I wrote about the subject of babies photography and children from the perspective of someone who has been compromised to photograph other people’s babies, but the last month has offered me a different opportunity: to become a father of a digital camera. a very different scenario.
Instead of being invited to a house for an hour to do a photo shoot, they present me with an endless variety of opportunities to photograph our baby.
1. Documentary vs Portrait
While I had visions of taking many ‘cute‘ photos of Hashim in his first week, I discovered that what really happened was that the first week of his life ended up being more like a documentary film. The focus of my shots ended up being a lot of ‘scoops’. First time with mom, first bath, first time on the scale (He weighed a little less than 9 pounds), first attire, first manicure (He had long nails from the first day), meeting grandparents for the first time, etc. I ended up taking a picture of him with each visitor that came (these will be good gifts) and decided to leave the “nice” shots until we came home and he would have settled a little more.
I got a few “portrait” photos in that first week, but then I ended up being more based activities, often with other family members. When I returned home and during the three weeks since I continued taking the documentary-style shots, I have also seen a movement to take many more portrait style shots. Many of our friends have commented on the good balance between styles.
2. Find the angles
One of the biggest challenges when photographing babies is that I know that many of my friends have trouble finding a good angle to photograph.
In the days after birth, it is especially difficult as babies tend to stay wrapped in bunny rugs and all you end up seeing them 99% of the time is a little redhead. To this is added the complication of the bumps, marks, scratches and deformed heads with which newborns also tend to arrive and finding a favorable angle that will make something more than the proud parents can be difficult.
However, do not give up, all is not lost: here are a series of things that you may want to try to help with the previous problems:
- Lowering level: one of the keys to many natural vaccines for babies is to lower their level. I spent a lot of time during the last week or two on the floor with Hashim. It’s something that I think we both enjoy anyway, but it’s also a great place to use your camera. Going down at low altitude and approaching (see below) presents some challenges in terms of focal length (I’m using a 24-105 zoom lens, usually at the widest focal length) but it means you end up with shots that make you feel like I’ve entered in the world of babies instead of watching from above.
- Close-Ups: another way to improve angles and make your shots seem more intimate is by physically approaching or using a longer focal length. I would suggest that a longer focal length for really close shots is better than getting too close since pushing a large lens into your baby’s face could scare them a bit.
- Nursing Shots: Some of the best shots I have taken during the last month were taken when people have been breastfeeding Hashim. This places him in a more upright position that makes him look a little more “human” and opens the angles for his photos. Try several positions (on the shoulder, sitting it, laying it on your arms, lying on your belly, etc.) as each opens different possibilities. Also, remember that your baby is not the only potential subject: parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, etc., can all add context to the shot and will appreciate having more than just babies by themselves, later shots.
3. Go Macro
We all love newborn babies because they are cute and small (if they just stayed that way). As a whole, they are cute, but they are also made up of many small parts of the body that presents the photographer with a variety of wonderful themes, especially if they are enlarged.
If your camera has a macro mode or if you are lucky enough to have a specially designed macro lens, use it to isolate a single part of the body (such as a hand, an ear, a foot, a mouth, etc.) and use it as the complete focus of your shot.
Doing this accentuates the details that are often lost in the shots that many of us take, and you will see that they score beautifully on your entire collection of photos and can even make excellent shots of features.
4. Identify ‘Happy times’
Another challenge for babies photography is that they do not tend to spend a lot of time smiling. In fact, they do not spend much time doing too much. Sleep, feed, urinate, cry … is there anything else?
Stay tuned to the moments in your baby’s life when he seems more stable and happy. They may still not smile, but there are times in the daily routine that are better than others for photos. In the days of Xavier, I find that there are a couple of, particularly good moments. One is bath time (she loves it) and another is mid-morning after having half a meal and when we let her play a little before finishing her feeding. These are moments in which we have the guarantee of having our eyes open and even a giggle or two.
