5 Tips for More Professional-Looking Food Photography

In an age where iPhones are shooting stellar images and high quality DSLRs are coming down in price, it’s becoming increasingly challenging for food photographers to make a living as professionals. As a food photographer in Seattle, I’ve noticed that many of my clients have become opinionated about what makes a good photo, and in many cases are shooting right next to me with their iPhones. I take it as a positive sign that clients, and most people with smartphones, are becoming more informed and educated about photography, but there is of course the notion that this could very soon make professional photography even more undervalued.

So, what’s a professional food photographer to do? Here are some tips to help make sure you capture quality food photography images that attest to the value of paying you, a professional, to do the job.

Tip #1: Don’t use natural lighting

Food photography tips

Natural lighting is fantastic, and I still try to use it as often as possible. However, many of my clients have realized the value of using natural lighting and tend to shoot their iPhone photos in naturally lit areas. Taking into account the quality of iPhone photos these days, it’s not unusual that their cell phone photos look pretty darn good, even compared to my DSLR shots. To make sure your photos always look unquestionably better than those taken with a cell phone, use natural lighting less and do some experimenting with strobes and off-camera flash.

Tip #2: Shoot in dark spaces

Taking tip #1 into consideration, take full advantage of your professional-grade camera’s low lighting capabilities, and/or your strobe lighting knowledge, by shooting dishes of food in spaces where iPhones have a slim chance of performing well. This is also a good opportunity to incorporate some of the unique features of the restaurant’s interior spaces, into your main shot.

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Photographed in an extremely dark space, this photo wouldn’t have been possible without a DSLR and strobe.

Tip #3: Use a macro lens

While cell phone cameras are becoming equipped with better features with every new release, many still can’t shoot quality macro photos the way that DSLRs can. Use this fact to your advantage and make a macro lens your best friend when shooting food photos. Don’t be afraid to get up close and personal, and capture the details of the dishes you’re shooting. These photos may not be exactly what your clients have in mind, but at the very least it’s always a good thing to show them an alternative perspective that reminds them why they hired you.

Food photography tips

Tip #4: Be a creative director and/or food stylist

Most amateurs approach food photos very statically, opting to shoot dishes from a seated position or overhead. Very few will get creative and incorporate people, props, or activity in their shots. This is your opportunity to shine as a food photographer. Move beyond standalone food photos and use your creativity to make a more dynamic shot. Ways to do this might be capturing action shots, adding a beverage or extra silverware in the shot, or even working with chefs to help them plate dishes in ways that will be photographically appealing. These skills are also part of the reason your client is hiring you, so don’t be afraid to exert your creative authority.

Food photography tips

Tip #5: Shoot tethered

A very simple, yet highly effective, way to come off as a polished, professional photographer is to shoot tethered. If you’re unfamiliar with tethered shooting, it is basically the act of connecting your camera to a computer or tablet, which allows your clients to see your shots on a screen just seconds after you’ve pressed the shutter. This might sound intimidating, but it’s a very simple way to make sure that you and your client are on the same page throughout the photo shoot. It also invites your client to actively participate in the shoot and give you feedback and their own ideas. Tethered shooting is very easy to do using a USB cord or even Wi-Fi technology if your camera has this capability. If you have the means to shoot tethered, definitely consider offering this service to your clients.

Food photography tips

Tip #6: Transmit photos via Wi-Fi

If you have a client who is shooting alongside you with their iPhone, chances are it’s because they want access to photos for immediate posting on social media. Do yourself and your client a favor and offer to send them images on the spot using in-camera Wi-Fi, or do a few quick edits and transmit some shots directly from your computer if you’re shooting tethered. Depending on your agreement with your client, you could even charge a little extra for these services.

Over to you

Do you have other tips for offering more professional-looking food photography that outperforms iPhones and other amateur cameras? Let me know in the comments below!

The post 5 Tips for More Professional-Looking Food Photography by Suzi Pratt appeared first on Digital Photography School.



