Few things in the world of photography can be as rewarding as portrait photography and few things in life are as cute and photogenic as a baby. So, one would think that when you put a pretty baby together with a talented photographer that magi would just happen. Well sometimes it does but more often than not there is a lot of work that goes in to the one cute shot of the baby that you see in someone’s home that makes you ooh and ahh about just how darned special that photograph is.
It is more than knowing the mechanics of how to take a great photograph. It is also more than knowing how to be great with kids. In fact, being a great child portrait photographer involves knowing how to pull the charming smiles and looks from the infants and being able to snap at just the right time.
In a lot of ways it involves much more people skills than you might think. Babies, even though they are not truly complete people with brains that make them think and react, are much more susceptible to honing in on the emotions of the moment, and they also will react quickly to the situation. Babies are some of the first to laugh and also amongst the most rapid when it comes to shedding a tear. The trick is in how to get those emotions from the infant when you need them to happen.
Great baby portrait photography is not so much about the smiley shots. Yes those are extremely important to the parents. The truth is that some of the more serious photographs that you take can be some of the more memorable ones that people keep and cherish. Looks of astonishment or the moment right before the tears start can be absolutely priceless and can be photographs that stand the test of time. In short, cute does not always have to be happy.
What is the Right shot?
The right shot is the one that captures the mood and the temperament of the baby. I know a lot of my contemporaries that shoot and only go for the happy baby shots. That is what most people expect when they are looking at a baby portrait. They want it to be happy. But what if the child is not a happy baby? It’s like shooting a fish out of water. While it might be technically a great shot the bottom line is that if the baby is not normally all smiles it just is not going to feel right for the parents. In other words it is not the baby that they know and life with twenty four hours in a day so it might look a little strange to them.
Try and ask the parents what they envision for the photograph and get some insight into the character of the toddler. If they are looking for a shot that they want to send out to relatives and the child is just not a happy baby by nature they may want you to work and capture that rare moment for grandma and grandpa when the youngster is happily smiling away. And unless you get all the input from them that you can get about what they are after, you run the risk of wasting a lot of time shooting photos that are not quite what they are after.
If you iron all this out before the shutter snaps, you are much moiré likely to end up with a satisfied client that will return time and again to get more photographs taken of their child or children and you will get great work of mouth advertising and more life long income from them as their needs expand. In short you can be the family photographer from diapers to graduation and far beyond. So don’t simply look at a baby portrait session as a one time way to make some income. Rather look at it as a way to establish yourself to the family as the go to photographer for all of the family needs.
Making it a Business
Every photographer wants to make money at what they do. Even if it is only in the back of your mind, knowing that someone likes what you do well enough to pay you to do it is a great feeling. It’s one of those good time things that really never goes away or gets old. I still like the feeling I get when someone pays for a session and you can tell that they are totally happy with what they are buying. It let’s you know that you are justified in your career choice and that you have the ability to make someone happy just by doing what you do.
All too often a photographer will make the decision to branch out and do a wide range of shots. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that way of looking at business. In fact it is a great way to have and run a business in a slowing economy. The problem is that if you diversify too much on what you are going to shoot it can sometimes become more difficult to excel in one area. Yes you may be passable in a lot of types of shooting but you will likely be very good in some others. And honestly, if you are better at one type than another it means that you will likely enjoy it more. And if you enjoy it more then you will do an even better job at it so the circle continues.
This is pretty much because every type of photography has its own things that you need to learn. And while a lot of it overlaps between the styles, there is usually some fine points that you need to know to make the step from good at something to being great at something. And let’s face it, if you get really good at one aspect of the business there is a chance that you can apply that to the other types of photography so you’re weak points will also start to get a little stronger.
Also remember that there are job specific pieces that you need for different types of photography so narrowing your list of options can and will save you some money. The same props that will work with adults will look ridiculous with a baby or infant and the lighting requirements are different as are the handling skills.
For instance I very rarely use a remote to shoot in the studio if I am dealing with an adult, and yet when I am trying to shoot a baby or infant one of the first things that I pick up is a remote. That is because you can vocally guide an adult towards doing something that you want in so far as posing or smiling.
