Posts Tagged ‘Do It Yourself’
Last week I posted some things I learned going off auto mode on my camera. But what if you’re not neck deep in the camera-setting-obsessed build-a-set-at-home momtographer-crazy-pool like me? Here’s my number one go to trick for taking photos of Nicki that dosen’t involve any camera knowledge. In fact, to emphasize that you don’t need expensive camera equipment or software, all photos in this post were taken with my cell phone and completely unedited. Not even to adjust the brightness.
Without further ado…
Cute, right? She’s looking out the airplane window and smiling. It’s safe to assume I’m not climbing over another passenger to take this photo. (I’m a crazy mom-tographer, not an obnoxious one.) I’m sitting in the same row as Nicki who is safely strapped into the window seat. That means Nicki is in-between the window and myself. If she were truly looking out the window, we’d be seeing more of the side/back of her head.
In order to capture this photo I’m using the same simple trick behind the holding the pyramids illusion. The human eye is really good at judging relative distances in 3-d. That’s why someone far away looks far away, and not just small. A 2-d projection of a 3-d object (e.g. a photograph) can trick our minds’ eye into interpreting the image differently. In this pyramid photo it looks like the man is looking at the pyramid in his hand. Of course, the pyramid is just far back, and the man in the photo is looking off camera at nothing at all. Since Nicki is a baby I can’t just tell her where to look. That’s where Domingo comes in.
In my airplane photo I’m actually in the aisle seat. Domingo is in the middle seat, leaning in front of Nicki to entice a smile. She is looking at Domingo and smiling.
A pullback. Ignore the quality of this photo. I wouldn’t share it, except that it shows how we made the top one work.
The window is about four inches above her head. I’ve rotated the camera about 30 degrees to the left so the window appears level with Nicki’s face and positioned it so Domingo is off frame. Voila, the illusion of looking out the window.
There are five possible axis to move your camera: up/down, left/right, toward-subject/away-from-subject, rotate and tilt.
Here she is with great grandma. If Nicki were truly looking at Grandma, we’d just be seeing much more of the underside of her chin. She’s looking at Domingo, standing off frame and making faces at her.
In this one she looks like she’s in the Christmas spirit, even though she’s clearly not looking at anything in particular.
I posted an edited version of this one a few ago.
For this photo I’m lying on my stomach, holding the camera about eye level (maybe Nicki’s shoulder) and have tilted the top of the camera ever so slightly toward Nicki so that the tree and presents are in a better position relative to her in the photo.
This trick doesn’t just work for babies! Back in my maternity photography days, I recommended looking six inches in front of the bump for a more flattering angle.
I have been completely off ‘auto’ mode on my DSLR since November. I’ve gone off auto before, like for the maternity photos, but this is the first time I’ve been consistently off auto. It feels awesome, my photography has improved so much, it’s ridiculous. Of course, I’ve had a lot of practice. Here’s what I’ve learned for getting the most out of my camera.
The camera’s metering light is usually way too dark
If there’s one really simple trick I’ve learned, it’s to typically shoot on the lighter side. You generally get better contrast (especially in the eyes) and photos look all around more professional. For portraits, your best bet is to increasing the size of the aperture. You’re background may not be in fully focus, which will have the added benefit of emphasizing the subject.
Don’t be afraid of High ISO
I switched cameras about a month after Nicki was born. I was so used to ’400′ being high and noisy that I stayed away from ISO 400 and above on my new camera. Technology has improved a lot since my first DLSR purchase. I can now get up to ISO 1000 without noticing much noise. If I had realized that sooner, I would have had much more flexibility with my shutter speed and f-stop, and could have gotten much nicer photos initially!
Even if it had been too noisy, a little noise is easier to correct in photoshop than a little blur.
It takes about four sessions before I get the ‘perfect’ shot
Take the baby toes and rings example. Yes, those are perfectly good pictures, but the aperture was slightly too wide, the depth of field slightly too shallow, and the shutter speed slightly too slow. The end result of the first photo session is a very nice photo as a 4 x 6, but I can’t do much else with it.
By the fourth time I had a handle on just how much light I needed, how fast the shutter speed (at least 1/80 if she’s being still, 1/125 or greater if not) and the right aperture (at least f/5) when shooting with my 85mm Macro. I LOVE the last set I took.
I took 3 sets of Nicki and the twinkle lights before I struck gold, 2 Halloween sets, 5 sleeping newborn, a ridiculous number of Santa hat photos… You get the idea.
