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10 awesome newborn photography tips

Photographing a newborn baby

Newborn and baby photography is more popular than ever, but while most parents just snap away with their camera phones, the best way to capture more memorable portrait photos is to learn how to take photos in studio like a professional.

In this series of 10 tips, expert portrait photographer and 'Baby Whisperer' Karen Wiltshire, teachers our reader and amateur photographer Heather Broadhurst how to capture great newborn photos that mum and dad would be proud to hang on their wall at home.

So let the shooting advice begin...

1. Use Manual mode

Karen Wiltshire and Heather Broadhurst 

Karen Wiltshire and Heather Broadhurst 

 “Because we were using supplemental lighting, I told Heather to put her camera into Manual mode. The flash sync speed on my camera is 1/160 sec, so that’s how fast our shutter was going to be, and we kept the aperture at f/4 because I don’t want too much of the image falling out of focus. The ISO was at 100,” advises pro Karen.

2. Yes – use studio lights!

"I was very surprised that we were using lights. On my beginner courses it was very much, “you don’t use flash with babies,” but as Karen said, “that’s rubbish!” It’s hard to get a lighting pattern, because babies have such tiny noses, but the catchlights are at the top and the mum loved the open eyes looking around," says Apprentice Heather. 

3. Preparation is key

Preparation is key. Have a workflow planned so that you can easily transition the baby from one position to another. Make sure your camera and cards are ready, and that props, hats and blankets are easily accessible.

It’s also important that you’re calm and relaxed throughout the shoot, so the baby feels safe and comfortable with you. Parents also need to feel that you’re confident.

Newborns have trouble regulating their temperature, so you need to keep the room warm – 22-24 degrees is ideal. Make sure your blankets and wraps are warm, as changes in temperature will startle and wake the baby.

4. Pro tools

Karen shoots with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV – the full-frame body of choice for a great many professional photographers. She usually pairs it with an EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, but here she used the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM as the other lens was in for repair!

5. Meter in advance

If using supplemental light you should be using a light meter so you know what it’s doing. You don’t want to be adjusting and messing around when the baby is in position. Set up your props and scene ready to shoot, then meter the light before putting the baby in place. If you don't have a light meter, use your camera's built in meter to focus on the scene to set your exposure.

6. Staying focused 

“I use single AF point focusing. Nailing the autofocus is easier shooting at f/4 than at f/1.8, which some newborn photographers go down to, but using a single point AF gives you the most control. Always make sure to focus on the eyes,” suggests Karen.

7. The right light

Karen prefers to use a pair of Profoto and Bowens combos. The larger lighting setup, for shooting props and backdrops at floor level, is a Profoto Softbox RFI 4ft Octa with a Bowens Gemini GM250R. For shooting the bean bag, it’s a slightly smaller Profoto Softbox RFI 3ft Octa with a Bowens Gemini GM200RX setup.

8. Safety first

Always have a spotter to ensure the baby is safe at all times. Ask dad or mum to get involved if need be. Be gentle, and never force a baby into a position that they are clearly not comfortable in. "Also a full tummy makes the baby more likely to be content. Some need feeding every 20 minutes, others can go for hours without feeding," says Karen. "I warn parents to expect to feed a little more than normal during a photoshoot."

9. Props and backdrops

Having a great backdrop is essential. For her props, fabric and backdrops, Karen suggests www.babypropshop.co.uk along with her custom-made floordrops.
“I took the pictures, sent the file and they printed them, so I can have all these different setups. They’re printed on waterproof polyfabric, which doesn’t crease or mark, and they’ve got a non-slippy backing!”

10. Turn up the volume!

Karen advises never tiptoe around the baby trying to keep quiet. You need to do the opposite, as noise will actually help settle the baby! In addition to putting on the radio, download a white noise app for your phone. White Noise Baby by TMSoft is 99p on the App Store, and isn’t on a timer so it won’t turn off in the middle of a shoot.

"We were using the big lighting setups because the bigger the softbox, the softer the light," says Heather.

"We were using the big lighting setups because the bigger the softbox, the softer the light," says Heather.

This side laying position is probably the easiest to do, and babies love it. 

This side laying position is probably the easiest to do, and babies love it. 

"Bolder colours can add a bit of zing. We matched the blanket and bonnet to the flowers," says Karen.

"Bolder colours can add a bit of zing. We matched the blanket and bonnet to the flowers," says Karen.

"At first I was shooting up the nose, so I changed position and also moved in tighter to get this shot," says Heather

"At first I was shooting up the nose, so I changed position and also moved in tighter to get this shot," says Heather

Karen Wiltshire After 23 years working at a magazine printers, Karen established her Dorset studio in 2011. She was the first to receive Craftsman status in Studio Children’s Portraiture by The Guild of Photographers, where she has twice won the Photographer of the Year award, and also holds workshops as part of the Baby Whisperer Academy. For more info go to www.kw-photography.co.uk

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