2009/04/08

Some tips about photographing babies

Este artículo también está disponible en Español: Consejos para fotografiar bebés.

Four months ago, my fist child was born; and as anyone can see here, photography is one of my hobbies... if we mix a proud father (and which father is not proud of his children!?) with a photography enthusiast, the results can be easily imagined: photos and more photos of the child. Sometimes, I think my daughter will not be able to recognize me if I do not have a camera in front of my face. In this article, I would like to share my experiences photographing my newborn.

Material

All the pictures shown on this article where taken with a Canon 400D camera plus a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens; since mi daughter was born, I have not used any other lens on that camera. Among the lenses I own, this is the only one which can open the diaphragm wide enough: most of the photographs have been taken indoors, generally under poor light, and I need a lens capable of capturing the maximum quantity of light possible. With other lenses less luminous I would have needed to use a flash, or simply I would have not been able to take pictures under such conditions. I must say I am quite satisfied with this lens: for less than 100 euros, I think it is one of the best deals you can get.

The integrated flash from the camera was discarded from the beginning. In part because I completely hate the look that it produces on the photos, and in part because I did not want to annoy the baby with the light. An external flash unit, which I could bounce on the ceiling, could have been convenient; but I do not own one, and I want to be sure I really need it before spending the money.

Exposure

Almost all photos were taken indoors. Some of them were made during the day, and I could count on the light from some nearby window; but lots of them had to be made during the night, when the only light available came from the lamps at the room. In some extreme cases, all I had to illuminate the scene was a night lamp. Under those circumstances, my fist concern was the lack of light.

When light was so scant, all I could do was raise the ISO: during the daytime, I could shot at ISO-200 or ISO-400, but at nights I had to raise up to ISO-800 or even ISO-1600. Higher ISO means more noise, but I had no other choice; I definitively prefer a grainy picture to a blurred one. A grainy picture still can be used, do not get obsessed with something that is not visible even if we print the picture at 30x40 centimeters; and even if it can be seen, grain is something inherent to photography from the beginning of the times. And, as a last resort, there exists software capable of improving a noisy picture, even if we lose some details. On the other hand, a picture affected of motion blur is unusable, in my humble opinion: there is nothing software can do to improve it, and it will look blurred no matter what we do with it; besides, this is a defect that completely distracts the attention of the viewer.

I began using the Av mode, setting the diaphragm at f/2.0 and letting the camera choose the proper exposure time. I could have opened the diaphragm up to f/1.8, but this lens produces images too soft at such apertures, and the results lack quality. With these settings I was always shooting at the maximum speed that the situation allowed, trying to get as many sharp photos as possible. Now and then, I glimpsed the histogram, to check that the camera was choosing the correct exposure; otherwise, I dialed a +1/3EV o +2/3EV compensation.

Another method I tried consisted in setting the camera on Tv mode, and selecting the minimum shutter speed I could use with certain confidence (1/50 or 1/100). This way, the camera closes the diaphragm when there is enough light, and I gained some depth of field then. When the lens could not open the diaphragm wide enough for the scene, the result was underexposed; we can correct that later on the computer, even if we add even more noise, but at least we avoid motion blur.

One of the difficulties in indoor photography is dealing with the constant changes in light: as we move around our subject, a lamp may enter or leave the camera's field of view; and when that happens, the camera's internal light meter detects a change in the amount of light it receives and tries to adapt to the new situations, lowering the exposure and producing an underexposed photo. As I gained confidence, started to use the M mode to solve this problem: depending on the conditions at each scene, I selected a speed between 1/50 and 1/100 and a fixed diaphragm of f/2.0. With this method, I could obtain a constant exposure along all the session, because I did no need to fiddle with the parameters.

Focusing

When you use such an open diaphragms with those focal lengths, extra care must be placed on focusing, as the depth of filed will be really narrow, and almost anything nearer of farther than the focal plane will be out of focus.

As a general rule when doing portraits, we must focus on the eyes of the person we are photographing, because there is where we will put out attention when we look to the photography. When the eyes are on focus, the ears or the tip of the nose do not need to be perfectly focused. Photographing a toddler is not different, so we must try to focus always on the baby's eyes.

My recommendation is always select the camera's auto-focus area by hand, because otherwise the camera could focus somewhere out of our area of interest. Normally, I use the central auto-focus area, and recompose when needed. But when I need to focus on a point too far away from the center of the frame, I prefer to use the nearest auto-focus area: do not forget that recomposing may change the focusing plane.

The moment

Broadly speaking, I think that the most difficult aspect of photography is being able to capture "the moment": that instant when something special happens, that something which converts a plain and dull photography into an image capable of transmitting an emotion. I still purse that skill, but here are some tips that reflect what I have learned up to now:

  • Move around the scene, do not stand still. Try to find a good perspective, but do not forget to check the background. Look for the faces, avoid the obstacles, consider the light sources.
  • Squat, get down to her height: there is nothing more boring than a photo of a toddler made from an adult's point of view.
  • Follow her look: if there is something that attracts her attention, try to capture it in your photo, too.
  • Get closer, closer, even closer. One of the most important things I have learned these past months, making photos of my daughter, is to get closer with the camera. In a photo of a baby, she has to be the main subject, she must fill the frame; do not alloy the environment to distract the viewer, nobody cares about your sofa.
  • Always shot bursts of two or three photos, at least. It is very difficult to get a good photo from just one shot, because children tend to move unexpectedly. With two or three photos taken in a fast burst, there is a greater chance of one of them being good.

Concluding

I sincerely hope this article can be useful to other mothers and fathers enthusiast of photography. As a conclusion, I think that the best piece of advice I can give is to make lots of photos, without fear; review the result later, and learn from your own mistakes, but do not get obsessed trying to reach perfection.

1 comment:

hannes said...

Hello Edu,

very nice photos.
My second son has been born this year in September and i make photos with my nikon D80 and my tamron 17-50 mm 2.8.

:-)

If you want to take a look at this pictures:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/hannes61/sets/72157624971855678/

Still the beginning...even if i have more than
enough to handle all of them. :-D

Best regards and congratulation to your daughter,
Hannes

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