5. Keep your camera closed
Our baby is quite predictable in terms of his daily routine (it seems that we have already accommodated him quite well), but there are moments all day that he does something cute, disgusting, fun and worth capturing. Without the camera at hand, you will lose these moments, since they are usually fleeting. We tend to leave our DSLR camera in our living room where we spend most of the time with it, but we also have a point and shoot in the room for other shots.
6. Keep shooting
Babies change every day, especially in the first months, it is exponential and quite surprising to see. However, unless you are looking for changes, you can easily ignore them, so it is important to take photos regularly.
I have friends who took hundreds of injections in the first days after the birth of their baby but did not take any other vaccine until they turned 6 weeks old. They realize how much it had changed and how much they had failed to photograph it until they compared their first shots with the 6-week photos.
7. Become a friend of the airbrush
A lot of shots that you see of surprising babies on Flickr because of how smooth and perfect they are. The reality is that many babies are not so “perfect” (no matter how much their parents think they are). Small scratches, sleep in the eyes, runny nose, dry milk around the mouth, stained skin, birthmarks, and lumps, etc. They are common for all babies.
You may want to keep a warm and moist washer on hand to clean some of these things, but in some cases, they will appear in your photos.
They do not bother me most of the time; I think they show your baby like him or her and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, sometimes, they can distract you a bit and for those special shots that you would like to give as a gift, you would like to do a little photoshop retouching. Most post-processing editing tools will have some kind of airbrush or retouching tool; learn to use it, if only to soften the main brands and the results will surprise you.
8. Take out the color
Another tip that is worth considering for a small photo editing is to adjust the color of your shot.
In fact, we have converted enough of our Hashim shots in black and white format. This has been used for several reasons:
- It’s great to deal with the scratches, marks, and blemishes I discussed earlier and significantly reduces the distractions they bring.
- It is ideal for “birth shots” or those taken right after. I have written about this before and found out that it really worked.
- Soften your shots in some way. Babies are small, soft and mimosa things and getting the color out in this way accentuates this.
Similarly, you may also want to experiment with the desaturation of colors in your shots to a lesser extent than going black and white. Leave a little color in your shots and you will end up with pastel images that again soften the sensation of the shots and give it a very different look and feel.
9. Indirect lighting
One challenge that I have faced is that it is winter here in Australia and that the lighting in our home is a bit bleak. There were a few brighter days than others when I got excellent results when photographing it near the windows with natural light, but in most cases, I needed to use a flash to some extent.
I am not an expert in lighting, but I have discovered that my best results have been when I use the flash as a “flash bounce“, shooting it to the ceiling to make it indirect. This diffuses a lot of light, which leaves Hashim less washed in the shots and, what is more important, is not blinded by the light that surrounds it (we do not want to blind our children by our photographic obsession; in fact, I asked him a pediatrician on the camera blinks and his advice is that it would not harm, but for the convenience of babies would be advisable an indirect flash (ie flash bounced and/or diffuse.) I’m sure different doctors would advise different things, but I play it safe with my bounce flash – and avoid the flash altogether where possible. It also looks quite natural.
If you do not have a flash that can be triggered, try increasing the ISO setting on your camera and increase the aperture setting; This means that you will not need to use the flash if there is at least some natural light in the room. The other strategy would be to diffuse the flash a bit by placing some fabric on the flash.
10. Choose your moments
There are two things I want to say here:
First, the timing of your shots is important. Babies do not move much but subtly change their position and expressions so they can make or break a photo. I have had my camera in continuous shooting mode since Hashim was born because it seems to me that shooting a single frame often fails “the moment”. I also ended up with some wonderful shot sequences when firing three or four shots in a row.
Secondly, I think I wanted to remind everyone that having a baby is not just a photo opportunity and that it is important to get the camera down from time to time. If you are like me, you could easily walk with your camera permanently to the eye and forget to really enjoy the moment. Do not just create wonderful babies images, create memories with your baby, balance is great!