When I first took up photography, baby photography was not on my list of reasons for why I wanted to get into it. Sometimes life changes circumstances for you though, and now if I want my wife to let me keep funding my expensive hobby then I have pay her off in baby pictures of our new grandson Dean. What it really means is that I need to learn a new skillset if I want to be able to craft images that I’m proud of. But I’m starting pretty much from zero having never tried shooting a baby before, so there’s a lot to learn.
After spending an afternoon with Dean trying a lot of different things; I managed to get some shots that I can live with and learned a few things to build on for the next go around. Here’s a few of them:
- Make sure the baby is comfortable. By that I mean make sure that the room is warm enough to keep the baby comfortable; especially if you’re shooting them in the buff. I have to admit I actually went too far and had the room too warm to start with which made Dean fussy because he was uncomfortably warm.
- Make a soft backdrop to lay the baby in. I used a large flat coffee table covered with a doubled over blanket for padding, then topped that off with some fuzzy fabric from the fabric store. A bed with a bedspread on it will work too, but I would avoid one with a busy pattern on it just so it doesn’t take attention away from the subject matter; the baby. If you’re concerned about the baby making a mess you can always line the area underneath your bedspread with absorbent pads.
- Try different angles. Since I was shooting a 10 day old baby, there wasn’t a lot of posing that was going on. By that I mean the shots were going to pretty much be shots of the baby laying on it’s back, maybe on it’s side some; and that meant it was up to me to move around to change the shots up. I tried a little bit of everything some from directly above, some down the body, some up close using a macro lens, even a few shot from a distance with a telephoto to see how it worked out.
- Don’t blind the baby. Depending on where and when you shoot, you may need some flash to help kick in some extra light. If you find yourself needing to use flash; if possible, bounce the flash off the walls or ceiling rather than blasting the flash into the baby’s eyes. I was using a reflector on a stand and was bouncing the flash off of it.
- Expect to do some post processing if you want those milky smooth creamy baby pictures that you see. Newborns are kind of blotchy and wrinkly looking. They still have little scrapes and bumps from going through the birthing process. Add onto that the part where their skin can be flaky looking because they’re still drying out after spending months submerged in mom’s belly and you’re not going to have a china-doll skin texture show up in your pictures right out of the camera. I’m not going to go into full detail right now on that – maybe I will make that a different article – but in short you’ll want to clean up and obvious blotches, use techniques for smoothing the skin, and probably de-saturate the reds to make the baby look less blotchy. One last thing you can do, is try converting the images to black and white. Doing that will automatically work to help make the skin look less blotchy and gives the picture that “dreamy” baby picture look without having to do a lot.
- Be patient. Sometimes you just have to find an angle and wait for the baby to change it’s facial expression. Within a matter of a few seconds their expression can change from a yawn, to a smile, to a look that means it’s time to hand the baby over to mommy for a fresh diaper. You just have to be in a position to get those different looks and later in post processing you can review them to see what looks best. The four shots below were all taken within a couple of minutes of each other.
- Get shots with mom in them if you can. A baby laying on its own has one expression, but as soon as you put them in their mothers arms their whole demeanor changes. Probably my favorite shot of the set is the one at the top of this post with my daughter holding Dean. It’s not a perfect picture by any means because you can see the reflector behind her head because it wasn’t a planned or posed shot. I will probably go in to Photoshop and edit it out of the picture later on, but even with it in the picture, the picture works for me because of the look on her face and the look of contentment on Dean’s face.
I’m sure there will be more photo shoots with little Dean in my future; I’m hoping next time to be able to do a few more creative things with the lighting and with the back ground, so stay tuned for me to post more on that. Regardless it’s a good way to spend a few quiet hours with my daughter and grandson. For those interested the rest of the shots from this session can be found in color and black and white on Flickr by following this link.