Nicki is rarely as cooperative with me with each additional shoot
Which is not to say that she’s uncooperative, just that she is usually the most expressive the first time I take a set of photos. She was fascinated with the photo setup for the Halloween photos, and we had so many great facial expressions. But I was using the wrong lens (and the wrong aperture, and shutter speed, etc). The next time around, she was less interested. I’ve discovered this is not atypical. Babies get bored.
It’s not actually a problem if I plan ahead. The best time to try for photos is right after a nap when she’s well rested and not hungry. I get setup during the nap time and test the light using a toy as her standin so we’re ready to go as soon as she wakes up and I can take full advantage of her well rested happy mood.
I can sometimes elicit a smile if I dangle a toy or dance, but my ultimate secret weapon is Dada. If she hasn’t seen Dada in a little while, she will be ear to ear grins. But if she’s overtired? She will not smile, no matter what I do.
Which element is in focus will make or break a photo
I love shallow depth of field, but it is critically important that the right element be in focus. That’s typically the area you want to draw the viewer’s eye. This is especially true if it’s an area of high contrast (baby’s eye, the diamond in a wedding ring, etc).
There are several Photoshop tricks you can do to bring out the eyes but they have to be in focus first! Of course you can have artistic photos where the eyes aren’t in focus, but if you don’t have that artistic image in mind already from the start, you likely won’t stumble upon it by accident. At least I never have.
If I’m exploring with my camera, especially if I’m not sure how deep my field is, I usually make sure the focus area is over Nicki’s closest eye.
Flash isn’t all bad
Every photography article I read says to always use natural light. Flash can wash out the subject, and cast harsh shadows. But sometimes it’s useful. I try and use as much natural light as possible, but our house is dark. Even at high ISO the camera can have difficulties focusing, creating a “soft focus” effect without a flash. Flash controls light on subject. Shutter speed controls background light. Here’s a good article about it.
Angles matter, even for babies
Okay, so this is totally a matter of personal preference, but I cannot stand the up-the-nose angle. Sure, sometimes it cannot be avoided, and I’ve posted a few here (like this one). But it sticks out and is so distracting to an otherwise beautiful picture. I find this especially true if you’re shooting against a simple light background. Especially, especially if it’s a close up of the baby’s face. Nicki is asleep in this photo, I have no excuse for the angle.
Nowadays if I can avoid the up-the-nose perspective, I will. Every time.
The other day I was suddenly stuck by the desire to have newborn-toes-and-wedding-rings photos. I blame the desire on the fact that I’m suddenly taking so many more photos, and going back over the old ones. Nothing makes me want to pick up a camera more than looking at old photos, especially when I’m learning so much more about photography! I keep thinking about all the ways I can improve those old photos and pinning for a time machine.
I waited until Nicki was napping in the rock n’ play. (I love that thing, not only has it been a must have for newborn baby sleep, but some of the best photos are from the rock n’ play!) Her feet were elevated in the rock n’ play which made this a particularly easy shoot. The only problem? A seven month baby wakes up when you put something on her toes! She woke up instantly.
If ever there was a time for a safety spotter, rings on baby toes are it! Guess where that ring is going if\when she get’s it off! We also had a few sudden baby movements followed by hunting for the missing ring. It would definitely be easier to do this style of photo when she was a sleepy newborn.
Luckily I waited until she was 2 hours into her morning nap which is usually 2 and a half hours. Nicki was rested enough to be in a good mood, but really curious about what was on her toes. I ended up giving her a ‘new toy’ (a stuffed animal from my dresser she’s never seen) to distract her which gave me a chance to experiment with different lightening and angles. And they’re gorgeous. These are all unedited.
With the desk light on. Normally I prefer natural light only, but I like the added warmth in the photo.
Natural light from the window.
I am really impressed how well these turned out. Yes, her feet are a little plumper than they were when she was six months ago, but I don’t really think it’s noticeable. And, maybe even a little preferable? Lesson learned: never let the fear that your baby is too old stop you from picking up your camera.
I love these so much I have a new header photo for my blog and twitter account! I plan on changing my facebook cover photo as well, but I only recently updated it to a photo of the crochet baby blocks my mother-in-law made Nicki which makes her very happy. I’ll leave the baby blocks up for a little while longer first.
I’ve been planning on doing this for a while, but only recently found Nicki’s hospital bracelet. Domingo and I have been in mad panic baby proofing/spring cleaning mode, and I needed somewhere to store the ribbon and bracelets so I wouldn’t lose them again.
