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How To Find a Good Newborn Photographer | Virginia Newborn Photography

Newborn Photography has become all the rage as of late, and of course being a Newborn Photographer it thrills me! It’s also insane to see the amount of drive by night photographers that are popping up every day. Before booking your Newborn Session, please do your research. I love it when my clients come to me after spending days researching, it means that they know what they want and are educated on Newborn Photography.

The newborn stage is so fleeting and magical, I can’t help but sigh when I think back to the first few days with both of my boys. Your baby will NEVER be this tiny, this sleepy, this curly, this perfect again so make sure you are hiring the right person to capture it. Here are a few tips to help you find the right professional while looking through their portfolio:

- Are their photos technically correct?

(these next few images are examples of what not to do, I’m editing them to show you what is bad on purpose, my client saw the perfect images;-))

This is a BIG one! Look through all of their images on their website and blog.

Are they blurry or out of focus? If the photographer can’t take a photo that’s in focus, it’s probably best to pass. You want to be able to see every detail of that perfect little face.

Are they too bright/overexposed? You want the images to be bright and airy but you don’t want them so bright that they look like blobs when they are printed out.

This is so bright it hurts my eyes, but here’s an example of an overexposed image.

Are they over-processed? I see this a lot as well, neon colors, “antique” actions thrown on the images, too much contrast, etc. You want the beautiful baby to speak for itself, not the crazy photoshopping that was done to it.

A few examples of over-processed images:

Baby looks like a mime-zombie, yuck.

This baby might be nuclear, step away.

-  Do the babies look safe and peaceful?

I’ve seen some scary set ups/newborn images around the interwebs, babies hanging from branches, shoved in bowls, on the cold ground, etc.  If the baby looks unhappy & uncomfortable, it probably is. Posing a baby correctly and safely takes years of training and experience and chances are the person who just picked up their camera last week probably won’t know how to do it correctly.

A lot of the popular poses are achieved through the magic of  Photoshop. This is one of them, there are hands on the baby the entire time. Babies do not do this naturally and sometimes even if they hold the pose for a split second, it’s still important to have hands on them because it’s better to be safe than sorry.

-  Are they charging professional prices?

This is kind of a touchy subject but it’s important. Real professional photographers aren’t charging an arm and a leg because we are greedy, we are running a legitimate business. Charging $10 for an 8×10 and $200 for a CD of all of the edited images is not ever going to make a business profitable, it’s just not possible. In fact, I’m going to say that once taxes (if they are even paying them) and expenses are taken out, they are not even going to make minimum wage or cover the gas getting to the session.

Running a business is expensive, we pay:

  • taxes (federal and state, that’s about 30-40% of our sales right there)
  • rent (if you have a studio space)
  • utilities
  • insurance – if the photographer doesn’t have insurance I’d run away, because it means they aren’t taking their business serious.
  • equipment – having the right cameras & lenses and keeping them in top shape is not cheap!
  • training
  • professional organizations
  • accounting fees
  • software
  • marketing
  • daycare – my business is a full time job so I need care for my kids while I’m working, it’s not cheap!

I’m sure I could add more but trust me, the list goes on. If you aren’t careful you could spend more than you make and that’s when my next point comes in handy.

These photos are going to last a lifetime while that Prada handbag you bought will be out of style in one year, good photography is WORTH the investment.

- Are they running a real business?

I have a degree in Marketing/Management from Virginia Tech, while I love photography, I love running a business even more. Having a photography business is 80% business and 20% photography and if someone doesn’t know how to run a business, they won’t last in this industry. I have talked to a lot of people who have had horror experiences with photographers that take ages to get them their order, don’t return emails or phone calls or even worse, gone out of business and disappeared before they even got their photos. Trust me, it has happened! Running a good business and good customer service is key. Newborn Photography is art and you are making an investment in your session, make sure it’s with the right person.

I am not making this post to say you should hire me (though of course you should, duh;-)) but I would love it if everyone did their research first. Your baby will only be little for so long and there are no do-overs if the photographer you hire screws up. Once you you get your photos back, your newborn won’t be a newborn any more and it will be too late. Make the right decision from the start and you will not only have a fabulous experience, but beautiful art for your walls of your own baby that you will look back on for years to come and sigh at how it was impossible little Suzy was ever that small, or how beautiful that time in your life was. Don’t look back and look at your photos with regret.

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 beanbags.com, 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.:-)

Before & Afters – FAQ Part 1 | Northern Virginia Newborn Photographer

I’m seriously blown away by the responses to my FAQ post, how fun! Most people really wanted to see before and afters so I figured I’d tackle this first. I’m going to include the straight out of the camera (SOOC) with the settings, the after shot, the steps I used to process it, as well as other tips.

