Babies. Do you find them a challenge to photograph?
They gurgle, spit, vomit, laugh, cry, smack their hands together… They do a whole lotta things that we don’t need to see forever in a photograph!
But in between all that uncontrollable baby behavior are those moments that parents see every day and would love to keep alive forever in beautiful photos – the big eyes, cute smiles, tiny fingers, soft skin, and round cheeks – all those wondrous little details that only come with brand new life. Those are the things that connect to a parent’s heart in the moment, they happen and what they long for once their children have grown up.
And in this article, I’ll show you how to capture it, whether you’re an up-and-coming baby photographer looking to impress clients or you’re a parent hoping to capture amazing photos of your own child.
Let’s dive right in!
1. Plan ahead of time
If you’re photographing a baby for a client, here are some things you’ll want to discuss with the parents about a day or two prior to your scheduled shoot.
- Talk about the baby’s schedule. They may or may not have one, but one way or another, 9 times out of 10 Baby’s parents will be able to tell you which time of day their baby tends to be at their best, most calm state.
- If you’re shooting the baby at home, be sure to get specifics as far as where Mom and Dad would like to shoot. If you don’t have studio lighting (which I don’t) you’ll want to make sure you know which way the windows in the chosen room are facing at the time of day you’re shooting to be sure you’ll have adequate light.
- You’ll also want to know how Mom and Dad feel about wardrobe (or lack there of) for the baby. I love a naked, pink, wrinkly baby booty, however, not all parents share my affinity. Be sure to discuss this with Mommy and Daddy before you get to a shoot, ask Mom to strip the baby down, and then have to deal with awkward tension when she says “no way!”
- If the parents are comfortable with shooting baby in the buff, be sure to request that they remove all baby’s clothing at least an hour in advance of the scheduled shoot so that the baby won’t have any funky clothing lines on their skin. I even tell my clients to fasten the baby’s diaper loosely during this time as well. Those lines can be fixed in Photoshop, but I for one would MUCH rather be out shooting than spending hours using the healing tool in front of my computer.
2. Consider your timing
This can be rather tricky as all babies seem to be on their own schedule, especially cute photogenic newborns. Here are 3 things to be aware of.
- First, babies can loose the ” newborn baby curl” within about 10 days of birth. If your looking for that little rump to be up and the baby to be mold-able, try to shoot within this window.
- Second, coordinate with the mother beforehand and the two of you should plan the sleepiest time for the shoot. The sleepier the better, and no one would have a better idea of when that is than mom.
- Third, before the mother comes with said sleepy baby, make sure she dresses him or her in something easy to take off without disturbing the baby. Clothing that doesn’t have to go over the head is good or even bring the baby in a swaddler. You need to be able to undress the baby without losing the deep slumber. Don’t be afraid to have mom help you move and mold the baby. With practice you will feel more comfortable with newborns and babies, but in the beginning advise mom on how she can help you position the baby and shoot away.
3. Come up with a few simple baby photography ideas
If you are a fan of Anne Geddes or an avid baby photo lover, it’s easy to set your expectations too high and overload your photo-session with so many “concept” shots that you end up with a big headache and little to show for it. Choose 2 or 3 poses only. If you nail those, take a break a try a couple more later.
As always, I recommend doing a quick google image search for baby photographs to stir the creative juices. For babies it seems like the simpler the better. Unless you have a human sized flower or clam shell lying around, the baby is so new and perfect they can easily stand alone as the center of your photograph. Have fun with them and make sure the mom and dad know they have the cutest baby on earth.
4. Come prepared
Make sure that you have EVERYTHING you need VERY well organized and easily accessible. Babies are fidgety, fussy and very impatient, and you’ve got to take the initiative to plan accordingly.
- If you’re using studio lighting, you should be set up at least 10 min before you’re scheduled to start shooting. That will give you time to run a few test shots before the baby is brought into the room.
- This next one is a given, but remember that sensors and lenses should be checked before the shoot and cleaned if necessary. You can’t afford to stop in the middle of a newborn shoot because you notice a spot on your sensor. Babies are not as forgiving as their adult counterparts. They’re like ticking time bombs, and I guarantee all you moms and dads out there are nodding in agreement!
- Get a good night’s sleep! You have got to arrive a vision of patience and with energy to spare. Remember, you’re likely walking into a home where NO ONE has gotten more than an hour of consecutive sleep for days on end. The last thing everyone needs is another exhausted, grumpy adult, whose patience has run dry to add to the mix. YOU set the tone! Come with a full tummy and a good night’s rest. (The full tummy thing is PARTICULARLY important for me as I tend to have low blood sugar. My patience, not to mention my creativity, is out the window if I don’t have something in my belly).
