The first step in becoming more adept at taking high-quality photos of infants is in the planning stage. Before you ever snap a single photo, you need to ensure you’ve got the necessary gear, supplies, and props. An equally - if not more important step - is to educate the parents about the process. After all, they are putting their child in your hands, and they need to feel comfortable with you doing so.
In this lesson, we explore each of these topics in depth, such that you can get off to a good start with infant photography.
Naturally, you’ll need the basics - a camera, lens, and tripod, to name a few. There is more to selecting these items, however.
When picking a lens for infant photography, don’t automatically go for a traditional portrait lens, like an 80mm. Often, using a longer focal length, like a 70-100mm zoom lens, might be more advantageous because you have a greater range regarding how near or far you can get to the infant (and it helps to have variable focal lengths when photographing more mobile, older infants). If the baby is happy and cooperative, you can get in closer for a tighter shot. Conversely, if the baby is skittish or anxious, and isn’t all too happy, taking a position a bit further away and using the zoom might be a better way to go.
Some photographers believe that a tripod is a tripod is a tripod, but that is certainly not the case. Like lenses, you get what you pay for with a tripod, so avoid the temptation to buy cheap as it will end up costing you more in the long-run. Look for something sturdy, with beefy legs, strong leg connections, and a stout center column that gives your camera a solid base regardless of whether you’re in a studio or in the client’s backyard.
Having a tripod is also necessary because it allows you to free yourself from the camera and concentrate on creating and maintaining rapport with the infant as you shoot. A remote shutter release gives you the ability to maintain eye contact with the little one, wave a toy around with one hand, make silly faces, and the like, all the while retaining your ability to fire the shutter. Of course, there will be times when you need to hold the camera and work without a tripod, too. Don’t be afraid to move around with the child, get down on the floor with them, and follow them around as they explore their surroundings!!
As with any kind of portraiture, having a set of gray cards, reflectors, backgrounds and background stands, clamps, a flash meter, and a strobe or two with stands is beneficial. You won’t use all these items all the time, but having them handy will help you do a better job for your clients.
Working with infants can be both a pleasure and a mess. Your shoot will go more smoothly if you have the following on hand, just in case there’s an accident or if the parents neglect to bring them on their own:
- Baby wipes, diapers, hand sanitizer, paper towels, baby-safe lotion, waterproof pads, and other items for when the infant has an accident.
- A changing table for easy changing of the infant during the shoot.
- Blankets, heating pads, and a space heater to keep the space warm for the infant.
- Music or white noise to set a calm mood for the infant.
Though it might seem like you should have to supply such things, doing so shows your commitment to making the experience the best it can possibly be for both the infant and his or her parents. Going the extra mile, along with the high-quality pictures you take, is sure to impress and lead to repeat business and referrals.
To help increase the production value of your shots, have some props on hand. What you need or might use will depend, in part, on the age of the child. Here are a few suggestions:
- Buckets and baskets make ideal seating for younger infants, especially those that don’t quite have a lot of body control. Add weights to the bottom of the container, lest it tip over with the infant inside.
- Blankets and strips of fabric can be used to swaddle the infant or as a covering for the floor or ground underneath the infant. Have a collection of blankets and fabrics with a variety of colors, textures, and patterns so you have a good selection from which to choose.
- Pillows, bean bags, and wedges will help you pose younger infants that might not be able to fully sit up on their own.
- Toys make great props, not just for inducing happiness in the infant but also for inclusion in the shot for added visual interest.
Whatever props you use, be sure they are baby safe. Everything should be non-toxic. There should be no metal or glass. Edges should also be smooth to ensure that the infant won’t get cut or otherwise injured.
Prep the Clients
Getting ready for a photo shoot with an infant isn’t just about getting your gear, supplies, and props ready. You also need to make sure that your clients are ready to go as well. Here are a few suggestions for preparing the clients for the upcoming session:
- A full stomach will go a long way in keeping the infant happy. Ask that the parents feed their child before the shoot. Have them bring snacks and drinks along as well.
- Recommend to the clients that they book the shoot for right after naptime. This means your infant subject will be most likely to be happy during his or her photos.
- Ask the clients to bring several changes of clothing. This is important for two reasons: first, it gives you some variety in terms of what the infant is wearing in the shots, and second, if there’s an accident, there will still be something else for the infant to wear.
- Remind clients to check for the little things on their little one that can easily distract attention in the photo. Dry skin, eye boogers, long or dirty fingernails, and the like should be attended to beforehand.
- Explain to your clients that the photo shoot might not go as planned and that that’s okay! Every infant isn’t going to cooperate for every frame. There might be some crying and wailing or runaway babies that just aren’t interested in sitting still. Even if things don’t go as planned, you will still be able to shoot, and you might end up with a wonderful candid photo that becomes the most cherished photo of the bunch.
- Ask clients to refrain from bringing their own camera or using their phone to take photos during the shoot. Eyes tend to follow the camera, and if you have a camera and mom has a camera, the chances are good that the infant will look at mom and not you. You don’t need competition for the baby’s attention!
- Explain to the clients that you will need their participation to help draw attention to the camera, to take care of accidents, to help pose their child, and the like.
The tips mentioned above should be explored with the client before the day of the photo shoot. You needn’t go over these details in your initial contact. At that point, you’re simply introducing yourself and providing answers to any questions the client might have raised in their first email or phone call.
Instead, wait until the consultation to go over your needs and expectations of the client. By that point, you will have hopefully developed a strong rapport with the clients such that you can go over the list without stepping on anyone’s toes. It’s also a good idea to elicit more specific information about the clients and their child during the consultation. This information might include:
- The age of the child.
- The number of children (i.e. Are there twins? Older siblings?)
- Wardrobe choices for the infant.
- Wants or desires for types of images.
The consultation is also an ideal time to give your clients a welcome package. Something simple with your business card, a thank you card for selecting you as their photographer, a small toy for their child, and so on, will leave a positive impression upon your clients. Again, building rapport with them and making them feel comfortable will only increase your chances of a successful shoot and repeated business.
Infants are among the most adorable portrait subjects you’ll come across. Getting quality pictures of them requires a lot of work, however. You will need to plan and prepare well in advance, and include the parents in those preparations too. As mentioned above, not every session will go off without a hitch - and that’s okay. If you’re prepared and if you can adopt a go-with-the-flow attitude, you’ll be able to adapt as needed and still get the precious photos that your clients want and deserve.
- Consider using a zoom lens for your infant portraits so you have greater flexibility without having to change lenses.
- Have baby supplies like wipes, diapers, and towels handy just in case the child’s parents need to tend to an accident.
- Have a selection of baby-safe props like buckets, blankets, and toys that add to the production value of the shot and help keep the infant comfortable, safe, warm, and entertained.
- Prepping the clients might be the most important step of getting started in infant photography. It’s critical that you take the time to build rapport and trust with them before handling their infant.
If you don’t have one already, develop a client checklist for parents of infants. Include a section on wardrobe so the parents know what works and doesn’t work for clothing their infant. Offer a list of do’s and don’ts too - such as ensuring the baby is well fed before the shoot and that colorful foods or drinks are not consumed before the shoot to avoid discolored lips. You might also include a section that outlines what parents can expect during the session, what you’ll need them to do, and explain your workflow as well.