First and foremost, it goes without saying that to get a great image SOOC you need good light, exposure and focus. Without those things you will spend a LOT of time “fixing” your photos in Photoshop as opposed to enhancing them. My favorite saying is and will always be “you can’t polish a turd”. It’s crude but it’s the truth, especially in this digital age.

My workflow in Photoshop is very similar no matter what type of session it is but I do tweak what I do differently for every image. The same with ACR, an outdoor photo might need a little punch in vibrance or blacks where as a newborn won’t.

To understand my steps below you have to have a basic knowledge of Photoshop…

*ADDED*

A quick note, I posted this last night and got a TON of questions about Portraiture and Unsharp Masks so I wanted to answer that in this post.

Sharpening: I blow every image up in ACR at 100% before I even decide to edit it. If it’s not perfectly sharp (the eyes) then I toss it. So when I’m sharpening I only sharpen once and it’s for both print and web. When shooting in RAW you do need to add some sharpening but if it’s a tack sharp photo you don’t need much. I see WAY too many photographers oversharpen their images and to me it ruins them.

There are a lot of ways to sharpen so do what works for you. I either run an unsharp mask on a dup layer at 68, .7, 0 and reduce the opacity as needed while viewing the photo at 100% or I use an action (Kubota Magic Sharp).

Portraiture: Portraiture is a plugin for photoshop that can be purchased here: http://www.imagenomic.com/download_pt.aspx

This is what I typically use as my default settings, I adjust the brightness/warmth.

This first image, my light source (a sliding glass door) was directly camera right. The room also had some windows directly behind me (facing the baby) but I kept the shades closed because I wanted only the side lighting.  I also always do a custom white balance.

The sooc was pretty much perfect but in ACR if needed I’d bump up the contrast, add some clarity, adjust the temp and that’s it.

Once it was open in Photoshop I:

1. Cropped a bit
2. Did a curves layer, pulled up middle to top left corner a bit. I always check the numbers on the skin to make sure I don’t blow anything in this step.
3. Ran portraiture on it’s own layer, reduced opacity to 40%.
4. Added contrast.
5. Selective color layer, under neutrals, I reduced the magenta (-3) and added yellow (+2). This baby was pretty red.
6. Cloned out a few blanket wrinkles.

Here’s the finished shot:

Here’s an outdoor baby session. This was shot on the front porch of an old building in a historic district.  I love shooting in urban areas because it’s so easy to find open shade. Again, I did a custom white balance so the straight out of the camera shot is near perfect.

In ACR I added brightness, clarity, adjusted the temp a tad and added contrast and blacks.

Then in Photoshop I:

  1. Cropped it. I usually crop in camera but with this shot I loved his smile and wanted to see more of just him.
  2. Curves adjustment, again took the middle up to the upper left.
  3. Ran portraiture and within portraiture I added +2 to brightness. I reduced the opacity to 35%.
  4. Took out some magenta.
  5. Added more contrast
  6. Cloned out the safety pin on the back of his straps.
  7. Ran my standard unsharp mask.

Here is the after:

As you can see the final image looks exactly like the SOOC but is just a bit more polished.

This next shot was similar to the first one except I was using a window directly to my left (top of the baby’s head) as my light source.

I did the same thing I always do in ACR, adjust the temp, add clarity and add contrast.

Then in Photoshop I:

  1. Cropped a bit
  2. Curves layer, pulled up middle to top left corner a bit.
  3. Ran portraiture on it’s own layer, reduced opacity to 30%.
  4. Added contrast.
  5. Selective color layer, under neutrals, I reduced the magenta (-2) and added yellow (+2).
  6. Cloned out a few blanket wrinkles.
  7. USM

And the finished shot:

I could probably go back and reduce the red in her feet but I like them pink. As long as they arne’t purple (SO common with newborns since their circulatory system is not quite developed yet) I don’t mind.

This last shot is probably the MOST I’ll photshop an image but I wanted to show it to you as an example. I wanted this image to be rich and magical. This was shot on an overcast day in the middle of a deeply wooded area, it seriously felt like a magical forest I want to shoot there every day now, lol.

In ACR I warmed up the image, added a lot of black, added clarity, contrast and a bit of vibrance.

In Photoshop I:

  1. Did my usual curves boost.
  2. Ran portraiture and reduced the opacity to about 30%.
  3. Added contrast.
  4. Reduced the red in baby’s skin.
  5. Cloned out that stick by the wheel and cloned out the dirt on the wheels.
  6. On it’s own layer I used the sponge tool and saturated the background (not baby or carriage) and the reduced the opacity to about 50%.
  7. Used the burn tool around the edges to make them darker.
  8. Ran my standard unsharp mask on it’s own layer and reduced the opacity.

