About half of my clients are mothers with babies who are unsure of how to produce better composed baby portraits with more of a timeless feel. As a photographer who produces timeless art, I have your answer. Here are five simple tips to keep in mind when you pick up your camera to photograph your baby:
1. Emphasize one feature
Get in close highlighting a small feature or aspect such as an eye, a foot or hands. Use a shallow depth of field to emphasize and isolate an area of the photo. Shallow depth of field means a lot of blur in the background. Use your AP (aperture priority mode) on your camera if you have it. Widen your aperture (the f/4.0, f/5.6, f/6.7 numbers) by turning the numbers down until you reach the lowest number desired on your camera. You want the smallest number to create the most blur in the background. Then go to your menu to make sure you are manually using your focus points if you have this option on your camera. You want to have control over what is in focus and what isn't. My favorite time to take these photos are when the baby is asleep.
2. Crouch down to your baby's level
You want to capture life from your baby's perspective. Ignoring this step is one of the biggest mistakes I see parents make when they compose portraits of their babies. I often see them standing above the baby telling the baby to turn around and say cheese. Remain unobstrusive and crouch down to your baby's level or get on the ground and the viewer will be transported into the baby's world.
3. "If your photos aren't good enough they're not close enough." - Robert Capa
I conduct my portraits by this quote. Although there are many times when this rule doesn't apply, if you want captivating baby portraits, get up close. Timeless images that evoke emotion come through the baby's eyes and in order to capture that you have to be close enough.
4. Lighting is the language of photography. How is your baby lit?
The photographer uses light as a journalist uses words. I understand not all of you have off-camera lighting and equipment that can enhance every scene you photograph. That's ok. That's what the sun is for. Natural light can be very effective if you use it to your advantage. First, keep in mind the time of day. My favorite time to take portraits are very early in the morning when the sun is rising or in the evening right before or when the sun is setting. These times of day create natural, softer, ambient light around the subject rather than the harsh blue shadows that the midday photos present. I also love the natural diffused glow the clouds bring on cloudy days. As for the direction of light, try to keep the light behind your baby if you want trouble-free exposures. Shadows are reduced and the picture is more evenly-lit. The bad part about this is that your baby may look more two-dimensional. If you keep the sun over your shoulders rather than directly behind you you get the advantages of both frontal lighting and sidelighting.
Frontal lighting: Good for rich colors and sky, getting rid of shadows, trouble-free exposures and showing details
Side lighting: Good for texture, visible shadows, simple scenes, adding drama and three-dimensional form
You can even experience with backlighting (with the sun behind you) for sillouettes.
5. Use the rule of thirds
Imagine your image is broken up into nine smaller rectangles like the image below. You will produce more aesthetnically-pleasing photos of your baby by placing the baby off-center along one of those key red points. Your photo will look more balanced than you standing directly in front of your baby taking a shot of them in the middle of the frame. Keep in mind that rules are mean to be broken but this a popular photography rule professionals stand by.