Babies, infants and toddlers seem like pretty easy subjects to shoot (pun intended). Like Puss in Boots – they are innocent, cute and sweet.
Those who have tried would know that they aren’t always the angels we think of them as. One wrong glance, a funny smell or any other mysterious elements could set a baby weeping and screaming. Or worse, those that can crawl might crawl away from you. These pooping and peeing creatures may seem like aliens from another planet especially for those of us who are rarely around babies.
To help us understand and communicate with these little people, I’ve gotten the expert help of Asther Lau, a well-known infant, toddler and baby portraiture photographer in Malaysia who has been taking photos for the last 5 years. As a mother herself, Asther’s experience helps her understand and anticipate what her little clients want. She’s generously sharing her knowledge in ChiqClick’s first and exclusive – Top 10 Tips.
Quick notes (via dictionary.com)
- Infant - a child during the earliest period of its life, esp. before he or she can walk; baby.
- Toddler - a young child learning to walk
- Baby - an infant or very young child
Tip #1: Let them be!
Babies & toddlers are happiest when theyâ€™re doing what they want. Be it playing, running, eating, or just sleeping.
When I arrive at a clientâ€™s place to capture their newbornâ€™s moments, Iâ€™ll plan my session according to the babyâ€™s mood. If she wants to feed, then let her feed and Iâ€™ll work on capturing the mother-baby moments. If she wants to sleep, then let her sleep. Iâ€™ll then slowly work around posing her for some cute poses.
Itâ€™s the same thing with older babies or toddlers. Thereâ€™s no point forcing a child to pose for the camera. You can suggest by making the session like a game session between you & the child.Â But in the end of the day, just let the child decide what he/she wants to do.
Tip #2:Â Camera Equipment
Okayâ€¦ this one is based on my own preference & experience. Some other photogs might do it or prefer it differently. I have only 3 lenses with me. A portrait lens (50mm), a zoom lens (70-200mm) and a wide angle lens which can also take macro details (24-70mm).
I use the portrait lens for most of my shots. Almost 90% of the whole set. The one I have allows me to take photos in very low-light situation, hence, it helps a lot with my indoor shoots.
I use the zoom lens a lot when I go outdoor with a running toddler. It allows some distance between me & the child, hence, this makes me almost â€œinvisibleâ€. A toddler will be more relaxed & willing to play more. Also, I donâ€™t really have to run with the toddler to capture the moments I want.
I use the wide angle lens more for a big family set-up or a very small indoor area. And since it can take macro shots for me, I use it a lot for my newborn sessions too for details like little fingers & feet. Get CLOSE to get those details. Details shots are a must have!
My camera mode is always on Manual with burst mode which helps a lot when it comes to capturing the moments I want, especially with an active child.
I try to avoid using flash/external strobes when it comes to photographing children because it can be very distractive, sometimes scary for the children. As for newborn, although you can use bounced light off the wall or ceiling, I still prefer to work with natural lighting as some parents are worried about the effect of the flashes on their babyâ€™s eyes.
Tip #3:Â Â Be prepared
For outdoor sessions, bring along things like
- wet napkins
- mosquito patches
- sunblock lotion for babies/children
- first aid cream for babies/children
This will help keep both the babies/children AND parents comfortable throughout the session. Some toys will always come in handy to help distract the children. Things like bubble-makers, a rattler or even a phone that plays some cute sounds.
As for indoor sessions, I always bring extra props such as blankets or swaddling blankets, etc. I will always expect my newborn clients to pee or poop during their â€œnakedâ€ sessions. Donâ€™t freak out when the baby pees or poop on you. EXPECT that to happen cause it almost always happens!
Tip #4:Â Plan the session with the parents.
Pretty similar to wedding photography, youâ€™ll need to plan things out with the parents prior to the photo session. Let them know how you work, your preferred style, etc. Besides discussing on what attires to wear for the session, discuss further on what to bring as well.
I always advice the parents to bring along some necessities such as:
- extra diapers,
- food & water (or milk),
- favorite toy/pillow,
- and most importantly, the person the child is most attached to, which is normally the main caretaker (a grandparent, a helper, etc.).
The caretaker will most probably be the best person to make the child smile or laugh.
Location planning is important as well. It has to be an interesting place for the child YET safe for him/her to play about. Make it interesting and fun cause children love to discover new environments. Familiar surroundings also helps, for example a place the child frequents with the family.
Tip #5:Â Â Be a friend
I always introduce myself when I first meet a toddler. A slow approach will look less intimidating for the child, so I always bring myself down to his/her level and smile first. Give a token of friendship in the form of a little gift such as a sweet or a toy. Itâ€™s also important to show the child that youâ€™re a friend of his/her parents. So talk to the parents & smile or laugh a lot. Eventually the child will warm up to you as well.
Tip #6:Â Â Always know when to say enough.
Babies & toddlers have a very short attention span. And they tire easily too. So always know when itâ€™s time to take a break or to finalize the session.
When I see tell tale signs of fatigue (crankiness, extreme attachment to a parent or caretaker, etc.), Iâ€™ll let the parents know that itâ€™s time to take a break or wrap up. Ending a session with a little picnic will help tune everyone down. Food & drinks are the best remedy after an active day.
I always encourage parents to interact with their children. Play, cuddle, make funny faces. All this will bring out an expression from the child.
As for newborn session, I usually will do the handling of the baby myself when it comes to prepping & posing the baby. But I always have the parent(s) available nearby to assist, especially the mother cause every baby is most comfortable when sensing the mommyâ€™s presence, especially breastfeeding babies.
Tip #8:Â Use anything & everything
For my newborn session, I like to put the baby in or on anything I see fit & nice. It can be a little bowl or a flower pot, or just a swaddling blanket or a little corner of a huge bookshelf. My current favorite is anything that screams DRAWER.
I encourage my clients to look around their home for any useable props instead of going out & spend money on new things. This is because I find that these old items have more sentimental value than those new stuffs. The parents will look at the photos taken years down the road and go, â€œheyâ€¦ thatâ€™s the drawer from baby Aâ€™s wardrobe. Itâ€™s always full of clothing cause mommy canâ€™t seem to stop buying new ones for him!â€. Get my gist?
Tip #9: Be PATIENT
Itâ€™s a hard, tiring job (and often enough messy) when it comes to photographing children. Youâ€™ll sweat buckets & almost every muscle will need to work when you try to get the shot you want. So take as many photos as possible. Take your time. Some of my favorite shots took me ages to obtain. So persevere and youâ€™ll be rewarded.
Tip #10: Relax & be happy!
Babies & toddlers detect negative vibes from people around them very easily. So, try to relax & think happy thoughts when youâ€™re photographing them. If youâ€™re stressed out, even a sleeping newborn will wake up & make a fuss cause she sensed your frustration. Playing a happy or peaceful music in the background may help. Have small chats with people around you. Anything that will help you relax! Except alcohol and drugs.
Asther Lau is a professional Newborn & Baby, Toddler & Children, Maternity & Family photographer based in Malaysia. Besides portraiture, Asther’s other talent includes underwater photography with publications in magazines such as X-Ray online dive magazine, Air Asia’s inflight magazine and front cover for Action Asia.
Asther’s official blog and website: http://astherlau.com/
Facebook Fanpage: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Asther-Lau-Photography/