5. Heat up the room
More than likely, the shots you will be attempting to get will include cute baby buns, baby feet and baby bellies. All this clotheless shooting can quickly add up to a cold, cranky baby. You might want to invest in a small space heater to get a little extra heat in the baby’s direction. Be sure to turn the heat up to around 74 degrees about an hour before the shoot.
If you are shooting in a clients home this will require prior planning but I would suggest bringing your space heater as well because baby is usually not used to hanging around in just a diaper.
6. Bring some handy props
As mentioned above, the baby usually provides enough aesthetic appeal for most shots. Prop’s though, when tastefully used, are wonderful. They help convey perspective, size, fragility or add a hint of color to show whether it’s a boy or girl.
For this session we wanted to create the popular “baby on a stack of ultra-soft, I wish I were small enough to sleep on towels too, cause that looks so comfortable” look. The list of what you need for this is short.
- Clean white towels ($4 each)
- pink ribbon ($2)
- some baby wipes (priceless)
When I took the baby’s diaper off, a quick cleaning was in order. Save yourself from staring at baby poop particles magnified at 10X in Photoshop as you try to do cleanup.
A couple shots into this pose the baby decided she didn’t like her bedding and peed on the top layer of towels. Fortunatly she was laying on a large stack of replacements. Although I didn’t notice till the shoot was over, after mom lifted the baby and I rotated the top two towels, I wasn’t as precise in layering them back neatly.
It didn’t completely ruin the shot, but remember to take your time and be delicate with the baby and the props. Babies can sense when there is stress or tension. This is not high fashion, it should mellow and beautiful.
7. Find the right angle
In the days following birth it is especially difficult as babies tend to be kept swaddled in bunny rugs and all you end up seeing of them for 99% of the time is a little red head. Add to that the complication of the bumps, marks, scratches and misshaped heads that newborns also tend to arrive with and finding a flattering angle that will make more than just the proud parents ooh and aah can be difficult.
Don’t give up though, all is not lost – here are a number of things that you might want to try to help with the above problems:
- Get Down Low – one key to many natural baby shots is to get down on their level. I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last week or two lying on the floor next to Xavier. It’s something I think we both enjoy anyway but it’s also a great place to use your camera. Getting down low and getting in close (see below) does present some challenges in terms of focal length (I’m using a 24-105 zoom – usually at the widest focal length) but it means you end up with shots that feel like you’ve entered the babies world rather than you’re looking down on it from above.
- Close Ups – another way to improve the angles and make your shots seem more intimate is to get in close by either physically moving in or by using a longer focal length. I’d suggest a longer focal length for the really close shots is better than getting too close as shoving a big lens in your baby’s face could freak them out a little.
- Nursed Shots – some of the bests shots I’ve taken over the last month have been taken when people have been nursing Xavier. This puts him into a more upright position which makes him look a little more ‘human-like’ and opens up the angles for your photos. Try a number of positions (over the shoulder, sitting him up, laying him back in arms, lying him on his tummy etc) as each one opens up different possibilities. Also remember that your baby is not the only potential subject – parents, grandparents, siblings, friends etc all can add context to the shot and you’ll appreciate having more than just baby by themselves shots later!
8. Capture the details
Don’t be afraid to get in close and focus on the details. Most images I shoot of babies are shot with very low apertures (wide open) to encourage very shallow depth of field. I’m not by ANY means saying that this is right for everyone, but this is my particular style, and I do this for many reasons.
- They are only tiny tiny for a VERY short time. I like to focus in and capture little feet and toes for example, before they slip away into roller skates and ballet slippers. . . it happens sooner that you know!
- Shallow depth of field creates a mood of tenderness and intimacy which are so very appropriate for a shoot of this nature.
- The main reason that I shoot the majority of my infant sessions with such shallow depth of field is that shots like this, in my humble opinion, help depict how suddenly your whole world is about that little person. Though everything else around you may be out of focus, the one thing that matters is perfectly clear.
9. Consider the outfit
It’s special for the parents to have you there to photograph their baby because it’s something they can’t actually do themselves. Advise them on having their baby’s preferred outfit clean and ready in advance, and a back-up in case of accidents. In order to feel safe and warm, babies also do well with accompanying blankets, bottles, beanies and soft toys. Check that the items all marry well together in terms of colours. If you have some clashes on the day and can’t change it, then shoot anyway and consider black and white for post-production to help strip it back a notch.
10. Use the right baby photography settings
ISO – whatever the light gives you is what you’ll use for ISO. If you’re shooting indoors, place the child nearer to window light than away from it, watching all the time how the highlights are rendering (ie, keep the tones gentle and not too hot).
Aperture – isolating the beautiful child from the background is the perfect approach if you want to make your pictures about their gorgeous details.
Shutter speed – for easy mobility you will likely be hand held when photographing babies, so make sure you are at least using your safe shutter speed of 1/125. Remember that children move quickly, so a faster shutter speed like 1/200 is recommended if they’re up and actively moving around.
