Newborn Photography: How to Use Light When Shooting Newborns

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Newborn Photography: How to Use Light When Shooting Newborns

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“Newborns and Lighting.”

I think lighting is the MOST important factor in your photography. I also think it is one of the hardest to learn. It is also something that is hard to teach on the internet. I know for me it is still a work in progress. Not only do you need to know how to meter for light but you need to know how to see it. When you walk in a client’s home you should be able to scan the light in the different rooms and see, in your head, what your images will look like. It definitely takes practice… lots of practice. I think this is where we on-location photographers have an advantage. We are forced to shoot in different lighting situations at every session. Every home is different, even the same home has different light at different times of the day. A good way to start to see light is experiment in your own home with different rooms and different times of the day.

I am going to attempt to show you different images here and describe the light. Recently I have added a home studio to my business. I only shoot under 9 months here so it is really just a baby studio. It doesn’t have the BEST natural light although I can shoot natural light when it is a nice bright day. On the other cloudier days I have a back up light, a spyderlite. It is a continuous fluorescent light and I am still learning it. I find it very different from natural light but when I get it right I do love it. As it should be, this is just another part of my journey and growth as a photographer.

So let’s start with natural light…

Type of light

The kind of window light I look for depends on how cloudy it is outside. If it is super cloudy you can use a window that has light shining directly in it. The clouds will diffuse that light and give you soft pretty light. If it is sunny I look for indirect light or a window that has light coming in and I just go outside of the direct light. This can be tricky depending on the floor. Some floors will throw bad color casts (as will wall colors) but if you have white carpet it works well. Wood floors can throw a lot of orange so just watch out for that. You also have to be careful that the bounced light is not too harsh.

Position to the light

I either position my babies at a 45 degree angle, with their heads facing the light, or at a 90 degree angle. It all depends on the pose they are in. I like the light to fall over their face and throw soft shadows. If put baby’s face directly to the light you will get much flatter light with no shadows which makes for a less appealing image.

Some examples

IMG_4110

ISO 800
f/2.0
1/250
50mm 1.2

Baby is positioned with his head towards window. The window is a sliding glass door. This was taken in my home studio.

andrew001

ISO 200
f/2.2
1/320
50mm 1.2

Baby is again positioned with his head pointing toward light source, which is a window. This window is very bright as you can see by the ISO and shutter.

wise018

ISO 800

F /2.8
1/200
50 mm 1.2

Baby is positioned at a parallel to the window but turned to face the light. This house was very dark and the window was shaded by trees but with the higher ISO it made for beautiful soft image.

Used in this project and related actions:

 

riley066

ISO 640
f/3.2 (higher than I like but with the zoom I had to go higher)
1/200
24-70mm 2.8

The light source here was a bay window. I have baby against a wall just outside the baby window and the positioned at a 90 degree angle to the baby window.

A few words about studio light…

I am by NO means an expert at studio light. Many of you probably know much more than me about it, but the way I am using it right now is with my TD-5 Spyderlite from Westcott with a medium softbox. I didn’t want a huge softbox to carry with me or take up my whole studio so I went with the smaller one. I like to use the soft box in conjunction with a light source like a window. So either the window is a source and spyderlite is a fill or the other way around. I tend to use the spyderlite as the main source and let the window fill. If the window is bright enough to be a main light source I just bump up the ISO and go for it all natural.

Here are a few of my recent spyderlite sessions…

parkerw008

ISO 400
f/1.6 (for effect not because of low light)
1/800
50mm 1.2

Baby is positioned toward the light. Light is camera left very close to the ground, so it is level with baby.

penelope016

ISO 500
f/2.8
1/250
50mm 1.2

Baby is at a 45 degree angle or so to the light. Light is camera right.

IMG_5201b

ISO 800
f/2.0
1/200
50mm 1.2

Light is camera left and baby is positioned slightly towards light.

IMG_5067b

ISO 500
f/2.2
1/160
50mm 1.2

Light is camera left at a slight angle to subjects. I am literally standing right beside the softbox.

Dawson023

ISO 500
f/1.8
1/250
50mm 1.2

One of my most favorite images… light is camera right at a 45 degree angle of so. Maybe pulled a bit more in front of baby. I am shooting right next to the softbox here.

My favorite type of light… outdoor light.

I am very lucky to live in a climate where you can take newborns outside for almost ½ the year. Any chance I get to do so I do. Lately I have taken quite a few outside. I just love to be able to use my 135mm to photograph them in natural surroundings. As with other outdoor subjects I look for open shade and texture. I almost always shoot with my 135mm outside as wide open as I can go for the given situation.

Some examples of outside newborns.

parkerw032

ISO 200
f/2.0
1/1000
135mm 2.0

This is on the client’s front porch. It was a cloudy day but nice and warm. I love the soft light and contrast of new baby with old brick. YUM!

IMG_4962

ISO 250
f/2.0
1/1000
135mm 2.0

This is one of my most favorite baskets. I use it a lot.  Here I placed the baby under a willow tree, cloudy day.

