How to Photograph a New Family

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“I really want a family photo with my new baby – but I don’t want to look fat in the pictures!”
I’ve heard this so many times, and it’s a real issue with new mums.

For many people, their life has been turned upside down since they had a baby, and it’s often difficult to lose their post pregnancy weight while the baby is still tiny – so how are they going to feel good about themselves in a photo?

The way to deal with this is to really understand how they feel and do the following:

  1. Allow plenty of time for the shoot, so that they can relax and not feel rushed. At least 4 hours from you arriving. You don’t need to be shooting the whole time, just allow that time so everyone can enjoy the shoot. Sometimes everything will have to stop for the baby to sleep or feed – sleep times are great for you to be able to get the little detail shots! Feeding can often take up to an hour, and you need to allow time for this. Rushing a shoot will result in very un-relaxed photos!
  2. Spend time choosing clothes which flatter the mother – nothing too tight, or it will be difficult to keep re-positioning her, when you are also trying to get the attention of the baby.
  3. If you can shoot the pictures at their home, you will have a much greater chance of getting great shots – because it’s easier for the parents to have everything they need close by.
  4. Find a place where the light is soft, where you can really concentrate on getting the best shots you can, without having to move very far. Check out: HOW TO: Find beautiful light on your doorstep
  5. Ask the mother to do her hair and make up as if she was going out for the evening – I’ve turned up at houses before where the parents have been up all night with the baby, are very stressed and are definitely not looking their best! Mums often don’t want to be bothered with make up, etc. when they’ve been up all night, but telling her we’ve got all the time in the world, and she will feel so much better if she does – often turns that around.

This shoot took around 2.5 hours of actual photography time! With time at the beginning for relaxing people, choosing clothes, chatting about the baby, and generally getting them into the shoot. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to get great shots of babies, there are a lot of different factors which will affect this kind of shoot.

Psychology

IMPORTANT: To achieve a picture like the header shot on this blog, you have to go through a process first – it would be very difficult to get a shot like this straight away. Everyone needs to be relaxed, and this takes time. You need to experiment and work things out together, until you feel you’ve got it! First, we’ve spent time having coffee and looking at clothes together – all this reassures people and helps them become part of the process.

Photographing people is so much more than pressing the shutter – 90% of the work needs to be done before you get to that stage!

It’s about psychology and understanding, way more than the camera. Once they are relaxed and into the shoot, the actual photography becomes much easier.

Don’t think you need to be shooting all the time – working together is part of good photography – planning makes a huge difference.

Catherine, Simon and Lucy (4 months) have agreed to be my guinea pigs to demonstrate this.

I started by taking some shots of Lucy on her own, because she was in a happy smiley mood so I took advantage of this! If you spend ages trying to get shots of the parents and baby together first, the baby can often get restless, and it’s much harder to take individual shots of her at that stage. You are more likely to get smiles and cute shots when she is curious about you in the beginning.

If she is tired, hungry or needs changing, there is no point in trying to take photos – alleviate those issues first!

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Above: We laid Lucy down on a sofa, giving a neutral background.

We started with her clothes on (top left) but the problem with this is that they keep bunching up as she kicks on the sofa. I love babies with no clothes on – it’s much easier to see their face when the clothes aren’t bunching up and they look so cute! Cropping in as above avoids seeing her nappy too.

TIP: Ask a parent to stand very close to you, at your level if possible – so the baby appears to be looking into your camera, when they are actually looking at their parents. There is a tendency for parents to crouch down to the child’s level – which will result in the baby looking much lower than the camera. I am standing on a small table here (top right) and shooting from way above the baby.

Family

This shoot is much more about getting a great family shot, with baby shots as secondary – parents today have zilliions of great shots of their kids, but very rarely do they have a great shot of the three of them together – that’s what I wanted to focus on here (although obviously I still need some of the baby on her own).

Starting Point

I arrange the family by placing Simon on the sofa first, then Catherine next to him, with the baby on Catherine’s knee to raise her up to a similar level.

I ask Simon to lean in to Catherine as far as he can. I am shooting on F5.6 to keep the background fairly out of focus, and if I don’t get their heads into the same plane, then they may not all be in focus. If I used F8 or higher then the background would be sharp which would not look as good. I like the separation of getting the background soft, and emphasising the people more.

It’s important to make sure the faces are leaning in together to stop them going out of focus – they are not just sitting on the sofa – they have been carefully arranged to achieve this!

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Above: This is more traditional positioning, but it’s my starting point to get the parents relaxed and used to the shoot, before we move on.

TIP: Ask the parents to ignore the baby and keep smiling at you! They will naturally want to try and get the baby to smile, which means they will be looking down at her, rather than at the camera. Then you just need to try and get the baby’s attention by talking to her, or waving a toy above your camera. It’s much easier if you have someone else on hand to help you, so they can attract the baby’s attention.

Next I try to make the pictures look a bit more relaxed, by repositioning Simon and getting them to interact with the baby. All I do is say, “just talk to the baby, and don’t look at me”.

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Above: I’ve asked Catherine to sit with her leg up so she can place the baby on her thigh to bring her head to a higher level (black area at front of shot is her knee).

TIP: Ask the parents to push their chins out forward when looking sideways or at the baby, to avoid the inevitable double chin created by looking down.

