A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to photograph a beautiful six-month old baby boy for a young couple who wished to give something special to their relatives. The photo-shoot took place in their home.
Before the shoot, I sat down with the parents over a cup of tea and discussed what pictures they wanted from the session – an important point as lack of communication can lead to not delivering what the parents wanted.
Apart from the obvious use of my DSLR, other items and accessories used included a speedlite flash (on and off camera use) and portable photo studio backdrop. These are cheap yet effective for shoots on the move – many decent examples can be found on popular auction websites. I exclusively used a fast prime portrait lens. Those with an aperture reaching f/1.8 or even f/1.4 are perfect.
When doing a baby shoot, the use of toys are also make great props as they give them something to interact with… helping make a photo more interesting.
Onto the Shoot
I set up the photo studio backdrop on one side of the parent’s bed. This soft and familiar setting is an ideal place for the baby to feel comfortable. I used a white sheet mounted to the backdrop stand and laid it across the bed, to create a seamless transition from background to foreground. My mobile studio backdrop comes with a variety of different backgrounds, but white is one of my favourites to use with babies, as it gives a fresh, pure feel to the pictures – perfect for photographing young children.
I set my camera to manual mode, making sure my shutter speed is fast enough to capture the babies’ fast and unpredictable movements. I also keep an eye on my ISO levels. This can be a fine balance when shooting indoors, especially if you don’t have the funds or access to expensive lighting rigging. A fast lens coupled with a Speedlite will do the trick. Avoid the built-in on-camera flash… good results are rare using this.
When using a white background and a flash, be wary of your exposure levels. The combination of both can cause photos to ‘blow out’ – over exposing large parts of the picture. I compensate by reducing the exposure compensation on my Speedlite and increasing the shutter speed. Of course, the faster you can go the better. Just don’t do too far, as under-exposed shots are hard to rectify, even in RAW mode (which I always shoot in).
Getting the Shots
Okay – so my equipment is perfectly set to get the pictures I want. Photos of a beautiful bouncing (not literally) baby smiling is what I’m looking for the most. So, I need to keep the little chap interested. It’s good to have the parents close at hand. A familiar face for them to look at will always make them smile more. I try to get one of the parents to sit or stand behind me as the baby will look at them (and my lens), thus enabling me to capture their inevitable cute expressions.
Everyone melts at the sight of a young child laughing and smiling. What’s more, babies’ big bright eyes are one of the most amazing things seen on a human being. (Did you know, your eyes stay the same size throughout your life… they never grow, which is why they stand out so much more on babies).
Shots of the parents interacting and playing with their child are also an essential capture on the shoot. I get the parents to sit close with their little ones as they play. Use of a toy can also enhance the photo.
Detail shots such as hands and feet are musts too. To see the fragility of a tiny hand reaching out to their mother or their little feet and toes wiggling in the air can be a beautiful sight (Wow… I’m sounding pretty mushy right now as I write). But it is true. Some of the nicest pictures may not show the baby’s face at all.
Don’t be Afraid to Take a Break
I find that all this attention can be overwhelming for the poor little ones. Don’t be afraid to shoot in 5 or 10 minute bursts. Give the little fella a time to breathe. Too much in one go and they may get agitated and upset. Not what your clients asked for!
Change of Clothes
Ask the parents to have two or three changes of clothes for the shoot. A variety of outfits will enable you to give a good selection of photos. Whilst the baby is being changed, snap away as there will be photo opportunities aplenty as they interact with their parents.
Once I’m home, stuck the kettle on for a cuppa and transferred the files to my PC, I fire up Adobe Lightroom (my preferred choice of post-processing software) and get editing. I have a few presets that I’ve created for baby shoots myself, but there are plenty of good free ones to be found on the web.
I try to stick to three preset styles. A full, warm colour; a more pastel toned colour and black and white (which works brilliantly for baby shots – but don’t get carried away with contrast). By limiting it to three, I create a consistent theme for the whole shoot. Repetition in design is pleasing to the eye. It’s also a lot more efficient too.
I’ll soften the skin on the baby using the brush tool. Sounds crazy, as babies generally have the softest of skin anyway, but it removes blotches and rashes which babies often have – which shows up even more in black and white photos. Take the time to even out that skin tone.
I give the eyes a slight enhance around the pupils and boost the iris colour. Not too much, but enough to make them pop.
Where I’ve used the white sheet background, I’ll increase the exposure, using the brush tool to create an even background tone. Otherwise, creases can be seen in the cloth and looks messy.
I hope my experience of photographing babies can help you create fantastic photos, whether they’re your own children or you’re a budding portrait snapper.
With thanks to the parents for giving us permission to use the photos for this article.
Author – Stuart Tree