Living in California, I know it’s only a matter of time before the “next big” earthquakes hits and all my shadow boxes hit the floor. That’s why it’s really important to me that anything irreplaceable (i.e. hospital bracelets, ribbon) is removable and completely undamaged by the mounting process.
- I scanned the original ultrasound into the computer in order to enlarge it and increase the contrast. Since it’s a print, and not the original, I felt comfortable gluing it down.
- I used photo corners to mountain my three hospital bracelets.
- I was going to glue down the photos, but we were out of high quality photo paper. Since I’m the impatient sort that didn’t want to wait until morning, I used photo corners for the prints as well. I plan on replacing them with better quality prints at some point.
Nicki’s hospital bracelet was the biggest challenge. The wrist band was still in tact as it had slid off her the first night home, but the paper identifier itself was in poor shape. (Someone managed to poop on it in the hospital. It was cleaned, but the paper is loosing structural integrity) I couldn’t use photo corners since there were no corners. I also couldn’t use pins since genius me seemed to pick out the only non pin-board backed shadowbox at the store. So – and I fully admit, I don’t like this solution – I used scotch tape. I made a little donut and attached it to the back of the plastic connector. It’ll come off, but it might leave a little residue on the plastic.
I’m on the hunt for a better way to mount the bracelet.
I also need a better way to mount the ribbon. I’m going to look for hooks that I can use to hold the bow up. I thought about detaching the bow from the ribbon itself, but I really like the fact that it’s the same ribbon went all the way around my belly. I was once that big!
I have a spray sealant that I’m thinking of using to protect the tag on Nicki’s hospital bracelet. My plan is to try it out on a number of different paper sources first. The sealant label says it works with paper mâché, so I imagine it will work, but I would hate, hate, hate to be wrong.
Before Nicki was born I have been the sole photographer in the family. Domingo didn’t even know how to take off the lens cap (or, as he claimed, he knew how but didn’t want to for fear of accidentally damaging my camera.) Now we trade off, so we can have some mommy daughter photos. Last night I handed Domingo my camera to take some photos of bath time in my never ending quest to have more photos of Nicki.
This was the fifth image on my camera.
Simply amazing. Is that not the best photo of Nicki?
Those eyes are stunning, and just draw your attention into them. The way the baby’s face is perfectly in focus while everything else is slightly out of focus. The lighting, the composition, every aspect of the photo work so well together. The tender way her hand is reaching back to my arm… I mean WOW. It is just perfect.
A close up of her face. I melt.
So how did he do it? How did he go from ‘where’s the shutter button?’ to taking breathtaking photo of Nicki in six months? Here are some tips if you, like us, have one photographer and one non photographer in the house.
Prepwork – This tip comes from a travel advice forumn: If you want someone to take a photo with your camera, configure all the settings in advance. That way the good samaritan taking your photo only needs to push the shutter button and you get the photo you want. When I was drawing the bath I set f-stop, ISO, and shutter speed. That way, all Domingo had to worry about was point and click.
Show – Take a couple similar photos and show the other person what it is you’re looking for. Over the past few months I would take a photo with Domingo and the baby, then ask him to take a similar one with me and the baby. I’d then point out (nicely!) how they differed. Maybe mine would have a tighter crop, or be angled differently. We focused on one element at a time, and his composition improved dramatically.
Patience – Really, when there’s a baby, there’s always an element of luck. Always. You have to follow the baby’s lead. There’s always another day.
I have to up my game or I might lose the job of family photographer!
As Domingo and I were taking down the tree today, I made a comment of not wanting to pack up our wedding invitation ornament. Since the ornament display hook hasn’t been in use, I thought I would leave our wedding ornament out on the mantel all year round. I told Domingo this to which he replied: “Someone at work did that with an ornament made out of their birth announcement card.”
Wait. Why didn’t I think of that?!
So even though it’s after Christmas, I simply had to make another ornament out of our birth announcement. I also had to stop taking down the tree so I could post a picture of the ornament on the tree.
I used the same card stock I used for the wedding invitation ornament. It printed gorgeous on the metallic paper, and it matched the wedding invitation so nicely.
I love it, but something is missing. It needs something to make it look finished. The wedding invitation ornament had one of the whine charm favors I made attached to the top, which did the trick nicely.
Our wedding invitation ornament on the tree for comparison.
Thinking back to our wedding, I remembered the bouquet charm I created and I got an idea. I can arrange crystals in the shape of an N for Nicole on a silver disc.
