FAQ V2! | Northern Virginia Newborn Photographer

WOW, I got so many awesome questions for this post I wish I could answer them all. I’m going to dive right in with the first question and probably the most popular question…

1) I am wondering what aperture setting is your favorite (do you shoot at very low apertures). Also, indoors how high are you able to go
with iso without getting “lots of noise” (although I understand a 5D can handle higher iso than a 50D, which is what I have). Would you ever be willing to share some of your workflow.

Hmmm, that is hard to say. I shoot all over the place as far as settings go but I do favor shooting wide open. For outdoor photos with a moving toddler I’m usually at f/2.0, that seems to be my sweet spot on my 85 1.2L.

Here’s an example:

Here is a SOOC (Straight Out Of the Camera) shot from this past weekend. This one was taken at f/1.6 (he was sitting on a stool so I felt comfortable going low since he wasn’t running), 1/640, ISO320 (very overcast morning) with my 85 1.2L.

I used my Photovision Calibration Target to set my custom white balance and pretty much nailed my exposure by checking my histogram right after the first shot I took and just adjusted my shutter speed as needed. Since there was nothing of importance that added to the story behind him I chose to shoot wide open so that he would be the focus of the this headshot.

Here’s the edited shot:

Much better, huh?

Like I said in the past I keep my editing VERY simple. For this photo, I shot in RAW and opened up the raw file in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw). Within RAW I:
- bumped the exposure a little to the right.
- adjusted the temp a tad cooler
- increased the blacks
- increased contrast
- increased clarity just a tad

I then opened it in CS3 and:
- did a very simple curves adjustment, grabbed the middle of the curve and lifted it a little bit to the upper left corner.
- ran portraiture and then reduced the opacity to 40% and also reduced the warmth of the skin to -2 within my portraiture settings.
- used the clone tool to fix a bruise on his head and lessened the dark under-eye circles.
- added contrast.
- did another curves bump.
- did a quick high pass sharpen.
- cropped it so he wasn’t so centered.

And a B&W conversion, I LOVE Nicole Van’s B&W action for an edited photo:

For indoor shoots (which all newborns are) I typically shoot my ISO’s between 300-800. I’m set up right next to a window with the baby’s face at a 45 degree angle to the light source so even on overcast days I have never had to go above ISO800. With the 5D MKII it’s entirely possible to go over ISO1000 but I just prefer not to since the majority of my clients buy large prints of their babies and I really don’t love what noiseware does to my photos.

Here’s an indoor newborn SOOC from this past weekend:

Again, exposure according to my histogram was spot on without blowing the blanket. Baby looks a tad dark but I know I can fix that in post production. This was shot at f/2.8 (again dealing with a very dark day), 1/100 and 43mm on my 24-70 2.8L. My shutter speed is a little lower than I usually like but I have pretty steady hands and am able to get a sharp shot. A general rule of thumb is to take your focal length and double it and that’s a safe shutter speed to stay out without getting soft photos.

Here’s the edited shot:

- bumped up the exposure and brightness.
- increased contrast
- increased clarity a tad

Then in CS3 I:
- did my standard curves bump as described above.
- ran portraiture and lowered the opacity to 50% and reduced warmth by -2.
- did a levels adjustment and dragged the middle tick line towards the left to brighten the midtones a bit.
- in a selective color layer I took out some yellow under neutrals.
- cropped and cloned the background a bit to make the blanket more perfect.
- high pass sharpen (I use an action I purchased from Nicole Van)

Then we have my outdoor newborns. With these since they are not moving and are stationary in a basket or bowl I usually shoot at f/1.2 like in this shot. Here’s the SOOC:

This was shot at f/1.2, 1/500, ISO160 with my 85 1.2L. I LOVE how shooting at 1.2 renders the background into a smooth, blurry explosion of greens and color like a painting.

