Monday, March 28, 2016

Newborn Photography Secrets

In this edition:

  • Newborn Photography Secrets
  • Focus Tracking on some E-mount cameras (seeking more data)
  • Live Vicariously through this travel photographer (no, not me...)
  • Seminar in Halifax, Nova Scotia in May!
  • A6300 and Fujifilm X-Pro2 ebooks coming!

Newborn Photography

Ever since Anne Geddes raised the bar on the newborn photography genre, an entire legion of people shooting newborns in this style has arisen.  And this seemingly simple style of photography is considerably harder than it looks.  Not only do you have fussy subjects, narrow windows in which to get the shot, uncooperative siblings (for family shots), and un-photogenic skin, but you also have extremely high expectations from your clients.  Unlike  traditional portrait photography, you can't always guarantee that perfect photo.

I've been doing newborn photography for awhile, but for this latest session I wanted to up my game and duplicate the kind of uber-processed newborn photography fad that's sweeping the world.  Here's what I did to address each of these classic problems of newborn photography.

Problem #1: Dark, reddish / purplish skin.  (Click on any of these example for a larger view)

Problem #2: Splotchy red rashes

Problem #3: Rough Skin

Before Photoshop, the problems of unphotographable skin was usually handled by shooting in black and white.  When shooting Caucasian babies, a red filter was often added to make the skin look whiter.

Today this same red filter effect can be emulated in Photoshop.  When using the Image --> Adjustments --> Black & White... feature, move the red and yellow sliders to the right a little to get this classic Hollywood "look".

This is your standard black and white conversion.  Everything translates into some shade of grey.

Move the red and orange sliders to the right a little to make the skin look whiter. 

So that's one way.  But if you want color photos, you can either spend tens of minutes tweaking each image in Photoshop or Lightroom (after having learned how to do it), or you can spring for some commercial-off-the-shelf tools that can help you achieve the same effect while spending considerably less time.  I'm going to recommend two such tools below that are actually useful (and one of them is free!).

The Free Option

There's a photoblogger named Rita who runs from her home in Texas.  One of her claims to fame are the free photoshop actions she creates.  I found one of them very useful for cleaning up the skin of newborns: The "Coffeeshop Baby PowderRoom" collection, which you can download from here:

(Instructions are provided as well.  She has many other actions available too; browse around!)

Basically, when you open your file and run the action, it creates 6 new adjustment layers on top of the background layer.  You then use the brush tool on the mask to "paint" in the desired effect on your image; then adjust the layer's transparency to taste.  It works wonderfully, taking the process down to about 3 minutes per image.  I processed all of the above examples using this tool.

If you're doing this for a living, you might want to go for something that might speed up the workflow even more.  And "Speeding up workflow" is what Lightroom is all about, but do NOT make the mistake of just installing 1,300 baby photo presets and pray that one of them will work on the image that you have.  The problem with presets is you can't selectively apply an effect to part of an image; it gets applied to the whole thing.  What you need to look for instead are presets that can be applied via the adjustment brush so you can, for example, only smooth the skin on parts that don't include the eyes or mouth.  Here is such a package; it allows you to do skin softening, lightening, and red (rash) removal all via the adjustment brush.  And for a scant USD $50, it's quite a bargain:

Lighting for Newborns

Now, then, the hardest part.  Lighting for shots like the above is not obvious.  The earlier shots on this page were done with one softbox and a black background, and for most portraiture the rule is that the larger the softbox, the softer the light.

But for newborns, that doesn't work as well as you'd think.  The light, as well as the shadows, are still strong and it has to be softened yet further.  So you need to start with a large light source, and then light the newborn using the very edge of the light.  Not only does this provide softer light, but also less light, great for those photographers who like to show off shallow depth-of-field with their f/1.4 lens.

This technique is called feathering, and yes, it requires that you waste 99.9% of the light from your expensive softbox.  That's why large reflecting surfaces are required as well, to bounce back some of the wasted light and fill in the shadows.  Below are some test shots, plus a wide shot showing the light setup.  The large softbox is actually 3 feet in front of the newborn, so only the edge of the light is hitting him.

Top photo is a plain softbox with the subject in the center.  Bottom is softbox' edge, with a fill reflector.  Much softer!
Behind-the-scenes of the test shot.

Halifax Seminar - May 21-22

We won't be doing a lot of seminars this year because other projects will be usurping my time (especially this summer).  However, we will be doing one in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on May 21-22, 2016!  And the early sign-up discount has been extended to April 5th!

If you're not happy with your photographs and find yourself chasing exotic equipment to fix the problem, then this course will change your photography forever.  If you can't make the Halifax event you can now stream a condensed version of the 2-day course in the comfort of your own home!

In the Pipeline

New ebooks are in the works for the Sony A6300, and the Fujifilm X-Pro2 by Tony Phillips.  Please send an email to Gary at Friedman Archives dot com to be notified when they're ready!

