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How to Composite Newborn Images and Keep Babies Safe
Sleeping newborns, with such precious little faces, can make for amazing photographs. Who doesn’t love a pair of chubby cheeks squished strategically between two tiny hands? Many parents anxiously await these sweet images, before their bundle of joy even arrives. Likewise, many photographers can’t wait for the opportunity to photograph those little mushy faces. However, there are concerns, beyond how to handle so much cuteness, and one of the biggest is safety.
As a business owner, or even a hobbyist, liability and potential lawsuits are a priority at every session. This advice is especially relevant during a newborn shoot. With a newborn baby in your hands, parents trust you with their brand new, fragile life. An infant, who cannot avoid injury on their own or even break a fall with their hands, should receive complete caution and attention. You should never, ever put a baby in danger in order to get a nice image.
The safe way to achieve trendy poses, which may be harmful if not done properly, is to use Photoshop. “Compositing” is a very popular technique used by responsible newborn photographers. A composite image involves taking two or more images, and using Photoshop to combine them into one. Want to see it in action? Just watch the following video:
There are 3 steps you will need to follow to get the pictures needed to make this composite image:
- The baby must first be put into position with his/her hands on their chin. You will need to have a parent or assistant help you (you should be using a soft cushion-like surface; many photographers use a special bean bag).
- Have the parent or assistant hold the baby’s hands/wrists and possibly the back of their head steady from the baby’s right side. Now step back and take your picture. I like to take a burst of 3 pictures to allow me more selection during editing, but you may only need one.
- Now, have the parent or assistant move to the baby’s left side, while you hold the baby in position, and have them hold up the baby’s head with both hands. It is very important to switch sides, so you will be able to mask out all arms and hands. Step back and take your picture/pictures.
Here is a recap of the steps used to composite the newborn image in Photoshop:
- Open your two pictures in your Photoshop program.
- Choose the image that has the more preferable facial expression as your background image.
- Now, you will need to go to your other image, select all (control/command + a), and copy (control/command + c) your other image.
- Paste the copied image on top of your picture you selected as your background image (control/command + v).
- Resize your pasted image, until the baby in this image matches the size of the baby in the other image.
- Change your pasted layer’s opacity to about 50%. This will enable you to see both layers at the same time.
- Now that you can see both layers, line them up as best as possible by repositioning all the edges of your pasted layer. You may need to first rotate your layer if the baby’s eyes do not line up nicely.
- Once your pasted layer is in position, turn the layer’s opacity back up to 100%.
- Add a layer mask to your pasted layer. To do this, select your pasted layer, and then click the icon below your layers that looks like a rectangle with a circle inside.
- Use your paintbrush tool and select a soft, black brush.
- Paint at 100% opacity over the face and body (if your background image is the one where the arms/wrists are being held, you will need to paint over the face and hair rather than the face and body).
- You will need to paint over the arms of the parent/assistant as well. You may need to lower your opacity to around 25-50% to blend in some areas on your backdrop.
- Zoom in closely and carefully clean up any areas of overspill on your image. This means areas that were accidentally masked that should not have been. To do this you can use your “x” key to toggle between black and white to fix the masked areas to your liking.
- Use your clone tool to clone out any areas of overlap that cannot be masked, or any areas where something is showing that should not be.
- Crop your image to take out any unwanted areas around the edges of your picture.
- For editing, you can edit each image separately before compositing. Just be sure to edit them exactly the same. Or you can also wait until after you have done your composite and edit afterwards. (I recommend the newest action set from MCP actions, called “Newborn Necessities” it is amazing!)
There are plenty of different newborn poses that you can use this technique with. Some examples are: baby’s chin resting on folded arms, baby hanging in a hammock (do not lift a baby more than a couple of inches over a cushioned surface, with a spotter at all times), baby at the edge of a basket that could topple over, swaddled baby in an upright sitting position, baby in a suitcase or other prop with a lid that could close on top of them, baby laying on top of sports or other round equipment, and many more. The possibilities are endless. Be creative, but be safe as well.
This blog post and video was contributed by Blythe Harlan, of Blythe Harlan Photography. She is based out of Fort Bliss, Texas.