By Elli Cassidy
At Christmas it’s almost compulsory to take photographs and when you add a newborn baby into the equation it’s the perfect opportunity to create something extra special.
Whether you’re a fan of full-on Christmas decor, or prefer just a subtle nod to the season I hope this fills you with hints, tips and a sprinkle of festive inspiration.
If you are new to photographing babies you can keep it simple and natural, have baby lying on the back and photograph them awake and relaxed. Newborn babies can’t focus their eyes well, so I wait for them to stare into the distance and then move my camera into their line of sight, it can take a bit of patience but is usually worth it.
For this shot, I dressed the baby in a soft white romper and a berry headband which sets the season without needing a santa hat.
Another simple image to capture is baby toes, they can be awake or asleep for this, though for wrigglers I’m grateful for the fast focusing of the X-T2. In the first shot you can see the out of focus fairy lights which add an interest to the composition, and for the second shot I used a berry coloured wrap to create a warm festive feel. In the second shot I was actually gently holding the baby’s toes in place underneath the fabric to keep them at the angle I wanted. The tilt screen on the X-T2 was handy here as I could both hold her feet and shoot one handed comfortably.
Overhead shots are also easy shots to get whilst keeping baby safely lying down on fabric. The wreath I used is mainly fabric so is quite soft and not prickly, and I padded the middle out with a furry cushion cover so that she was well supported at all times.
If a baby isn’t the most settled then I will swaddle them with a wrap so they feel secure, and more often than not they fall asleep when wrapped. For all these shots I stand over the baby, using a camera strap, and then use live view on the tilt screen of my X-T2 to compose the image.
This shot is a more typical newborn baby pose, but using a seasonal coloured wrap keeps the image simple whilst adding a slight festive touch.
Christmas is a great excuse to pull out some of my favourite props too, so here are a few where I’ve tried to recreate some of the magic of the holiday. All of these images were taken with a spotter, which means I had someone on hand (usually a parent) to stay very close to the baby with the sole purpose of holding them if they start to move or roll. Spotters are either just outside the frame but still within reach of the baby, or I edit them out in Photoshop.
To make it a bit more interesting I wanted to include some lights within these set-ups too, one having a candle lit effect lantern and the other incorporating some fairly lights. Each of these meant I had to work out the best way to capture the lights whilst not overpowering them with flash. I needed to shoot fairly wide open to be able to record as much of the ambient light as possible, yet I still needed to light the subject too with my flash. I had the ISO at 100 (or Low) and my aperture at 2.8 on the 16-55mm, if I shot at 1/250s I overpowered the fairly lights and you couldn’t really see any light from them at all, when I slowed down to 1/125s they were visible but quite small and hard. I couldn’t shoot any wider unless I swapped lenses, so the next option was to reduce the shutter speed further. As my baby model was asleep, as long as I held the camera steady, I was able to shoot at 1/15s which enabled the flash to still perfectly light my model without overpowering the ambient so I captured the nice effect of the lights too. Again using the tilt screen was invaluable as I could sit down and hold the camera steady without having to lie on the floor to see.
With the lantern shot the candlelight wasn’t giving any spread at all as it was just so low powered, so I photoshopped the glow in afterwards. I thought including both images will show you the different ways of achieving the same kind of end result. Where possible I do prefer to get it right in camera, but I’m not opposed to editing small things if it helps create the right feel either.
And finally a slight twist on a more advanced newborn pose known as The Potato Sack, I wanted to give a bit of a snowman feel so added a hat and then in photoshop I added some snow, just for the fun of it. This pose is usually done with baby being supported and then the hand edited out afterwards.
All images were shot with the X-T2 and lit with a single Elinchrom d-lite1 and a 1m² softbox. I almost always position the light so that it flows down the baby’s face to give either a butterfly shadow under their nose or a loop shadow at the side of their nose.
And finally I few tips for you to help get your newborn model to sleep:
1. Heat – A toasty warm room and a fan heater near baby, I find it’s the warm breeze that helps settle them
2. Milk – A ‘milky drunk’ baby, I always ensure they have a full feed before we start so they are nice and full
3. White noise – Background noise helps send most babies to sleep and masks any noise you might make whilst working
4. Blankets – I use a blanket from home to hold them in whilst getting them to sleep as it smells familiar to them
5. Dummy – I always ask if they have one at all, you can pose the baby with their dummy and then just remove it for the individual shots
6. Patience – sometimes it takes a while for them to drop off to sleep but having all the above in place can make it much easier.
I hope you all have a great Christmas and I’d love to hear how you get on with your festive baby photographs!
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