FAQ V5 | Virginia Newborn Photography

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Woah, has it really been over a year since my last FAQ post? That’s just crazy, I really enjoy these posts and I know my blog readers do too. I will try to answer most of the questions, some of them are not easily explained in a blog post and are better learned in person, like posing. If you are interested in my next workshop (will probably be in April) shoot me an email,


“I am new to using an Alien Bee on my newborns. I took the CM breakout, but what I want to know is what your default settings are on your studio lighting or if it varies based on the light coming into your studio. Do you keep your light a 1/32 power, etc. How far away do you set up your light from your subject and do you use the one light no matter what the conditions of light are coming in to your studio? So if it is sunny, do you still you the light? Hope that makes sense! Trying to learn how to effectively use my AB:-)Looking forward to your post!”

“My question is: how many and what type lights do you use? How far away from the baby are they placed?”

Ah this was a very popular question and a fun one to answer. As most of you know, I spent 3 years only shooting natural light, studio lights scared me. Once I got my studio as much as I love the natural light it gets, I do get nervous about really dark winter days around here and having enough available light. I figured to buy a light, softbox, stand and triggers and see what I could do. I spent about a week just practicing to figure it out and have been using it ever since. I find lights to be 100 times easier to use, my images have better clarity and it’s so so so consistent color wise it makes editing a dream.

I use an AB400 (alien bee), a Westcott 50×50 Softbox, a heavy duty light stand and the Paul C Bluff wireless triggers. I love the AB400 because it’s not too powerful and I can shoot wide open just like I did with natural light. It really doesn’t matter too much what kind of weather it is outside, I do cover the windows if the sun is blaring in too much but for the most part in the winter, I don’t really need to, the light overpowers the ambient light from the windows. You can test this by just taking a shot with the same settings you are using with the light with the light turned off, since you are shooting at ISO100, very little ambient light will get in.

For settings, I typically shoot at f/2.2, ISO100, a SS between 100-200 and my light powered to 1/16. I just adjust as needed and always pay attention to my histogram to make sure I’m not blowing out any of my channels, with newborn and their warm skin, reds are usually the first to blow so be careful. If I want to close down and shoot at say f/4.5, I’d power my light to about 1/4 power. If I wanted to shoot at f/1.4 – f/1.8, I’d power my light down to 1/32.

To get natural looking light, you want to feather the light, I’m sure there are other tutorials out there that can explain it better, but you want the light to just fall over the front of the babies face, never uplight the baby either, always light down the face.

A few photos of how my light is set up and how the baby would be posed in that set up:

I always look at how the light is falling on the baby and move my light as needed. I love how using one light I can get beautiful shadows and definition on these tiny little babies faces. I treat the softbox just like it’s a window.

2. “How important is portraiture in your processing? The skin on your babies look smooth and amazing. I saw first hand they do not look like that in person with stork bites and peeling skin so do you edit before portraiture first or just run that and it smooths the skin enough?”

“I’ve always loved your work (as does everyone) and would love to know how you fix blotchy red patches on baby’s skin.”

I swear that Imagenomic should start paying me for pimping them out.:-PYes, I love Portraiture especially for newborns but you have to use it very carefully and make sure you either do it and reduce the opacity on that layer or erase some of it back. I see some people that do it so strongly that their babies look plastic and that’s just not a good look. Newborns almost always have splotches, dry skin patches, etc. and I think that Portraiture helps that and it adds that extra polish to the photo that turns it into art. If you look back in my last FAQ you can see the actual settings I use within Portraiture.

I run Portraiture (it’s part of my workflow that I’e turned into my own action, that way I can batch edit) and then fix any splotches or acne spots. I usually just use the clone or heal tool to fix those, I feel like I have more control. I feel like Portraiture helps it a lot and then I fix it completely with cloning and healing.

As you can see in this before & after, it definitely helps add that extra polish but still keeps his skin looking natural and beautiful.

3. Where do you see the future of newborn photography going? Right now it seems many are doing the same look/feel to things — baby’s with hats and bands, textures, babies in boxes and baskets… Where do you go for inspiration?

What’s one thing you wished someone told you about photographing children early on…

Hoo boy, this is a great question! Right now Newborn Photography seems to be all the rage and there are photographers and workshops popping up everywhere. If you know anything about me, I 100% believe that if you don’t know how to run a business well, you will not last in this industry so we will se a lot of photographers coming but also closing shop. While it’s all fun and games to snuggle and photograph these tiny little gems, that part only takes up about 10% of my business, the rest is post processing, orders, client communication, taxes, etc. I have built a loyal customer base by not only producing nice images but also going above and beyond to make sure the entire experience they have with me is fun and memorable. Plus, they know I’ll be around when they have their next baby.;-)

So how do you stand out? First, find your own style. Don’t go and buy a bunch of actions or copy another photographer’s exact style and processing. I like to think that you can spot my work from a lineup of others because I keep things clean and simple. If you see a photographer using a certain prop, don’t ask them where they got it. Does this sound rude? Sorry, it’s one of our pet peeves. We spend hours searching online and in stores for stuff to make our work unique and different. Do I have things other photographers do? Of course, but I always try to put my own spin on it and recommend everyone else does the same.

I’m inspired by the babies I photograph, colors, textures and un-fussy images and props. I try to do something different at every session but being that I typically shoot 2-3 newborns a week and my clients request certain props I use, it’s not always possible. I’m always buying new things and luckily my studio is located in the antique district of my city so I’m always shopping for more goodies.

