Blur, baby, blur
Discover James Paterson’s technique for shooting a baby portrait using window light, and with bokeh as soft as the subject
Use light from a window and a wide aperture to take blissfully soft baby photos
Most parents want beautiful shots of their babies, and one way to get that is to use a shallow depth of field to add plenty of background blur, emphasising the softness and fragility of the subject. A prime lens with a wide maximum aperture like a 50mm f/1.4 comes in handy here. The wide aperture means we can shoot with a narrow depth of field, picking out details while blurring everything else. Wide apertures also allow us to work in lower light, so it’s perfect for window-lit portraits, where the light can often be fairly low.
Younger babies like two-month-old Alice here won’t be crawling or sitting up on their own, which means you can focus precisely and take a little time over framing the shot. On the other hand, it also means you’re restricted in the types of poses you can try. There are really only three options: lie them on their backs, try them on their tummies, or ask the parents to hold them. The limitations of the shoot can be a blessing, forcing you to focus your attention on perfecting the shots while working with what’s available.
It helps if you come prepared. Bring a few blankets and cushions to the shoot. Furry rugs can be handy – they add texture to the shots and babies like the feel of them on their skin.
To the outside observer one baby looks very much like another (don’t
Younger babies like two-month-old Alice here won’t be crawling or sitting up on their own, which means you can focus precisely and take a little time over framing the shot
say that to the parents!) so look for ways to add personality to the shots. A favourite toy or blanket can work well. Ask the parents for a few changes of clothes too. Hats are particularly effective, they frame the face and provide a splash of colour.
A reflector proves invaluable when shooting with window light, which illuminates one side of the subject more than the other. Positioned opposite the window, the reflector bounces some of the light back at the subject, lifting the shadows. The effects are often quite subtle, but vital for professional results.
You never know what you’re going to get when photographing babies. They could be happy, grumpy, sleepy, hungry, or a mixture of these things. You need to be ready to adapt your approach. One thing is certain: you’ll need to work quickly.