Family Photography: Catching the Real Life Moments

By Gabrielle Kopf March 18, 2021

The most frequent comment my clients make when booking their family portrait session is, “I’m afraid that my toddler won’t smile.” This worry is more than reasonable. Parents are putting their time and money into receiving beautiful family pictures, special moments that they want framed on the wall or sent to loved ones near and far.  In my experience as a photographer, I’ve learned a few tricks to capture photos that parents love, even if the youngest members of the family can’t sit still.

All of my family portrait sessions thus far have included newborns and their siblings at my clients’ homes. My favorite way to start these sessions is to ask the older brothers and sisters to “help me find my light” while the newborn baby is getting dressed and settled. I encourage the siblings to get up on the bed or couch and make some funny faces while I snap their picture. 

This serves two purposes. Of course this does help me find the best lighting for the portraits and make any adjustments to my camera settings. But more importantly, it makes the big brother or sister feel extra special before we truly get started. Newborn sessions are typically done within the first days or weeks of life, and the sudden addition of a new baby is a big change for any child. Keeping this in mind, I like to get individual portraits of siblings first when they are most excited about a new visitor and the camera.

My next step is to take photos of siblings with the new baby. At this point I usually start to notice some resistance. Young children, especially toddlers, start to say, “No,” when asked to smile or hold the baby. There are a few directions to go when this happens. The first is, of course, bribery. The second produces more candid, natural moments by allowing the child to do an activity nearby that both distracts and refocuses them so that they can return to the session refreshed.

For example, I had a client recently hand her two year old a picture book on the bed when he became restless. He started warming up as he flipped through the pages, eventually turning to “read” to his new baby sister. Eventually, he was able to put the book down and give the baby some kisses on her cheek, and even put his head down gently on her belly. His baby sister seemed to give the softest smile too. “Like she is enjoying his love,” my client later said.

These moments are not the typical forward-facing, perfectly posed kind, but represent a true-to-life peek into what the relationship between brother, sister, and baby can be. I enjoy these lifestyle portraits because they feel real. This is what a day in the life of this particular family looks like, and there is love and beauty to be found in it.

My advice to any parents considering family portraits is to lean into those real-life moments. Each child has his or her own unique spark, and being able to recognize that spark in a photograph is priceless. Taking portraits does not have to be serious business, and families can go into their session confident and relaxed knowing that the final result will make them smile.

If you are interested in booking a newborn, family, or maternity portrait session in the coming months,  or to ask about my upcoming Mommy & Me mini sessions with baby animals this April, please visit my website at or send me an email at I look forward to helping you capture your priceless moments!