11. Pay attention to the light
Lighting is essential to any photograph, illuminating your subject, adding dramatic contrast or subtle texture, and creating the mood.
Natural sunlight is often the most flattering light for human subjects, especially the warm, soft rays just after dawn and just before dusk. This gentle lighting bathes photos in a romantic glow. Noon sunlight can add energy and drama. Dappled sunlight, filtered through the leaves of a tree creates a bouncy rhythm in your photos.
If sunlight is not available, a soft shaded desk lamp can also set an intimate scene. If I need to use a flash, I like to experiment with the slow flash setting.
12. Set the scene
Speaking of scenery, considering your surroundings will improve your shot greatly. If you are planning to take photos, clear out the clutter and look for visual distractions. One of my biggest disappointments is when I capture the perfect smile, only to notice a lamp growing out of my baby’s head. Remember that most of the action with a baby will be down low, so consider that when selecting your location.
Consider the outdoors and its seasonal settings. The natural colors will provide a beautiful backdrop in addition to giving your photograph context. Traditional seasonal decorations also provide a great frame of reference for your baby pictures.
13. Aim for eye contact
In most shots, I strive for eye contact. Discourage well-meaning assistants (i.e. other relatives) from trying to get baby to look at them–usually this results in a vacant stare above or past the camera. I prefer instead to make baby’s favorite sounds or ask her questions about the other objects in the frame (What do flowers do? Which color is your favorite?). Babies learn fairly quickly that you are behind the camera and with this technique you can often get cute shots of babies laughing or those special expressions they make when they say their favorite words.
That said, the baby does not always have to be looking in the camera to make a great shot. A child’s concentration as he studies a new mystery or the joy that light’s up a grandparent’s face as she holds baby can tell its own story.
14. Take some wider shots
Establishing shots are images that establish the feeling, location, etc of the time during which an event took place. In this case you’re trying to tell a story about the feelings surrounding the birth of a new child. The welcome of another little person into an already established family unit. Each family unit will be different than the next, but each is special and should be documented as such. For example:
- If you’re shooting in a home, most likely you’ll be in a nursery. Grab a shot of that! Establish the environment. It will be a treasure for the family to remember what their home was like at the time that they welcomed their little sweet heart into their heart and home.
- Whether in studio or on location, try to grab a shot that establishes the whole family as they were at the time of the birth.
15. Edit your baby images
A lot of shots that you see of babies online are quite amazing in how smooth and perfect they make them look. The reality is that many babies are not quite so ‘perfect’ (however much their parents think they are). Little scratches, sleep in the eyes, snotty noses, dried milk around the mouth, blotchy skin, birth marks and bumps, etc are common for all babies.
You might like to keep a warm, wet face washer handy to wipe away some of these things but in some instances they will come out in your photos.
I don’t mind them most of the time – I think they show your baby as he or she is and there’s nothing wrong with that. However at times they can be a little distracting and for those special shots that you might like to give as gifts you might like to do a little Photoshop retouching. Most post processing editing tools will have some sort of airbrush or retouching tool – learn to use it, even if it’s just to smooth over the main marks and you’ll be amazed by the results.
16. Be flexible!
You’ve got to be flexible. There are so many variables when shooting a tiny baby. They can be SO unpredictable. Remember to:
- Lovingly handle each hiccup. I am convinced that babies can sense our tension and frustration and that they will respond in kind. Likewise, if we can remain calm and collected, they will find it easier to relax as well.
- If you have to stop, STOP! If the baby is on the brink of a full-blown freakout, TAKE A BREAK! Let Mom and Dad pop in and calm baby down, feed, burp, change a messy diaper, whatever. NEVER push a baby to the point of no return. If you let a baby get to the point of total freak out. . . well, sorry sweetheart, you may just be plum out of luck. . . and with no one to blame but yourself. Be in tune with the baby and let him/her run the show.
- If baby is fussing just a bit, you may not be bothered by it. Mom on the other hand may be totally on edge. Part of your job is to be aware of that. Ask her if she’d feel more comfortable continuing after she’s had a chance for a little snuggle. The last thing you need is a Momma bear worried about her cub. I’d elaborate, but something tells me, ‘nough said.
- Give yourself plenty of time. I have never had an infant shoot that has lasted longer than 30min-1hour. Maybe I’ve just gotten lucky! Probably so!! But I ALWAYS schedule a 2 hour block so there is time to feed, change, soothe etc between shots if necessary.
How to photograph babies: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you know how to capture plenty of outstanding baby photos – and you’re ready to create some amazing shots of your own, your friend’s, or your clients’ children!
So remember what I’ve shared. And get ready to have the photo session of a lifetime!
Now over to you:
Do you have any additional tips for baby photography that I’ve missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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- ADVANCED GUIDES