Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Five Tips for Taking Pictures of Babies

Lucia turned 10 months old over the weekend. 10 months. I cannot wrap my head around how quickly time has gone. It's really remarkable when you start to measure your own life via someone else. These last 10 months have been amazing - every day is a new experience. I've never felt so happy, nervous, excited, scared, thrilled, secure, insecure, bold, creative in all my life. And really, some days it's possible to feel all those things at once.

After Lucia was born I was shocked at just how exhausted I was. I knew I would be tired but nothing could have prepared me for how I felt during those first two weeks after we came home. Of course I was physically exhausted from labor but that was nothing compared to the emotional exhaustion that I felt. I wanted to enjoy every single second with her and for the first time in a really, really long time, I was completely unplugged. Except for the occasional email and status update, I was totally disconnected. It was wonderful and if I close my eyes I can remember so many little moments with her when we were both brand new - me as a mommy and of course she as my beautiful babe. I personally didn't take that many photos of her myself, other than on my iPhone (which I still have saved on there and I look at them at least once a week) since I really relied on other people for that but I have more than made up for that in the months since.

Here are some tips that I think might be helpful if you're a parent and need some help taking photos of your baby:

1. Take A LOT of photographs. Take A LOT of photographs EVERY DAY.

Take it from me, babies grow really fast. One minute they are teeny and then suddenly one morning you wake up and there they are sitting up in their crib clapping their hands when you walk in. True story.

Also, while you're taking all of these great photos, try to tell a story. Lucia is quite the actress as you can see from this little series of pictures...

Waking up from my afternoon nap.

In the best mood ever.

Oh, no, wait...I think I'm upset.

Yep, I'm really mad!

Okay, I'm only a little mad.

Okay, just kidding.  I'm really happy!

Okay lady, the show is over.  Pick me up.

2. Always carry a camera with you.

This may not always be practical but just be sure to have your camera close by. I usually have my DSLR but then I also have a point and shoot and of course, my iPhone. Just as they grow quickly from day to day and week to week, they change their expressions and soon, they start to move or do something new from second to second. Just be sure you have your camera so you can capture those little moments that are gone before you know it.

I took this photo in the hospital when Lucia was just 12 hours old and my sister and niece came to visit us.  This is the first moment that Paloma saw Lucia and she wanted to be up close.  I was holding Lucia with my left arm while my sister held Paloma close but not too close.  I used a Nikon Coolpix with the flash off (hence all the grain).

Taken with my iPhone.

3. Try different angles.

This is a major challenge for a lot of people, myself included. It's easy to always point the camera from the same direction, especially when they are so little and all they really do is eat and sleep and poo. Prop the baby up using pillows and blankets, get in close for portraits or shoot from farther away.

Stand up above the crib or bassinet to show scale - they don't stay tiny for long and now it's so great to see how much she's grown just by comparing her first photos to now. If you're feeling up to it, get up on a step ladder and put the baby on the ground. Put the baby on the changing table and take a step back - be careful of course because they move so fast and you should never leave a baby alone but when they  take advantage of the fact that he or she really isn't moving that much - it won't be long before your baby is flipping, standing, crawling and (gulp) walking. Be adventurous but obviously be careful.

She's Here
I stood on a step ladder for this one and just put her right down on the rug in her nursery.  Lucia was eight days old and exactly 11 minutes later, her belly button fell out.

Copyright Monica L. Shulman
She LOVED her mobile.  I could leave her there and she would just stare up and smile at it.  I'm obsessed with wondering what was going through her mind.  This is one of my favorite photos of her.

This is in the morning after her breakfast, before her nap and just before I get her dressed.  I let her hang out in her diaper and we play for a while.  This is one of my favorite times of our day.

See how fast that happened?  No more mobile.  I got up on the step ladder for this one too.

