Saturday, January 11, 2014

An Idiot's Guide to Newborn Photography

Yikes. Long time no blog, folks. 

My apologies. A mixture of colds between the little one and I, not to mention going back to work part-time and dealing with a newborn sleep schedule, has me exhausted beyond anything I can describe. 

Yesterday I was suffering from cabin fever and decided to dust off my camera once again to take photos of my stuffed-up sweetums. I took pictures of her back when she was a couple weeks old and I figured now that I have her moods and [totally unpredictable] schedule figured out, it might go a little smoother this time around.

I did a lot of research on Newborn Photography while I was pregnant since the only previous experience I had in this department were "in the moment" shots of my adorable nephew, Max. When I found out I was pregnant [after the shock wore off], the first thing that got me super excited were the potential photo opportunities on the horizon. I still only know about .02 percent of what there is to be learned in photography, but I wanted to share a few things I've learned thus far.

#1: Supplies
First and foremost to make this work you will need one very important component:
an adorable kid. 
That's key, people. This other stuff is just fluff. 

Here's what I used:
Note: I had these goodies gathered BEFORE I started this whole ordeal. That's another very important component to a newborn shoot since you can't just leave the baby on the floor and go grab something. Society frowns upon that. 
Tech Crap:
-Camera - I use a DSLR (Canon 7D), but a point and shoot could work as well. 
-Portable reflector [I use something almost identical to this:]
-Random tall objects around the room to prop reflector on
-Any props you want to use
-Backdrops [I used blankets, sheets, fabrics from Hobby Lobby, and, in this shoot, I used my bedroom wall!] and a plan on how you're going to hang the backdrops
-A room that has great natural light; plan ahead based on time of day you will be doing your shoot
-A plan for what shots you want to get [I made a Pinterest board so I'd have ideas in one place]

Baby Crap:
-Warm blanket
-Outfits/hats/accessories you want the baby to wear
-A fresh bottle [or keep the ladies handy if you're breastfeeding and not pumping yet]
-Pacifiers [note the "s"]
-Burp Cloths
-Portable space heater
-Boppy or pillow to prop baby up on

Optional Crap:
-A helping hand. 
Personally, I work better on my own. If I have someone helping me - even my husband - I'm constantly worried about how frustrated they're getting if the shoot isn't going as planned or that it's taking too long. This causes me to rush unnecessarily, which equals mediocre photos. Stupid, yes. But a fact nonetheless. 
My mom, sister, and husband all helped me with the first attempted shoots and I got WAY more photos with their help, which was absolutely fantastic. We were also sweating our asses off thanks to the sauna I had created in the room and space was very limited. I'm sure they immediately regretted offering to help with my brilliant plan when, 15 minutes in, they were sitting in a room smaller than a prison cell sweating more than a bunch of pole vaulters during the Olympic games. 
Tripods annoy the hell out of me. This problem would likely be solved if I got used to using one, but I haven't gotten that far yet. I'll keep you updated on that situation. 
-Extra Lenses
When you're doing a newborn shoot, you want to keep it simple. Pick your two favorite lenses and stick to those. Ideally you would just use one, but some situations call for different lenses. I used my f1.8/50mm and my EF-S 17-85mm lenses. Just know that changing those bitches out could cause you to miss a great shot right before your kid's about to throw the mother of all hissy fits. [This is where the bottle/boob and pacifiers come in handy]

I know, I know. It sounds like a lot of stuff for what seems like such a simple process. But if there's one thing I've learned about photographing children it's this: 
It's never simple
Just accept the fact that at one point or another shit will probably hit the fan.
Literally or figuratively.
Or both.
#2: Setup
Once you've got all of your junk assembled in the room you're going to be using, you'll want to set up. 
I probably should have noted that I did all of this while the little peanut was napping. That's right. I used valuable me-sleep time to take pictures. I am an idiot.

Due to previous experiences during shoots, I always start my setup by ensuring that 1) I actually have my camera and 2) The camera has both the battery AND a clean memory card inside of it. You can't do a shoot without any of these things, so just do yourself a favor and start there. Even if you are 99.9999% sure you can check those off the list...just double-check anyway. 

Make different piles for your camera equipment [make sure it's easily accessible for when you need to quickly change lenses] and any props you're going to use. I suggest arranging your props in the order that you're taking the photos. [That last one's a little OCD. I like to stay organized, sue me.]

Next, you're going to want to set up any back drops you've got planned. For this particular shoot I wanted to go as simple as possible, so I used what I had on hand: our master bedroom. I pulled back the comforter to expose the white sheets and the blue wall made the perfect backdrop.

