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First Baby Portraits - First Use of Studio Flash

Discussion in 'General flash photography, lighting, and technique' started by Harry Lavo, Sep 15, 2008.

  1. I did my first portrait session Sunday....for the daughter of my best friend, whose son had just turned three months old.

    I had set myself up with some portable lighting...two Adorama monolights, two umprellas, and a couple of reflectors. I had done some experiemental shooting in the home studio I set up, but this was the first time under the pressure of time constraints, a child with limited attention span, etc etc. Of course it helped that baby Julian was well behaved and the parents are sophisticated enought to know how to help.

    The shoot was done on location in their home, and as it turned out the day was miserable....humid, raining, abysmally grey. My original plan was going to be to set up to do available light shooting in the late morning, then while the baby napped, set up the lighting, and change over to flash photography. With the bad weather, I quickly determined that available light shooting just wasn't going to cut it, so I set up the studio as quickly as I could.

    I included three rough cuts, below with commentary on each. All in all, I think the parents will be pleased and I thought things were satisfactory. But I learned a lot.....the next time I try this I will be able to anticipate the problems:

    A Carrier Shot. I think the lighting is okay, although dad (who was holding the reflector) apparently didn't change position when his son slumped over in the seat, so I didn't get a semi-fill as originally set up. However, the biggest problem here was my inattention to detail -- I should have smoothed the blanket, made Julian sit up again so I didn't "lose" the corner(a sizeable PP chore), paid attention to the reflective lighting, and perhaps even have asked mom to take off the jacket, which tended to get in the way as the baby slumped. All novice mistakes, I'm afraid:

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    A Belly Shot. This worked pretty well, I think, with the main light 30deg to my right, and the fill light 45deg to my left and approximately twice as far away as the main light. The only problem here; baby Julian had just learned to prop himself up and really couldn't hold his head high, or if he did so, could do it only for a few seconds. So no really spectacular phots in this position, and some obvious spots to be removed.

    View attachment 253543

    A Can't-Use Family Shot. I wanted to get mom, dad, and baby together for a head and shoulder shot, so I set them up on a deck outside the living room window wall, and shot from inside through the open door. I had the umbrella lights set up inside adjoining windows, pointing at their position on the porch. The lighting worked fairly well, I think. This was one of the better pictures of the parents, but just as I was shooting the baby started to cry (one of the few times it happened). So not a keeper for the portfolio, but I think it demonstrates the setup pretty well.

    View attachment 253544


    Comments, suggestions, and criticism welcome. I am fairly low on the learning curve I'm afraid, and anxious to learn from you more experienced hands.

    ps. If anybody is interested, the first shot was done with the 85/1.8 and the latter two with the 35-70/2.8, on the D300.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 16, 2008
  2. Harry, Pat here. I just was checking in and saw these. I think for a first run with studio lights these are pretty good. exposure wise they look well lit. As you mentioned they are rough cuts. I assume you have more. I really like the family shot (of course less the crying part ;)  ) Can't wait to see more. Just my quick $.02
  3. DanWhite


    Jul 10, 2005
    Lansdale PA
    Harry Overall these are really cute. I will give a few comments to each

    1) I actually like the lighting ratio that you got here. To much fill and the lighting would be flat. I agree about the blanket, but that is a 3- 5 minute fix using the clone tool.

    2) The lighting here is a bit of an issue. I personally try to set up my key at about 45 degrees and my fill on camera access. That way the fill can "see" everything that the camera does. The pose is fine for a young belly shot, I personally would have gotten down to his level a bit more. For me the camera angle is a bit high. Also the lights look a bit high here.

    3) The pose here is a bit awkward Lighting is really nice though

  4. Thanks, Dan. Those are really helpful comments.

    I never did have much fill on one...just a little off of a 30" white reflector...still left a decent shadow. But somewhere between beginning to shoot with the baby upright and this shot, the fill disappeared completely. My guess is the father lost his concentration. Glad you like it the way it is.

    My instinct is totally with you as to height on two....the only solid surface we had was a very low coffee table and I ended up reducing the tripod as low as it was practical to go (well, in my "real time" mode. I guess I could have reconfigured the tripod completely, but it didn't occur to me...another lesson learned). I wanted to be dead-on even with little Julian, but couldn't get down there.

    As for lighting, you may be right. I'd certainly change the angles a bit...and perhaps lower would be better. Thanks for the insight.

    On three, do you mean the pose is awkward, or the facial expressions of the parents?

    When shooting the family my very best shot was my first shot (from an expression standpoint of all three)...and the sync cord fell out and the flashes didn't fire. It was too dark to salvage the picture, although I plan to try again when I get back from an upcoming trip.

    Can you suggest a better pose for family shots like this....husband behind wife holding baby, perhaps? I really have zero experience with this type of pose.

    Again, thanks for helping me out with your comments.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 16, 2008
  5. DanWhite


    Jul 10, 2005
    Lansdale PA
    What I ment about the pose, there is no connection here other than 2 people with a baby. Father is leaning away with a slightly smug expression, mom is cracking up etc. (although it is lit very well)

    This type of shot is what I call the relationship portrait. Remember who the star is in the shot "The baby". Here are a couple of examples

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


    BTW Which lights were you using? Flashpoints? if so they are great lights I have 4 of them

  6. Dan -

    I see your point...as they say, a picture is worth.....oh, you know!

    As to lights, I went cheap and bought the Adorama Budget Monopods. They can slave via flash or connect via Sync, can be run at full or half-power, and have built in 75w modeling lights. 95 @ iso100 (which is what I shot at except for the outdoor family portrait, which I shot at 200). Pretty basic, but okay for my needs. Also bought snoot and barndoors for them, as well as the umbrellas. I also bought a couple of floods and some 5" reflectors...backup in case the flash proves incompatible with some babies. All remarkably inexpensive, and since I am just in the getting-started stage, I wanted to keep cost down.

    Thanks for the illuminating illustrations of how to do it with some creativity.
  7. DanWhite


    Jul 10, 2005
    Lansdale PA
    Thanks Harry, I lit all those shots with a single flashpoint 620 with a 36" octo box.

    Couple of other quick tips:
    1) Pick up a burp cloth or 2 for drool. (cloning out drool is no fun)

    2) Squeeky toys work wounder for getting attention as does mom right behind you.

    3) remember to shoot baby parts, fingers, toes, ears, belly buttons etc.

  8. Thanks, Dan. I can see the need for the burp cloth....mom had some cleaning to do after putting little Julian on his belly.

    Fortunately I had Mom to get his attention....and I have many wonderful shots in the carry-all to attest to it. I gave him a toy, but it didn't squeak. Back to the drawing board!

    I actually did shoot hands, feet, and ears. Hands and feet I can understand...why anybody wants closeups of ears is beyond me. :) 
  9. DanWhite


    Jul 10, 2005
    Lansdale PA
    I know but my baby parts story board (i.e. hands, feet, ears, bellybutton and a tight headshot) is one of my best sellers.

  10. Thanks, Dan. Live and learn!
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