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How to Photograph a Baby

Photograph ©2012 Alex Suárez. All rights reserved. Click image to view a larger version.

My friends Mark and Shannon asked if I would shoot baby Lila. Look at those eyes. How could I resist. We set up a flexible time that was dependent on when Lila awoke from her mid-morning nap. I knew that having a well-rested baby is critical to a successful baby shoot, so we let Lila call the shots.

For this image, I used a large light source (camera right) that wraps around to give a smooth transition from light to dark. The larger the light source, the softer the edges of shadows become. If I were to back the light away from Lila it would become smaller and the shadows more defined. Seeing as this is a baby and everyone knows that babies are soft, I wanted soft shadows so that the image reinforces the viewer's expectations that a baby is soft.

I also, used a silver reflector opposite the key light (camera left) to fill in the shadows. You can see the lighting setup if you study the catch lights in Lila's eyes.

Shooting in studio, I was planning to pull out the big lighting gear, including the 5-foot octobank light but then I noticed the light coming in the glass door. I realized that if I put up a scrim, the direct sunlight that was streaming in would be converted into a large beautiful light source. Everyone knows that the sun is massive. Unfortunately, it is so far away from us that it appears like just a pinpoint. I needed something bigger. The surface of the scrim, which appears large relative to baby Lila, became the light source for this image.

Deep dark shadows are better suited for photographing coalminers than babies. I wanted to avoid dark shadow, no matter how soft they were. To achieve that, I used a silver reflector in close to bounce light back into the unlit side of baby Lila. This produced what is called a low lighting ratio. The fill light (reflector), is almost as bright as main light (the scrim).

Anyone can reproduce this simple lighting setup at home. Putting up a white sheet (or you may already have white curtain sheers) will give you that nice main (key) light source. Use anything big and white or silver as a reflector on the other side to fill in the shadows.

The trick to using a reflector is to think of it as a mirror and bounce the light into the subject as you desire. Practice with a reflector ahead of time. Bounce the light into your subject and away repeatedly until you begin to see the effects of the reflector. Figure out what angle catches the light best. Know that "angle of incidence equals angle of reflection" and you'll have a great start.

Once you've got the lighting down, bring in the baby and have some fun! Use a rattle, squeaky toy or shinny object to attract the baby's gaze to the camera's lens. Mom may have to stand behind you or leave the room if the baby wants to pay more attention to her than you.

Photograph ©2012 Alex Suárez. All rights reserved. In this image, Lila had rolled over so our lighting is now reversed (main light is now camera left). Click image to view a larger version.

Have a good tip for photographing a baby? Share it in the comments below. Happy shooting!

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