I wasn’t always competent with my camera. My love for newborn photography flourished from the failure to satisfy the ambition to take good photos of my newborn daughter. Some of the ones I have taken are so bad, I am too embarrassed to show them to the world, but since you guys are here, and read thus far, I think you should experience the level of “bad” we are talking about, to learn from my mistakes and make sure your photos are better from the outset.
I started my newborn photography journey in October 2014. The beginnings were interesting. Pre-training, I had no idea about any rules that apply to newborn photography. No idea about the angles, lighting, exposure. This is clearly visible in the early photos of my daughter (I have placed some examples below..).
I practiced on my very own “newborn”, but even though I have hundreds of photos of her, I don’t have many good ones that I would actually be happy with.
With all the things we buy for our baby, the pictures we amass over the years are going to be the only thing still left after our baby is grown, but yet it’s the last area a majority of people want to spend the money on.
I wasn’t going to count on my questionable skills to freeze those brief moments in time, so I booked a professional photographer to take photos of my daughter. Still, I was keen to learn how to take better pictures of our kids as they grow up, so I invested in extensive learning, followed by great lenses and lighting. Initially though, all I had at my disposal was natural light and a very basic DSLR camera. As I learned pretty early on, it wasn’t the equipments fault that my photos were “less than perfect”. The camera doesn’t make a photographer great. Skills and knowledge do.
I would like to save you months of studying, and thousands of pounds spent on various courses, although those are always beneficial. If you don’t have time to learn all the relevant skills, here are eleven most important tips I have picked up during my photography journey, that will help you take awesome pictures of your newborn.
1. Light is everything
Natural light can be all you need in order to take some breathtaking photos, if you use it to your advantage. Indirect light coming from the window can be more flattering than the harsh light of a flash but only if it’s soft. Sheer white curtains can work magic when it comes to softening your light. Direct sunlight can leave you with harsh, overpowering shadows.
Make sure you position your baby at a 45 – 90 degree angle towards the window, so that the light falls from the forehead down on their nose. We are aiming for the butterfly shaped shadows under your baby’s nose. This direction of light shows off your babies cheeks beautifully.
Another option is to position your baby with the light beside them. The shadows created on their face will add dimensionality to your image.
Never light your baby’s pictures “up the nose”. Remember when, as a kid, you used to light your face up with a torch, to scare your siblings? Yeah, that direction of light is an no-go. Unless you are building their portfolio for a future slot in a horror movie.
If you decide to take pictures outside, take advantage of the “golden hour” – the warm light we get around late afternoon. Alternatively try taking pictures in the early morning, when the Sun is not yet at it’s strongest.
2. Angles can make or break your photo
It’s important to compose your photo in a way where babies head is higher than their bum, otherwise you get an image resembling a baby falling out of a plane. If there is no way your baby’s head can be placed in that way, rotate your camera! Here’s an example, where baby was placed on a flat beanbag, but due to turning my camera to the right by about 45 degrees, I achieved this look of my model resting with their head up.
3. Never shoot up the nose
Never. It’s as simple as that.
4. Get to know your camera
If you have been putting this off since you’ve bought your camera, now is the time to open your manual. There are also thousands of explainer videos on YouTube on how to use certain functions and settings. Every camera is different, but there are certain things that are pretty general. Knowing yours well will enable you to understand the process of creating your images, and as a result this will allow you to take better photos too.
- Learn how to turn the flash off on your camera and make use of natural light as often as you can.
- If your camera allows you to change settings to manual, experiment with aperture. This will allow you to create those gorgeous images with soft, blurred background (shallow depth of field). You can achieve this by widening the aperture which will allow more light to enter the opening in your lens and reach your camera sensor. The lower the “f” number on your camera, the higher your chances of achieving the blurred background. There is however a downside to this: you need your focus sharp and a steady hand, otherwise everything will end up very soft and without a clear focus point.
- Even though newborns are not usually associated with fast movement, it’s worth knowing a thing or two about your shutter speed. If you happen to have shaky hands, a faster shutter speed will help you reduce the blur in images and make them sharper.
