As we approach yet another holiday season, I got to thinking about family, memory, story, and how these things are captured and shared. Many of us will be getting together this season and sharing our new babies or meeting other family members’ new babies. Of course we will want to capture the moment–and what’s more compelling to photograph than this brand new life? But when you get down to it, there’s a good chance this baby can’t sit up, can’t smile… maybe can’t even look at the camera! Where do you begin?
Here’s an example: The other day I was browsing Facebook, and I saw that my childhood friend had posted this picture of her son.
Well, what do you think? It’s obvious that she put a certain amount of thought into this photo, and it wasn’t just something that happened by chance. I can tell because he’s wearing the “1 Month” birthday onesie, and he’s lying on top of the blanket, which appears to have been intentionally spread on the floor to serve as a background. I’m sure this little guy is beyond adorable in real life, but this photo is not doing him any favors. My first thought is “Oh my gosh, I need to help!”.
The first thing I notice is that the focus of this image is the baby’s crotch. This is never a good idea in civilized society, IMHO, no matter the age of the subject. But I see this time and time again with babies. Why? Because they can’t sit or stand yet. It feels wrong to take the picture upside-down, and when you are “in front of” a baby who is lying down, what is in the foreground?
You guessed it.
I know a lot of new parents struggle with taking cute pictures of their baby. When I am on Facebook, I constantly see horrifying photos of babies posted, and comment after comment saying “Cutest baby ever!”, or “Great pic!”. I always “like” these photos, too. I can feel the love and emotion, despite the picture itself. But I always feel so sad that the baby has to be represented with that image. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have just a couple simple tips to improve your baby photography tenfold?
Tip #1: Change your angle
Let me show you what I mean. I don’t typically do a lot of images of baby lying on the floor (we’ll get to that in a minute), but I went through my archives and I found one that is pretty similar to this in most ways, but just taken from a slightly different angle.
Where do you think I was standing when I took this shot? Take a look at this image. One way to tell if you’re at too low an angle is that you will be looking directly up the nose of your subject. Look back at the nose on my friend’s baby, and then at the nose on this baby. The rule of thumb is: If you see mostly nostril, move up. When I photograph babies like this I am usually standing directly over them, one foot on either side of baby’s legs. Then I bend at my hips so my camera is right about in line with their face.
Ok, so we’ve taken a gigantic step up in achieving a flattering baby photo just by changing our angle. What else is weird about this photo? To be completely honest with you, photos of people (even babies) lying flat out are just a little weird. The cute newborn pictures always have the baby curled up in a fetal position with their arms and legs tucked just so… but no respectable 1-month old (or really any baby from 2-weeks on) is going to let you see them that way. So what can you do?
Tip #2: Crop in!
Don’t let grandma bully you into seeing the baby’s “whole body” in the picture… unless a baby is doing something new like toe-grabbing, sitting, or standing, the best photos are going to be details. Everyone has swooned over close-up pictures of baby toes, super close scrunchy faces, etc, but I am not talking about going that far here. Just a good old fashioned head shot will do the trick. I like to tip my camera a little, to make the image more dynamic.
See how we are no longer focusing on how weird the legs look and we’re drawn immediately into those big beautiful eyes? I didn’t change my angle, just my crop. The other thing that I love about this image is the lack of clothing. I get it, baby clothes are adorable, but we all know that they bunch up and look weird most of the time. Babies tend to be cutest without clothes until they’re big enough to sit or stand on their own. I no longer allow people to do entire sessions in dresses or overalls for babies who are not yet sitting up. It just does not translate.
Tip #3: Find the light
Obviously the lighting looks much better in these last two samples than it did in the first image. We all know that these images are professional shots that I took as part of my business, but don’t let that discourage you! These photos do not need to be taken in a studio; they could be taken anywhere. In fact, one of them was taken in the clients’ home. Can you tell which one?
The good news is, people will forgive lighting mistakes if the baby looks cute. I think it’s better that you get a good angle than good light.
That being said, finding good light really does improve a photo a whole lot, as you can see by the examples above. If you’re inside in the winter this can be challenging. Every home is different and you’ll have to learn to look for the light in your own home. Most people have one or two spots that are the best for taking pictures.
My favorite lighting is in front of a large window that doesn’t currently have direct sunlight coming in. So, if your window is on the north side of the house you’re good to go! If your window is on the west side, you’ll want to think about taking photos there in the morning, before the sun comes around. If your window is on the south side, I’d suggest you invest in some nice gausy white curtains to soften the light. Make sure you go for white – you’ll regret a colorful curtain when your baby comes out looking green, or yellow 🙂
Once you’ve found the light, make sure to use it to your advantage. I recommend putting baby with one side towards the window so the light comes across their face and wraps around the front. For the above photo, I put baby on the bed and parked myself between the bed and the window. If you look carefully for the shadows you can tell that the light is coming from the same direction as the camera, which is exactly what I was looking for!
Think about this: If you put the baby in front of the window and then shoot towards the window, you’re actually shooting the “dark side”of the baby.
Tip #4: Keep the background simple
The last thing I’ll mention here is the background. I could tell that my friend was trying to have a nice background for her son’s photo, but unfortunately in the end it just ended up looking wrinkled and weird. Adjusting your angle will actually help with this, because the more straight down you are aiming the less likely you are to see those blanket edges! But I recommend either using a large blanket that you can really stretch out or not using a background for your baby’s photo at all.
Looking for light first, and then making the background work. Of course it’s a good idea to try and eliminate background clutter, like televisions, messy tables, etc, when possible. When I shot the photo above of the little guy on his parents’ bed, I took all the normal night stand clutter and put it on the floor so it would not distract from the photo. I didn’t mind the lamp and the picture frame, so I just left them. It looks more natural that way.
Here’s another example: I photograph 95% of my babies in their mama’s/daddy’s lap or arms as part of the session. This is how they look and feel best! This baby was reclining in mom’s lap on the sofa. You can see mom’s scarf behind her head, but it doesn’t distract from the image. Because I was shooting from a good angle, cropping in an intentional way, and found my light, all you really care about is the beautiful, peaceful face. And why is she is so comfortable? Because she feels safe lying on mama.
So that’s it! That is my very beginning guide for taking better snapshots of your baby. I hope this proves to be helpful to many of you out there. Leave your comments and questions below – I’m happy to answer them!