With a child though you do not have that luxury and so you have to trick them with movements. Moving a toy close to them so they notice it and then pulling it away for example. This will get the child looking at you and if you don’t have a remote then you won’t get the shot. And there is a limited amount of time that you can expect to hold the youngsters attention span. So you need to get in and get those shots before he or she begins to get grumpy and loses interest in the shooting. If that should happen then you are going to lose the chance of a good shot completely.
Getting the Smile
Even if you are not doing baby shooting as a living form of income, you still need to know the best ways to make a baby smile. Yes they old cliché shots of the smiling baby are still a main stay and staple of this type of shooting. Right or wrong people like to see a smiling face when they look at the photo of an infant. So even though, from a creative standpoint it is better to get the shots that don’t look as if they were totally posed, it is going to be the mainstay of your business to get the smile. It can be difficult bet here are a few techniques that have been proven to work over time. Some things that will usually help you get the shot that the parents and relatives usually want.
After you have spoken to the parents as I outlined above to see what the baby is like, you need to grab some of the child’s favorite colorful toys and make sure that they see them as you, your assistant or the parents move the item around so that it catches the attention of the youngster. If they are concentrating on a familiar item like that favorite toy they become less guarded and more apt to give you a genuinely happy smile.
Of course there is always the ever popular baby talk where you talk to the child in that simply whining little baby voice that everyone uses on them. You know the cooing little voice that almost everyone uses on cute little babies. It is an old trick, it is cliché but it almost always works. And if shooting babies is in your future, try getting acquainted with this nonsensical way of conversing with someone that you can’t converse with. I am sure that this makes perfect sense to you right? Clear as mud, as they say.
The other things that will work are music. People of all ages like to have music going. It makes things more bearable and it makes it easier to keep people from concentrating on the irritating and often deafening silence that can accompany an uncomfortable moment in time. Now I am not talking putting on Iron Man by Black Sabbath but Barney songs or lullabies often work to sooth a baby that is uncomfortable or irritated and as they relax they become easier to work with and the result is better shots of the child and happier parents when thy see what you have created of their wonderful angel.
But what about the absolutely terrible child that has no intentions of smiling no matter what you do? These are the instances where you as the trained professional, have to explain to the parents that you need them to do whatever they can to help out or there are not going to be a happy shot here. Keep shooting all the while because you might luck out and get the odd smile that creeps in – even a terribly uncomfortable baby that is suffering teething pains and such will still smile occasionally and if you are ready then you can capture those moments and memorialize them even in the midst of a terrible crying fit.
Some Special Gear
If you are even a partially competent photographer you are going to have he technical part of your needs down. In other words you will have a decent camera, you will have all the lenses that you need to do your craft and you will have likely more lighting than you know what to do with. You likely have mastered Photoshop to a degree that will allow you to manage to tweak the shots that you take and make them acceptable by today’s standards and you are mo re than likely a fairly good picture taker as well. But what else will you need?
For starters you should have an assortment of baby related things from rattles and teddy bears on down the line. You need to be able to take a cute baby and make them look absolutely stellar when photographed with your props. Another thing that almost always goes with babies is a nice soft furry rug or two. Babies always look cozy and cute on a white bear skin rug. It is a classic but a time honored one among baby photographers. That is for a reason; it almost always works and gives you a decent shot.
You also need to make sure that you have a baby safe area for the shooting. Babies are not acrobats and they don’t stand and stay posed as you set them up or as you tell them. They have a propensity to fall over and end up in weird little angles just as you are about to take the cute shot of the session.
You also need to make sure that the area where you are photographing them is one that will not present a danger to them. You can’t be worrying about whether or not the baby is going to fall off the table onto the floor as you capture the moment on film for prosperity.
I would also recommend that no matter what, when you are shooting a session which involves a small person like this, make sure that you use an assistant. One pair of eyes is very rarely enough to catch the action. And in fact if you are a great photographer you are more than likely looking for the cute pose and the smile and not so much looking at the dangers that might be lurking there. That is why you need someone else to be watching for the problems before they become problems.
What makes a great Baby Portrait?
Other than the obvious response of well, a baby! You certainly want to try and incorporate some of the child’s favorite possessions like a rattle or a pacifier or a special stuffed toy. This will make the shoot and the resultant shot much more believable and appreciated and it will become a life long record of the child at that point in time with the things that he or she finds to be comfortable to them.