How to Make Your Photos Shine Using Clarity, Sharpening, and Dehaze in Lightroom

The goal of any photographer is to make each and every photo stand out from the crowd. Making an image that pops is something that we all strive to achieve, but it’s not always easy to do. Luckily, there are tools at our disposal in Adobe Lightroom that can go a long way to help us achieve an image that we can be proud of, and that catches the attention of the viewer. What are these tools? They are many and varied, but there are three central processing techniques that can make your images transcend the average, and reach the potential you intended. They are Clarity, Sharpness, and Dehaze.

These three tools are deceptively simple and subtle. When used properly, the enhancements they will make to your photos will be nearly imperceivable. They can take your image from good to great, with just a few simple clicks of the mouse. In this tutorial, I will show you how each one of these processing tools affect your photos, and how they can be put to best use, so that your photographs really stand out from the rest. Let’s get started!

After CSD

Clarity

The clarity slider has been around virtually since the inception of Lightroom. You can find it in the Basic panel of the Develop module. It functions to add definition and well, clarity, to your images. It accomplishes this by darkening the lines surrounding the perimeter of objects within your photo. Think of it as contrast on steroids. The clarity slider can really add a lot of punch to your photos, and add drama.

Clarity

Tips for Using the Clarity Slider

  • Don’t add too much. If you push the clarity slider too far to the right, you can begin to see unattractive halos around objects within the frame, resulting in a fake or unnatural looking photograph. If using it globally (applies to the entire image), do so judiciously. Be careful when applying the clarity slider to an entire image, most areas of your photo probably won’t need to be clarified.
  • It’s best to apply clarity after everything else. Since the clarity tool will add a good amount of contrast to your photo, it’s best to apply it towards the end of your workflow. While this is not always true, it is a good guideline to follow in order to avoid the need to backtrack.
  • Use the Adjustment Brush or Graduated Filter tools to apply it to select areas of your image that need clarity. This will enable you to apply clarity only to foregrounds or backgrounds and to specific points you want to emphasize in the image.

Clarity Adjustment

Clarity applied, viewing at 1:1

Clarity applied at +30, viewing at 1:1

Clarity slider taken too far, viewed at 1:1 (100%)

Clarity slider taken too far, viewed at 1:1 (100%)

Sharpness

The art of sharpening an image can often make or break the composition. Sharpening is one of those awesome features of Lightroom which has been around from the beginning, and it only seems to be getting better with time.

Sharpening

The sharpening tool is located under the Details panel in the Develop module. Basically, sharpening is accomplished by adding contrast between pixels so that the area being sharpened appears to have more definition, compared to its surroundings. There are a few key tweaks that you can perform in order to get the most from the sharpening panel.

Make use of the radius slider. The radius controls how many pixels around the perimeter of objects are affected by the sharpening. Think of this as the halo of sharpness. The greater the radius, the more apparent the sharpening will become. Don’t over do the details. You might think the more details you preserve in your sharpening, the better quality your image will be. This is not true. Usually, the farther you move the detail slider to the right, the more grainy and gaudy the image will be. Find a happy medium here and you will be happy in turn.

Global sharpen at +50

Global sharpen at +50

Over sharpened

Over sharpened – this is what too much sharpening looks like at 1:1

Apply sharpening only to the areas you need to sharpen. It’s easy to simply sharpen an entire image instead of taking the time to selectively apply the edit. Rest assured though, if you apply your sharpening using the Adjustment Brush tool you will have a much more aesthetically pleasing result. Much like clarity, you usually do not need to sharpen the whole photograph.

Use the masking slider with the Alt key (Option key on Mac). The masking slider can be considered the most underrated asset in the sharpening panel. It dictates what areas will be sharpened. However, by itself the masking slider is rather lacklustre. This is where the Alt key comes into play. Hold down the Alt key while you adjust the masking slider.

Sharpening Mask

You will see that the image is transformed into a black and white relief image. The areas in white are where the sharpening will be applied; the areas in black will not be sharpened. This is a great way to fine tune your sharpening when adjusting globally. (Note: to keep people’s skin from becoming overly sharp and showing every pore and bump, move the masking slider until the skin areas are black and therefore unaffected by the sharpening adjustment)

Dehaze

This is a feature that was introduced very recently in Lightroom CC. It is a magical little function that people seem to either hate or love.

