Barnet Workshops » Sharing Experience, Information, Inspiration

Lighting Newborns the MacGyver way…

If you’re a wedding photographer you can also be doing pregnancy and newborn photography. If you let your wedding clients know that you do that, they’ll remember when it’s time… Newborns require a bit more set up, preparation and practice than pregnancy sessions because of the obvious reasons, but you can always start with family and friends so you can be ready when your past wedding clients call.

There are many aspects to newborn photography. If you’re interested in this field, you should look up Julia Kelleher. She’s one of the leading newborn and baby photographers around and a great teacher. Her recent Creative Live presentation is a great place to get started. We’ve gone to our client’s homes to photograph their babies, a few times, but now that we have a studio, it’s much easier, and we can have a more permanent and efficient set up.

We start with a PVC framework around a large bean bag baby poser, or set. We use clamps to set up the different fabric backgrounds to create the set, including the background. You can find out how to build your PVC contraption, where to get the right bean bag, etc. online. The subject of this post is the lighting we’ve been using.

In the photo below are the proud parents looking on as Mirta on the left and our assistant Autumn on the right work with their sleepy (a good thing at this point) subject. On the right is a Westcott silver square reflector on a C stand. On the left is a Large Chimera silver lined soft box. The large 6′ x 4′ box so close to the subject makes for very soft light, and the reflector evens the light  even more. This gives us the option to make the light more directional by moving the reflector or the soft box back.

So far we’ve been using a continuous light source, we don’t want to startle the babies. Since we don’t own a large continuous light source powerful enough to give us a relatively fast shutter speed, I decided to  use the modeling light as our light source. It also ads a little heat, and the buzz of the fan seems to be soothing to our subjects. The only problem is that one 250 w frosted halogen bulb (in a Dynalite head) was not powerful enough to give us a shutter speed we could hand hold at a moderate ISO. We’re using a Nikon D810, so the 36.5 megapixels make for beautiful enlargements, but even at f 2.0 and wider we’d have to use a higher ISO that I would like.

So, I decided that if 1 modeling light is good, 3 would be better. My permanent solution will be to fabricate a lamp I can put inside the soft box with 3, 250 w clear halogen bulbs, but until then, I clamp 2 additional heads to the existing one inside the Chimera box with all the modeling lights at full power. This gives us a very nice shutter speed at a low ISO and the ability to back up the light for more “modeling” without a significant loss of light.

I don’t recommend anyone purchase 3 flash heads to accomplish this lighting set up, but if you already have them, it will get you by until you can find a more permanent solution. Below are several images of our set up as well as a couple of final images. Mirta is our “baby expert photographer” of course, but I had fun building our baby set.

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I think the shallow depth of field makes this kind of image, and of course, helps us to keep the ISO low and the shutter speed high to avoid movement.

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The baby’s proud Papa is a musician and wanted to include his beautiful vintage saxophone in some of the images.

Barnet Photography_Newborn Photography_03Yes, this is a fake rubber floor below, but as you’ll see, it photographs beautifully and it’s easier on the knees than the concrete floor.

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Below is the back of the large Chimera box. This is the only brand I know that has such a large back opening, it closes with velcro of course, but it gives you the room, and the access, to add extra heads and keeps them away from the fabric to avoid overheating. Needless to say, we are very careful not to use the flash. Even at a low power setting the 3 heads would put out a lot of power. Another thing that is helpful is to do a custom white balance before starting the session.  It will make things much easier in post production.

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I hope you found this post helpful. I always enjoy seeing how other photographers deal with lighting and other challenges, and sometimes we find the solutions at Home Depot.


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