And the edited shot:

Again, I opened this in ACR and:
- bumped the temp a little warmer since the baby’s skin looks a tad cool.
- increased exposure
- increased my blacks
- increased vibrance to punch up the greens.
- increased brightness

And in CS3 I:
- did a curves bump.
- ran portraiture on a low opacity and increased the warmth +1.
- levels bump
- increased contrast
- in selective color I opened neutrals and took out -2 magenta and added +2 in yellow.
- cloned out some of the more obvious flakes on the baby’s skin.
- sharpened

See, all very simple stuff I treat every photo differently but similarly if that makes sense. I don’t use many actions because I like to do things myself.

2. When working with a moving toddler and shooting with a wide open aperture how do you set your camera to focus?

PRACTICE, lots of it. I wouldn’t suggest anyone shooting wide open with a moving toddler unless you are used to it. Start at say f/3.5 and master nailing focus at that point and then work your way down. I toggle my focus points because that’s what I’m used to and it works for me. I’ve gotten really fast at doing it and am also very used to shooting wide open. When I was just starting out I would take my son out daily to practice my skills, I’d focus on one thing that day and my goal was to master it.

3. First, do you offer any kind of workshops and second can you explain how on earth you get newborns to rest their heads on/in their hands while they are up on their elbows?!? I have tried this pose many times but it never seems to work!

I get asked about workshops and mentoring ALL the time and I’m hosting a small, private newborn workshop in 2 weeks down at our beach house in the outer banks. This is a private get together with a bunch of amazing photographers from across the country that I’m doing a little workshop for. This is for fun and not paid, I have NO idea what the future holds as far as formal workshops go so I will just leave it at that. Right now I have no plans of doing them.

I’d love to mentor everyone who asks but due to time constraints, I can’t right now.

For the hands on the head pose, I use a U shaped neck pillow or boppy underneath the beanbag and just lay the baby on their belly resting their head on their arms. They have to be VERY asleep to get this pose but once they are out you can easily move and mold them into place.

4) Where do you get your props/ backdrops / wraps you use for newborn sessions?
I’m ALWAYS on the hunt for new props. My most recent find came from a local antique store, it’s an old, wooden trencher bowl:

This wrap is actually organic cheese cloth that I bought at Bed, Bath & Beyond:

The rest of my wraps and hats are from from various sellers. I spend a LOT of time and money on that site.

5) Can you please post a step by step swaddle demo using photos instead? I can’t remember any steps you showed, only that it was the best demo I’d ever seen and I badly need swaddling 101! I also would love to know the best size for the swaddling fabric.

For this shot:

I bought brown stretchy fabric from a fabric store, I want to say it’s a mix of cotton, rayon, and spandex and I cut it down to a 18×18 square and swaddled the baby just like you would with a normal blanket except I tucked the baby’s legs up and pulled it nice and tight as I swaddled so you can still see the outline of the baby under the fabric.

6) I want to know how you get the newborn’s legs to stay perfectly in that position, when they are laying on their back and the image is shot from above (usually a vertical).

For shots like this:

I make sure that my beanbag is nice and squishy. For most shots I like it firm so I use a rubber band to tie off the bottom so it’s nice and tight but for these shots I take the rubber band off or loosen it so it has more give. I then take a receiving blanket, roll it up and shove it under the black fleece under the legs/butt of the baby and it helps them keep their legs closed. The baby also has to be asleep, when they are awake their legs are all over the place.

7) What do you do when you have a newborn that will NOT sleep? I had a recent shoot with a two-week old and so she was already a little “old” for newborn shots, and she was wide awake for two hours straight and flailing her cute little arms all over the place. Any tips or suggestions??

I’ve been known to spend 4 hours at a newborn session waiting to get the shots I want but I’ve also been known to know when to call it a day and have gone back the day after to finish up a session. I’m a VERY patient person and that is definitely needed but I’m also dedicated to providing my clients with the images they hired me to get so if going back on another day is necessary, I will do it. I am also pretty good about making sure I do my newborn sessions within their first two weeks of life, that makes a HUGE difference. After two weeks they hit that crazy awake period and also start cluster feeding and hit growth spurts.

