Blur, baby, blur

Dis­cover James Pater­son’s tech­nique for shoot­ing a baby por­trait us­ing win­dow light, and with bokeh as soft as the sub­ject

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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.

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