Ultimate Guide to Pro Newborn Photos
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My newborn photography journey has been filled with just a many tears of frustration as tears of joy. I am very passionate about my work and a perfectionist to my own fault. So when Rachel asked me to guest blog with a “newborn photography tips” article, I didn’t even hesitate in saying yes. It is my hope that this will help you along in your journey with a few less tears of frustration. I would like to preface this article with a small disclaimer. Since photography is a creative profession, there are lots of ways to accomplish the same results. I do not feel at all as if I have figured everything out or that I am and “expert”. These are just a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way, some through experience and others through mentoring. I hope they help you grow as they’ve helped me.
- Light modifier.
When working with babies, I feel that it’s important to complement their softness by using soft light. I’m sure there are many ways to execute soft light, but I’ll share what works for me.
I shoot exclusively with natural light, mostly because I have a small shooting area, and I would personally feel crowded with a big light setup. However, I think this tip can apply to both natural and studio lighting. Whichever you are using, a light modifier will help soften your light so your images are less contrasty. I use nylon rip stop fabric that I purchased from amazon: http://astore.amazon.com/erinrachphot-20/detail/B0046VDLSW. I have also tried a frosted shower curtain. I know lots of photographer friends that have great success with that, but I found that it did not give me the soft light I desired.
As mentioned, I use natural light, so I just measured my window and ordered enough fabric to cover it. I hang it right on the widow, clipped to some suction cups. I get direct light through my window, so on sunny days, I also close my sheers over it to soften my light more. (I’m sure that it would work the same if you have a studio lighting setup that you’d like to diffuse.)
- Proper lighting angle.
Equally important to modifying your light is knowing how to properly angle your subject to your light source. I set my bean bag and backdrop stand up at a 45 degree angle to my window. I prefer this setup because I like where it allows the shadows to fall.
It’s also VERY important to note that the light should always be positioned at baby’s head falling off towards her feet. If you position baby opposite of this (with the light positioned at the feet and falling off towards her head), you will be “up lighting” your subject, which will give you extremely undesirable shadows.
I follow the same 45 degree angle rule when setting up my prop shots.
I also backlight my babies, especially with my parent shots. In this case the light is directly facing your camera (or behind your subject).
- Keeping baby warm.
This one is pretty simple. I keep my room temperature at 85 degrees using a space heater. Baby just came out of mommy’s tummy where he/she was soaking at a nice and toasty 98.6 degrees. If you want a sleepy baby, make sure they are plenty warm enough. My heater has temperature controls built in, so when I set it at 85, it kicks off when the studio reaches that temperature.
Some things to keep in mind:
– Keep the heater a safe distance from the baby at all times.
– If baby seems a little cool to the touch, sit in front of the heater with him/her to warm up
before continuing with your session.
– Always leave plenty of air space around your heater as well as practicing other traditional safety precautions when using a space heater.
- White noise.
I have my white noise running from the very beginning of the session, all the way through to the end. It soothes baby as well as drowns out any outside noise distractions that may startle them. There are tons of options out there. I have great success with the “white noise” app on my phone. I use the “air conditioner” setting. I have so many parents leave asking, “So, what’s the name of that app again?” I have my phone connected to speakers to give me more volume. I may upgrade to a wireless speaker one of these days. It’s on the list, but what I have works just fine. Sometimes simple is the best.
- Quality over quantity
One of the very first things I remember my mentor telling me is, “Quality over quantity”. If you are just starting out, and posing takes you a good amount of time, then get the most out of that pose. This can mean something as simple as changing out headbands, hats or wraps. This also means getting multiple angles of each pose. Now, I don’t mean go crazy and use the same pose with 8 different head bands, but 2 or 3 wouldn’t hurt.
If you are rushing through your poses to get more poses into the session, you may skimp on details that really matter. Those details could be anything from flattening out fingers to proper positioning of your props that you’re using. Work smarter, not harder. My first sessions, I would maybe get 3 poses in depending on how well baby did. Now, I fit in about 6. Don’t stress yourself out feeling like you have to fit every pose in. I’m sure mom would rather have 20 really awesome photographs rather than 50 decent ones.
- Angles, angles, angles.
Did I mention angles? Yeah, that. I can’t stress enough how much this can really make or break your photos for newborn photography. I’m talking about what angle you position yourself at in relation to your subject.
I always shoot from the head down, never ever up the baby’s nose. Just this simple tip will make a world of difference. Please see the photos below. The bottom photo shows how you can see up baby’s nostrils. If you can ever see this, CHANGE YOUR ANGLE! It’s not good.