Some good shots to do with awake newborns are the swaddled ones, shots with Mom & Dad, and other more lifestyle type shots around their house.

Babies are much easier to pose/move when they are asleep so that is usually my goal.:-)White noise, full bellies, warm house, space heater, etc. all usually do the trick.

Hope this post was helpful and hopefully I can do another one soon.;-)

Jamie - Thank you for yet again helping those of us who admire and respect your work to learn from you. You are always so generous in sharing your knowledge and “secrets” with the rest of us!

Morgan - Thanks for sharing, Amber! LOVE your stuff!!

Jennifer Aguilar - Thanks so much for taking the time out to do this Amber! I know you are super busy. You really have an amazing talent for this, and it is so awesome that you are willing to help fellow photographers. I will definitely be referencing back to this post!

Marcie Jessee - Thanks so much for another helpful FAQ — I esp. appreciated your sooc/edited pictures! Thanks a ton :)

Shelby A. - Amber, thanks so much for taking the time to do this! I hadn’t even thought of putting a blanket under their legs to keep them in position. I always look forward to your posts–you’re my newborn photography hero!

Leah Jent - Hi Amber,

Thank you so much for taking the time to do FAQs like this. You are a newborn guru! I had a few follow-up questions about your Photovision Target. What size Target do you use? Is it easy to set CWB in camera with it? On my camera, I have to fill the frame with white (or grey) in order to set a CWB, and therefore I can’t use a tiny handheld card to set it. I would rather do CWB in camera than wait until post. Do you find that your Target runs “warm” and you have to cool your photos a little?

I appreciate the time and effort it takes to do these posts and answer questions. If you can’t get to my questions, no worries!

Thanks again!


becky - Thanks Amber! Great post!

Beth - Amber,
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! Not only are you an amazing photographer but an extremely generous person! It’s so kind of you to take time from you busy schedule to share such detailed information. I really appreciate it! Thanks Again!

Ally - Thank you for taking the time out to give us some great info. When and if you decide to do a workshop I am there!

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Brenda FitzGerald (Mimi) - Love all these shots!!!You make tis look so easy and I know it could not be!!!!I’m so proud of you…..Mom

Kassia - Fantastic! Thank-you so much for sharing :) If you ever offer another workshop in the outer banks, please let us know (or send me an email)… I’m in Hampton Roads and would LOVE to attend one so close! :)

Michelle Kane - You definitely have mastered the art of photographing babies. It’s really generous and appreciated that you take the time to share your knowledge with all of us. You constantly inspire me with your consistency. Mega thanks!

Trina - Thanks Amber! I really enjoyed reading this!!!

Marci - Awesome post. Thanks so much for sharing!

Cynthia Fowler - thanks so much for sharing all your tips. You are an awesome photographer and we really appreciate you taking the time to share everything :)

Danielle - Great FAQ. The baby info is helpful, as I’ve only done one newborn shoot. Also, since getting my 50 mm 1.4 lens I’ve struggled with finding the “sweet spots” for both individual & group portraits to get the subject nice and sharp but have my nice blurred background, so this was helpful for that too!

Silvina - Awesome awesome post Amber!! Thank you soooooo much!

jasmine - thank you so much for the amazing tips amber! :)

Linda Kitson - Amber, you are a gem, thanks so much for taking to time to detail all of this, it is awesome, and so much appreciated

DAna - Thanks so much for sharing…very valuable information.

kelly g - WOW! Great tips! Thank you so much for sharing!!

Marina - Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful informative tips with us. You are such an inspiration and I look forward to reading any educational tips you offer in the future.

Amy Lemaniak - Thank you SO much for this post, Amber! You are so kind to share your wealth of knowledge with us. Your work is a never ending source of inspiration!

Becca Wersland - Amber, thank you! You are so helpful, and even more inspiring. Thank you thank you!

Sari - It’s so great that you are willing to share how you do things. It’s greatly appreciated…thank you! Love your work!

Kylene Gay - Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge! We all appreciate it!

Stephanie Cox - Great info…random question: Where did you get the basket in the 6th picture?

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