Do you think I have a prop/blanket/fabric problem? lol

4. How cool that you’re willing to offer the Q&A to other photogs out there. I’d like to know how you get the right skin-color balance for your newborns. I have to say that I struggle with that. The skin is either too light, red, or too yellow after I add some post processing to it. I seem to not get the creamy tone right.

My first tip is to always do a custom white balance! I always do this and it helps keep the skin tones consistent through the whole session. I use a Photovision Digital Target (ah yes, another company I pimp out unpaid, lol) and set my Custom White Balance in camera.

Once that’s done I can tweak skin tones in ACR by just using the Temperature & Tint sliders. I also go under HSL/Greyscale tab, click on saturation and pull out some orange, this helps take out some of the redness in their skin.

In photoshop I tweak the color in a “selective color” layer and work under neutrals or reds. Make sure your screen is calibrated!

5. Is the baby actually on an “incline” or is it a matter of tilting your camera? I can’t find more drastic examples but I’ve definitely seem some that seem really inclined and I always wonder if it’s a zillion receiving blankets under the backdrop or of it’s just an “obscure” angle while shooting. Or is it rotating it in processing?

I do it in camera! I like to keep my compositions interesting which can be hard when you are shooting a sleeping newborn on a blanket and this is just one way how I like to do it.

6. A question for your FAQ post – where do you find the wood looking floor/backdrop for your studio sessions?

It’s real wood floors, I ordered the wood and my awesome Dad built it for me. the wall piece is anchored on the wall for safety purposes.

7. I saw your post on Facebook about a FAQ blog post and thought I would send you a question. What lens do you use the most or can you not live without when shooting children and families outside?

I shoot all of my newborns on the beanbag with my Canon 50 1.2L, the shots from above or family shots with my Canon 24-70 2.8L, and most of my outdoor work is shot with my Canon 85 1.2L. I could not live without any of those lenses.

8. I have a lot to learn about how to capture photos with the right settings…any books/videos u recommend?? A photographers “Bible” predates? I’ve read a bit but so much to remember…anything easy…cheats? I have Photoshop CS3 and sadly haven’t a clue how to use all the features. Is the beauty of a portrait in taking it or good editing??

This book, Understanding Exposure, was my bible when I first learned how shoot in manual mode. I read it and just practiced every single day. If you have nice light, good exposure and good focus, your images will look amazing! Just remember that practice makes perfect!

9. I seem to have a rough time getting their head to “prop” up enough so that they don’t have a double chin or get lost in their arms.

Just have lots of patience and make sure they are nice and sleepy. Once you pose them gently, just kind of hold them there for a second while they settle into the pose (again, gently). I use rolled up blankets and towels underneath to support them. Never force them into any position and let things naturally flow.

Happy Friday you all, I have lots of exciting things and adorable babies coming in the next week so stay tuned!

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Lacey - This is wonderfully generous of you to offer these answers, Amber! Your images are such perfection!

Petula - Thanks for answering, Amber!!!

Dana - Seriously, thank you for doing this. I wonder a lot how other photographers do things. A lot.
You are so kind to post this. You are so talented!

Lori - Thank you so much for sharing this info! So helpful!

Bridget - Wonderful and helpful post! Thanks so much for sharing, Amber!

Nicole D. - As usual, in awe of your work, so clean and classic and consistent. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your tips, very very helpful and much appreciated!

Christina - This is such an amazing post! EXACTLY what I was looking for with regards to using a softbox to light newborns. I prefer natural light but that isn’t always possible. Do you find that the strobe bothers the sleeping babies?

Again, thanks sooooooo much!

Heather LeMoine - Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this information. I just learned a ton and am encouraged to play more. THANK YOU for sharing your expertise. Please come to North Dakota and photograph my family! :)

Beth - Thank you so much for your helpful post! I’m very appreciative! I love the skin tones that you perfect in your images.

Danica - Thank you so much for answering all these questions! Excellent info and I hope it will help me in future sessions:)

Aaron - So are you using the Alien Bee B400 as a Flash, of just using it as a light. I’ve heard things against using FLASHES with infants.

Aaron - Are you using the FLASH? Or modeling lamps only to photography the infants?

Melissa - I had the same question as aaron. When I have my alien bee stopped down so less light is released, the room gets very dark and it gets hard ot focus on a subject since my camera cannot see it. Do you use the strobe flash when photographing the babies or do you have simply the modeling lamp on? What light to you use when not photographing and instead posing the baby etc.? The room looked rather dark if the strobe wasnt being released.

Michelle Morgan - What light stand are you using for the Wescott?

aymee - I wondering if I could use an sb-700 as the flash?

Julita - Thanks :)it’s very good information for beginer like me :)

Dana - Great information! Thanks for the behind the scenes look at your studio!

Carol - What a generous spirit you have . . . I appreciate the time you have invested in other photographers! I was curious about the ambient light that is available during your newborn sessions. Do you use other artificial lights (overhead, or lamps), or just the softbox?

Tayler - Hi, such wonderful tips and answers on here!! Question, I just got my alien bee 400 and 50×50 wesctott reflector just like what you use…with this particular set up is it correct when I ask that everyone I want to change the power on the alien bee I have to undo the white Velcro bag in order to access the back of the alien bee?? Or is there a way to set it up where I don’t have to do that every time? Thank you so much this has been very helpful

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