One of the joys of being a newborn photographer is the responsibility for creating some of the earliest images of your subject’s life. Not only are you being entrusted with the care of your client’s baby during the shoot, but you need to ensure that his or her earliest photos turn out beautifully.
Natural light is ideal for most styles of photography, however, we can’t control the weather or even always decide when the photos can be taken - this is why knowing what lighting equipment to use is important to ensure great images.
A softbox is an essential item for newborn photography, for a few really good reasons:
It will make your lights easier to use
Bring more clarity to your images
Keep those tiny eyes protected from a harsh flash.
Softboxes vs. Umbrellas
Are there differences between a softbox and an umbrella? Is newborn photography a situation where it’s best to use one, the other, or both?
Umbrellas are usually less expensive, more portable, and generally quicker to set up; but on the other hand, softboxes give you much more control over the direction of the light. If you’re just starting out with photography, you could begin with using an umbrella and as you get more confident and secure more work, graduate to using a softbox.
Umbrellas are certainly helpful, but they do spill light more and don’t give you nearly as much contrast as a softbox can. Personal preference is certainly part of the equation, but an experienced photographer will most likely have both a softbox and an umbrella available to use depending what is needed for each setting. This versatility will make your job easier and produce better shots.
If you need to use a flash, then an external (off-camera) flash rather than camera mounted (speedlight) will be your best option because you can do more with the direction of it, but bear in mind you have to use a softbox, and the output needs to be low enough that it won’t wake the sleeping baby or dazzle them. We have a kit that ticks all these boxes If you can, it is better to try to avoid using a flash with newborns.
The best lighting is ambient light for newborn photos if it can be attained. It should feel natural and soft, like the effect of sunlight from a nearby window. But t when the sun is on the other side of the house, or the sun is too harsh, or too low in the sky, your ability to shoot becomes restricted. A great option is a daylight white LED video light, as they won’t throw a colour that makes the baby’s skin appear warm or flushed red. Our most popular light for newborn photography is the Jinbei EF200 LED.
Getting a good shadow profile is important too. If they are not sitting well it can throw the composure of the photo. Using shadows well can build interesting features in the photograph, and you should take the time to learn how to get this right. Shadows can add direction and depth, and help the eye to focus on the main subject of the photo, since our eyes will automatically be attracted to the lighter areas in a photograph.
Consider too, studio lighting with newborns requires attention to the direction of the light source - it should always come from where the baby’s head is, in a down the body direction. This is a pleasing natural effect and will help avoid unwanted shadows that can detract from the overall image.
As mentioned earlier, a softbox is the best way to control the lighting direction. It forces the light through a layer of material, causing a diffused effect without losing lots of light (spill) from around the outlet. You are trying to achieve a soft and even result, which can be easily mastered. Remember that the closer together the newborn and the softbox are, the softer the light will appear.
Softballs or Softboxes for Newborn Photos?
Let’s have a look at the best softboxes on the market for newborn photography. You’re looking for a soft light that will be gentle for your tiny client and allow a good amount of contrast. When you get the right lights and quality softboxes, your great lighting will mean you don't need to do the same amount of editing as you need to without one - and that’s a win!
If you have a low ceiling which is white, and you have white walls and a large natural light window, then the EF200 LED softball kit is ideal for filling the room with indirect bounce light.
If you have a higher ceiling, or if you don't have a large diffused window to shoot in front of, or you want o to be able to shoot on sunny and cloudy days, then softboxes provide better control of the light. Go for the biggest softbox you can fit. If you have a permanent studio setup, consider the 120cm Window LIght LED kit. If you shoot on location, portability and setup time become more important, and you should go with a 70 x 120cm quick-fold softbox, or a 100cm quick-fold octa box. They cost a little more, but the speed of setup will soon pay you back in time savings!
It’s important to have a few other areas in mind as well, as lighting is only part of the equation in setting up a newborn shoot.
Comfort. These little people sleep a lot, and capturing early photos will invariably mean keeping them asleep to get those gorgeous poses to work. Having a calm & quiet space, with parents nearby and a cosy temperature setting is ideal. You may want to invest in a white noise source to create that soothing background hum. Many photographers rely on parents being just beside the baby to ensure they are safe and not about to slide or roll in any direction.
Stay as confident as possible. The parents are looking to you as the professional to know what you are doing and it will put them at ease if you stay calm. Calm happy parents will, in general, mean the baby stays calm, and you will create shots they will love.
Props. A range of colours and textures of wraps and blankets is important, ensuring they are soft and comfortable against baby’s skin, and easy to work with. Don’t choose stiff fabrics that take a lot of work to get sitting how you want; organic natural fibres are perfect as they have enough stretch to conform to the curves of the baby and give the effect you want.
Mistakes. Everyone makes them from time to time, and you need to learn from what you’ve tried - good or otherwise. Don’t let it set you back, just move on to another pose or prop and reflect on it later. Putting lots of pressure on yourself will work against you. The best thing you can do to take the pressure off is to allow more time than you expect to need, as it’s the waiting for the right moment that will bring the magic. Try to relax and enjoy the experience