I gave my first shot at newborn photography when my little guy was born this past October. I read a ton of books, visited countless websites for tips and advice, and actually practiced on a stuffed animal that was around the size of a newborn. I was going to be ready when he arrived! ALthough Babies can be a little difficult to photograph, I was prepared to shoot on continuous mode for a few months. More after the break…
Poor Jonathan, he had a camera in his face from about an hour after he was born, this was my first shot of him:
Not the best shot, but I was still in shock that this was my little buddy. One of the first things I learned while first starting out in photography was GET CLOSE! Get rid of all the clutter and unnecessary elements in a picture so all you have left is your subject and anything else you actually want in the photograph. I would say this has been the most important lesson for me when starting out. Before I learned this, I, like most people, would just take the camera, point it at the subject and pop off a snapshot. Then I would wonder why it looked so crappy. Your eye moves around the entire photo when there is clutter, instead of focusing on the subject.
In the first few days of having Jonathan, I took mostly natural light shots of him, from just about any angle I could manage in our small hospital room. It was also during this time that I started to use the Rule of Thirds. This essentially says that a photograph is more interesting when the subject is off-center. Think of the image having a tic tac toe board overlay, compose the subject on one of the intersecting lines. If you look at the picture to the left, Jonathan is off-center to the right. I use this technique often, but there are also times where I want my subject centered. it’s a general guideline, but it is very useful.
I’ve probably taken a few thousand pictures of Jonathan in the 14 weeks we’ve had them. I’d say I really like a few hundred of them, max. The main reason I’ve taken so many pictures is that I often shoot in continuous mode (sometimes called burst mode). This mode lets you hold down the shutter button while the camera takes a bunch of images right in a row. Depending on the camera, it will shoot in the range of 1.5 frames per second up to 10 FPS or more. Most modern digital cameras have this feature, even most point and shoots.
I think burst mode is perfect for newborn shots. I find it pretty hard to always get the right shot the first time, or I miss it completely. If I can pop off 5-6 shots in a row, chances are good I’ll get a keeper. I know there are some that don’t agree with this philosophy, but for an amateur like me, it works out pretty well. If I was shooting film, it would probably be a different story. But that is the beauty of digital!! And now that storage on SD cards are 32GB and above, you can shoot thousands of images per card.
On to the next topic, color vs. black and white. This is a no brainer for me, black and white all the way. There are a few reasons. The first being that sometimes babies skin isn’t the clearest. There is usually dried formula, a few scratches, blemishes. Even Johnny Boy has ’em! With black and white, you can hide them a little more. I also love the contrast shown in black and white images. It’s totally a personal choice, and many times I will process an image twice, once in color and the other in black and white. What can I say, my mother loves seeing her grandson in color.
Overall, I’m happy with some of the pictures I’ve taken, but I have a ton more learning to do. Jonathan recently started smiling, and not just when he is uh, “busy”. It’s like he knows I want to get a picture of him smiling. Every time I get the camera in place, he stops smiling and just stares at the camera, he is still fascinated by it, even after hundreds of pictures! It’s kind of a running joke that I can’t get many pictures of him smiling. Melissa was finally able to distract him, get him to smile, and BOOM!
There are many more things I learned about photographing newborns these past few months, I just wanted to post a few of the most important ones. Hopefully this will help other amateur photographers in documenting their little ones as they grow up. I’ll be adding more posts about photographing kids as Jonathan gets older, along with what techniques worked for me, and which ones didn’t work so well. Once he starts crawling, things should get pretty interesting.