Lucy started to get restless, so we tried standing her up on the sofa – she’s only 4 months, but at this stage babies are gaining strength in their legs and love the feeling of standing up (even though of course she is supported by her parents!) – it’s a new thing for her to do, so she will be more likely to stay in this position for a while, giving me the chance to get more shots!

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Lucy loves the feeling of standing up, which results in a lovely smile, as she’s so pleased with herself!

Bare Shoulders

Lucy starts to get tired, and before she goes to sleep, I ask Catherine to wrap a sarong around herself so her shoulders are bare, and to take Lucy’s nappy off and wrap her in a towel, just in case of any accidents! This way, Lucy will be ready for the photo, when she falls asleep. If you wait until she’s asleep before taking her clothes off, she is likely to wake up again and be grumpy.

I love pictures of parents and babies together, skin-to-skin – it just looks so natural, and they always love these shots.

TIP: Start with shots in clothes as above, because this will relax the people much more. Asking them to strip half naked at the beginning of the shoot will definitely make them nervous!

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Above: Lucy is getting sleepy, perfect for some relaxed mum and baby shots

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While Mum and baby stay in the same position – I walk around them looking for different angles, to create more variety, without having to disturb the baby.

Family Photos

I wanted to get some shots of Simon with Lucy now, but rather than move her while she is happily sleeping, this is our chance to do the family shots first.

To do this, I ask Catherine to stay exactly as she is, and bring Simon in to her – see shot below for positioning.

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The shots above (right) are taken when I am standing on the small table which you can see in front of the family. Top Right: “Both look at me”. Bottom Right: “Stay exactly as you are, but turn and laugh at each other!”

TIP: Shooting down on people from above, makes people’s eyes look bigger and their jawlines firmer. Shooting from below or at eye level enhances double chins, which most people have in photos unless they are directed.

The Importance of Shooting in One Place

I’ve included the “scene” shot above so you can see that this entire shoot took place on the sofa. You will have plenty of time to take pictures in fields and on beaches when the child is older, but now it’s important to get the best shots you can in a difficult situation – babies are unpredictable, and you can’t make them perform as you can when they are older. Choosing one place, with consistent light makes a huge difference to the results. And if you have any energy left after two or three hours of photographing a baby, you can change your scenery if you want to!

There’s a big difference between a photo of 3 people and a photo of 3 relaxed people! Hopefully this blog will show you how to achieve that difference, by preparing and giving yourself time.

Creating a Set

Here the light is perfect from the top shade, creating soft, even, flattering light. The sofa provides enough room to use as a set, where we can take pictures of the baby separately, and with her parents. I’ve moved all the clutter out to the sides and pulled the sofa forwards to the light, whilst keeping it under the shade. Even if it were a dull day, the light would be softer using top shade like this. And if this was inside a house in a colder climate, imagine the white pillars are the outside walls, and the gap between them is a set of patio doors. I would bring the sofa to the light, position the people in exactly the same way, open the patio doors and shoot from outside inwards.

(This situation is illustrated in: HOW TO: Find beautiful light on your doorstep)

TIP: If you don’t have a suitable neutral sofa, try putting a white duvet on the floor, or using the bed as your “set” (so long as it has a good sized window to provide soft light). It’s important that the parents are comfortable, as they may have to stay in one position for quite a long time.

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Top Left: This shows the positioning, where I’ve asked Simon to wrap his arms around Catherine and Lucy, and then lean his head right into them. I’ve then zoomed in to create a closer feel. Top Right – their eyes look bigger when they are not smiling, but a slight smile (bottom) makes their faces look warmer – both work – they just create different emotions in the images.

IMPORTANT: Make sure their faces are in the same plane – so no one is out of focus at F5.6. Then choose one of the parents and focus on their eyes. If you are worried about getting them all in focus, you could use F8 here, as the background doesn’t really show when they are this close up. Practise makes perfect!

Wake Up Time!

The baby is about to finish her nap, and I want to get a shot of Simon with Lucy while she is still asleep – so rather than risk waking her by moving her, I zoom in to take the shot (below left) just in case she wakes up. Which she does!

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Above: I manage one shot of Simon with Lucy sleeping, and then take some shots while he tries to rock her back to sleep.

Lucy decides she is not going back to sleep, so we take some fun shots of Simon and Lucy together.

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This is why we needed the towel! Lucy decides she has had enough and pees all over Simon!

So now I know Lucy is not going to wet the sofa, I can lay her down without a nappy and take some more shots of her. She’s just had a sleep so she’s happy and raring to go again!

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TIP: Try to include a baby’s favourite toy in your shots, as it will mean a lot to the parents as she gets older. (Don’t be afraid to ask if you can cut the label off, they always have one and they spoil the shots).

Lucy has been smiling because Simon is right next to me making her laugh – so now I decide to add him into the shots too.

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Above: Catherine helps out by getting Lucy to look at the toy, to make her look up at Simon.

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And finally she falls asleep again! And who said modelling wasn’t exhausting?!

Thanks to Catherine, Simon and Lucy for being such great models!

For more idea for babies and pregnancy shoots check out these blogs:

How do I photograph a tiny baby?
Please can I have some tips for photographing pregnant women?

Annabel x