Sunday, December 19, 2010

Baby Photography Tips and Lighting Setup

Baby Photography Tips and Lighting Setup

Tutorial by SASHA GiTiN
Watch this photography tutorial video to learn how to photograph babies.Newborns, infants using studio flash and double umbrella lighting.  With tips on photography lighting and studio set up.

In this baby photography tutorial video we cover the following topics:

  • Complete Studio or Home Set up
  • Amazingly soft Portrait Light using a Double Umbrella
  • Equipment needed for the shoot (simple and inexpensive also can be used for Portraits and Fashion, see the complete list below)
  • 2 poses with many variations
  • Tips on working with a baby

Tips for photographing a baby:

Easy with a Flash power
Try to avoid using strobe / studio flash with infants under 3 months old, instead try to utilize natural light.  With infants over 3 month old use the lowest power setting to minimize the negative impact. Instead increase ISO and open the f-stop. In my opinion, the high powered strobe flash can have a negative effect on a child’s development. 

baby pictures

High Powered Strobe is bad for newborns.

The first month of a child’s life is the most sensitive period for brain development.  When the baby is born, billions of brain cells that have developed while in the womb, begin to make first connections (synapses). Stimulation of the brain begins with sensory experiences.
baby portrait black and white
One of examples would be when child is observing the contrast between light and dark shapes. This fires up the neurotransmitters which create connections as they travel from cell to cell forming a network.  The network of these connections corresponds to intellectual capacity, memory, problem solving, and language.  But just imagine what  happens when 2500 watt per second of studio flash power is being released into a baby face?  I am not an expert on neurology, but in my opinion, flash will create a sudden sensory overload, most likely misguiding neurotransmitters and frying some cells, eliminating the opportunity for successful development.  
Based on my hypotheses, I would not recommend using flash to photograph newborn babies under 3 month at all. Reserve to natural light, or continuous light instead.  What I noticed by observing thousands of babies being photographed, is that baby’s immediate reaction to a flash pop, when the unit is set to 250ws and above and positioned close to the subject is the baby literally jerks and jumps back on each pop.  However, by lowering the power below 100ws, it does not seem cause any visual reaction. (In the video, my strobe was set to 1/32 of a power of 320ws unit) so each pop was only 10ws.  As you might have notice, Sammy did not exhibit any reaction to strobe pop, at all.
Bottom line:  Crank up your ISO – and carefully focus so you can keep you aperture open, so that you can control your exposure with ISO and f-stop, as appose to flash intensity. Trust me the grain in the image is definitely better than brain development complications.
More info on baby brain development: Making connections helping children build their brains

baby photo

Use soft Light.

I used a double umbrella for this photo shoot.  Double umbrella is a translucent umbrella and white reflective, or silver umbrella taped together at the ends of the stem.  Most of the umbrellas have an option of black cover to be removed. By removing the black cover the white reflective umbrella turns into translucent.  

Be ready to shoot.

The baby will generally only grant you  with a few minutes of good behavior.  Test your light and exposure prior to the first shot, use a doll or a soft toy to preset focus and exposure.
Direct babies attention with a sound “prrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” kind of works well.  

baby smile

How to Make Baby Smile:

Happy baby is the one who had his nap, was recently fed, is dry and comfortable. Babies instinctively will produce a social smile – meaning that if you smile at them they will smile back.  Ask the mother to stay right behind the camera.
DO NOT: This might be obvious but never shake the baby, shaking can cause brain damage.  Once again, do not use your strobe at a high power setting.   If the baby has any type of reaction to the flash pop, it means that the power setting is too high.  
Create a soft comfortable and safe environment; make sure that the camera is close enough so the baby is within your reach or within the parent’s reach.  Secure the photographing area, in case of a roll over, make sure there is no hard surfaces or objects for the baby to get hurt with.

Studio Equipment for baby photography:

studio setup for baby photography

A:  4 inch (medium) Spring Clamp (A-clamps).   A-clamps where used to secure background fabric to the telescopic poll. Also one clamp was used to secure the bouncer (H) to the stand (D)Price is about $3 per clamp.  You can get them at any hardware store.
B: Alien bee B800 flash unit.
C:  Bogen 2983 Telescoping Cross Bar  The most convenient and versatile background holder you will ever find.  It can hold any roll of background paper up to 9 feet wide. You can hang all sorts of fabric backgrounds on it with A-clamps.  It doesn’t need any special hook up because it can easily be attaches to any type light stand. (one on each end) It has three telescopic sections so it’s easy to transport on location and it’s very durable and light weight. I love it.
D: Manfrotto 367B Basic Light Stand. Great heavy duty stand. I used 2 of them is this shoot one was holding the light the other was holding the bouncer.  I had a lot of cheap stands in the past and they all died.  This stands survive all the abuse and still perform like new. Maximum height is 9 feet.
E: Manfrotto 5001B 74-Inch Nano Stand These stands are great for location work. They fold really small and extend to 6 feet 2 inches.  They can hold a studio light with umbrella or small softbox.  These two stand where supporting the crossbar (C), but I was worried that my 3 year old would knock them down. As she was running back and forth behind the set. So I would only recommend them for location use, for studio the (D) stands are better, they are more sturdy 
F: Calumet 45 inch Umbrellas. Also these are the best quality umbrellas I own.  I have used these for more than 10 years and they are still in great shape.  These are very versatile. The black backing is removable so the umbrella can be used as reflective soft white umbrella or as translucent/ shoot through umbrella. Or two can be hooked up together with tape for single light - double umbrella set up (as was done in this video) I also used it during a heavy rain, once, coming back from a shoot. (Kept me dry, True story)
G: Vivitar 285HV Flash Oh yeah they still make these. What a workhorse!!!  I think I have mine for about 15 years. Never broke.  I use it as a background light quite often. It can be used as on camera flash as well. (but I have canon 580 for that purpose) This unite is compact and battery operated. It takes any type AA batarries (4). I use rechargeable Sanyo Eneloop Hybrid Batteries with all my flash units, they seem to last the longest, and do not die when not used. Please note that to sink this unite wireless with your main flash you will need an optical slave (peanut) the flash will sink wireless within 100 feet from the main flash unite
H: Bouncer : Collapsible reflector. It bounces light back onto the subject feeling in shadows. Can be used with any light source. I often use this when I shoot portraits and still life. Sometimes I use it as a background or surface as well on small still life shoots or quick head-shots. One side is white the other is gold.
J: White canvas backdrop, it wrinkles a lot so I always keep it out of focus. You can iron it though it’s made out of cotton
K: Canon 40d camera was used to shoot these images. I used my 7d to record the video. I think, I like 40 d actually more than 7d because it has less color noise and finer grain (on lower iso).  24-70mm canon L 2.8 lens was attached to a camera. I have a dozen lenses but I use this this lens for about 85% present of all my work.   For this shoot the lens was set to about 40mm at f4
L. White sheer This is thin, translucent fabric, It was used it to place over the heavy cotton backdrop (J). Produces a light airy feel.  You can use regular sheer curtains or for larger set order by the yard: I used 20 yards of  118 inch wide fabric. from here:

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