- Learning how to adjust the ISO setting (the one responsible for your camera’s sensitivity to light) will help you shoot flash free in less than perfect lighting conditions (ISO is nowhere near as powerful as flash though, so don’t expect miracles, it helps however, to shoot on a cloudy day, or when your baby is placed in a shadow).
5. Know the rules of composition
You need to know the rules in order to break them, but in most cases the rules of composition make for a more pleasing image.
- Don’t centre the subject, or at least avoid it in order for the composition to be a bit more interesting. There is nothing wrong with a bit of negative space.
- Your subject should ideally face the camera.
- Leave more room in front of your subject than behind.
- Stick with the rule of thirds if possible. What is the rule of thirds? Imagine that your photo is divided into nine equal segments by two vertical and two horizontal lines. The rule of thirds says that you should position the most important elements of your image along these lines or at the points where they intersect. In our case the most important element will most likely be one of your baby’s eyes. Doing so, will make your photo appear more pleasing to the eye and more balanced.
- Symmetry and patterns make for very eye catching composition.
- Try different view points – shooting baby photos from above is great (always make sure you shoot slightly from behind your baby to avoid shooting up the nose and always wear the camera strap on your neck when shooting in this position). There are many other view points that are worth experimenting with. Try shooting from your baby’s perspective, get close up, catch a glimpse of their lashes, their profile. Sky is the limit.
6. You don’t need many props
Big flowery headbands and massive wooly hats and nappy covers will only be distracting when viewing your pictures years from now. Babies are perfect in themselves, without any “gadgets”. What would you rather remember: outfit that may appear funny / fashionable today, or the things that make your baby so special? Their tiny toes, little curls of hair, rolls of skin.. all this is only this tiny for a split second of time. They don’t say “kids grow up so fast” for no reason.
7. Be prepared
This is probably the hardest bit. I’ve heard so many new moms telling me how they wait with cameras in their hands for the baby to smile, only to get the biggest, most beautiful grins, when they have their hands full. Always keep your camera or phone handy.
The more you photograph your baby, the more familiar they will be with a camera, and this way you’ll be able to capture the most natural, spontaneous expressions.
8. Consider the background
Try and keep your background simple to let your baby be the true focus of your photo.
9. Happy baby makes for better photos
Before you get your camera ready, make sure your baby is rested, fed and comfortable. Consider the time of day, when your baby seems the happiest, before you get your camera ready. From experience, I would say babies tend to be most content in the mornings.
10. Make it personal
Just like in fashion, newborn photography has its own trends. You see them on Pinterest, and adore certain looks, when your friends post their professionally taken baby photos on Facebook. One thing gets forgotten, possibly the most important of all. This is your baby. Would you like their photos to look just like everyone else’s? Make it personal to you. Take pictures in settings that have meaning to you and your family. Looking back at those kind of images will bring up more emotions when you get them up on your computer years from now.
As gorgeous as posed sessions are, it’s always worth to have a plethora of various candid shots from when your baby was tiny. Those are the shots you will treasure the most.
11. They do grow up fast
If this is your first baby, you certainly won’t believe me now. I still cannot believe it myself. Looking at the photos of my daughter, from when she was one to two weeks old, I don’t actually remember her ever being that small. Your sleep deprived brain will erase those memories, and the only way you will be able to bring those moments back will be the photos you have taken.
When taking photos, don’t forget to capture those images in relation to the surroundings. For example, images of baby’s hand in a family member’s hand and their little head in your hands. Those are important as they capture that sense of scale.
12. Put yourself in the picture
You may not feel up for it right now, having just given birth or surviving yet another sleepless night, but try to include yourself in as many photos with your family as you can. Years from now, your kids won’t care that you didn’t have the time to put your mascara on, or that you looked rugged. They will want to know you were there with them when they were little.
You are very unlikely to get out of my newborn session without at least one photo with your baby. In the coming years you will find yourself taking thousands of photos of your baby, your partner with your baby, your pets with your baby.. but somehow rarely will you get the opportunity to be in front of the camera, so you should make the most of any of those moments.