4. Chase the light.

I know I just said to be adventurous but sometimes it's best to just get back to basics. Find the "magic" light near a window and create a mini studio for you and your baby. I prefer to use natural light whenever I can so set something up near a window by pushing the bassinet or setting up a nice, cozy blanket and take some photos. If you're outdoors try to stand somewhere where the light is not coming from directly overhead but look out for casting shadows across your child's face.

I used a 50mm f/1.4 lens and shot this in my bedroom.  The windows were wide open.  No flash.

Same day, chose color.  I used a 50mm f/1.4 lens and shot this in my bedroom.  The windows were wide open.  No flash.

Shot outdoors using natural light.

If the light in your home isn't great then set up some simple lights or use a flash. Again, I much prefer to use the natural light available, especially with babies when you really shouldn't be shining a flash in their little face, but, sometimes it's not possible. You can use soft lights or try to diffuse your in-camera flash by taping a little piece of tissue paper on the flash so that the light appears less harsh and so that you don't shock your child with the constant bright flashes! If you have a hot-shoe flash, which is preferable to the in-camera flash but may not be in your budget, bounce it off the ceiling. It creates really lovely light.

I shot this in our hotel in St. Martin.  It was late afternoon so I used the light from a big lamp and opened the windows wide.  I placed her on the bed and stood over her.

I know a lot of parents don't want to use flash at all either because they are worried about that dreaded "bleached out" look (not good on anyone but can be easily fixed by covering your flash a bit) or because they don't want to use that bright light on their baby (completely understandable for obvious reasons) but if you don't have enough light then you take the risk of having blurry photos and those are no fun ever, especially when you're trying to record memories.

In-camera pop-up flash.  It was all I had.  I hoped for the best.

Close up of cuddle time with Daddy.  Natural light outdoors.

5. Get the details.

Don't forget to get up close on everything from tiny toes and fingers to little tushies and eyes. I loved photographing Lucia's gummy smiles and now when I look at her I just want to capture her little baby teeth in every shot. I also am not afraid to photograph her crying or whining. My baby is definitely an actress. One minute she is all giggles but if I turn my back for a second when she thought I was going to pick her up, forget it...major waterworks. I try to make her laugh and it usually works but not before I grab my camera. Two seconds later she forgot why she was so mad. My baby is laughing and having fun 99% of the time but like all babies, she has her moments and those include little fits. Obviously I'm not busy with the camera if something is really wrong or she is sick but you know your baby better than anyone if they're having a bit of a tantrum "just because" it might be one of those things that you will want to remember.

Also, don't forget to take their photo with a few of their favorite things like their favorite paci, toy, maybe a special outfit, blanket or hat.

Copyright Monica L. Shulman
Wearing a special outfit that was a gift from an aunt and uncle.

This isn't really a tip for taking better photos but just a general piece of advice from someone who has been there - don't forget to live in the moment. When we brought Lucia home every single second felt like magic. Exhausted magic, but magic nonetheless. I am so happy that I was able to disconnect myself and just focus on her and my husband and even though I don't have photographs of all of those moments, I have them recorded in my heart and mind forever. I lived the experiences in person rather than behind my lens and that is just so special and private and all mine. I don't have a picture to remember it all but I have everything else. And isn't that just as wonderful?

Of course if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. And, if you have any tips yourself, please leave them in the comments - we can all learn from each other!

This moment literally lasted 20 seconds.  Just enough time for me to put her on that lounge chair.  Step back, click and pick her up.  I was worried about the sun, the heat, the possibility of her rolling over...etc.  But I got the photo.  Doesn't she look so relaxed and grown-up?  The photo cracks me up!

Check out those lashes!  In camera pop-up flash.

Copyright 2011 Monica L. Shulman
Outdoors using natural light.


PS--As you can see I'm a lover of black and white photography. I love the timeless look and feel of black and white - but color is wonderful and so important. Some photos just look better in one or the other. I would just try to experiment as much as you can with both. The great thing about digital photography is that you have that flexibility.

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