Newborn Photography: How to Use Light When Shooting Newborns

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“Newborns and Lighting.”

I think lighting is the MOST important factor in your photography. I also think it is one of the hardest to learn. It is also something that is hard to teach on the internet. I know for me it is still a work in progress. Not only do you need to know how to meter for light but you need to know how to see it. When you walk in a client’s home you should be able to scan the light in the different rooms and see, in your head, what your images will look like. It definitely takes practice… lots of practice. I think this is where we on-location photographers have an advantage. We are forced to shoot in different lighting situations at every session. Every home is different, even the same home has different light at different times of the day. A good way to start to see light is experiment in your own home with different rooms and different times of the day.

I am going to attempt to show you different images here and describe the light. Recently I have added a home studio to my business. I only shoot under 9 months here so it is really just a baby studio. It doesn’t have the BEST natural light although I can shoot natural light when it is a nice bright day. On the other cloudier days I have a back up light, a spyderlite. It is a continuous fluorescent light and I am still learning it. I find it very different from natural light but when I get it right I do love it. As it should be, this is just another part of my journey and growth as a photographer.

So let’s start with natural light…

Type of light

The kind of window light I look for depends on how cloudy it is outside. If it is super cloudy you can use a window that has light shining directly in it. The clouds will diffuse that light and give you soft pretty light. If it is sunny I look for indirect light or a window that has light coming in and I just go outside of the direct light. This can be tricky depending on the floor. Some floors will throw bad color casts (as will wall colors) but if you have white carpet it works well. Wood floors can throw a lot of orange so just watch out for that. You also have to be careful that the bounced light is not too harsh.

Position to the light

I either position my babies at a 45 degree angle, with their heads facing the light, or at a 90 degree angle. It all depends on the pose they are in. I like the light to fall over their face and throw soft shadows. If put baby’s face directly to the light you will get much flatter light with no shadows which makes for a less appealing image.

Some examples

ISO 800
f/2.0
1/250
50mm 1.2

Baby is positioned with his head towards window. The window is a sliding glass door. This was taken in my home studio.

ISO 200
f/2.2
1/320
50mm 1.2

Baby is again positioned with his head pointing toward light source, which is a window. This window is very bright as you can see by the ISO and shutter.

ISO 800

F /2.8
1/200
50 mm 1.2

Baby is positioned at a parallel to the window but turned to face the light. This house was very dark and the window was shaded by trees but with the higher ISO it made for beautiful soft image.

ISO 640
f/3.2 (higher than I like but with the zoom I had to go higher)
1/200
24-70mm 2.8

The light source here was a bay window. I have baby against a wall just outside the baby window and the positioned at a 90 degree angle to the baby window.

A few words about studio light…

I am by NO means an expert at studio light. Many of you probably know much more than me about it, but the way I am using it right now is with my TD-5 Spyderlite from Westcott with a medium softbox. I didn’t want a huge softbox to carry with me or take up my whole studio so I went with the smaller one. I like to use the soft box in conjunction with a light source like a window. So either the window is a source and spyderlite is a fill or the other way around. I tend to use the spyderlite as the main source and let the window fill. If the window is bright enough to be a main light source I just bump up the ISO and go for it all natural.

Here are a few of my recent spyderlite sessions…

ISO 400
f/1.6 (for effect not because of low light)
1/800
50mm 1.2

Baby is positioned toward the light. Light is camera left very close to the ground, so it is level with baby.

ISO 500
f/2.8
1/250
50mm 1.2

Baby is at a 45 degree angle or so to the light. Light is camera right.

ISO 800
f/2.0
1/200
50mm 1.2

Light is camera left and baby is positioned slightly towards light.

ISO 500
f/2.2
1/160
50mm 1.2

Light is camera left at a slight angle to subjects. I am literally standing right beside the softbox.

ISO 500
f/1.8
1/250
50mm 1.2

One of my most favorite images… light is camera right at a 45 degree angle of so. Maybe pulled a bit more in front of baby. I am shooting right next to the softbox here.

My favorite type of light… outdoor light.

I am very lucky to live in a climate where you can take newborns outside for almost ½ the year. Any chance I get to do so I do. Lately I have taken quite a few outside. I just love to be able to use my 135mm to photograph them in natural surroundings. As with other outdoor subjects I look for open shade and texture. I almost always shoot with my 135mm outside as wide open as I can go for the given situation.

Some examples of outside newborns.

ISO 200
f/2.0
1/1000
135mm 2.0

This is on the client’s front porch. It was a cloudy day but nice and warm. I love the soft light and contrast of new baby with old brick. YUM!

ISO 250
f/2.0
1/1000
135mm 2.0

This is one of my most favorite baskets. I use it a lot.  Here I placed the baby under a willow tree, cloudy day.

