How do I photograph a tiny baby?

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Q. How do I photograph family shots with a tiny baby, under 4 months old & unable to support it’s own head? – Wendy Sykes, York UK

A. I find most people only want a couple of shots of themselves with the baby; they tend to want more shots of the baby itself, so I usually focus on the baby, and bring in the parents later. This will also help to relax the parents, because they see how you work, and are less nervous later on.

With tiny babies, it’s best if you focus on what makes them so cute, rather than trying to make them lift their head up and smile. Tiny babies just don’t do this, so it’s best to leave those shots until they are older.

To me, baby pictures are all about the detail. About their little feet and hands, the way they look so peaceful when they are asleep. Parents of newborn babies just love every little bit of their baby – from their eyelids to their toes. And now’s the time to capture those things, which will change rapidly as the baby gets older. I find, it’s easiest to photograph tiny babies when they are asleep – but the key thing here is to prepare them for your shoot before they go to sleep, otherwise you will wake them up if you try to change their clothes etc.

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Think about how you want them to look – either just in their nappy, or in a white vest for example. Remember they don’t have to go to sleep in their cot – it can be tricky to get good pictures here, because there is often very little light in the baby’s bedroom.

So it’s best to dress them in the most suitable clothes for your shoot (or just a nappy), and then coax them to sleep in a good area of light. This could be in the middle of their parents’ bed, if it’s a large room with light (make sure the duvet cover is white to make your backgrounds more consistent, and emphasize the baby).

Or it could be in a crib on the floor downstairs near the window light. (Patio doors are ideal). I often lay a white duvet on the floor in the right light, and coax the baby to sleep on there. So, once the baby is asleep, you can move around and shoot their little feet and hands, their cute face etc.

To get lots of different expressions, while the baby is awake – try shooting lots of shots, then crop them into squares and put them as a set together, which makes them look much more interesting than individual shots.

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To get good pictures of a tiny baby with it’s parents, you need to set up a scene (baby on duvet for example) and then move the parents into the scene – rather than trying to get them to hold up the baby, and get it to smile – often you just miss the perfect shot because someone is always cooing at the baby and spoiling the picture!

So, if you have your baby lying asleep on the duvet on the floor, then you can move the parents into the shot. Get them to lie down so their faces are next to the baby – and just move around them, tweaking things until you get the right look.

It also works well if the baby wakes up, lies on it’s back and looks up at the parents – who are lying on the duvet next to the baby.

It’s often tricky to photograph a baby lying on its back and get a good shot of its face – because they can get double chins (seriously)! Try building a mound to support them. Prop a pile of pillows up under the duvet – and lie the baby on its tummy, so it’s head is higher – then you can get down on the floor and be at the same level.

It also works well to lay the baby over the parent’s shoulder, and zoom in on the baby’s face – and take a shot with the parent in too. But make sure the adult stretches their chin out – there is always a tendency for them to look down at the baby to try and get it to smile – and this causes a double chin which they will not like, no matter how cute their baby looks in the picture. It helps if the other parent is behind you trying to get the attention of the baby, so the one in the shot can look their best.

The hardest shot to get is the two year old child with the baby! Again, if you have the baby set up in a scene on the duvet, you can ask the older child to come in at the last minute and lay their head near the baby – you may only have a couple of minutes – so be prepared. Older children get really fed up holding the baby for ages while you try to get a smile – much better I think to be prepared, and settle for the older child gazing adoringly at the younger one – rather than dropping it because they are frustrated!

I think it’s much better to get a set of pictures of all the different aspects rather than focus on the perfect smiley family shot, although what I often do is have the family walking towards me in a field (complete with dog sometimes!) and so long as the baby is in the picture too, then it’s a great family shot – they don’t have to be sitting up, posing.

Top Tip – make sure the baby is fed! There is absolutely no point in trying to photograph a tired or hungry baby – let them sleep, or feed them – it’s the only way!

Above all you just have to have lots and lots of patience, and keep trying! It really is a case of being incredibly patient and trying over and over again. You’ll get the shots eventually! See this page below from my book “99 Portrait Photo Ideas”.

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