FAQ V4 | Virgnia Newborn Photographer

Ahhh, finally have time to wade through all of the emails and comments for this post now that I’m on vacation. I will try to answer the most popular ones asked.

* Disclaimer * I do not claim to be a Photoshop expert, I do what works for me. The awesome thing about Photoshop is that there are a million and one ways to accomplish something so the goal is to figure out what works best for YOU and your work flow.

1) In your last one your mentioned over and over, that you did a custom white balance.  I’m just starting out, so if you could, could you explain how you do that?  I feel like I spend a lot of time in ACR fixing the white balance.  I definitely feel like I need to improve my SOOC shoots.  I spend way to much time”fixing” things in photoshop.

This question gets asked a lot! I’m going to go back to basics first and explain how I set a custom white balance. I use the Photovision Target (have them in 2 sizes but find the mini the easiest).

I get in my shooting spot and meter (off the target using my center focus point) and take a photo of the target like so:

I laid the target on the ground because that’s where I was shooting. Look how cool this looks (and I don’t mean kool and the gang)?!

Next in my camera (all cameras are different, I shoot with a 5D MKII) I go in and select “Custom White Balance” as my WB, in my in camera menu I select “Set Custom White Balance” and then select that image I just took.  Once I do that I take one more shot of the target to make sure it looks good:

Look how much warmer and natural this looks? This WB is spot on so I went ahead with my shoot. Here is a shot I took soon after straight out of the camera (SOOC):

Again, to me this looks accurate as far as skin color to me. I then went through my standard workflow (as seen here) to finish the image:

Setting a CWB definitely saved me time here!

I do NOT set a CWB in all situations, including fast moving toddlers where we are moving all over the city or if once I set it in camera and I don’t like what I see, I’ll switch it to Auto White Balance and will fix it in Raw.

Now I wonder how many photovision targets I just sold?;-)

2.  You are awesome to do these faq’s post. I am wondering what you do with all your stuff that you take to shoots between shoots. And also how do you carry everything with all the blankets, hats, bean bag, etc. Seems like I have tons of bags every time I go to a shoot and I would just like to figure out a way to carry around better so I wanted to see what you do?
Thank you! Oh goodness with newborn sessions it seriously looks like I’m moving in. The night before the session I go through my blanket stash and pick out the ones I want to use, I fold them and put them in one of these extra large boat totes from LL Bean. I almost always bring 7 or so and they all fit in this bag including the black fleece I use for the black backdrop shots with the parents, etc. I have another zipper duffel bag full of hats, wraps, and accessories organized in gallon zip lock bags by type and gender. I store my space heater, noise machine, neck pillow and puppy pee pads in one of my baskets. Those three things plus my bean bag and camera bag are all I really need for a newborn session, that’s the basics. I also will set aside specific props I want to use that session and always have a few paper backdrop rolls, a savage port a stand, and various furs in the back of my car.

The trunk of my car is like a roving studio and it drives me (and my husband) insane. Until I get a natural light studio, which I plan on doing next year, this will have to do.

3. I have done several newborn shoots…I have yet to get the baby really sleepy.  I can usually get them to sleep, but can’t quite get them over the edge to that really pliable state.  I am using a heater, noise maker, bean bag, etc…I am even really good with newborns…just not sure what I am doing wrong.  Seems once I get them in a position, I am afraid to move them because I am afraid they will wake up!!  Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

This is honestly something you figure out as you go along, every baby is different and will tolerate different poses more than others. I find that if the room is really warm (85 or so), the baby has a full belly, and you have some sort of white noise they will fall asleep eventually. Some it takes longer than others though. You need to wait until they are completely out to really pose them, for me I find it easier if I’m holding them in my arms and rocking them while they fall asleep. Once I feel they are asleep I pose them in my HANDS the way I want them on the bag and then transfer them to the beanbag. Once on the bag I let them chill for a bit and soothe as necessary and then perfect the pose. I make sure every finger and toe is where I want it but make sure I always get the “safe” shot before I perfect it in case they wake up.

Once they are asleep I have no problem lifting them up, usually keeping them in the same position, switching blankets and moving right alone. If they do wake up they are usually still nice and sleepy they are easy too soothe right back to sleep with a little rocking.

Another thing to remember, do NOT EVER force a baby into a pose it is not comfortable doing. There are also certain poses, IE: the hanging poses or the propped up on the hands pose which are composite shots where the parents hands are photoshopped out of the final edit. The baby’s safety should ALWAYS be your first priority as a photographer.

4. Where do you get your gorgeous wraps? And can you share a diagram of your typical set up, or a pull back. I’d love to see your lighting/natural light in relation to your bag and baby. And on that note, what do you use under your babies?

Here’s a pullback, as you the light is coming at about a 45 degree angle to the backdrop/blankets, gives me nice shadows and highlights.

Since I’m on-location, my setup is different in every house but I try to do something like this each time.

5. I end up with a lot of red feet and red hands… any tricks for post processing or positioning that will help with this?

Ah yes, the red/purple hands and feet! This is SUPER common with newborns since their circulartory systems are not quite fully developed just yet.

This is going to happen if they stay in any pose for a bit, usually I shoot, get the shots I want, and move on but sometimes it happens regardless. It’s a super easy fix in photoshop though:

Here’s the straight out of the camera shot, notice the hand is a little purple/pink:

Next I process it as usual then use my lasso tool and select the offending appendage:

Then with that selected I go in and do a new selective color layer and under “neutrals” I pull out some magenta, some cyan and add some yellow. I don’t have specific numbers, I just eyeball it. Then I take the eraser tool and erase around the edges a bit to blend if needed.