Dehaze Slider

I for one love this little guy. It’s located under the Effects panel. The explanation of how exactly it works is somewhat cryptic. Here is an answer pulled directly from Adobe Blog:

The Dehaze technology is based on a physical model of how light is transmitted, and it tries to estimate light that is lost due to absorption and scattering through the atmosphere.

Simply put, the dehaze slider can reduce haze within your images. It can also add a mystical fogginess as well if you choose (just slide it the other way).

Dehaze

Basically, it will make an otherwise hazy photo more clear. This comes in handy for photographs of the night sky when your want to make the stars more pronounced, or when you have to deal with physically dense atmospheric conditions.

Tips for Using the Dehaze Slider

  • Keep an eye on your black points within the image. The dehaze slider can cause loss of shadow detail if you push it too far. Use the J key to show highlight and shadow clipping in order to preserve details.
  • Perform your white balance adjustments BEFORE you apply dehaze. The dehaze tool can do some incredible things for your photo, but it can also cause some funky color distortions if you adjust white balance after the fact. As always, strive to obtain optimal white balance before you ever begin to post-process an image.
  • Sometimes an image will benefit from added haze instead of dehazing. Experiment with adding a small amount of haze by moving the dehaze slider to the left. This can add an ethereal glow to some landscapes and even portraits.
Dehaze +20 at 1:10 view

Dehaze +20 at 1:10 view

Dehaze pulled too far

Dehaze pulled too far

As with all post-processing, the less you have to adjust after the image has been made, the better off you will be. The tools in Lightroom are a fantastic way to bring out the true power of your photographs, if you use them deliberately, and with good judgment.

Before clarity, sharpening and dehaze

Before clarity, sharpening and dehaze

After

After

After clarity, sharpening and dehaze were applied

After clarity, sharpening and dehaze were applied

Any adjustments you make to the clarity and sharpness of your photo should never make them appear unrealistic (with exceptions) or detract from your original vision. Even the dehaze tool should be used sparingly and only when required. Just as the saying goes that one brush stroke can ruin a painting, so too can one more click of the slider. The goal of post-processing is to enhance a photograph to the point of meeting your pre-visualzation. No more and no less. Experiment with the tips you’ve learned here and witness the hidden potential within your own photographs!

The post How to Make Your Photos Shine Using Clarity, Sharpening, and Dehaze in Lightroom by Adam Welch appeared first on Digital Photography School.



How to Take Better Wildlife Photos: Be a Naturalist First

I love birds. In fact, I’ve dedicated much of my adult life to the study of birds. In college, I spent days exploring the beaches, forests, and wetlands surrounding southern Puget Sound, strictly in the interest of finding and watching birds. Birds lured me north to current home in Alaska, when I took a job banding songbirds in Denali National Park. My interest in migrant birds carried me into graduate school where I spent several years studying the spring migration in the Sierra de Los Tuxtlas of eastern Mexico. After grad school, I took a job as a Research Biologist here in Fairbanks, where I looked into all kinds of questions about breeding and migrating birds around the state.

Now, though I no longer work as a full-time research biologist (writing, photography, and guiding now rule my life), my passion for feathered creatures is no less strong.

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I give you these biographical tidbits, because I want you to understand something about me: I care about, and understand birds. Knowledge and passion are the two most important tools I know of for better wildlife photography.

Ask someone what a wildlife photographer needs and the first thing you are likely to hear is a big lens. That helps, make no doubt, but it’s hardly the most important. No, the most important thing is an understanding of the critters you want to photograph. It doesn’t matter if your lens is as long as your leg, if you can’t find the animal you’re after.

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An example: During my years as a Research Biologist, I spent several seasons studying an imperiled species of songbird that breeds in the wetlands of the Boreal Forest, the Rusty Blackbird. This species has been declining in abundance across its range for the past 50 to 100 years, and no one really knows why. In the winter, they are easier to find, when they mix with flocks of other blackbirds in the south-central United States, or forage in small groups in the wetlands of the southern Mississippi basin.

In summer, however, when the males are attired in their crisp, shiny, black plumage, they are very difficult to find. Rusty Blackbirds nest in some pretty unpleasant places: thick, mosquito-infested swamps in the northern forest of Alaska, Canada, and the northeastern states.

