(The following is excerpted from The New Joy of Digital Photography, a new book by Black Star Rising contributor Jeff Wignall.)
The great thing about photographing babies is that there is almost no one who doesn’t think every baby is completely cute. Even if they don’t know the baby, people will coo and purr over how cute she is. And if they do happen to be related to the baby, then naturally, it’s not only cute; it’s the cutest baby alive.
So if you’re lucky enough to have a new baby, or know someone who does, taking good photos of her can only enhance your status as a fine people-photographer.
The Ideal Subject
In many ways babies are ideal subjects because, until they reach the age of mobility, they have no choice in the matter. Even more importantly, they have no idea what a camera is or that you’re doing something they may eventually grow to find annoying.
Taking pictures of babies is kind of like, well… taking candy from babies. I had to say it.
From almost the instant they arrive home, babies begin to display an array of moods and behaviors that will eventually be described as personality traits. In addition to funny smiles and soulful eyes, babies have a profound range of facial expressions and even physical mannerisms, and capturing them is probably the most fun you’ll ever have with a camera.
How you photograph a baby will vary with its age. Newborns spend most of their time either sleeping or letting you know that they’re not sleeping. And if you are too noisy in getting pictures of the former, you’ll get ample opportunities to photograph the latter. And though flash may or may not wake a sleeping baby, it’s not the most attractive light on their soft, smooth skin, so shoot with available light when you can and the results will look much more natural.
Entering a Baby’s World
As babies get older and begin to move about, new photo opportunities arise. At about six months, no longer confined to their cribs or parents’ arms, babies begin to crawl and explore the physical world on their own terms. Because virtually everything is new to them, what you’re really photographing is an explorer experiencing a brave — and overwhelming — new world.
To get the best shots of this world, you have to enter it by getting down on the floor (or the lawn) with them. By keeping the camera at their level, you’ll be revealing their world and their explorations from a very natural and interesting perspective.
Perhaps the best photos of babies are those that show the interaction between them and their parents or siblings. You can’t force or create such moments, but you can be prepared for them by having your camera nearby and ready.
Once babies start to walk, you will still find quiet, intimate moments to photograph them, but they’ll be interspersed among the hours you’ll spend on your knees chasing a very unpredictable moving target.
Keeping up with babies on the move (photographically speaking) is a lot simpler if you have a second person helping to corral your subject so that you can concentrate on taking pictures. Usually if a baby is let go by one parent, it will charge to the waiting arms of the other — which gives you a quick second to snap a picture and then catch your subject before they run past (or crash into) your camera.