In the top photo, I positioned myself much further to my left and a bit from above. No nostrils = good.
Changing your angle also gets you variety out of your poses (as long as it’s still a good angle). I shoot every pose from at least 3 angles. Your clients may be drawn to one more than another. Give them variety to choose from.
Posing newborns is much more about what happens under those backdrops than what happens above them. Yes, you need to position baby in a certain way on the bag for a pose. However, the real difference maker, are the positioners that you use under the backdrop to position baby into the pose you’re attempting to achieve. I know there are tons and tons of differing opinions out there about what to use for this is. I have found that what works best for me is just simple white cotton washcloths. Yep, back to being simple again. I would suggest that you try different things until you find something that works well for you.
What should you use for a backdrop? Good question. The answer again is there are lots of options. I know that whatever I personally use, it has to be soft and have some stretch to it. I like to pull it tight across my backdrop stand so that I don’t have any wrinkles. I use knitted throws as well as fabric. There are lots of places that sell fabric backdrops. If you are unsure about what types of material would work best, I suggest using a vendor to purchase your backdrops. My personal favorite is Roses and Ruffles. If you’re on a budget, you can try to find someone who is destashing their old ones. Above is a pull-back photo of how I set up my backdrops.
- Prep your clients.
The ideal newborn session is one where baby is sleepy for the majority if not all of the session. Some newborns are sleepier than others naturally. Every baby is different. However, there are some tips that you can share with your clients to help ensure that baby sleepy. Babies are most sleepy when they have their tummies full and haven’t slept for a long period of time before the session. Therefore, I ask my clients to feed baby just before leaving or upon arrival to my studio. I also ask them to try to keep baby awake for good stretch before our session (about 2 hours). I also find that babies are sleepiest in the early morning in general, so I start all my sessions no later than 10 am.
They also need to be aware of the length of your newborn session. Most clients don’t realize that they may be there for up to 4 hours. The best way to prep your clients is to put together a guide that outlines these details as well as any other tips for them.
- Nothing replaces practice!
It doesn’t matter if you’ve read every tip in the world. It doesn’t matter who you’ve mentored with. It doesn’t matter what e-workshop you buy. There is nothing that can replace practice. Meeting your goals as a newborn photographer does NOT happen overnight. There’s no quick fix. It is something that will take lots of hard work and dedication, even if this means providing free sessions. I have been working with newborns for about 3 years, and I still learn something new at every session.
- Get it right in camera.
This tip applies to all photography in general. However, I think it is extra important in newborn photography because their skin tones can be so tricky. If you have an improper white balance, you’re going to drive yourself crazy trying to figure out how much yellow and/or red to remove when editing your skin tones. I use Kelvin for my white balance, and it depends on the color of my backdrops as well as if it’s cloudy or sunny out to what that magic number is. However, it’s generally in the 4800K-5500K range.
- Depth of field.
I debated whether to include this tip because I know that this can be a matter of taste. However, for my style of newborn photography, I prefer to keep my DOF very shallow. I like a more blurred background behind my subject. I very rarely shoot above 2.0 with my 50 mm 1.4. The only time I change to anything above this is if I am trying to get a family shot in which everyone is not on the same plane.
- SKP actions
Son Kissed Photography by Kristen Mackey sells actions specifically for editing newborn skin. (I promise she has in NO WAY prompted me to include this.) They are such a time saver! I would go crazy trying to correct skin tones before I purchased these. They are worth every single penny. They are in my workflow for every newborn session I edit.
Again, I want to add a disclaimer that this may totally be a “style dependent” tip. I know there are lots of well-known newborn photographers that do very minimal skin retouching for their newborn work. But, I personally prefer creamy newborn skin, so these actions are vital to my work.
As I mentioned in tip #10, mentoring will be useless unless you practice to apply what you learn. However, if you are really serious about bettering your newborn photography work, I would urge you to mentor with a newborn photographer whose work inspires you. There are so many workshops out there. Take advantage of them. I know they can be expensive, but continuing your education should be part of your budget as a business owner. Learning from someone with experience will be very empowering. Not only will you gain skills, you will also gain confidence. Confidence is priceless. I would suggest mentoring that is “hands-on” so that you get the most out of your investment.
My final piece of advice is to BELIEVE in yourself. God blessed you with the gift of photography because He believed in you and how you would use it. Don’t get frustrated and tear yourself down by comparing yourself to others. You are you; that’s something nobody else can be! I wish you the very best of success in your journey.
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