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Having studied them for years, I had a distinct advantage when I set out to photograph this species. I knew where to find them, right down to a specific pair of birds, and I knew where to position myself for the best chance of getting foraging birds to appear within the range of my camera.

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Thanks to that personal knowledge, I got some great photos of both males and females in breeding plumage, and the rarity of these images has made them some of my most published wildlife photos.

Though it helps, you don’t need the extensive personal knowledge that I was lucky to have of Rusty Blackbirds. You do, however, need a basic understanding of your quarry.

Some things to consider:

Seasonality

Many species migrate, or are difficult (or easy) to find during certain times of year. Birds are an obvious example. If you want to photograph congregations of migrating Sandhill Cranes and waterfowl, then you need to know when the birds are going to be present. A hint: It isn’t during the summer.

A flock of Sandhill Cranes during migration. You only get a few weeks each years to catch big flocks of this species, so you need to be ready.

A flock of Sandhill Cranes during migration. You only get a few weeks each years to catch big flocks of this species, so you need to be ready.

Seasonality isn’t limited to birds, many mammal species may only be available during a narrow time window. The Brooks River in Katmai National Park, Alaska is a famous spot to photograph bears. Though bruins are present in the area just about anytime from May to early October, if you want to photograph them catching salmon at the falls, you are likely to be disappointed if you schedule your trip in any month but July.

Red Salmon, which run up the Brooks River and leap the falls, are most abundant in July. If you don't catch the run, you won't see the bears trying to catch them at the falls.

Red Salmon, which run up the Brooks River and leap the falls, are most abundant in July. If you don’t catch the run, you won’t see the bears trying to catch them like this.

During the salmon run, the bears get close together and juveniles like these, are forced to bicker for a good fishing spot.

During the salmon run, the bears get close together, and juveniles like these are forced to bicker for a good fishing spot.

Range and habitat

Some species have a continent-wide distribution, others may be extremely limited. Almost all wildlife has preferred habitat that will dictate where, within their larger range, they are likely to be found. The range of Pronghorn includes the better part of the American west, but their habitat, intact grass and sagebrush prairie, is much less abundant. Pronghorn habitat also changes with the season, so you can see how range, habitat, and seasonality, all interact to guide you to the best place at the best time.

A Pronghorn in southern Wyoming, first light.

A Pronghorn in southern Wyoming, first light.

Behavior

You may have particular behavior that you’d like to observe or photograph. Many bird species look their best, and are most active during the breeding season, but for some species, that season can be very, very short. Where I live in the interior of Alaska, the courtship period is extremely short, lasting only a few days to a couple of weeks depending on the species. Birds like the Horned Grebe are commonly found on small boreal forest ponds near my home, but they are most easily photographed during a couple of weeks in late May, when the males are setting up territories.

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Resources

Thanks to the internet, most of the information you need to explore your target species is available right at your finger tips. In fact, they are so numerous, that there isn’t nearly enough space here to list them all, but I do want to make not of a few of my favorites:

  • eBird:  This site, run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a citizen science site where you can document your sightings of birds. While great for birders, it is also a useful tool for photographers. You can explore data here submitted by birders from across the country and world. The mapping function allows you to look, in very close detail, about where different species are found during the year.
  • iNaturalist:  Though put together in a similar way to eBird, iNaturalist is not limited to birds. Here you can find sighting and identification information on plants, mammals, insects, birds and just about everything else.
  • Field Guides:  Classic paper, or digital field guides are still one of the best sources of information on distribution and behavior of wildlife. I’ve got dozens in my collection, and I use them all.
  • Experts:  You can outsource your research by hiring an expert guide to get you where you need to go. If you want to photograph bears or caribou in Alaska, or the wildebeest migration in Africa, there are people who can help you decide on the best time to do it, get you where you need to go, and even point your camera in the right direction for you. Local expertise is very valuable, and though it saves time, it costs money, and may not be as rewarding as learning about, then finding and photographing your target species on your own.

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Ethics

Though a discussion of ethics in wildlife photography warrants a post of its own, I want to emphasize the importance of being respectful of the animals you are trying to photograph and the people with whom you share the view. Don’t disturb the animal, if it moves away, bolts, or flushes, you have gotten too close. Such impacts, when they occur again and again, can cause stress, low reproductive success, nest abandonment, or any number of other problems for wildlife. The animal’s welfare matters more than your image, so please, please, please be careful and respectful.

