"Why are the baby photos I take just 'alright,' when my baby is SO DARN ADORABLE?"
Baby pictures are wonderful, heart-warming, and everybody takes them. In fact, after the blessed event makes their grand entrance, parents take hundreds and thousands of baby portraits in the 3 - 4 months following the birth.
Since you're going to take baby pictures anyway, wouldn't you rather capture photographs that are spectacular?
Like most parents (and grandparents), you have probably wondered: "Why are the pictures I take of my baby just "alright," when my baby is ABSOLUTELY ADORABLE?
That's a question I get asked all the time. The good news is, all it takes to improve the quality of your baby's pictures is knowing how.
Before we get into some of the tips, let's discuss some key points about Baby Photography 101. First, (and this is one of THE KEY principles of photography) - Know Your Audience!
Set Your Expectations for Your Baby Pictures
No matter how much success you've had with cousin Freddy asking him to pose for the pie-eating contest, don't expect the same with baby portraits.
Why? Because babies don't care that you're trying to snap "THE" baby picture to show all your friends at work! You can coerce, withhold diapers (although I definitely wouldn't recommend that one), or shut down the college fund.
Your adorable infant couldn't care less. If she or he doesn't want to pose for baby pictures, it's not happening! And let's face it... they don't even know what posing for baby pictures is!
A baby's ability to "pose" depends upon their mobility and strength, and that translates into age. So, remember...
0 to 3 months: Like rag dolls. Except for laying down, they must be held for any pose.
3 to 6 months: Beginning to hold their head up on their own. Still very limited posing on their own (No point to gleefully skip up to little Amy proclaiming: "Dear, just slip into this ballerina outfit and stand over there - we're ready for your first formal baby pictures.")
6 to 9 months: Can kind of sit up on their own. You can pose them, but don't expect them to stay still.
Unless your camera is on a relatively fast shutter speed (at least 1/250 second), don't expect anything other than slightly blurred baby pictures.
If your camera has a high speed sync for the flash, use it. Otherwise, the flash of most digital cameras use 1/60th of a second for their flash.
9 to 12 months: Look out, mom and dad! You've just graduated to Baby Photography 102. Little Jimmy can now pull himself up and may be starting to walk
18 months: DEFCON 3--Your baby is walking!
And now, here's some tips for taking better baby pictures...
This is a baby picture taken literally on the day of the baby's birth. Most Day of pictures look like aliens from space, or an extra from the movie Gremlins.
Here are a few suggestions so yours will look like Sleeping Beauty:
Obvious, but... Wait until the baby is clean and calm.
Determine desired lighting. Ideally, try to not use a flash (the baby has already had enough trauma for the day).
Determine if adjusting your camera's
provides sufficient light to take the portrait while hand-holding the camera. If not, use a bounce flash rather than direct, if possible. And, if all else fails, use a tripod in conjuncture with a long exposure.
If you do use a flash, be aware of shadows, and check your LCD screen to see if any were created.
Once you are all set up, then wait. Unlike regular portrait poses of children and adults, you have to wait for when the baby is ready. The picture above was captured after only 20 minutes (I was lucky). Patience is your greatest ally.
To capture "eyes open" baby pictures takes patience, a steady hand on the shutter button, and a little luck. Also, don't be afraid to place yourself in every conceivable position, in order to find that perfect perspective to grab a winning shot.
As baby pictures go, this won't win any prizes; however, it can serve to illustrate depth of field very well. There will be numerous times when people will be holding the baby.
Sometimes you will want baby pictures with only the baby in them, and sometimes not.
To blur or keep the "background" sharp (in this case, dad is the background), simply change the aperture. If your camera has a "Program" mode, you can rotate one of the dials to bring up different APERTURE/SHUTTER SPEED combinations.
Each combination will produce the proper exposure, so why would you use different combinations? To blur the background, focus only on the baby, and use as low an F-stop number as possible (F/2.0 or F/2.8 would be ideal).
If you wanted to include dad in the baby pictures, then still focus on the baby, but use as large an F-stop number as possible (F/11.0 or F/13 would do the job).
Experiment with full face and partial views of dad. It's somewhat a personal preference, but I think baby pictures where the baby partially blocks an out-of-focus dad look better.
Once you've achieved that magical moment where the baby is at their most photogenic, don't just be satisfied with one shot like this one. Pan in closer so the baby's face fills the entire field of view. If the baby is still grinning ear-to-ear, are we done?
You better not be! Change angles, move to her sides, stand up, sit down, lay down and shoot upward. The great thing about taking baby pictures is that sometimes the baby will turn and follow your movements, and sometimes they won't.
Bottom line, IT DOESN'T MATTER! Experiment. You can't always predict how the final picture is going to turn out.
Do you remember my nagging about always having extra memory cards and batteries being available? Well, this is one of the reasons...
Flash pictures eat up power faster than a Sumo wrestler at an all-you-can-eat buffet
Once you take some really good baby pictures, how would you like to make a bold impression?
Consider one of the most impressive formats in photography... the Photo Collage!
