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Photographing Newborns w/Natural Light

Erica Duffy , Feb 10, 2010; 11:53 a.m.

Hi,
Currently I use studio lighting and I would love to learn how to use natural light on newborns. I've only photographed one newborn, it was for my sister-in-law, and it was done in the evening so I couldn't use natural light. I love how natural light pictures turn out. I can't seem to figure out the settings on my camera. I have a Nikon D5000, AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm lens. I've played around with the settings but I can't get the pictures to look as nice as I've seen them. Should I be using a different lens? I also have a Nikkor 55-200mm lens, I have't used it yet.

Any input is greatly appreciated! Thanks!

Responses

Rob Bernhard , Feb 10, 2010; 12:04 p.m.

[[but I can't get the pictures to look as nice as I've seen them.]]

You need to better define what that statement means. What look are you trying to achieve?

You also should upload an example of one of your photos, shot in natural light, that you think has problems. The photo should include the EXIF data so people can see what settings you chose.

Devon McCarroll , Feb 10, 2010; 12:14 p.m.

Seeing one of your photos would definitely help, along with what you're wanting to achieve. I can tell you a few basics about shooting in natural light, starting with window light. Avoid direct sunlight and aim for diffused lighting (i.e., don't use a west facing window on a sunny day in the afternoon). Early morning and late afternoon provide beautiful lighting, especially if it's not a cloudy day and the sun is going to be bright in the middle of the day. Also, use a reflector on the opposite side of your subject to bounce some light, and put some diffusion material in the window if you need to.
If you're shooting outdoors, the same things apply--diffused light, early morning or late afternoon when the sun isn't high. And be sure to set your white balance for the type of light you're shooting in.

Kevin Delson , Feb 10, 2010; 02:06 p.m.

You're right. Natural light is quite complimentary to a infant's skin.

Diffusion is indeed the key and only as much light as needed.
Too much light on newborns will reveal what looks like pasty skin tones, when in reality is more of a medical reason. Newborns veins and arteries are much closer to the skin surface than that of an adult. Too bright of light will reveal this; so keep the light levels as low as possible.

Metering: Look at the infant and determine where the brightest light is falling.
Spot meter off that area for starters. Depending how well the light is bathing the subject, you may have to either shoot a little slower or open your aperture a tad more if you feel the shadows are too deep..OR as mentioned, reflect some light back toward those dark areas.

I happen to have one infant photo in my gallery now.
This was taken in natural light from the top down.
What you don't see is a silk screen (diffusion) I shot thru to soften the look.

D.D. Toth , Feb 10, 2010; 07:26 p.m.

If you don't have another infant to shoot, ask a friend to sit in front of a window for you. The best time to shoot is when the sun isn't directly in front of the window. It will vary depending on what way the window is facing and time of day. Always ask the couple before the shoot to determine the best time. Or if it is in your own home just check it out at different times of the day to see when the light is most ideal.

When you are looking out the window, the sun should be somewhere off to the left or right. That way it isn't as harsh, and you won't really need any type of diffusion. If you have no choice but to shoot when the sun is glaring in, then diffuse it with a white bed sheet. You can also adjust your subjects placement until you get the most pleasing light.

As for settings, it entirely depends on how much light is coming through. If you can have your ISO at 100/200, great! Most likely you will have to have it a bit higher, like 400. The light was fading during one of my shoots so I even had to up it to 800.

Your settings will change based on how much you want to be in focus. At lower apertures (1.8, 2.8) you get a smaller depth of field which means you will only get, say, from the tip of the nose to the middle of the cheek bones in focus, and tons of bokeh. The smaller the aperture (5.6,8,11) the more depth of field you get, which means more will be in focus.

So step one - Set it at the most ideal ISO (100/200).
Step two - determine your aperture based on the depth of field you want.
Step three - Adjust your shutter to expose the image properly. Set your LCD to have it flash at you (when viewing images) if you have over exposed part of the image. Obviously you don't want any flashing.

This is all ideal, but most of the time you have to compromise one setting. For example, your lenses can't go to 2.8 so you will have to set it to the widest possible, 3.5 - 5.6. With your lenses, the aperture Varies. So at 18mm, it can be as low as 3.5, and then when you zoom in to 55mm, it will change to 5.6. I have the 17-55mm F2.8, which means my aperture is Constant. I can zoom in and out and not have to worry about my aperture changing. Because of that variance, you might want to just set your aperture to 5.6 and then adjust your shutter and ISO, so your image is properly exposed.

I myself would set it to 5.6, that way I won't have to worry about my exposure changing because I zoomed out a little. Now say you set your ISO at 200, but in order to properly expose the image your shutter ends up needing to be at 1/20 of a second. That obviously isn't ideal because you will have motion blur from you or the subject. So you would then need to increase your ISO to 400 or 800 until you can get an ideal shutter speed. You could also make it a bit easier and just use the Aperture priority setting and set your aperture to 5.6 and let the camera determine the ISO and shutter speed. Beware with that because sometimes it will use ISO 3200, and you may end up with lots of noise. I try to stay away from Aperture priority because you don't learn a lot that way.

When working with natural light indoors, you will almost always need a reflector. As well as someone to hold it and direct the light for you. The reflector is used to fill in the shadows. Here is an image where I didn't use a reflector. You get really harsh deep shadows without a lot of detail.
http://photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=7853287
Here is one where I used a reflector so I could fill in the shadows and get more detail to show in the hands, hair and face.
http://photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=7853286
All my newborn shots were done in natural light in front of a large window without any diffusion. Anyways I feel like I'm writing a book here so I will leave you with this so you can start practicing! It takes some trial and error in the beginning so be patient, and don't forget to have fun.

Ian . , Feb 10, 2010; 09:20 p.m.

Some good info here. Really play with the light. Look for the best diffused light then position the infant to get some modeling (light and shade). I usually a reflector for fill to balance the light. Softer is better.

little kid
swaddled kid

Arturo TreviƱo , Feb 11, 2010; 02:49 p.m.

go here http://www.kelleyryden.com/babyblog/ for some ideas on how to pose and place the babies for natural window light.
Arturo T

Erica Duffy , Feb 13, 2010; 12:22 p.m.

I tried a few sessions with natural light...neither of the newborns slept at all so it was a little tough with the posing! What do you guys think? This is my first time trying out natural light.

D.D. Toth , Feb 16, 2010; 03:06 p.m.

You will have to post a link to the images in order for us to see them :)

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