ISO 250
f/2.0
1/1000
135mm 2.0

The baby is outside in a basket. Cloudy day.

ISO 250
f/2.2
1/640
135mm 2.0

Same basket, different baby, different setting. I like to find spots where the background has some distance from the subject. This set up makes for beautiful bokeh. Especially if you have a little back light like I do here.

ISO 250
f/2.2
1/400
135mm 2.0

In a beautiful field at dusk… used a bit of pink overlay on this.

A bit of a before and after… always a favorite with parents.

ISO 400
f/2.2
1/320
135mm 2.0

Same field and a beautiful momma with her baby. Love the gaze at each other here. And this also illustrates as well as the above two shots that they don’t always have to be asleep. This baby was wide awake but peaceful and happy.

I hope that this gives you a bit of insight into some different lighting set-ups and variations. The best thing you can do to learn is to practice in different lighting and experiment. You will find that a small twist of the bean bag or tilt of the head will make a huge difference in the final product.

 

This article was written by Guest Blogger Alisha Robertson, of AGR Photography.

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 Newborn Photography: How to Use Light When Shooting Newborns

Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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48 Comments and 2 Replies



  1. 1
    Ashley says:

    Love this post! The examples are great!

  2. 2
    MariaV says:

    These are too precious. Thank you for the light overview, Alisha.

  3. 3
  4. 4
    Vilma says:

    Thank you so much for this post. This helped so much. I have a tough time finding the right light and always have to fix in photoshop. I will be coming back to this post often thanks again :)

  5. 5

    Great post, thanks! Just about to get my hands on another newborn any day now. :)
    Though my five year old daughter said over my shoulder, “If I had a baby, I would not take it in that grass. Ticks! Ticks go on babies!”

  6. 6
    laureen says:

    great post Alisha…thanks! Beautiful images…still wanting to find that amazing outdoor wooden bowl!

  7. 7

    Thank you for the helpful information!
    I seem to have the hardest time tyring to find something to use to position the baby to get some of the looks. For example the baby lying on the tummy and hands under the face or chin, my babies seem to sink down or the face lies flat down in the blanket.
    How and what do you use to achive this look and prevent the baby’s face from going flat down?
    Thanks!!

  8. 8
    honey says:

    Thank you for sharing … the images are stunning!

  9. 9
    keri says:

    you are an amazing photog! Those pictures are priceless!!!

  10. 10
    apryl says:

    alisha,

    your work is just so lovely!
    this is all such great stuff.
    i love to see & read your posts here!

  11. 11
    Kassia says:

    As always I absolutely LOVE these tips! Thank-you SO much!

  12. 12
    Cindi says:

    Your images are fantastic and I am so grateful to have these tips from you. I am about to photograph my second infant, this time at their home instead of mine where I am more familiar with the window light. I have not been able to photograph a newborn yet, but I also wondered about how to get the baby into certain poses and positions. I would love to attend a workshop. Thank you again for sharing your knowledge.

  13. 13
    Nikki Ryan says:

    I have the hardest time with newborns and the lighting. I thought it was just me…. Also what actions do you usually use on newborns? My favorites you posted are the outside shots. Thanks for sharing your tips!!!

  14. 14
    Sarah Wise says:

    Alisha-
    I’ve been visiting this site for the last couple of months as I’ve been getting more in to photography. I was so excited to see that you posted today and even more excited to see my little munchkin in one of your examples ;) What a great post with great information. You do such a wonderful job!

  15. 15
    Tina says:

    Aww, these are cute

  16. 16
    susan stroud says:

    thanks for this! very helpful. when you are blending natural light and soft box, do you custom white balance? having trouble with WB. thanks!

  17. 17
    karen bee says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your settings for each photo. A very honest and helpful post!

  18. 18

    Truly wonderful pictures. Great tip! LOVE this! Thank you.

  19. 19

    Alisha,

    I have only photographed my newborn niece and that was enough to show how tricky this can be. Thanks, for an insightful tutorial on seeing the light.

    I would love to know where you find the material you use for under the baby?? I went to a local fabric store and saw nothing that would fit this kind of a portrait setting. Any hints?

    Thanks again,

    Beth

  20. 20
    Jan says:

    Thank you for all the wonderful tips. I am excited to give it a try when our newborn arrives in August. How close is the baby to the window in most of your shots? Your photos are just stunning. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge.
    Jan

  21. 21

    Wow. I am speechless at the beautiful artistry of your photography. Wish I could capture light as you do — these photos are so utterly beautiful!

  22. 22
    Sandie says:

    Great pictures and advice! Thanks!

  23. 23
    Paul says:

    These are beautiful-thanks for sharing these examples and tips.

  24. 24

    Very helpful post. Thanks!!!