Bouquet charm from our wedding, photo credit goes to our wedding photographer
I arranged our monogram in blue crystals for our “something blue”. The fabric flower was made out of a piece of my grandmother’s wedding dress (“something old”), and a piece of Spanish lace (“something new”), and the chain was my mother’s (“something borrowed”).
I haven’t decided yet which color to use. Right now I’m leaning towards a soft pink (to match the invitation) and attaching a ruby bicone (her birth stone) to the charm. I also have to find the left over discs, or order more. Since I won’t be able to convince Domingo to leave our tree up for a month or so while I figure out what I want to do and order what I need, our birth announcement ornament will have to go unfinished for now.
Ah well, I have 11 months to finish it.
We decided to skip Halloween costumes this year. Nicki is too young to understand, and, since we weren’t planning on going out, a custom didn’t make sense for us. We did have her skeleton sleep and play, so when I started feeling the momma guilt of skipping her first holiday, we thought we’d do a Holiday photo shoot and send out cards to family.
Nicki was only a little over three months for this photo. She’s obviously not sitting on her own yet, but can sit while propped up. To create the card I envisioned I needed to get a little creative.
For this photo I started by folding two towels and placing them on the floor for padding. We have hard wood floors, and Nicki will kick when excited. I didn’t want her to hurt herself by accident. Next I got the plush backrest pillow and put it on the towels. I had bought it umpteen years ago when I was off to college, but never really used it. Since I can’t ever throw anything away, I still had it. I placed the backrest on top of the towels so I would have a cushy spot to prop Nicki up.
I draped a black backdrop over my setup and with a few props and I was good to go. I adjusted my camera settings so my metering light showed a bit dark and upped the contrast in post processing for a spooky effect.
We got a couple good ones, it was hard to pick a favorite. Ultimately I decided to go with the smile, even though a few of these invoke a more halloweenish feeling. Grandmas adore the smiling babe.
Nicki kept scooting forward in what Domingo called the ‘limp skeleton’ pose. Gotta love her facial expression. I predict she’s going to be quite the little ham!
Another good limp skeleton.
Here’s one were she’s holding a pumpkin between her two hands.
A good one of her ‘sitting.’
Now that Nicki is on her way to two months, I think our ‘newborn’ photography days are over. It was fun, and I certainly learned a lot. I wish I could photographer her in this stage forever! I wish I could cuddle with her in this stage forever!
I know I’ve said this before, but apparently I don’t follow my own advice, so it bears repeating: Take lots of photos! Even if you think you have ‘the shot’ take a couple more from different angles and different distances. I loved the photo of Nicki and Phia (the second). I wanted to have a canvas print of it, but what looks good as a 3:4 aspect ratio, does not necessarily work for a 4:5! It couldn’t be cropped without cutting off some of Nicki. I spent two weeks trying to recreate the shot, but lightening did not strike twice. I did get a similar photo to use, just not one I liked nearly as much. I would have saved myself a lot of grief if I had just taken multiple photos when she was sleeping in the perfect pose.
Practice, practice, practice! I can not tell you how much more I loved the photos of each successive iteration over the ones from the last. The first ones? They’re okay, but I like them no where near as much as the one on the top of the page. I wish I could take everything that I learned and go back to when she was just days old. What I should have done was offered to photography my friends’ newborn babies. That way they would have gotten free extra photos (they can still hire a professional, of course), and I would have had the experience.
Comfort is king! Try and make your baby as comfortable as possible. Turn off the A/C, fill their belly’s with milk, etc. Don’t force them into any pose that your baby seems to be resisting. You wouldn’t want to risk hurting your baby, after all! I find that the more comfortable Nicki is, the easier I have posing her, and the more likely she will remain in that pose long enough for me to take a picture. You can hold her (gently, of course!) in a pose for a few seconds and she’ll keep it. If she’s uncomfortable, she’s much more likely to wake up and move.
For older babies, once you place them down on your setup, give them a few minutes to settle back down – even if they remain asleep. At least in our case, if I started fusing with her diaper, or trying to pose her too early she would wake up again. Even just the sound of the shutter could wake her if she wasn’t in a good deep sleep. Similarly if she wakes up in the middle of a shoot, take a break to see if she’ll go back to sleep.
Props are nice, but they don’t need to be expensive and you don’t need to go overboard. I tried several different backdrops, including ‘professional’ ones. The backdrop I kept coming back to? A 2 yard block of fabric I bought at Joeann’s for $5. Not only was it beautiful and amazing soft, but at $5 I won’t care if the baby stains become permanent!
