Babies grow up incredibly fast, and that is why so many new parents choose to hire a newborn photographer to capture that short precious window where their mini is impossibly tiny. One day, maybe the day that the little human in the photograph is walking in a graduation ceremony to "Pomp and Circumstance" or the day they walk down the aisle, they'll pull out those newborn photos and remember. So you see how important your job is, dear photographer.
Since your job is so vital, you've got to make sure to do it right. Here are our tips to help you capture beautiful memories of your client's (or your own!) bundle of joy.
The first rule is there are no rules (aesthetically speaking - when working with newborns, there are safety rules.) As with any photography, the look you're going for will influence things like lens choice, lighting, processing, and so on. With that said, some guidelines take into account essential factors in newborn photography that you can use to get results you and your clients will love.
In choosing a lens, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, you don't want to distort the baby. 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm lenses are all excellent options in the normal-to-slightly-telephoto range. If you choose a lens that's too wide, you can end up giving the little one clown-sized feet or an eight-head where their forehead should be when you fill the frame.
Second, despite fast lenses seemingly being a photographers raison d'etre, you don't necessarily need or even want the shallowest depth of field with newborn photography—more on that below.
As tempting as it is for photographers to open all their lenses as wide as they'll go, but newborn photography exemplifies a time where that may not be the best route. Since newborn photography is often up-close and personal, and being close to your subject can make depth of field even more shallow, we recommend stopping your lens down a little. Think f/4 or higher, not f/1.4. You'll want to be able to have both eyes in focus, at least.
Of course, rules are made to be broken, and you can use a shallow depth of field creatively, but you've got to learn the rules before you break them. When you do break the rules, do it with purpose. A photographer's intention is one difference between a snapshot and a photograph, and we're here to make photographs, aren't we?
With wiggly babies, you're going to want to keep your shutter speed up. Combined with the previous tip to avoid opening the aperture all the way (at least for lenses that open wider than f/4), that means you're going to need either a fair amount of light or a camera body that is ace at high ISO handling.
Of course, you can always experiment with whatever Mastin Labs presets you own, but our favorites or Portra Original and Fujicolor Original. These are our preset packs with the most subtle effects, which work well with newborn photos. They keep things fairly neutral, aren't intensely contrasty, and are very versatile.
For a beautiful black and white edit, Acros 100 in the Fujicolor Everyday Original pack is a stand-out.
Don't Sleep On The Tone Profiles
If you find that your shadows are looking a little blocked up, or you like the shadows but you’re starting to lose the highlights, tone profiles can help. If your highlights are too hot, the "highlight soft" tone profile will reel them back into orbit. For too-dark shadows, try the "shadow soft" tone profile. If your light is challenging, and you'd like to flatten the contrast out a bit altogether, try "all soft." To go in-depth on tone profiles, check out this post.
The Only Time We'll Tell You To Tweak Your Presets
We stand by our three-step workflow, but when working with babies, there is a cool pro-tip you can use to even out their skin tone. Babies, particularly if they are fairer-skinned, will often have a latticework of red, visible capillaries creating a matrix across their tiny bodies. Some photographers and parents who prefer a more documentary approach may be fine with that, but for the ones who'd rather not let the truth get in the way of a good visual story, here's what you can do.
Go into the "HSL/Color" panel in Lightroom, and within that tool, click the tab titled "Luminance." Depending on the skin tone of the baby, use either the red or the orange slider to increase luminance until the baby's red splotches blend into the skin tone. You can use trial and error to determine which slider will best camouflage a particular baby's skin issue.
Are you a newborn photographer? Give us your favorite tip for newbies to the newborns in the comments below.