Conclusion

I take great pleasure in being a naturalist. I’d say I’m a naturalist first and foremost, and a photographer second. That might sound strange, but for me, the two go hand in hand. I find a greater understanding of the creatures I photograph leads to better images, and just as importantly a much more rewarding experience. To be a better wildlife photographer, put down the camera, and pick up a book.

The post How to Take Better Wildlife Photos: Be a Naturalist First by David Shaw appeared first on Digital Photography School.



5 Steps to Creating a Printed Photo Collection as Wall Art

In this digital age, where we wander about with thousands of digital images held captive in our smart phones, there is something special about printed photographs. They represent something tangible and reverent – something that was worth transforming into an enduring piece of artwork, to remind us of what is important in our lives.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is seeing the photographs I create for my clients hanging on their walls. To me, it is the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, the grand finale that tells me I have fulfilled my promise to the people who put their trust in me as a professional.

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This image set by Darlene Hildebrandt

Like many portrait photographers, I began my career selling digital files on a USB stick. I found it disheartening and unfulfilling. Wall art collections were a revelation to me. As a photographer, they gave me a structure and framework to shoot within. My session times became shorter, because I was shooting with purpose. I now had something meaningful and lasting to offer my clients; collections that tell their story in all its detail, and represent something deep that they have revealed to me.

Photo collections can be about anything. In my case, they are invariably portraits, but if your thing is landscapes, travel, macro, nature etc., you can create collections that add life and personality to you home or office, and serve as visual reminders of what is important to you.

Step #1: Consider the space you want to fill

Think about the photographs you are capturing. What is the subject matter? What do these photos mean to you? Do you want to remember a favourite holiday destination, or how confident your son looks when he plays the violin? Do you want to capture the beauty of a rare flower you grew, or your young adult daughter who is about to leave home for college?

With this in mind, think about where in your home or office you would like to see these photographs every day. Consider how appropriate the subject matter is for where you want to display it, and take into account the style of the decor and other furnishings in the room. Often photographs are displayed above a piece of furniture – above your bed or the sofa, at the end of a breakfast nook, on the wall of a study, or cascading down a flight of stairs.

image showing photo collections

A collection to fit a long, narrow space.

Once you have decided where you want to display your photos, you should have a clear idea of what the layout should look like. Big spaces demand big photos, narrow spaces require long and thin, and a stairwell may need a staggered combination of large and small photos.

image showing photo collections

A different configuration using images from the same session. This would suit a larger space.

Step #2: Decide the layout before you pick up the camera

Think carefully about the configuration of your collection before you start photographing. For example, if you have a wide space to fill and you envisage a panoramic with two or three smaller prints underneath, your main photo will need lots of space to crop it into a panoramic shape, without compromising the composition or the quality of the image. You will be hard pressed to get a panoramic crop if you’re shooting in a vertical (portrait) orientation. When I’m shooting for a collection, I allow more space around my subjects than usual. This gives me some versatility when it comes to cropping.

Likewise with the smaller prints. Think about how you would like each photo to be oriented, and ensure you shoot from an angle that will enable this. I like to orient my detail shots inward, toward the main photo.

Image showing photo collections

It helps if you know how you are going to display each photo before you capture it.

Image showing photo collections

This shows how the collection would appear on a wall.

Step #3: Keep the lighting consistent

A collection looks most cohesive when the lighting is consistent throughout. If three out of four photos in the collection are high key images with lots of white, a dark photo, or one with lots of colour, will look out of place. So, if you photographed your dog on the beach at sunset, that photo you took of him earlier in the bright midday sun will look mismatched, regardless of how adorable his expression is.

In the photo collections below, the silhouetted sunset image stands out as a mismatch. In the second version, it is replaced with an image that better matches the lighting.

Image showing photo collections

The silhouetted sunset shot in the middle looks out of place.

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In this collection, the images are unified by similar lighting.

Step #4: Stick to one subject per collection

Avoid the temptation to create a hodge podge by cramming every member of a family, or every flower in the garden, into one collection. Allow your subject to shine by devoting a whole collection to him, her (or it, in the case of an inanimate object). As a portrait photographer, my collections usually consist of one full body photo, and several detail shots which help tell a story.