Remember, you only need a few good shots, and no one has to see the bad ones. There’s a lot of elements at play here, baby’s mood (or her sleepiness), lighting if you’re using natural light, baby’s bladder, etc. When working in manual mode, I’d have all the settings that I want. Then the sun would go behind a cloud, and all of a sudden my exposure is too dark. I’d correct it, and the sun would come back out. The first day I attempted to photography Nicki, I hated every photo I took. It’s easy to get hung up on what isn’t working, but try and focus on what is instead. Each time you pick up the camera, you will have better results. Don’t stop because you think your baby is ‘too old’. While babies grow fast, they don’t change that much day-to-day. You will have another opportunity.
I love baby fingers and toes. (Who doesn’t, really?) These were some of the hardest DIY Newborn Photos for me to take to date, and I don’t really have advice other than to be patient and keep trying until you get the shots you want.
What makes them so hard? Well, their teeny tiny for one, and baby tends to move them around a lot. Keeping focus on a teeny tiny moving target can be a bit of a challenge. And when you want to take a photo of the baby holding your own hand, well, it just adds another bit of complexity. I even tried a sleeping baby, and while that helped, she still moves her hands and feet even when zonked.
Nicki holding my finger
In the above photo she’s holding my left hand, which enters the frame from the right. Yes, my wrist is bent backwards and awkwardly positioned to keep my arm out of the way as I take the photo with my right hand. I’m also blocking the light, and on top of that the background isn’t smooth. C’est la vie.
Those are Domingo’s hands in the next two photos. Much easier!
I was happy with our last iteration of new born photography. One thing about me, though, I can never have enough photos!
For the DIY maternity photos I used two props: a pink ribbon and my stuffed unicorn, Phia. I thought it would be fun to use the same props with Nicole, so I could compare in-the-belly with out-of-the-belly.
Props are also great because they give you a point of reference as to how big the baby actually is. Nicole has been on the smaller size on height/weight charts. She was under 8 lbs and only 20 inches at two weeks, so I doubt she’d be much more than 9 lbs flat now. Some babies are born larger than that at birth! Yet her full head of hair and tendency to stretch out tends to make her look older than she actually is. I also have a tendency to fill the whole frame with the baby, which gives the perspective that she’s much bigger than she is in reality.
The fact that she can now lift her head, if but just for a second, and follow people with her eyes also makes her look older. But it’s darn cute to take of picture of her doing that!
I need to find some craft project to do with that ribbon. Maybe a picture box with the pregnancy and newborn photos.
One new trick I learned was to use a heating pad under the blankets. Nicki is much more inclined to stay in the newborn “frog” position on the heating pad. The bunched up look also makes her look a little smaller and more ‘newborn’ like. She’s also much more inclined to sleep on the heating pad. And I thought my days of sleeping baby photos were over! I think she looks much more ‘newborn’ in these photos then the ones I took over a week ago. (I ended up retaking some of the same poses from last time for just that reason!)
I set my heating pad to low, and placed it under the waterproof blanket. It is electric after all! Alternatively, I could have left it on to warm up the spot, then turned it off before placing the baby on it.
She was so content on the heating pad that I was able to experiment with a lot of different angles and camera settings. I’ve found that shooting from a low angle, with the camera perfectly parallel to the baby tends to make the baby look a little longer and leaner. Shooting high and at a slight angle will make her look a little more chubby and cute. Getting her to arch her back a touch while she sleeps also helps. I also found a wide aperture really does wonders for making baby’s skin look smooth. For the one with Phia, I set the F-stop to f/2.5.
If Phia looks a little different it’s because, well, she is. Someone had a little accident on our first photography attempt, and someone else made the mistake of putting Phia in the washing machine and dryer. Phia came out of the dryer looking like she had had one of those army buzzcuts. Her main and tail were so matted down they were completely flat. I was able to brush them out using corn startch, but they are still quite bushy rather than straight and wispy like before. She’s still drying out. At least I can now add “restore a stuffed animal that was destroyed in the washing machine” to my list of skills. Of course, I can also add “destroy a stuffed animal in the washing machine” too. In the mean time, this is Phia’s stand in, Phia #2.
Phia and Nicki before the great Pee Incident of 2012. It’s not the best photo, but we only got three in before the event happened.
We’ll try again with the real Phia later.