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Portraits for the Little People

I would be lying if I said that I approach portraits of babies the same as I do for older people. However, there are some principles – primarily compositional choices – that are consistent regardless of the age of my subject.

Take Leo, for example:


First, the differences.

For children this young (approximately 7 months), I essentially let them do what they want. If I’m shooting an adult, or a young adult, posing is certainly part of the craft of photography. A 7 month old? You have to be kidding. Entertain them? Definitely (and in this respect it might be easier than the other subjects). Pose them? Forget-about-it. Make them comfortable, give them room to move around, and follow best you can.

I also give them something to play with – even if it is their toes!

This also dictates my choice of lighting.

I’m not going to be able to use a controlled light, as classic portrait lighting patterns would not be, in my opinion at least, appropriate. I believe babies and very young children look best when photographed with rather flat lighting – bright and abundant. This is convenient, because keeping them in one place would be difficult. Hence my use of the reflective umbrella.

The light is still directional, and you can see a hint of short/loop lighting (habits!). But it is open.

Let there be light! All over!

So I’m throwing light all over the place and not posing. What’s left? Composition.

Rules are meant to be broken, but I try not to. At least compositionally. They are there because they work. Consistently. Reliably. And most of all pleasingly.

I am a rule-of-thirds photographer. It is always in my mind when composing the shot. For portraits, it is the (near) eye that I try to frame:


 The other compositional element is of course the triangle. There are many in this image, but if I frame the “primary” one you can see the secondary ones formed in the negative spaces, as well as within the primary:


 Finally, post processing is certainly required. My mantra has always been that it is the finished product that counts, not how you get there.  When taking a photograph, I confess that I  don’t really “see” it complete until I am in front of the computer and I start to work. That process leads me through the final look and feel of the image. Often the differences between where I started and where I finish are striking.

To me, retouching is the art of adding emotion back into an image. The camera captures what was “there” visually (sort of). A photographers job in post production is to place you the viewer there emotionally. Part of that is capture (including, most importantly of all, lighting). Most of it is the details attended to in post.

Bright and soft is the way I like to go for the overall feel of an image of children. I am also a minimalist when it comes to what is actually in the photograph. This means softening or removing elements that I don’t want to be there (if I could not frame them out in the first place).

Baby skin needs attention just like an adults. The eyes are still the focus of a portrait at any age – the viewer’s should go right to them. A baby’s does not need retouching as a general rule, but they must be sharp. I find this even more critical because of their apparent size.

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