Photographing Baby: A Quick Primer

A guest post by Susan Black

Babies have the transformative power of kryptonite.  There is nothing funnier than watching a tough, leather-clad, motorcycle riding hulk, suddenly morph into a cooing, grinning, nonsense-spouting hulk, in the presence of a toddler.  Or how about the completely un-self conscious “face pulling” performed by strangers in line at the grocery store in an effort to entertain a child in a cart?  Seeing a baby smile makes everyone happy, and in everyday situations, as long as the little person is not too tired or uncomfortable in some other way, babies will smile repeatedly.  So why is it so difficult to get them to smile when you want to take their photograph?  Capturing that perfect still image with your offspring can be a truly frustrating experience, both for you and your baby.  Here are a few tips to help you and your child smile through the whole process.

1.  Natural Light is Your Friend

Bright lights, loud noise, and sudden movement, especially in the first few months of any child’s life, can be very disturbing.  The new world that they have emerged into is a lot to take.  Consequently, as a new parent photographing a baby, avoid using your flash bulb at all times.  Instead, find areas of natural light.  Areas where the light shifts over time are preferable.  That way, you can leave your little person in one place, while reaping the photographic rewards of an environment that is subtly shifting over time, as the sun changes position.

2.  Bigger is Better

Go in close with your photographs or try an entire session in macro mode.  Work with a long lens, so you do not have to impose the camera on your child’s space.  As the great architect Mies van der Rohe once said, “God is in the details”.  Whether you believe in God or not, there is no denying that the little parts that make up your little person are as wonderful as the whole.  While everyone wants that perfect smiling shot, remember to take photographs of other body parts as well.  They sometimes make for the most compositionally interesting shots, and they can also serve as a great chronicle of your child’s growth.  Shooting body parts close-up can also serve as practice for more portrait-style photographs.

3.  Naptime is the Right Time

Photographing a sleeping baby is a lot easier than photographing one that is awake, hungry, and/or trying to go back to sleep.  While photographing a sleeping baby does limit the ability to capture a smile on film, it does afford you the opportunity to put your baby in unexpected (albeit safe) places, and to capture more controlled photographs, since they are at their most relaxed and still.

4.  Color vs. Black and White

Color photographs are beautiful.  Photographing your child in a purple jumper, sitting in a sea of yellow Gerber daisies, for example, always makes for a great shot.  However, black and white shots of your child benefit from highlighting one thing – your child.  With its inherent documentary feel, a black and white photo is a “must-include” for any collection of baby photos.  While you can digitally remove the color later, shooting in black and white makes for better photographs.  Make sure that you pay special attention to the shift of light while you are clicking away.

5.  Patience is Key

Take lots and lots and lots of photos.  Carry your camera around with you (within reason, of course) and take pictures of everything.  Don’t expect perfection.  While babies are beautiful, they are also human, so you may want to use a photo editing program to remove the milk drool running down their chin in that otherwise lovely photo of them on the porch swing.  Or you may not care.  Some photos will be stellar.  Some will leave a bit to be desired.  At the end of the day, they are all about the beauty of your little person, and truth be told, you don’t need a photograph to prove that.

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