13. Back up everything twice
If you crash your car, you can always get a new one. If your house burns down, there’s insurance for that as well. Who insures your memories? Make sure you back those up in various places: hard drive + cloud. There are plenty of online providers offering limited free storage. Use those, but never rely on just one source of back up. Companies go bust, and can take your memories down with them. Get a decent size hard drive (or two) and copy everything over: phone pictures, camera photos, the lot. Don’t be one of those people whose memories are dependent on where they left their phone last. It’s 2015. Back up has never been more accessible.
14. Facebook is not a photo storage app.
Due to an overwhelming amount of images uploaded to Facebook each and every second, the company had to reduce the size of images stored. This essentially “shrinks” your images in size, which reduces their quality straight after they have been uploaded. Also it seems to me, the longer they stay on Facebook, the more compressed they get, so always have original copies backed up.
15. Above all: safety
No blog post on how to take awesome pictures of your newborn would be complete without the most important point: safety.
Many times, we see gorgeous images of newborns in various complex looking poses on websites like Pinterest. When our baby arrives, we try and recreate some of those images, which in many cases can pose a threat to your babies health and life. Some of the examples include:
- “froggy pose”, where our baby’s head rests on their hands.
- “potato sack pose”, where baby is wrapped in a shape of a potato sack, with only their head and sometimes the hands poking out, seemingly standing on their own, with no support.
- “baby in hands” pose, where our baby looks as though they are lifted in the air.
- “hanging in the basket” pose, where your baby either floats in a basket, hanging from a rope, or as an alternative to this pose, we may come across baby wrapped in a gauze or a muslin cloth, hanging from a tree branch or being positioned in a swing.
All those poses are done using Photoshop, and at NO POINT should your baby actually:
- support their head on their hands by using their own muscles (a newborn’s head weights around 30% of their overall body mass, so this is extremely dangerous and should never be attempted)
- hang on their own in any sort of fabric or a basket, unsupported.
In addition to the poses I would strongly suggest not to try at home, there are a few “common sense guidelines”, and although obvious, always worth mentioning:
- Never leave your newborn baby unattended when photographing (or for that matter: at all). Newborn’s startle reflex can be strong enough to jolt them into an unbalanced or precarious position.
- If you are determined to use props, use items that are soft and comfortable. Do not use glass jars or bowls. Microscopic faults and minor cracks can result in a cracked or shattered prop, either of which could potentially be fatal to a newborn. Due to the startle reflex, be extra vigilant with hard, wooden props of any kind.
- It’s quite common for newborns to be born with a condition called acrocyanosis, in which their extremities (especially hands and feet) are slightly blue in colour, as the oxygen is not yet circulating properly in those places. This usually resolves itself within the first week or so as their blood vessels open up wider to allow for faster and more efficient blood flow. Babies who suffered with this condition are more prone to become blue in the extremities if the circulation is compromised. Even if your baby doesn’t suffer with acrocyanosis, you should always make sure you do not leave them in a position, where their circulation could be compromised. If you had a session with me before, you will remember this part, as I always make sure my models don’t pose in any complex position for a prolonged period of time, and if for any reason we need to take a break, I release my little models and put them in a comfortable position (usually stretched on their back as for some reason most of the newborns coming to my studio believe there were a star fish in a previous life 😉 )
- Every baby is different. The fact we have seen a cute looking pose on Pinterest, does not mean we should attempt it at home, without any prior training. Just like you and me, babies are capable of different things, and the fact you’ve seen someone else’s baby cranked up in a pretzel position, does not mean your baby would be happy to do the same. They have spent the last nine months in various positions, some breached, some in other ones, and those tend to be their favourite “poses” in the first days “outside”. You can quickly establish you baby’s favourite position from their time in the womb, just by looking at the way they sleep. Never force your newborn into positions just for the sake of a photo. Some of the most beautiful images are those in which babies are naturally posed.
All those points are equally important in order to take better photos of your newborn. There is however, no substitute for professional images. I know this sounds self-serving, but it’s true. Think about it: that’s why you hired a photographer for your wedding day. There is a big difference between a casual snapshot and a carefully composed and executed image. As much as I believe, there is always space for both of those, beautifully crafted photos are worth their weight in gold: they become family treasures for generations. If you would not want to leave your newborn photographs to chance and would like to have some beautiful memories captured professionally, get in touch with me to book your newborn session – email@example.com