by Jon Jenkins Published 01/01/2009
When taking any portraiture, even with great lighting and composition, you need to get the right expression. If our super-angelic, prettybeyond- belief two year old is having a stroppy moment, you ain't gonna get the image. With newborn photography, they have three expressions: asleep, awake and crying. I needed to think about composition and building images around the baby. Whether asleep or awake (crying isn't an option), I can get the image I need. I needed props and backgrounds that could be transported easily and could be used in any situation. My quality fake fur that is used in all my LittlePix sessions is ideal to place the baby on and to get some good images. Baskets and bowls from a brief visit to Ikea are excellent for placing the baby on. With all that set, I needed something else, great images of the baby and not just the image around the baby but a good way to pose them. To pose a newborn at the angles you want usually means cushions or baby posing items. This is where I needed to have something different. I've used many baby posing items and have got rather bored of them. Propping a baby up and shooting away was what I had always done in the past and wanted something new. Through many searches of the websites in search of inspiration it became obvious.
I had used them before but had not been creative enough. They, for me, are the new baby posing cushions, the way of positioning the baby right and getting the photo you need. Hands and arms! As you can see from the images on these pages, it's easy with the right lighting to create excellent images using a black background, mum and dad wearing black t-shirts and holding that beautiful little bundle. With a little thought and creativity, this simple posing method can bring excellent results without the need to 'get the right expression'. Just being asleep can give the image of a lovely mood. A newborn asleep curled up into a tight little bundle isn't the problem for me as it once was - just get mum to put her black t-shirt on and hold the baby in her arms, add a splash of good lighting and you've got the winning shot.
Taking photos of any child in their own home is always more relaxed than in the studio, the travelling alone can cause undue stress on the little ones. Add some bad weather, some hunger and forgetting that allimportant favourite dolly or comfort blanket can be a recipe for disaster.
At the initial booking, informing the parents to have the t-shirts ready, heating the house a little more than usual (babies in nappies look great but they still have to be warm), leaving a good window of two hours free and finding out the feeding times can make the whole situation more relaxed. On arrival at the home, I set up a mobile studio near to the window for that all-important window light and ask mum to just sit down and nurse the baby until I'm ready. Setting up a natural light studio can take just five minutes, so I take my time and get a feeling about the parents. I do find the parents easier to deal with once you've got to know them a bit better. When I'm ready, it's time to strip off the baby and get the towelling nappy on for the shoot. I start off taking the shots on the fur with the white background set up to make sure I have some close-in headshots in the bag before I begin to get creative using mum and dad's arms and props for posing.
If baby is asleep at this point I'll try a few lying on the front naked, perhaps wearing just a hat or booties. Once I've got a few sellable shots of the little one, I stay with the white background (makes a good reflector) and use some props. Just simple bowls and baskets with towelling nappies under baby is all you need as long as the lighting is right. One thing I should point out here is not to forget detail. As a wedding photographer, I find detail to be good fillers or backgrounds to albums, so when I see something that catches the eye I snap away. What detail is there with a baby, I hear you ask? Go for hands and feet. If you are making up a montage or a photo album, they can always be an extra image or even an extra page in the album. Holding mum's finger or mum holding the head or feet can also pull on the heart strings - you know the ones. They also tend to pull on the purse strings of newborn parents.
Once I know I have enough shots, I go for the black background and get Mum and Dad to put their black t-shirts on. When shooting with the white background, I often use the on-camera metering and exposure compensation which after some practice I can get very good exposures. But when I come to the black background, I always use the hand-held meter as it seems harder to get the right exposure using the in-camera meter which is easily confused at the best of times. Now that I'm using the black background more, with some practice I might be able to one day master this also. As you can see from the images, you can achieve some very creative looks with the simplest of ideas.
Just get mum and dad to hold the baby in different ways and snap away. The look you are after in the view finder will soon be there with a little practice. Composition is always important but the main secret is to get the lighting right. It's so easy to light a baby wrongly and make them look like they are holding a torch under their chin. Always make sure when the baby is lying down that the light comes from above their head. As there is a lot of light from one direction I use a reflector to bounce a little back onto the baby - just make sure you have a reflector stand as you won't be able to hold it while you're shooting and the baby's parents have got too much to worry about to help. The image of both mum and dad holding the baby from head and bum is one image that I have done for years in the studio, it's one of the classic modern baby images that most studios do and I even get mums asking me if I do that kind of shot. One tip I will give you for this is to get mum and dad hold baby first with nappy on and do a test shot to make sure everything is right before taking the nappy off as it's one of the poses that seem to make babies wee everywhere once the nappy is off.
As with all photography before you start taking newborn photos, get inspired, get equipped, get practising and get to know babies. There are hundreds of places on the internet to find inspiration and many mums out there are willing for you to use thier baby to try your new ideas. But the main piece of advice is to the get the images early - when they are a month old, they ain't newborns to photographers anymore; so just remember, if you want to get the newborn mood to the images - two weeks old is often too late!
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