Photographing a very young baby can seem like a daunting task for even the most accomplished of photographers. Most babies aren't at their most photogenic at this age; many of them smile infrequently and when they do its usually wind! They also spend a lot of time sleeping, feeding, crying or dribbling - none of which has the makings of an amazing shoot...
Yet some of my most poignant and rewarding shoots have been with parents and newly born babies. New parents often experience emotions akin to being 'in love' at this time, giving the resulting images an emotional depth and character, as well as prompting tears of joy and laughter either during the shoot, or when the parents view their photos.
So how is it possible to capture this special time in a family's life?
One of the keys to a successful baby shoot for me is to prepare the family for the shoot beforehand. Ask when the new arrival is most lively and happy - many babies are at their best early in the day. Ask mum to have several outfits at the ready for the shoot, to create a few different looks: several babygrows, a small bathrobe, and a few everyday clothes are ample.
Natural light is my ally when shooting babies and young toddlers. Firing flash may make an infant blink or cry, and it flattens the gentle skin tones and shadows I am trying to capture. Our clients like images with a very natural, lifestyle feel, so I shoot using a wide aperture (around F4), and when faced with a darker location, I'll use the camera's higher ISOs, and a reflector directed at the model to boost the ambient light. If I need additional light, I'll use a flashgun with a Lightsphere diffuser, and bounce it off white walls or a ceiling.
As I'm not studio based, I am usually shooting in a client's home. When I arrive for the shoot, I'll look around for the lightest and brightest spaces with the biggest windows and least clutter. I'm looking for clean, simple backgrounds, and I'll choose a couple to use. White sheets and duvet covers or a soft baby blanket are great to give a very clean, fresh look to the shots, not distracting from the baby.
Having plenty of time is essential to give the images a relaxed feeling - make it clear to the parents that you're in no rush and if little Freddie needs a break for a feed or a sleep during the shoot, that's fine. Why not use the opportunity to capture a beautiful shot of the baby blissfully asleep? Straight after a nap is a great time to pick up the camera again as babies have a wonderful ability to completely rejuvenate after a short sleep.
I'll usually start a shoot with the infant in a simple babygrow, lie him or her on a bed or on the floor to capture some simple portraits first. Getting in really close and shooting macro can add a different dimension to the images and will make for great shots for multiframes and albums which the parents may buy. Little toes and fingers, dad's big hands with little hands and of course close-ups of eyes, offer great options for some creative and abstract imagery.
Encourage mum and dad to interact and have fun with their little one by smiling or calling the baby's name - you stand a much better chance of achieving that elusive smile or grin or an intimate 'moment' by asking them to do this than trying to yourself. Remember, you're a stranger to this vulnerable little bundle.
As well as having baby lying down, you can create some different poses by asking a parent to cradle the baby in their arms, or hold him or her up at shoulder level.
During the shoot I'll suggest one or two changes of clothes - if the parents request or like the idea, I may also do a few nude shots - baby's bottoms can be very cute! A bathrobe with a hood is a great choice, and an outfit with a cute hat or cap to finish will look great.
As a baby becomes more mobile, your options for photographs expand. By 6 months, most babies can hold their head up, sit up and crawl. At about a year many will take their first steps. This may be a great time to head outside, and use a natural backdrop such as a garden, a nearby country house or the beach.
This allows space for a young toddler to move around and play, giving you scope for beautiful natural images, and a good backdrop for some portraits of the family together.
In postproduction, I will spend some time re-touching images, to soften skin tones and remove blemishes. I'll present many images in black and white, as this is naturally a very flattering format.
Jo studied for a degree in History before training to be a journalist and subsequently deciding on a career as a photographer. After training with Annabel Williams and Catherine Connor on their 12 month Bespoke Programme, Jo established Jo Hansford Photography in 2000. Jo is now a key trainer at the Annabel Williams Contemporary Photographic Studio, where she runs several seminars each year - www.annabelwilliams.com or 01539 821791.
Jo also has a passion for creative and abstract imagery, and her love of all things Portuguese & Mediterranean is reflected in her photographic work, she has exhibited widely and since 2004 has specialized in wedding photography and lifestyle portraits. Based in Bristol, Jo has shot commissions for in Italy, Spain and Portugal as well as the UK.
For more information on Jo and her work, visit www.johansfordphotography.com or call 0117 953 5801.