sure you are ready for the shot. Bring whatever activity you want to photograph them doing and have it in the right spot ready to go. Being ready for the shot is half the battle, and sometimes they only give us a quick moment to get the shot. This applies to phone photos, too!

Go For the Gusto. You are ready, you have the right light, so now is the time! Place your children in the spot you want and go right for the shot! I have found that your best opportunity for a shot with both children looking at the camera is in those first few seconds you place them, when they are still looking at you for instruction. If they get engaged in the environment or activity, you are going to have a hard time getting them both back to being focused on you! So try for that shot with them both looking first.

Overstimulation - Let’s avoid it. Many children, especially twins, come to me for their sessions uninterested in having their photos taken due to an abundance of overstimulation by parents. We overstimulate them by repeatedly calling their names to try and get them to look at us. I rarely use their names to get them look at me. I find ways to get them to interact with me because they WANT to. This means participating in the play, cheering for them, laughing with them and being interested in what is going on - not just interested in the photo. If you say their names ten times, guess what!? They are going to start ignoring you, and we don’t want that. Patience will help you catch them looking or engaging if you wait.

No Negotiating. I don’t negotiate with or bribe children to have their photos taken for many reasons. The first is that you do not want to set the precedent that getting your photo taken is a situation which needs to be negotiated. We negotiate things that are tasks, compromises, give and take. We don’t want them thinking this about photos! Kids are smart, and the negotiations are only going to get more and more intense. My other reason is that you are the parent, and instruction with activity actually helps them know what to expect and what to do. “We are going to take your pictures, then blow bubbles in the yard!” “We are going to Grandma’s house. Hold your Brother’s hand here on the porch for this photo so we can get in the car and go.” Quick lines of instruction help them, so stick with that and leave the negotiations at work.

Outfits. This is the question I get asked the most often by my clients, and I understand because it is a tough choice! My main tip here is to avoid clothing with words on the front. Most of the time, only part of the lettering ends up visible, and it’s distracting. Opt for a pattern or a solid instead. Also, and I know this is hard with twins, but I would avoid matching (my sister completely disagrees here!). Instead, try for coordinating colors. My reasoning is that matching can sometimes blend together in weird optical illusions and coordinating helps eliminate that issue. More importantly though, as your children grow, is that THEY feel comfortable and most like themselves. After all, capturing stages also means what they were actually like at that stage - not a fake version for a photo. You can help by letting them choose their own favorites from limited choices you approve of already.

Be a Parent First and a Photographer Second. This one is hard. As their parents, you are the main documenter of their lives and all of their important moments - but you have to be a parent first and foremost. You are going to miss some great shots, and that is okay. Seeing your face smiling back at them during those moments when they need it is far more important than any photo you will ever take. If you followed my tips above and did your prep work, you should have been able to get a few shots right off the bat. At some point shortly thereafter, you need to put the camera down and wholeheartedly be present for them. Play the game, enjoy the show, cheer for them! If at some point they get busy playing without your undivided attention, you can return to the camera and snap some great lifestyle shots of them engaged. Also, I would highly recommend scheduling a yearly photo shoot with a pro so you can be in some shots feeling beautiful too!

Safety First. I think this goes without saying, but safety comes first. Never place your children where they can fall, or where they might be in danger. I use the ground for most of my shots, and it’s easy! All you need to do is get down flat on your belly so you can be at the same level as them. No one can get hurt, and I get some exercise getting up and down =) But seriously, no shot is worth the danger, so think about safety before worrying about photos.

Print Your Work. Sometimes, we take all these pictures and we enjoy them, but the children hardly ever see them. You see them on your devices, but they don’t. This makes it hard for them to feel invested in capturing these moments. Print your photos out. Put them around your home, in your children's rooms, at grandpa’s house, on the desk at Mom’s work. Even if they aren’t perfect. Even if they are from your phone. I get the best responses from repeat families who print their photos and display them around their home. The kids are genuinely excited to participate in creating more memories to display. I love to print from Artifact Uprising. They have gorgeous products and a great phone app. I print my phone photos from there too!

Age Specific Tips:

Newborn. This cute squishy stage is so darling and one I know you all want to remember forever. Since newborns cannot control their limb movement, if they are awake, the best way to get a shot is to swaddle them and place them next to each other, then shoot from directly over the top. Watch out for your shadow! I prefer to photograph newborns asleep since they cannot focus far anyway. If they are asleep, make sure they are in a deep sleep before placing them next to each other. Make sure they are close together!  Never ever leave babies unsupported or get far away where you can’t reach them.

Baby. They are starting to smile at you here, and who doesn’t want to capture that! I would shoot them awake, from directly over the top. They can’t sit up, so it looks silly and uncomfortable when you try to prop them up next to each other all slumped over with pillows. Another great view is from the side. Let them show off how they have learned to track you by turning their necks to the side. Tummy time is also great as they are learning to push up to elbows. Never force babies into awkward positions or place them where they might slam their heads into each other.