IMG_5036

ISO 250
f/2.0
1/1000
135mm 2.0

The baby is outside in a basket. Cloudy day.

IMG_4034

ISO 250
f/2.2
1/640
135mm 2.0

Same basket, different baby, different setting. I like to find spots where the background has some distance from the subject. This set up makes for beautiful bokeh. Especially if you have a little back light like I do here.

IMG_4358

ISO 250
f/2.2
1/400
135mm 2.0

In a beautiful field at dusk… used a bit of pink overlay on this.
16x20-2up

A bit of a before and after… always a favorite with parents.

IMG_4415b

ISO 400
f/2.2
1/320
135mm 2.0

Same field and a beautiful momma with her baby. Love the gaze at each other here. And this also illustrates as well as the above two shots that they don’t always have to be asleep. This baby was wide awake but peaceful and happy.

I hope that this gives you a bit of insight into some different lighting set-ups and variations. The best thing you can do to learn is to practice in different lighting and experiment. You will find that a small twist of the bean bag or tilt of the head will make a huge difference in the final product.

 

This article was written by Guest Blogger Alisha Robertson, of AGR Photography.

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51 Comments

  1. June 23, 2009 at 4:27 pm —

    Thank you for all the wonderful tips. I am excited to give it a try when our newborn arrives in August. How close is the baby to the window in most of your shots? Your photos are just stunning. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge.
    Jan

  2. June 23, 2009 at 8:11 am —

    Alisha,

    I have only photographed my newborn niece and that was enough to show how tricky this can be. Thanks, for an insightful tutorial on seeing the light.

    I would love to know where you find the material you use for under the baby?? I went to a local fabric store and saw nothing that would fit this kind of a portrait setting. Any hints?

    Thanks again,

    Beth

  3. June 23, 2009 at 7:51 am —

    Truly wonderful pictures. Great tip! LOVE this! Thank you.

  4. June 23, 2009 at 12:53 am —

    Thank you so much for sharing your settings for each photo. A very honest and helpful post!

  5. June 23, 2009 at 12:21 am —

    thanks for this! very helpful. when you are blending natural light and soft box, do you custom white balance? having trouble with WB. thanks!

  6. June 22, 2009 at 11:15 pm —

    Aww, these are cute

  7. June 22, 2009 at 10:48 pm —

    Alisha-
    I’ve been visiting this site for the last couple of months as I’ve been getting more in to photography. I was so excited to see that you posted today and even more excited to see my little munchkin in one of your examples 😉 What a great post with great information. You do such a wonderful job!

  8. June 22, 2009 at 9:14 pm —

    I have the hardest time with newborns and the lighting. I thought it was just me…. Also what actions do you usually use on newborns? My favorites you posted are the outside shots. Thanks for sharing your tips!!!

  9. Cindi
    June 22, 2009 at 3:35 pm —

    Your images are fantastic and I am so grateful to have these tips from you. I am about to photograph my second infant, this time at their home instead of mine where I am more familiar with the window light. I have not been able to photograph a newborn yet, but I also wondered about how to get the baby into certain poses and positions. I would love to attend a workshop. Thank you again for sharing your knowledge.

  10. June 22, 2009 at 3:02 pm —

    As always I absolutely LOVE these tips! Thank-you SO much!

  11. June 22, 2009 at 2:10 pm —

    alisha,

    your work is just so lovely!
    this is all such great stuff.
    i love to see & read your posts here!

  12. keri
    June 22, 2009 at 1:42 pm —

    you are an amazing photog! Those pictures are priceless!!!

  13. honey
    June 22, 2009 at 1:12 pm —

    Thank you for sharing … the images are stunning!

  14. June 22, 2009 at 1:05 pm —

    Thank you for the helpful information!
    I seem to have the hardest time tyring to find something to use to position the baby to get some of the looks. For example the baby lying on the tummy and hands under the face or chin, my babies seem to sink down or the face lies flat down in the blanket.
    How and what do you use to achive this look and prevent the baby’s face from going flat down?
    Thanks!!

  15. June 22, 2009 at 11:44 am —

    great post Alisha…thanks! Beautiful images…still wanting to find that amazing outdoor wooden bowl!

  16. June 22, 2009 at 11:02 am —

    Great post, thanks! Just about to get my hands on another newborn any day now. 🙂
    Though my five year old daughter said over my shoulder, “If I had a baby, I would not take it in that grass. Ticks! Ticks go on babies!”

  17. Vilma
    June 22, 2009 at 10:37 am —

    Thank you so much for this post. This helped so much. I have a tough time finding the right light and always have to fix in photoshop. I will be coming back to this post often thanks again 🙂

  18. June 22, 2009 at 10:36 am —

    Love this!

  19. MariaV
    June 22, 2009 at 10:27 am —

    These are too precious. Thank you for the light overview, Alisha.

  20. June 22, 2009 at 9:28 am —

    Love this post! The examples are great!

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Newborn Photography: How to Use Light When Shooting Newborns