An integrated collection of baby photos (opens separate window) creates a spectacular impact.
And, relatives LOVE getting them as expensive-looking gifts (even if they don't cost you too much).
The software that created the above baby photo collage is one of the best I've ever used, and they have a fully functional version you can try for no charge, to see if you like it.
Experiment with different perspectives and angles. This is one where the baby is moving away from you, but still has her face toward the camera. In this baby picture, notice that there is no shadow from the flash.
One of the most important (and most easily forgotten) tips when taking flash photography is to be very aware of what is behind the subject. There are several benefits to noticing ALL the surroundings, not just your subject.
When your subject is between the camera and a wall (or other large object), the closer the subject (baby, in this case) is to the background wall, the more chance you will produce a stronger shadow.
The other advantage to noticing your surroundings is, which would you rather have? A baby picture sitting on your desk with a smiling baby looking lovingly at you, while you can see the New England Patriots on television in the background? Or, the same baby with a non-distracting, and more importantly, non-competing object such as a wall, behind them?
Compound this challenge with needing to be quick, careful (especially around the baby), and observant; and you can understand the difficulty in capturing good candid baby pictures!
This is about the closest you're going to get with posing an infant in front of a "backdrop," without any help (as will be discussed later).
It also gives a whole new meaning to grumpy (but cute) baby portraits.
Since a "0-3 month old" infant can only safely be left unattended while laying down, this is how to make the best of the situation.
Use a nicely-colored towel or blanket (experiment with different colors - both dark and light) and cover a flat or pillow-layered area. THEN WAIT.
Feel free to have the parents dangle toys, make funny noises, and call the baby's name (preferably behind you, so they are out of the picture; and, if successful, the baby will turn toward you and the camera).
Realize though, at this age, the parents' antics will be more for your amusement than for truly getting baby's attention! Baby pictures like this take lots of patience.
If your baby is a heavy sleeper, here's an idea...
Prepare a prop such as a large flat flower basket, place a small pillow in the middle, surround the perimeter with a wreath of flowers, and then place the baby on the pillow.
I guarantee this will be one of the baby pictures that will be a "keeper." Also try this approach when the baby is all dressed up in their Sunday-best. Just be sure to avoid destructive shadows, such as from the basket handle.
There's several things to note in this type of baby picture (besides the fact that baby is sharing the spotlight). Notice that there is activity. Let me clearly state that there's nothing wrong with a family portrait having everyone "doing nothing."
However, experiment with activity, be ready for those special action baby pictures when they presents themselves, and gently squeeze the shutter button.
Why gently? Because if you jerk it quickly in an attempt to capture a particular instant, you'll likely move the camera just enough to blur the baby picture. This is one of the main reasons I recommend getting the following relatively inexpensive accessories...
The first is a
Which type of tripod should be based on your shooting style, typical subjects, camera weight, and budget. Note that many inexpensive table or floor standing tripods can be purchased for between $20 and $59.
The other seldom-discussed accessory for not just baby portraits, but for all photography, is a remote shutter release. This is typically a plastic-housed shutter button that is connected via a 2-4 foot cord to an input on your camera.
By placing the camera on a tripod, and attaching the remote shutter release to the camera, you can remotely focus and release the shutter on the camera without risk of vibration that would result in a blurred shot.
OK, back to the subject of baby pictures that are taken outside.
Although not obvious, there is a completely different thought process when shooting baby pictures outside.
A flash is not required, unless it's used as fill-flash.
You will also notice that part of your background will be in the photograph.
That can be altered by cropping, but generally it's OK, if certain considerations are remembered...
Don't have the background overpower your subjects (or your wonderful baby portraits will turn into wonderful architectural shots "with some people in front").
Avoid backgrounds that are particularly bright, have glass, or shiny surfaces.
If your camera permits it, use center weighted-average metering and focus on the people.
If you use
your main subjects may turn out too light or dark. If you have to use this type of metering, move closer to the baby (or use telephoto if your camera has it), focus and meter on the subject only (not the background) and use the auto "exposure lock" feature.
This will lock the metering in for your baby portraits. Then recompose and shoot.
Little Christa is 3 months old here. "Hey, wait a minute! You told me babies couldn't sit up on their own until around 6 months!! Are you showing trick baby pictures now?" Terrific - you remembered!
Here's the tip... check out the backdrop. Can you tell what's behind it? Here's a hint - mommy is! Mom is holding her baby through the blanket (a.k.a. "backdrop"), thus accomplishing 2 critical objectives.
First, the baby is secure and safe from falling over (and well on her way to adding to her collection of adorable baby pictures). And second, the baby is perfectly posed. I can just hear you saying: "But where's the shadow?"
There are several ways to avoid shadows. This is just one sample photo demonstrating the advantage of not using a flash. And here's a few tips to accomplish that:
Try increasing the ISO high enough to take baby portraits without a flash, but not so high that the "digital noise" will ruin the photograph.
The use of a tripod is strongly recommended on shots longer than 1/200 of a second (example: 1/60, 1/100, 1/30).
Perform a "bounce flash" (requires external flash unit).