Sitters. This might be my favorite stage. They laugh at you, are inquisitive, have great expression, and love getting reactions from you. They are sitting up and it’s the cutest. Sit them next to each other with their bottoms touching - feet slightly angled out. I like to use silly noises to make the boys laugh at me, or look my way. I also like to get them looking at each other too. Remember, I don’t shout their names, and you shouldn’t either. Also, this is the stage where parents like to start dangling their favorite toy/food/phone over the camera. Don’t do that! They are going to want that object and get mad at you when you don’t hand it over. This is also a great place to address when you have twins where one has reached a milestone and the other one hasn’t (Baby A sits up and Baby B doesn’t!). That’s okay! Photograph them together with their own skills. It’s okay if they aren’t both looking at the camera. You might be surprised how special a photo that shows off the individuality of each child while still capturing both is to you.

Crawling. When you place them down, place them in the sitting position, and let them navigate themselves into the crawling position. Bonus points if you have another person available to seat them while you are already set up for the photo. You need to back up here and give yourself more room because they are likely to come right toward you! Starting further back, on the ground at their level, will give you a little extra time to get a few shots off. I like to shoot laying down on my belly supported by my elbows for this stage.

New Walkers. Similar to crawling, start a little further away. I like to shoot on my knees at this stage so I am close to eye level for the shot. They usually come either right for me or their parents (strategically positioned waiting for them in the direction I want the kids to head). This goes without saying, but please stay away from streets, ditches, and other areas where you might not be able to get to them fast enough. Fenced yards and big parks are much safer options!

Toddlers. This is the HARDEST stage by far, especially with two. They have mobility and definite ideas about what they do and don’t want to be doing with with their time. They go any direction, and a lot of times, it's away from you as fast as possible. It’s tough, and you have limited time, so be ready. I use age appropriate “games” at this stage to occupy them. Can you clap? Jump? Dance? Blow a kiss? Try to keep them in the same place for a second or two and go for it. This seems to be where the negotiating starts (stand here and you'll get a fruit snack!), and I would avoid starting this bad habit. You still need to be eye level with them, so either sit, squat, or shoot on your knees.

Preschoolers. This is another stage I love. Their world is all about play, and you are the center of it all. You can create games, activities, and ideas that they will be happy to engage with, and they are also able to understand the concept of getting their photo taken to help you out. They are trying to establish skills and independence at this stage, and that is a wonderful thing to capture. Motor skills are great activities - blowing bubbles, hopping, making faces, tickling - are all fun things they love. They also love to show you things at this stage - a drawing, a rock they found - anything! Embrace this stage and roll with it. Ask them to “show you who is taller - stand back to back!” - fun things like this to keep them interested help. After, let them each pick a photo to print. Next time they will be even more excited to help out.

School Aged. The great thing about school is that they have learned the “sit here and give me your attention” trick. It is helpful, just not incredibly helpful for capturing genuine smiles! They have learned to fake smile like little pros and, as darling as that can be, it’s not usually what we are aiming for. I use this stage to ask them questions that might help them give me what I want. For example, I might ask “What’s the silliest thing your sister has ever done?” or "What is the funniest thing that has ever happened at school?” A lot of times, just like adults, they smile thinking about these memories. I also ask them serious questions too. “What’s the best thing about having a twin?” or “What do you like the best about your Mommy?” They still love to play at this age, so games are fantastic. Red light, Green light, Simon Says, and Follow the Leader are a few of my personal faves.

Pre-teen/Teenager. Ah, the growing stage. They can be happy and sweet one moment, and little monsters the next. Self conscious, awkward, and unpredictable are all words I hear from families planning shoots with their tweens and they make complete sense. As we are trying to raise independent-thinking, good decision making, compassionate, loving, members of society, there are a lot of growing pains in the way. Here, my very best advice is respect their voice in the process of photo taking. If you have a teen that takes some warming up to the idea, give them enough warning to be prepared. Twins can go either way at this stage - some close as ever and others really trying to establish their own identity by showing how different they are. Which ever set of twins you have that particular day, keep it in mind and allow them to help lead you. I’ve found that communicating with them what the photos are for is helpful in getting them on board. “This is a gift for Dad for Father’s Day - he did such a great job making sure you both go to soccer practice on time every day this season!” “This is for my desk at work. The one I have there now is from when you were both five and I need a new one!”. Even the most surly of teens usually cooperate for a few moments when you tug at their heart strings.  

Whatever stage your little ones are at, I hope you gained a few tips to help you capture them! How do you capture your little ones?! Share your images, successes, questions and other tips with me on instagram by using the hashtag #spslovestwintalk. I cannot wait to see what you share!

Stay in touch with me on Instagram @sweetpoppystudios and on our Sweet Poppy Studios Facebook Page too!

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