The photo collection below, taken at a water temple in Bali, depicts a sacred ritual. I took so many other photos I loved at the water temple, but to put them all together would detract from the story. I will save the other photos for a different collection.

image showing photo collections

Although it is tempting to cram every photo you love into a collection, the result is much more pleasing when you stick to one subject.

image showing photo collections

My main photograph in this collection is full of colour and a variety of shapes. To complete the collection, I have chosen closer-up detail shots of just two of the many lanterns.

Step #5: Collage or collection?

A photo collection can be made up of separate pieces displayed together, or you can create a collage to print as a single piece. Your decision will be influenced by the space you want to fill, the material you want to print on, and your budget.

A collection of separate pieces tends to look more luxurious than a collage. With some configurations such as stairs, it may be your only option. Another benefit of printing each piece separately is that you can change the layout later if you want to. Also, if one piece is not working quite the way you imagined, you can swap it out for a new one.

The photos below, taken at dawn on a beach in Vietnam, will be printed as separate pieces and hung together as shown.

image showing photo collections

Displayed together, the four photos tell a story.

On the flip side, printing multiple pieces can be expensive, and it can be tricky to hang a multi-piece collection with the accuracy it deserves. Some configurations, such as the black and whites below, can look itsy-bitsy when printed separately, and look better printed as a single piece.

You can create hi-res collages like this in Photoshop, Lightroom, or the professional version of Proselect. Alternatively, you can buy ready-to-hang frames with cut-out mats designed for collections, or you can ask a framer to create a customized mat for your frame.

This collage was designed to be hung above a dining table, so the long narrow shape worked well. Background and borders are white to match the colour scheme of my clients’ home, and it is printed on metal to suit their contemporary decor.

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This was designed to be printed as a single piece.

Collections and collages are a fun and interesting way to display your favourite images. With a little care and thought, they can make breathtaking displays that will last for a great many years. I hope this article inspires you to go and rescue those beautiful images of yours that are trapped in the digital world, and bring them to life!

Share in the comments section below your favourite photo collections or collages, or any hints or tips you have learned along the way.

The post 5 Steps to Creating a Printed Photo Collection as Wall Art by Karen Quist appeared first on Digital Photography School.



How to do a Simple Inexpensive Setup for Newborn Photography

When I first started taking on clients, as a new photographer I thought newborns would be my favorite. They seemed so easy, lying around, ready to be molded into any pose I desired, nothing to it. Fast forward five years and hundreds of dollars later, they are still my favorite, but I’ve wasted a lot of money, sweat, and tears trying to figure out how to do it correctly. If you are just starting out, either with new clients, or your own baby, this article is for you, before you throw away a lot of money.

How to get started doing newborn photography

Newborn

Keep it simple with props

I figured to get the cutest newborn portraits I needed lots of hats, bows, blankets, and baskets. Then I needed colors that worked for boys, and ones that worked for girls. I bought tiny cribs, and big wooden letters to match the baby’s first initial of his or her first name. My house was so cluttered with photography gear we weren’t able to house our guests in our guest room, and I’m not even done.

I had a fake wood floor that was made of paper so I also had a pull out shelf from our armoire that was big enough to support the fake floor on the carpet. I had heaters, and backdrop stands, and so many blankets and backdrops they over took me. Every time I read an article about a photographer and what gear she used to get ONE specific photo, I would hunt down those items for myself. They mentioned she used rolled up receiving blankets under the baby’s head? Fire up Amazon, I need to get myself some of those. When would I be satisfied? I wanted to spend money on lenses, and photography classes, but I was so sure one more prop would produce the most amazing baby portrait, so that’s where all my money went.

Last year I read a photography article called, Less is More. It opened my eyes. It struck me that the baby is the art, not the props. The props will probably date your photograph (have you seen the photos that are black and white except for a red rose in color?). But a baby, on a simple background, with only the simplest of accessories, will be stunning, because of the baby. That is why I’m here to tell you, save your money, especially if you’re just starting out. You can achieve phenomenal photographs of babies with only the very basics, and it’s so much easier than trying to fit her into that basket while trying to keep her asleep!