Next Time in f2 Cameracraft

You know all those magazine articles that tell about some high-falutin’ photographer traveling the world and taking awesome images, enjoying all that life has to offer, all the while you’re sitting there and just reading a magazine?  Well, this story is nothing like that.  This is the story of one man’s journey to become that photographer overnight, which involves work, sacrifice, taking on significant amounts of debt, and basically doing absolutely whatever it takes (including learning how to be a businessman).  It’s not at all easy.  And he hasn’t succeeded yet.  But his work is totally awesome!  

Subscribe to f2 Cameracraft today!  See inspiring photography via a 20th Century medium.  

A6300 focus tracking

I discovered something somewhat annoying about a month ago while shooting athletes running toward the camera using the Sony A7R II and the Sony 55-210 E-mount lens.  (I used the A7R II because my A6300 hadn't arrived yet.  And I used the 55-210 lens because that's most A6300 owners are likely to buy.)

Here are the settings I used:
  1. Shutter Priority mode, set to 1/1000th of a second (to freeze the action)
  2. Drive Mode set to "Continuous" (so it'll keep taking pictures for as long as I hold the shutter release button down).
  3. Focus Mode set to "AF-C" (meaning "always assume your subject is moving and continuously try to focus")
  4. "Priority Set in AF-C" feature set to "AF" (so the camera won't take a picture unless it thinks it's in focus)
These are ideal settings for shooing sports and getting a high yield of sharp pictures.  But imagine my frustration when I discovered that the camera WOULD NOT TAKE PICTURES OR EVEN TRY TO FOCUS while I was turning the lens' zoom ring - a necessary adjustment when an athlete is running toward you!

I did some more tests when I returned to my studio.  This happened on my A7R II with native E-mount lenses plus A-mount lenses using the LA-EA3 adapter. (A-Mount lenses using LA-EA4 adapter, which has it's own focusing array, don't show this problem.)

My first thought was "this is the proper thing to do with a varifocal lens - your focusing changes while you zoom and so it's easiest to just stop trying until the zooming stops".

Then the A6300 showed up.  It worked perfectly, using the same lens and the same settings!

Go figure.  I'm not sure what caused the original problem... A bug in the A7R II?  A quick inquiry on dpreview revealed that it didn't seem to happen with the high-end FE lenses with the same settings.  I need more data to really know for sure.

So here's an opportunity for you.  Please see if you can duplicate the problem as described above using the equipment you have, and please report your results in the comments, including your equipment and firmware versions.  This is for E-mount cameras only.  Thanks for taking the time!

Parting Shot

Here's a slow-motion video tracking a moving athlete using the A6300 and 55-210 E-mount lens, showing off the camera's 120 frames-per-second video mode.  Notice how the camera keeps tracking the subject even though an adult gets in the way about 15 seconds into the video clip.

This is not the first Sony to be able to do this.  Any camera with the AF Track Sens function in the menu can do this too.  It's a very handy feature.

Until next time,
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman

The big brother helps out.

P.S. - Oh, yeah, the most important secret of all for newborn photography: GET A SPACE HEATER!  Those little ones get cold rather quickly when they're not wrapped snugly in a blanket. :-)


  1. Piqued my curriosity so I went out with my A7rm2, 70-400, laea3 adapter & tried. The camea did auto focus as I panned and turned the zoom ring. Hadn't ried this before. I usually zoom to what I want, make sure in focus & then take the shot.

  2. Should add, camera firmware is v3, lens is older 70-400, v01.

    1. Thanks, Jeff! I'm beginning to think it's just that one lens when attached to an FE body.

  3. I am so happy to see this Blog arrive. I haven’t even read it, but already feel happy. Better than taking a pill!! Just read Gary’s blog and feel well.

  4. Please do a detailed test using A mount lenses, including Tamron, and the A6300 with LAE3 adapter. I'm particularly interested in the Tamron 150-600.

    1. Any A-mount lens that doesn't have the screwdriver focus drive should work with that adapter; however some features such as Eye AF might not. If you send me your lens I'll be happy to try it out. :-)

  5. Referring to your lighting setup for taking baby photos (softbox, reflections etc), it seems like this is overly-complicated way of artificially reproducing a natural lighting situation. Why not use a garage, put the baby in middle, open up the door and you instantly have a large, diffuse light source? Add a lamp or two on either side to add more light from other directions. Am I missing something?

    1. If you're doing this for a living, that's not an ideal solution, as you're limited in the times of day you can do this. Plus, not all garage doors are North-facing (the source for softer, non-direct daylight for the Northern hemisphere). There are so many variables not within your control when shooting newborns, why leave one of the most important ones to chance as well? :-)

    2. Thanks Gary. Good point. I don't do it for a living so a one-off situation is different to a repeatable commercial environment. Keep the blog going - enjoy reading it.


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