Friday, June 25, 2010

Photographing a Baby on Location

In this post I will show the setup and give a rundown for photographing a baby on location with a minimalist lighting setup. Here are a few of the processed shots from this particular shoot. There is no magic in the post processing, just normal spot edits for blems, minute eye enhancements, and a few skin enhancements to add more glow to the skin.

The Location
For this shoot we decided that a spare bedroom would work best, as it got baby off the floor and the room had just enough space in which to work (click on the photo above for a larger view). The camera is hand held at the foot of the bed. The room was a bit crowded, so the backlight stand ended up on top of a dressing table. Nonetheless, this tight space proves that you really don't need a lot of space, just enough.

The Backdrop
The bed was covered with a super soft blanket that I purchased from the local Costco last year. This blanket is thick and very soft with a little bit of surface texture, similar to a crushed velvet. Babies seem to really love the texture, so are right at home on it. The color is white, but not a bright white, more of a natural white.

Having a neutral white backdrop under the baby is very important, as any color cast will show up on baby's skin from light reflected off the backdrop. Many white fabrics use optical brighteners that fool the eye into thinking the material is a bright white, when it is in fact, slightly blue. Using these will give you a cold blueish hue that looks unnatural and inappropriate for a baby. If a material looks bright white, then it is probably a poor choice. Neutral white material will look a little darker, almost off-white, but definitely not almond. For use with babies, if I had to error I would rather error on the side of a material that is slightly warm.

The Lighting Setup
Lighting for baby comes from a single Westcott 43 inch Compact Convertible Umbrella configured for shoot-through at camera left. This is powered by a Vivitar 285HV flash. A swivel mount lashes the two together and all that sits on top of the LumoPro LT604 Compact Light Stand.

The background is lit with a single, bare Vivitar 285 at camera right. This is metered about a stop above the main light to blow the background to pure white, but limit the amount of spill back onto the subject.

The main light is set to ½ power (if I remember correctly), which gives an exposure of f/6.3, just right for enough DOF (Depth of Field) for a clean shot with a softening effect on the background. The need for a reflector is mitigated by light reflected from the white backdrop under our subject. There is also a little spill reflected from the background light, as it is closer than would normally be used in the studio.

The key light is positioned to glance across the face of our subject. By placing the light subject right (camera left), we get short lighting when baby looks straight ahead, split lighting when facing the camera, and broad lighting when baby turns his head camera right. Because there is a lot of reflected light, the lighting is fairly soft with a low lighting ratio of perhaps 2:1 give or take depending on how baby has moved. The shoot-through umbrella gives a somewhat feathered light, which aids in a smooth transition between highlight and shadow.

One thing certain when photographing a baby is that they tend to move around a lot, so the lighting must be as forgiving as possible and will not always be optimal. This is why I usually choose an umbrella for babies of this age.

It's Not all About Lighting
At the end of the day, what counts even more than lighting is an image that elicits an emotional response in the viewer. This means that a great look trumps a technically perfect shot any day of the week. In this shot he turned 90 degrees from what I intended, so I just stepped to the side and kept shooting. The lighting is marginal, but everyone loves the shot!

Here he is just doing what babies like to do, so we let him play with his feet, and might have helped get them in position to frame his face. Things were moving around pretty fast, so this is definitely a decisive moment.

Coming Next
I hope you have enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed making it. No set plan for the next post, but do have several ideas and information to share.

Until then...


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