Scarf

Setup

First of all, you need something to put the baby on. If you are working on posing the baby (versus lifestyle photography which requires no posing), you need something that is slightly malleable. Many professional photographers buy expensive beanbags, but you don’t need that. I actually use a leather ottoman we have here in our house, and when I do sessions at client homes I bring it with me.

Of course, last week I forgot to load it in my car for a newborn session. I got to the house and realized it was missing. They didn’t have any ottomans of their own, so instead I pulled the two large bottom cushions off their couch and stacked them on top of each other. For both the cushions and the ottoman I layer multiple blankets on top of each other. In between the blankets I have a few layers of waterproof sheets that are leftover from my own children, and a heating pad. The multiple layers of blankets make it soft and pliable, and the top few layers are the various backdrops I use to photograph the babies on, so I just keep removing layers for the different backgrounds (see below).

Ottoman

I only shoot on black, white, and cream. I have gotten away from colored blankets, but that’s my choice. I used to have colored blankets as well, and you may still want that, but don’t buy the expensive options off of etsy, use blankets you already own. I do recommend neutral colors though because bright reds, pinks, and greens can cause colorcasts on baby’s skin.

Positioning the baby

The stack of blankets help the baby to sink down a little bit if you want her to, and I also bought a stack of white washcloths from Costco, that I bring with me to roll up and stick in between the blankets and the baby to get her propped and curled exactly how I want her. A boppy (feeding pillow) under a blanket may be a good way to get some of the poses you want, and I’ve found that if you can’t use a boppy, another good option is a neck pillow like you’d use on the plane. I actually prefer that to the boppy because it’s small, and perfectly sized for a baby’s body, so it helps keep the baby propped in place if you lay her on her belly with her arms and head resting on the pillow.

Gear

Background

I like a continuous look for my backdrop, so I use the same material under the baby and stretch it up to create the background behind the baby. I own a stand that I bought for the purpose of holding up backdrops (or you can make your own), but you don’t need one of those. Invest in some heavy-duty clips, and you can pin up the material or blanket to anything above the baby. I’ve used bed frames, chair backs, stepladders, tables, etc., it’s just a matter of looking around you to see what will work. When I’m at a client’s house I pull stuff from all over the house to use during the session. I always put it all back the way I found it, and no one has ever had any issues.

Setup

Lifestyle or unposed photography

So I mentioned lifestyle photography. It’s something that is becoming ever more popular. Essentially, it’s about capturing photos without posing the family too much. Of course you will set the scene. You might move some furniture around, lay a blanket on the ground, and tell the family members where to sit or stand. But beyond that, you let them sort of do their thing. The photos are natural, realistic, and lovely. But I think lifestyle alone is not enough when we’re talking about newborn photos. Of course they are easier, and require almost no additional props at all, but most people want at least two or three posed photos of the baby alone.

Details

Accessories

Now for the accessories. Again, you don’t have to spend a ton of money on this stuff, and believe me, it’s easy to rack up a pretty big bill once you start purchasing. My favorite backdrop is a stretchy knit fabric that when smoothed over my blankets, has no wrinkles. I bought it at a craft store. I also bought an extra, smaller piece of the same fabric to wrap the babies in. I love the continuous look. But if you don’t want to buy anything at all, look around – you probably have some scarves, shawls, or small baby swaddling blankets you can use. I’m not a huge fan of big bows, but I do like small tiebacks. You can purchase one of two of them, or make your own with some twine and pretty beads.

Tieback

Once you start looking around at what you already own, I bet you can find many different options for positioning, backdrops, and wraps. To add some variety you can purchase some scarves, head ties, or small pieces of material at the fabric store that won’t set you back a lot of money, but will bring the needed variety in your photos.

Good luck, and remember it’s the baby you’re trying to capture, not the props. Don’t forget those long eyelashes, those tiny toes, and those perfect pouty lips.

Small details

People photography week

This week on dPS we’re featuring articles all about different kinds of people photography including portrait, event and travel photography. See all the previous ones below, this article is the last one in the series.

The post How to do a Simple Inexpensive Setup for Newborn Photography by Kim Kelley appeared first on Digital Photography School.