Pick a spot where you're going to position your little one. Assuming you're using natural lighting, you'll want to put them facing the window to reduce shadows. Set up your reflector after you get the baby positioned, but have it [and the stuff you're going to prop it up with] ready to go. 

After all that's done it's time to grab your little one and get him/her dressed [or undressed] for the shoot. Make sure the space heater is turned on to full blast & have your blanket at the ready if you're doing their first set of photos sans clothing. 

If you're feeling particularly suicidal and want to do some cute baby-bum shots [a.k.a. no diaper], have your diapers, wipes, and burp cloths close by in the event of a code brown. Remove the diaper at the last possible minute to reduce the possibility of a free-to-pee situation.

#3: STOP. Baby time. 
Okay, I hope you've listened to me and gotten everything set up. If're on your own, kid. 

The little one should be ready to pose at this point. I started with the boppy, [which I covered with one of our white pillow cases] laid her on her tummy and immediately covered her with a blanket. There was also a space heater pointed toward her [it's behind the reflector in the below picture]. 

Here's a pull-back:

It took me a minute or two to figure out where the light hit her face best. Ideally I would've had her facing the window, but then the wall wouldn't have been in the background. Work with what you've got. 

Once the reflector's set up you'll want to perfect the pose as best as you can. I suggest you have a very, very sleepy baby during this period, which is why most photographers prefer to do newborn shots during the 1-2 week old period. At that time they're sleeping around the clock so it's easy to catch them in a sleepy state. Feed them before-hand and put them down for a nap. I did that, got everything ready and then moved her to the room. Somehow this worked for me. It might not for you. You've been warned.

As for "perfecting" the pose goes...I use the term "perfect" very loosely. Set them in the desired position as best as you can and hold them there until you feel them relax. Even then they might move a little, but do what you can. Patience is essential. And I don't have a lot of it, so if I can do it, you can too. 

That sounds like a line from a Tommy Lee Jones movie, but I'm talking about pictures people. Follow along. 
But seriously. Once you've got that kid in position, you need to work faster than a Jimmy John's employee on crack. Your camera should be at the ready. Your crap should be done. Take as many pictures as you can because you've got a minuscule window of opportunity. [This is where the clean memory card comes in] I took about 40 pictures during this shoot and got 5 that I actually kept.
My husband called me a big 'ole nerd after seeing this one. I happen to embrace my nerdiness.
#5: Know when to call it quits
I tried re-positioning her at one point and it just wasn't working. [note how she's in the same pose for all of these photos, just different props and angles] 
I tried laying her on a book. I may as well have started World War III. 
I tried, I tried, I tried.
When you get to the point where you're saying to yourself, "dear Lord, what am I doing WRONG?!" [which coincidentally happens a lot in parenthood I've learned], stop for an hour and start again. Or don't. Try it another day. Either way, it doesn't help you or your baby if he/she is screaming bloody murder or won't stay in a certain pose. 
This was the end of my shoot the other day: 
Note: These are not edited lighting-wise because they're terrible, so don't judge.
Note the look of displeasure on her face. That's a pissed off little baby, in case you were wondering. I tried to get something out of nothing for about 20 minutes in this particular pose. 
I tried. I failed. I moved on.

#6: Edit
Photos need edited. I'm sure even Anne Geddes edits her flower-baby photos, so please don't be afraid to edit or feel like you're "cheating." I use Lightroom or Photoshop to do my editing, sometimes both depending on what I need to get done.

Light and softness make babies look extra cute so I suggest upping the brightness, exposure, and getting rid of shadows to start off. My poor baby girl has some serious baby acne going on right now, so I also cleared up her skin a little bit. As far as I'm concerned, blemishes distract the viewer from seeing the true beauty in any photo so when I edit out blemishes or lighten up skin, I'm simply attempting to cut out distractions. 
Straight out of camera
Brightened, white balance fixed, remove blemishes, skin softening
 You see what a difference that makes? I'm still pretty new to this game so I don't have all of my camera settings perfected yet [namely white balance], but I'm getting there. 

I like the natural light I got out of this shoot. The one I attempted previously was in a different room in our house. I used fabrics and blankets for backgrounds which added extra hassle and I didn't quite know my kid well enough to know how to get her to cooperate. I also spent about 2 hours on that shoot where this most recent one only took me about 30 minutes. Granted, I got a lot less photos at the end of it, Addi and I were both a lot less stressed because of it. 

If you're attempting this yourself, I wish you luck! The main reason I really enjoy photographing babies is because it's pretty hard to screw it up. Take your time, stay organized, and have fun! 

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