Infant Photography: So Easy a Baby Could Do It

To any parent, grandparent, godparent, doting friend or photographer for hire considering taking pictures of children, hear me now: babies are the easiest, most rewarding, most fun and most hilarious subjects you will ever lay your lens on.

Photographing babies is always a good time, unless of course your particular baby is "learning how to exercise their lungs" that day (mom speak for "my child is crying louder than a howler monkey right now and I'm going to give you an excuse in the hopes you will forgive me"). Regardless of your baby's mood, photographing them can be relatively easy, fun and successful. A camera, a subtle flash and a healthy knowledge of your camera's settings will keep the job effortless and the pictures memorable.

Babies are pretty predictable, especially newborns. They do a lot of sleeping, eating, crapping and being deliciously adorable. Keep your baby's mood and disposition in mind when getting ready to do some serious picture taking. If you are taking pictures of another child or family, ask them to keep that in mind as well when scheduling the shoot. A family portrait session can tank quickly once the sleepy monster rolls in.

Timing: Always, always have a camera ready to roll. You never know when that first step is going to charge forth or when "Daddy tickles" become "Daddy giggles" for the first time. If it were possible, I would recommend setting up a video camera in every room of the house to record every possible moment at all times, but that would bring up some weary privacy issues with visitors. If you are planning to take some quick shots during the day, have the camera nearby with the correct setting ready. If you have to, just leave it on automatic to ensure you capture something when the time comes. But automatic settings are not always your best option; that flash can get thrown up without warning and ruin everything, not to mention potentially blind your child. Once you get your camera set, make it possible to take pictures in rapid succession. Later on in post-production, film reel style compositions will show the whole development of a moment.

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Composition: Babies do a great job of making an interesting photograph whether they are doing one or more than one of their aforementioned predictable activities. There is no need to muss up the composition with kitschy baby paraphernalia. Keep it simple. More often than not, baby photography is capturing spur-of-the-moment moments. As long as you can keep it focused, it will turn out fine. People forgive a lot of technique flops when a precious bundle is simply in frame.

Focus: If you do in fact require a genuinely composed shot, this particular brand of photography is rife with possibility. Keeping in mind general rules of photography, explore the space as much as possible. Arrange the scene to compliment the baby; it is after all forever and always only going to be about the baby from here on out no matter the fight you put up. The focus in a shot can make all the difference so take control of it. Using a manual focus on the lens is a great way to capture a clear image in a more open space. But using the automatic focus on the lens in conjunction with manually selection of your focus points works well in close range photography. In the two images below, you can see how composition and focus points can completely shape an image outcome. In the image on the left, the focus is spread out and, for lack of a better word, unfocused. The hand placement in the image on the right tells a much better story. The focus is more linear and central. The breadth of the hand is more powerful than the individual fingers. It is a great way to show just how tiny a baby can be in the hands of his father.
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Lighting: Babies are such pure, angelic beings that poorly used strobe or studio lighting can take away from their beauty. On top of that, doctors and parenting guides strongly recommend against flash photography around babies. With those parameters, natural lighting is an obvious go-to. (Be careful not to place children in direct light for obvious reasons; infancy is not the time to discover your baby sparkles like Edward Cullen.) Using the sun in conjunction with the correct aperture and shutter speed settings produces a guaranteed shot.

A Short Lesson on Aperture and Shutter Speed: Aperture settings dictate how wide the lens opens when a picture is taken. Aperture, or f/stop, works in the opposite direction than people think. Using a lower aperture setting will open the lens wider than a higher aperture setting. I know it seems backwards, but keep it in mind. In the picture below, the f/number is pretty low at f/6.3. This allowed for a crisp clear portrait shot simultaneously fuzzing out the background. The depth of field in a shot is also related to the f/stop (can you say "multipurpose"?). The lower the f/number is, the shallower the depth of field is. Vice versa, more of the image will be in focus with a higher aperture setting. Notice also the ray of natural light showing off his angelic qualities. Natural light is such a beautiful way to capture a lot of subjects and knowing how to work settings to your advantage can really make for some successful photography. Obviously, it cannot be stressed enough that knowing your camera is the first line of defense against bad baby pictures.
f/stop: 6.3 Shutter Speed: 1/60

Know Your Goal: There are some days when you simply pull out the camera to take a few shots of your precious angel baby. Then there are days when you are driving home from the grocery store and dream up this glorious shot that you somehow have to coerce your six month into sitting still long enough for. Again, it could be said about any type of photography, but have your camera ready for the picture you want. Take test shots to get the lighting, aperture and shutter speed correct so you do not waste precious staged-baby seconds doing so.

f/stop: 5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/5

A classic baby photo staple is the profile picture. Each infant has different features and a simple profile shot can be the perfect way to show them off. In order to get a contemporary profile shot or to even get the initial photograph to produce a blacked-out silhouette, lay the baby down on a soft surface. In the shot above, the baby was nestled in his nursing pillow on the couch directly next to a window. All the light is natural. It is coming in at an angle from his right side, so there is very little shadow and all his tiny baby features are highlighted. With the camera being so close and the aperture set not too shallow, everything is in focus and lines are sharp. The slow shutter speed makes sure those highlights are crisp and clean. The black background (which happened to be my couch and dwelling place for a good 2 months post-delivery) offer the perfect backdrop to shoot a profile image. There is very little to distract from the overwhelming beauty of infancy. This is also a good time to use your macro settings. Close up shots of sleeping babies can be benefited by the use of macro. Generally, the subject needs to be incredibly still. Newborns are pretty good at that.

Be a Voyeur: The biggest key to successful baby photography is to let them just be babies. Let them run rampant; don't place them in awkward positions that require them to sit unnaturally. The baby will learn to sit eventually so do not force it upon them at four weeks old by propping them up; it will just look like bad hospital photography at that point. Get on the floor with your baby. One mistake a lot of first time parents make is to stand above their child only to leave them with a lifetime of craned neck shots. Encourage your baby to roll around, crawl and be silly. Entice them with a new toy every once in a while to capture a giggle of delight on their face. As long as you make the environment safe (soft, on the ground, no ingestion or strangling hazards), allow your baby to explore the space uninhibited. Capture them in their ever evolving baby world. That sense of wonder will enrich any photograph. Show a baby what it means to have fun too. Tell a story with your picture.

For instance, Baby's first meeting with Bath Time Frog Dragon Man was hysterical and adorable, but a onetime gig. Now, he could not care less about his former foe. Always have a camera ready. The pictures captured will last much longer than their attention span.

baby-end of story.jpg
f/stop: 4.0 Shutter Speed: 1/60 with flash

Other Articles on Steve's Digicams by the Same Author:

Maggie OBriant
Maggie O'Briant Personal Blog | Flickr

Maggie O'Briant recently graduated from Florida State University with an English Literature degree. She is currently a freelance writer and photographer. She currently lives in Hawaii with her husband and giant baby.