But let’s not forget the obvious things that often get over looked in a session like this. Mom and dad also can become part of the portrait. After all they are the reasons that the young person is alive and it is perfectly acceptable to shoot a few shots with the adoring parents in the photo. In fact, from a business standpoint, this is a great opportunity to boost your sales potential from the session.
While the photo of the baby was the reason that they came and they will most likely get a shot of just the baby, once you turn the session from a simple baby portrait session into a whole family session then all of a sudden there is another cute photograph that the parents will want to order for the living room or den wall and for Christmas presents and if you work it correctly you can turn the simple session into a multiple pose order fairly easily.
Remember too that you have the ability, via Photoshop to make some of these almost great shots into a portrait that can be purchased and treasured. With a little enhancement a moderately good shot can become another sale to the customer. However I caution you from using Photoshop as a crutch and letting it be your answer to all the shots. Once you do that you start to take the creativity out of the art of photography and it loses a lot of character and you start a decline on your skill set that is often hard to reverse.
How can you increase your sales?
There are two schools of though here on this issue. Some folks think that you can increase your sales by shooting many, many shots and thereby increasing your probability of catching the right shot when you slick off the shutter.
Now while this is statistically correct it is not necessarily going to increase our sales all that much. Having more shots does indeed mean that you will likely get more useable shots that the client may or may not like. The big problem there is you are relying on luck rather than skills. And what happens if lady luck is not smiling on you that day and the child simply does nothing cute as you anxiously click away at them? The answer is that you waste a lot of digital film; you waste the time of the parents and the child and you also lose credibility with the clients. Yes you can often salvage the session with digital magic taken care of after the session but getting it right the first time has always been the better option.
Instead you should work on your technique of shooting and your skills at dealing with the child and the parents. Most of the time when a parent comes to me for a child that they want to have memorialized in a portrait they just assumes that having a smile as wide as the child can muster is the best way to shoot the little angel. They think that having them in a nice expensive show quality outfit will bring that luster and sheen to the shot that will make it a classic.
It is up to you as the trained professional to set them strait. Remind them that we are dealing with a baby. Just a little bundle of joy that is going to be equally as cute lying on their back kicking their feet as they are on their stomach in a high dollar outfit. The proof is in the end net result and not in the things that get you to that destination. Some of the most appreciated shots I have taken involve nothing more than a baby lying on his or her back with their feet up staring at a light above them. It is honest, it is cute and it is hard to resist.
You see babies don’t need accessories to be cute, they are that way naturally and all you as the portrait photographer have to do is to capture that essence and let the real inner beauty of the child shine through. That is why I have stressed throughout the article that it is all about knowing the child. Once you are aware of the things that the child likes and dislikes you are set to give them a great and classic portrait of that little individual beyond anything thing that a photographer in one of the worlds super centers can not.
Final Thoughts on Baby Portrait Photography
There are some guidelines that you can and should follow. But guidelines are simply a thought that is meant to get you rolling towards the destination. If you get caught up in the fact that the only acceptable outcome is a smiling photo, then you are limiting yourself to being able to appreciate some of the finer things and the many moods and expressions that these young faces are capable of doling out.
You simply can not pigeonhole a genre of photography into a mass lump and say that this is how it has to be. That is rigid, uncaring and plain stupid. Some of the greatest things in life happened because someone was willing to take a chance and do things an unusually way. Thinking outside of the box is really the only way to approach something as unique as photography.
Never look at the job with a preconceived notion that it has to be this way or that way. You are looking at an art form and not a science. IT is not something where x plus y is equal to z. If there is a desired end result then there is likely going to be a plethora of paths that you can take which will get you to that ultimate destination at the end of your journey.
There is no right or wrong way in which to make it to the end of the trip, there is only a starting point and en ending point and it is up to you as the artist to make sure that the destination is not the end all be all. You need to be able to enjoy the trip to get there enough that you can allow yourself to make it past the traditional results and move you to new heights that will push the envelope just a little farther than the last time. That is truly the only way that you can grow and develop and it is the only way that you develop a style that is entirely you.
At the end of the day if you are in it for the money, you can follow the tried and true and make a good shot and collect the paycheck. If, however you are looking to create a statement that tells the world that you care enough to give something more than what they were expecting, then you have crossed over into the status of an artist and you have found you’re calling and photography will cease to be a job and become a passion that pays a great dividend.