Babies make the best and the worst subjects to photograph. They are the best for two reasons, people are more tolerant at looking at baby photos, as well as the fact that babies are not aware their image is being captured, and therefore they do not tend to put on the "camera face" so typically used by elder children and adults. They are the worst subjects because their behaviour is unpredictable. Because their behaviour is uncensored, they show their emotions, and can just as easily cry as gurgle happily into the camera.
One of the most challenging aspects of photographing a baby is to control the subject. On the one hand you want them relatively still, but too much control and the photo loses its impetuousness. Lighting and background are both important, you want the background as uncluttered and simple as possible if the photograph is indoors, or as natural as possible outside, a piece of grass is ideal. The lighting should be coming from at least two directional sources, but if it is too strong it will throw shadows that complicate the picture, and often lose the wonderful facial expressions it is possible to capture. However don't miss those impromptu shots either especially with a digital camera, you can always edit the background later.
It is usually helpful to restrict babies' activities; they are not portrayed at their best nappy high in the air crawling across the floor. A good way to restrict them is a highchair, or holding them in the arms of another person. Baby photography is often better taken very close up, and it is a wise move to look at the manual for your camera, and see how close you can get. It is better to get everything set up first, and then place the baby in position when the lighting and setting have been chosen. However that of course is not always possible.
Distractions in the form of noise, and toys can be a tool, but never forget that a baby's emotion's are always lightning fast, and it all makes for great photographs, whether it is tears of frustration, pouring a drink over your best camera, or laughing.
They are often easier to photograph when there is a minimum of people around because they are so easily distracted. The old school of thought was keep the mother well out of the way, however I personally can't see any mileage in that, as babies are calmer with someone they know, and in most cases that is the mother. Above all remember that photographing babies is fun, the unexpected if caught at just the right moment, makes great memories. Although I doubt if a father who has just picked up their offspring for a photograph will forget the time that their child was sick all over them. Control can only go so far with babies.
Babies are babies for short a period of time, you can never have too many photographs, and here a digital camera can save enormous amounts on both film and development. It also allows for wastage as you can view the results immediately and can the ones you don't want. You will have huge embarrassment value in later life showing your daughter's first boyfriend her as a baby with no nappy! Another enormous advantage to digital photography is that you don't have to shoot the photograph with a little black box in front of your face. This will catch a baby's emotions perfectly, but is not the best way to capture their best expressions. A small child will respond better when they respond to your expressions. By being able to hold the camera away from your face you have a chance to capture the best of their expressions as well; an LCD screen generally reaps huge benefits.
Another misunderstood statement is that the best photographs are taken by professionals, whilst there is no denying that professional take great formal photographs, and every baby should have at least one set to keep as an adult. It is hard to beat the formal professional photo. Some professionals offer annual sittings for family shots and supply regular updated montages specific to that family. A service that is hard to beat. However this formal stylised pose isn't always the answer, somehow, because children are not camera aware, they are not camera shy. Young babies are sometimes better photographed in an environment that they are entirely comfortable with and that place is often their own home or the garden. The great thing about photographing your own child is that it does not need any special equipment, special effects, or even any really special effort, and it certainly does not involve trailing somewhere in the middle of the night to capture a beautiful dawn. A point and shoot will work wonders.
Probably the most important technical point to remember when photographing a baby is that because of their size, you have to get down to their height to get that wonderful close- up. The easiest way and least dangerous way is to physically get down on the floor with them, not necessarily the most dignified way, but certainly the most rewarding. There are no imperfections in a babies face, you can get as close as you can without showing crow's feet! You cannot engineer this type of photography it has to happen, but you can be creative in your approach and let the baby respond to you, because it has no knowledge of how to respond to the camera.
With a very young baby still in its crib, there is very little option, but to shoot from the above, unless you want the baby to look as though it is captured in a wooden box, but it is an approach to be avoided if at all possible.
You have more opportunities to photograph babies in more settings than at almost any other age. After all you don't photograph your mother on the toilet. Few props are useful with babies, but baths and potty's are great because they are both tools that they are familiar with and with a little patience they can be put to great effect regarding play. Surely you can put up with getting a little damp at bath- time, but of course try and remember to make sure the potty is empty! Above all remember that it fun and relaxed, you will never have the opportunity to have so many natural photos again. Enter into the spirit of it and you will be amply rewarded. Another great "prop" to use if you have one is the family pet, providing it is not intimidating to the baby.
There is no fun at all in photographing someone screaming the house down in fear. Whilst every parent should have at least one set of professional photos taken, don't rely on someone else to capture those truly enchanting moments, especially at momentous milestones. If it is your child's first birthday they will reward you with better photographs if you take them yourself. Get someone else (professional) to do it on a less important day.
The professional would do well to keep a file for the parents and offer services such as a montage on the childs or childrens yearly progress (updated every year). There is great value in personalisation and there is an abundance of software available to help you organise this service.
Copyright 2005 Roy Barker
Publisher & author: Roy Barker. Roy is the author of the popular ebook, Income from Photography - a downloadable ebook which guides the reader on how to start up and market a Profitable Photography business. It can be viewed at http://www.profitable-photography.com. Another top guide is at http://photography-business.blogspot.com/