  25. 25
    Libby says:

    Okay, I am a fresh photographer just starting out, have had lots of art and a few photography classes. I have a Nikon D90 and a Nikon SB600 And right now all I have is a Nikor 18-55mm lense(Because I can’t afford a wider one yet!) I also have CS4 and am wondering how you get the solid color/blurring effect when having a close up of a baby on a blanket or anything like that like the one of the baby on a brown blanket? I have seen other photographers do it and no one will fill me in on the technique!

  26. 26
    Christopher says:

    Wow! Finally some straight answer and examples, instead of the, “it depends” comments. Your pictures are fantastic!

  27. 27
    Natalie says:

    I love this. It really helps, but how can I get such a low fstop? I do not really have a professional camera. I am using a Canon Rebel XT. The lowest I can get in most cases is 4.0 but when I use the zoom I am left with nothing smaller then 5.6 usually. I did my first newborn shoot which I have to say did not fair so well. I am learning so I do not charge anything. I took mom’s maternity pictures which turned out great. These I tried to do at her home of the baby and I did get some good ones but the lighting was just soo poor and the home was soo dark. I did not have anything to go off of other then then natural light from a window. Most of my pictures were too blurry. This was indeed a learning exerience. Any advice?

    Natalie

  28. 28

    I’ve been searching the web for tips on working with natural light and newborns. I came across your stuff and it is just amazing! Thank you for posting these tips, I think its gonna help me quite a bit! :)

  29. 29
    Mark M says:

    Great lesson, thank you!

  30. 30
    Kim Maggard says:

    OK… I have to ask where did you get that basket??? I love it!!! Amazing work! I am just getting into newborn photography and would love to find a basket like the one you used in your photos.
    Thanks for all the useful information!
    Kim

  31. 31
    Alberto Catania says:

    Hello Alisha,I think your images are great.I don’t think you should worry about learning to get the light right, because I think you are doing a fantastic job with the babies. So cute all of them.
    As am starting to photograph baby in a studio, which am hired to work at, was wondering if it’s possible to achieve this kind of light with normal strobes like Elinchrom and Bowens.
    How come you chose Westcott lights?They seem more expensive, but it seem to be good quality indeed.
    I hope you are not too busy and will check your Photoshop Actions too.
    Kind Regards.
    Alberto Catania

  32. 32
    Barbara Aragoni says:

    Hi Alisha,
    Thank you so much for the posts, it´s been so nice! But
    Please, I can´t find the 4th part posts…The Newborn Poses step by step…! Thank´s for all the information again.

  33. 33
    Anne H. says:

    Love these pictures and your examples! I love that you explained everything. I’m just starting out and love to see what other people use for settings. I was wondering what kind of camera you use though? Currently I only have the Rebel XTI and am looking to buying something more professional. Again thank you for the great post very helpful!! Anne

  34. 34
    Otto Haring says:

    Great photos!!! I wish my kids were 2 weeks old again… :):):)

  35. 35
    maddy says:

    Thanks for the info and great examples with explanations…I was unsure wether to use a stobe in softbox with babies or continuous lighting. I’m going to look at the westcotts. Got one question do you use a baby poser pillow?

  36. 36
    Colli K says:

    Thank you so much, this has really helped me :)

  37. 37

    Great shots and many thanks for sharing your tipe.

  38. 38
    caro says:

    Hi, i´m a preschool photographer in Argentina and in here we don´t have newborn photographers, so this really help me to try to provide this service in here.
    Thanks for these post!!!
    I have a question, how to position the baby like in photo number 4? do you hold the baby and then you retouched the image?

  39. 39

    Great information and ideas! I like to see the picture with the info next to it, helps us visual people.

  40. 40

    [...] How to Use Light in Newborn Photography [...]

  41. 41
    Lawrence says:

    Love the Artistic work! Awesome tips on lighting.

  42. 42
    Melissa Avey says:

    excellent post!

  43. 43
    ConnieE says:

    Super post! Love it that you gave us camera settings!!! You Rock!

  44. 44
    chewylicious says:

    What a great article! Thank you for sharing your settings! That’s really helpful and allowing us to pin! I’ve been wanting to make a collection of helpful tips but afraid that others won’t allow it. Thanks for making it clear and taking the time to write it all out! You ROCK!

  45. 45
    Dinna David says:

    Very helpful and great article! Thank you very much for sharing.

  46. 46
    Jennifer says:

    Thank you so much for your help on this! Beautiful examples.

  47. 47
    Lili says:

    Hi,
    thank you so much for all the great advice. I opened a natural light photography studio in May of this year and my business has really taken off. Now that the fall/winter is approaching I know I won’t get the same quality of natural light I need so I am going to have to purchase some lighting equipment. If I am using mostly natural light on a low light overcast day will I be ok with just one soft box? Also is the 50×50 Westcott light appropriate for this scenario. What type and size of soft box can you advise me to purchase in this case. Thanks in advance

  48. 48


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