Posts Tagged ‘Baby Photography’

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.

February 26, 2013

Off Auto


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.

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. (Keyword “much”). 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 even though by pixel count I should be able to get much larger prints.

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. It’s interesting and new the first time. 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. You *can* use them together to light up your subject without washing him or her out. 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.

What’s this?
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.

January 27, 2013

Babyzilla and Other Outtakes

I know, you’re probably tired of Christmas photos by now. I’ve been organizing my photos on my hard drive and I came across a couple of hilarious outtakes that I couldn’t resist.

Babyzilla destroys the set!

Most of our photo sessions end with Babyzilla destroying the set these days. Who could argue with such a happy baby, though?

Something apparently stinks. Hopefully it’s not Mommy’s photography.

Mommy’s Silly Billy

And I couldn’t resist a non-outtake.

Before the arrival of Babyzilla

It’s Christmas card time! I know, I’m so so late. I’m ordering them tomorrow.


Nicki was not in a cooperating mood, but I managed to snap this – my new favorite photo of Nicki. It’s not the one I have on our card. It’s better than the ones I choose, but doesn’t match the idea I have for the card.

Anyway, I showed it to a few friends and one got concerned for Nicki’s safety (because of lead exposure, risk of electrocution, strangulation, etc, etc). Let me reassure you no babies were harmed in the making of this photo. I realized that I never really talked about safety in all my newborn and baby photography posts and that maybe I should.

I have two different modes in taking photos.

When I’m using my phone I’m in mom mood. It’s quick snap a picture when the baby is doing something cute mode. I’m right there, focused on the baby.

When I’m using my DSLR, I’m in photographer mode. This is the mode where I spend time setting up, and plan out in advance what I want to do. Im concentrating on how the photos are turning out. In order to use certain lenses I need to be 5 to 8 feet back, that’s not necessarily close enough to react should baby stick something, like an electric cord, in her mouth, or roll off a raised surface. In this mode I use a safety spotter.

When I set up – because there’s always at least a minimum of testing the light and setting the exposure settings – I discuss my plans and any safety concerns with my spotter (usually Domingo.). He then stays just barely out of frame, focusing on the baby while I snap away.

Having a safety spotter is great for a couple reasons.
– I don’t think of everything. When I mentioned this picture idea to Domingo, he was concerned about the possible electric shock that could occur with the baby drool if the lights weren’t shielded enough and suggested indoor/outdoor lights to be safe. That hadn’t occurred to me.
– My attention is divided. During one of the newborn photo shoots Nicki managed to maneuver close to the edge if the couch. My mom noticed it before I did because I was looking through the viewfinder. I didn’t want the edge of the couch in the picture, so the couch edge wasn’t visible through the viewfinder. I had no way of knowing how close she had gotten to the edge.

I don’t always use a spotter. I’ve taken pictures of Nicki in her crib without a spotter. Then again, I have dropped the iPhone on her before (just once!) so maybe I need one when in mom mode too.

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.

The setup

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.’

September 12, 2012

Lessons from a Mom-tographer

A more apt title would probably be ‘Lessons from a crazy mom’, since this post has more to do with my neuroses, but ‘Mom-tographer’ sounds better.

1.) Put the baby in the cute clothes

I like to preserve everything. I have a chenille sweater I bought last year that I haven’t worn once out of fear I’ll destroy it in the wash. It’s a compulsion that I’ve always had. So it’s no surprise that when I stated dressing my daughter, I’d want to preserve my favorites of her onesies. Inevitably in the 5/6/7 pack I’d buy, there would be one I didn’t like. I’d dress Nicki in that one when I thought a poop was imminent, or right before a feeding. The result? Lots of photos of Nicki being cute – in her ugly onesies. I learned my lesson. Baby goes in the cute clothes. The ugly clothes can go as spares for the diaper bag or day care.

Nicki is so embarrassed

2.) The best camera is the one within arms reach

As soon as you want to take a photo you’ll realize that the camera is no where in reach. Baby will fall asleep on you, or making a funny expression. If you move to get your “good” camera, the opportunity for the photo will be over. A blurry, High-ISO yet still too dark photo trumps no photo at all.

Sleeping on Mommy

3.) You will never have the perfect photo

Invariably, something will be wrong. You’ll still be in your PJs at three in the afternoon unable to recall your last shower, or your baby will be in ugly clothes (see above), you only have your cell phone handy. Babies wiggle. Unless you have studio lightening (or you only take photos of sleeping babies), that means high ISO pictures or blurry toes.

Happy babies are wiggly babies!

Sometimes the stars align – baby is in an adorable outfit, sans spitup, holding a cute pose near an adequate light source. Snap away as quickly as possible. Don’t waste time thinking about how you want to frame the shot.

4.) You don’t need the perfect photo.

Really. Blurry toes and high ISO images will grow on you.

Too dark, light source from the wrong direction (highlighting the back of her head not her face), messy-hair, PJs and still perfect

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