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How to photograph newborn babies

If you’ve been asked to photograph newborn babies, then you’re in for both a treat and a challenge. Newborn photography offers the chance to capture babies in their tiniest, sleepiest, most youthful state, and the results can be tear-jerkingly good. But great patience, sound technique and a little luck is required – especially when shooting twins. Over the next couple of pages, we’ll explain how to approach the shoot, with advice on the right camera settings, the best lens choices and how to set up your own makeshift natural light studio in the home.

The mission

To undertake a newborn photo shoot in the home

Time needed: Two hours

Skill level: Intermediate

Kit needed: DSLR or mirrorless camera, reflector, blankets, beanbag

If you want the babies to look truly newborn, it’s best to schedule the shoot within the first two weeks after their birth. However, newborn twins may be different, as they often have to spend time in hospital. Ideally, schedule the shoot before they reach the 40-week stage. 

If you want the contemporary newborn look that’s very popular at the moment, consider bringing along a selection of textured blankets and colourful wraps, like the ones we’re using here, from Baby Props. Not only do they give you a smooth, clean backdrop for your portraits, but they can also help to keep flailing arms and legs in the right place! 

Safety first

If you’ve seen a photo of a newborn baby perched on top of a guitar, a crate or anything precarious, it’s probably a composite. The baby’s safety is paramount, so don’t pose or position them in any way that could result in a fall or worse. If you do want to capture them posed on a precarious prop, set the camera up on a tripod. You can take one shot with the baby and parent (making sure the parent’s arms or shadow don’t obscure the baby), then take another shot of the prop on its own in the same position.

Step-by-step guide: Getting prepared

1. Blankets and props

We want a contemporary look for our photos, and a big part of this is picking the right colours and textures for the backdrop. A wrap or a hat can be a great way to add a splash of colour and texture to your shots.

2. Check the settings

Time is limited; babies need feeding and nappies need changing. So, get your setup sorted before bringing the baby in. Use a toy roughly the same size to check lighting, backdrop and camera settings are spot on.

3. Direct the light

Window light is ideal here – it’s soft, flattering and falls off slowly. The direction of light is crucial; a slightly side-on position to the window creates pockets of highlight and shadow to give depth to your subject’s features.

4. Bounce the light 

Held opposite the window, a simple reflector lets us bounce light back into shadows, which evens out contrast for lovely soft lighting. If your reflector has gold/silver/white surfaces, white or silver is best here.

5. Camera settings

Set Manual mode with a shutter speed of 1/200 sec for sharp shots, and set a wide aperture to around f/3.5 (anything wider might be too shallow). Use Auto ISO and the ISO adapts to give a correct exposure.

6. Best lenses 

A lens with a wide maximum aperture is crucial for the shallow-focus, soft-backdrop look. Prime lenses are good, as they offer wide apertures and great optics. We used a 50mm f/1.4 and a 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.

Is flash dangerous for newborns?

A couple of years ago, several websites ran a dubious story with the headline: ‘Three-month-old baby left BLIND in one eye after family friend forgot to turn off the camera flash while taking a photo close up.’ Understandably, this left many parents concerned about the use of flash in baby photography. However, optometrists and health experts have completely de-bunked the story. Rest assured, flash will have no harmful effect on a baby – for one thing, it’s hardly any stronger than bright daylight. What’s more, if it were true, we’d hear about cases of this happening every day.