And after, much better!

6.  Thanks for your generosity, Amber. I would love to see what bean bag you use, what blankets, etc. and how you set it all up on a typical shoot.
I am always on the hunt from new blankets and fabrics, I don’t have one go-to place for those. Home stores are the best as are fabric stores.

My beanbag is the Puck Beanbag from, I added extra fill to make it even more firm. It’s got a flat top surface which makes it awesome for smooth blankets and posing.

Feel free to keep the questions coming, I’m trying to do these more often! We are definitely enjoying our vacation down here in the Outer Banks but I will be excited to get home and get back into the swing of newborn sessions again.:-)

Liz - I love your FAQs! Your work is fantastic!!! Thanks for sharing all your wonderful tips and tricks, but I have to say, you make it look and sound so much easier than it is! You are super talented.

Amber Norris - Thank you so much for this FAQ! You rock!

Tania - Your work is amazing… thanks for answering all these questions. It’s nice to have ppl like you helping others trying to get better. Thanks!

Terri - Hey Amber, great FAQ. One question though, where do you use the puppy pee pad? Right under the baby who is on the blanket? Do you then photoshop it out? At almost every session, I’ve had a little pee happen so I guess that’s a good idea! :)

littleblog - Ahhh, puppy pee pad goes UNDER the first blanket that I’m using on the beanbag. I layer my blankets so this keeps any accidents from going through all of my blankets at once.

laurihill - Thank you for sharing. I love your pullback shot. Really helps to see how others work. Love your work. Have a great vacation.

Corey Nelson - Thanks for sharing Amber!! :)

Meghan Rickard - Thanks for this post, I love it when fellow photogs share some of their tips & tricks!

Jill - Thank you for your awesome sharing! I love it! You’re so talented!

Nia - And again, I love you! LOL! Mad props to you for being so helpful and generous with your information. It’s not very often you come across a photographer who is as busy as you are and still willing to share AWESOME tips with others. You are amazing.

Nia - Oh yeah, and which type of beanbag, exactly, do you have from I’ve been eyeballing the ottoman but worry that it’s too small. I know you said puck beanbag but I did a search and only saw the chair beanbags…

Heather - Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Sarah - Seriously- Photovision should give you kick backs for all the publicity you give them! LOL! You are the reason I bought my target last year! As usual, great FAQ! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us :) I do have one question: do you drive a huge car to fit all your gear in? I have a 2 door Civic and I struggle with 1 storage tote and small beanbag! I need more stuff but I have no idea hwere I will put it.

Silvina B. - Awesome, as usual! :)Thank you Amber!

Jen S - Thanks Amber! The FAQ post was very helpful, and as always, your working is both inspiring and beautiful.

Liz - Thanks for sharing Amber :) Your work is awesome and I love seeing the before/after and pullbacks!!

Donna H - Thanks a bunch for sharing this info. I always thought you had to fill the entire frame w/ the gray in a CWB becuase the other colors would effect the WB. Yours looks good so I’ll have to try it this way. Curious, what you use the neck pillow for? Thanks for the beanbag info I really need a firmer one, mine is too squishy and they sink in.

anne matusky - thanks for these faqs, i love them! question: is your mini photovision target that you said was easiest, the 6in, or 14in?

Crissie McDowell - This was so awesome and helpful.

heather - Hi Amber, I am really motivated by your work. Thank you so much for sharing! I am a Boston wedding photographer, who just started shooting newborns, after my first baby came this past April. The joy of motherhood is truly a blessing.

Could you comment on your workflow in photoshop for the newborn pictures. do you use any actions, like kubota? glowy actions, ect? My photoshop workflow really needs some work! LOL!
all the best,

Shirley - Your pictures and style are amazing. Love your blog and your posts are so helpful. Question: what do you use the neck pillow for? thanks!

Angel - Hello! I am SO interested to hear what lens you use for the natural light newborn shots… is it a 35mm 1.8?? :) Also, What type of stand is that? Is it tall enough to shoot pics with the parents too? I plan to get the puck beanbag from JCP, any thoughts &/or comments? Your pics are unbelievable!! Lastly, do you ever use any lighting? A softbox or any type of continous light? Do you have a studio in your home as well?? HOPE you answer all my questions :) Do you have a blog? If so I am joining! All the best, A.

Ashton - Hi, my name is Ashton. I was just wandering how you set up your shots with the parents with the set up you have for the baby, because obviously the parents are much taller. Also I was wandering what you used your neck pillow for? Thank you!

Ashton - Hi, my name is Ashton. I just posted a comment and then realized I had another one. What editing program do you use?

Britneye Ladner - AH HA!…. it seems the flat tops on the bean bags are the trick to getting the fabric smooth. This has been puzzling me to no end! Thank you!

Amy - This was extremely nice for you to share. Love your stuff.

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Niko - HI! I absolutely love you work! i’m rather new to newborn photography, but have been shooting weddings and maternity for 5 years. what i want to know is how do you do the pose with the baby on their elbows and head on hands? i saw that you said it was a composit shot. where do you have the parent hold the baby? Thank You so much for your help!!

Erica - Hi! I’m new at photographing newborns, and I am searching for a beanbag, I saw your recommendation-, but my question is, does the puck style give you that flat top for smooth pictures? Or should I invest in the ottoman? And I’m assuming these are bean filled? Is that best to use? Thank you in advance for your time!

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