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Newborn Babies

Tips to know before photographing newborns


Even the tiny feet of a newborn are worth photographing. Is this little fellow's smile the result of a pleasant thought? We like to think so. Get down low and fill the frame for intimate shots like this.
Even the tiny feet of a newborn are worth photographing. Is this little fellow's smile the result of a pleasant thought? We like to think so. Get down low and fill the frame for intimate shots like this.

HELPFUL TIPS AND HINTS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING IN THE HOSPITAL

(1) Don’t use flash close up to avoid startling newborn babies. They have been through enough recent surprises. (Visit our section entitled Babies and flash before you use your flash to photograph your newborn.)

(2) If there is insufficient light for your normal ISO 100 or 200 speed film or digital camera's sensitivity setting without needing flash, use a faster speed, ISO 400 or even 800.

(3) Black and white film can sometimes surpass color in capturing the peaceful innocence of a sleeping infant, or the gentle mood of a new mom lovingly cuddling her new bundle of joy. And if the room in which you are shooting is lit by fluorescent lights, with B&W film you avoid the sickly green effect it gives to many color photographs.

Note: Be sure to set your digital camera's white balance when shooting under fluorescent illumination.


(4) There are generally two types of “newborn-in-hospital” baby pictures - those with one or both parents, and those with baby alone. We suggest shooting both, so long as mom and the hospital staff are comfortable with it. You will never have a better chance to capture baby alone just after birth, and also to photograph the combined look of pride, wonder and love that suffuses all new parents’ faces.

(5) If it is daytime and mom can carry the newborn to a comfortable location by a window, the natural light coming in will usually produce a more pleasing picture. Choose a window that does not have the direct rays of the sun streaming in for softer, more-diffused lighting.

(6) Speak softly and do nothing to startle mother or baby when you are suggesting how she can hold her newborn for a better picture.

A wide-open aperture (for shallow depth of field) will throw the background out of focus
A wide-open aperture (for shallow depth of field) will throw the background out of focus

Don't expect much more animation than a great, big, healthy yawn from a newborn infant.
Don't expect much more animation than a great, big, healthy yawn from a newborn infant.

(7) Have a little patience. Don’t expect much animation from the newborn, who will likely have his or her eyes closed most of the time you are there, but be prepared to capture the movement when it happens. It might be a yawn or a bunched-up face as baby begins to awaken or simply an expression that occurs during a dream.

(8) A medium telephoto lens (a portrait lens) can be very useful. If your camera's lens has zoom capability, adjust it for a telephoto setting, in the range of 80 to 130 mm, if you can. You won’t have to personally get in close to fill the frame, and the fact that you remain somewhat distant from your mother-and-baby subjects may encourage mom to express intimacy with her baby that you would not otherwise see if you were “in her space.” Proportions will look natural, too, unlike a wide-angle lens, which may distort baby's or mom's features.

(9) If mom or dad should hold the baby up for a picture of the baby alone, try using a shallow depth of field (a wide-open aperture) to throw the background out of focus, suggesting a soft environment and drawing the viewer’s eyes directly to the baby. Make sure you focus on the baby’s eyes and have sufficient depth of field to have both in focus, if not the the entire face.


(10) If you photograph the baby alone while he or she is lying on a bed, make sure the baby is on a clean and comfy-looking blanket or soft quilt. You can’t surround a baby with too much softness. And don’t stand directly overhead for all of your shots. Try getting down to the baby’s level. Your picture will be much more intimate than one that looks like the photograph was taken from an aerial balloon.

(11) A close-up with dad’s strong hands holding the newborn is always a powerful image, and don’t forget to shoot when mom or dad lifts the baby so they can look straight into each other’s eyes. Although you will be strongly tempted to ask mom to look at you and smile while holding the baby so he or she faces towards the camera, try to avoid it, at least for a while. That kind of shot is okay and will look all right, but the best shots are usually those that make it seem as though the photographer was an unnoticed observer as the parents interacted with their new child.

Just starting to wake up
Just starting to wake up

Oh no! Don't cry. Everything's fine.
Oh no! Don't cry. Everything's fine.

USING A POINT-AND-SHOOT CAMERA

(12) If you are using a basic point-and-shoot camera, you may find that you have to get quite close to fill the viewfinder frame because babies are so small. You will want to check your camera’s minimum focusing distance (which is typically around 20 inches) and then be sure that your camera is at least that distance away from the baby to ensure sharp focus. If you can’t get in close enough to fill the frame, bear in mind that pictures can always be cropped later to remove extraneous items around the baby. Having the picture in focus is more important than filling the frame.

A word about your camera's flash: Since the flash may be triggered automatically with many point-and-shoot cameras, check to see whether yours has an override switch or setting that will let you turn off the flash before you take a picture of a baby, particularly a close-up.


WHEN YOU HAVE TO USE FLASH

(13) If you can’t be there to take pictures during the daytime and the ambient lighting is inadequate – in other words, if you have to use flash – then avoid direct flash and go instead for either bounce-flash off a white surface (if you have an accessory flash unit with a tilt head) or diffused flash through white cloth or tracing paper to keep the light soft.

CONSIDER MOM'S APPEARANCE

(14) Permit mom a free moment before shooting her picture to freshen up so she will be pleased about the way she looks. If her hair can use a combing or her outfit needs to be straightened, point this out and then give her some free time to attend to herself. You and she will both be happier with the resultant pictures.

CONSIDER MOM'S AND THE BABY'S ENERGY LEVELS

(15) Finally, remember what mom and baby have just been through, and that they can tire quickly. If they need to rest, stop shooting, pack up and leave, even though you may feel you didn’t get the shot you wanted. Come back at a suitable time when they are rested, and mom feels fresh.

Ah - that's better. Back to dreamland
Ah - that's better. Back to dreamland
Further information...

Softening the harsh light from a flash

Get down to their level when shooting kids
Related topics...

Babies and Flash

Cropping

White balance