The after!

Like I’ve always said, I prefer to keep my editing VERY basic. There are a lot of photographers out there that photoshop a lot more heavily but that’s just not my style.

I hope this helps some of you, let me know if you have any other questions I’m still taking specific questions for the 2nd part of the FAQ post I’m working on.

Who is up for another FAQ? | Virginia Newborn Photographer

It’s been WAY too long since I’ve done a FAQ post here on the blog. I will blame it on the fact I’ve been doing 4 sessions a week for months now. I do have a break coming up and will have some free time so let’s do it!

I need your help though, this post is for YOU! Do you want to see some before & after shots with how I edited them? Do you have specific questions about posing or the technical aspects of shooting? Let me know! Either post in the comments or send your questions to me before June 10th: amber@littlemoonphotography.com.

Please remember that I like to keep the busines related questions off the blog so if you have any of those I will be offering one-on-one mentoring very soon in the future so hold on to them.

I can’t not post this without photos, here is one from today.

Ah, so soft, pink and pretty!

Happy Thursday all!

FAQ V3! | Virginia Newborn Photographer

I’m baaaaack! Sorry for the delay in getting this done, I have done over 40 sessions since October 1st so needless to say my free time has been minimal. I got lots of awesome questions and will try and answer most of them so here you go!

1. I was wondering if you could rank what you feel is the most important as a photographer; exposure, camera, lenses, post processing, custom white balance. You are amazing, I am a big fan!

EXPOSURE for sure. I started out with a Canon Rebel XTi and used it my first few months in business and got some awesome images out of that little camera all due to the fact that I’m pretty good about nailing exposure. I was even shooting in JPG back then so there was really no easy fix for blowing it. People always laugh at me when I say this but I’ll say it again, you can’t polish a turd. It’s kind of been my motto throughout my photography journey. I’d rather have a perfect SOOC and then ENHANCE it in photoshop than have a turd SOOC that I have to FIX in photoshop.

This photo was taken with my little old XTi when I just started out:

Did very little processing to it and I still love this shot. While having top of the line bodies and lenses will definitely ADD to your photographs it’s not the end all be all exposure is.

2. I follow your blog and I had a question for you:)I am just starting to get into photography, newborn photography, and I love your site!!! You take some amazing pictures. How do you get your pictures so crisp and clear? Is it the setting you have set on your camera or is it your editing software? I feel like my pictures come out good but it seems like they still have that light film on them like not perfectly crisp. Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, I look forward to your answers.

Sharp photos with good clarity are achieved by good light, exposure, focus and experience. I am also a HUGE fan of Canon’s L Series prime lenses. My favorites are the 50 1.2L (my latest lens purchase) and the 85 1.2L. The sharpness these lenses produce in low light situations is amazing as well as the creamy skin you get. I LOOOOOOVE the 50, it’s perfect for the cold winter season and shooting inside. Here is an example:

This is a straight out of the camera shot from last weekend, I didn’t even sharpen it for web. As you can see I nailed exposure and it’s super sharp.
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And here’s the edited shot, I pulled some magenta out, did a curves layer, cropped, ran portraiture on a low opacity, added contrast and did a high pass sharpen:
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I loooove warm photos so I always do a custom white balance. I find that most camera’s AWB setting gives you super cool photos.

3. I notice you do alot of outdoor work – do you use natural light only? Do you use reflectors? I find it hard to avoid shadows.

Outside I never use a reflector, it’s just not convenient when you are chasing after a toddler. I DO use one inside for smaller babies and newborns.

I LOVE side lighting and for babies that can’t sit yet and don’t like being on their bellies I lay them down parallel to a window on a blanket and then have a parent hold my reflector on the other side of the baby so get nice side lighting without the harsh shadows. To change up the photos and give more variety I switch up the blankets, rugs, etc and add hats and stuff.

Here’s a ghetto diagram of what I’m talking about, go head and laugh if you want.
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And here’s an example, this baby was 3 months old so could not sit up yet:
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The window was on the right here and the dad was holding a reflector on the other side. There is still shadowing which I like but it’s not as drastic as it would have been without the reflector.

4. I have crispy clear photo envy. All your photos are tack sharp. Is there a technique for this that I’m missing? Do you manually focus? Use center AF only? Etc. I want the eyes to be as sharp as yours.

I toggle my cameras focus points! I’d rather choose where I want to focus (the subjects eyes) than let my camera choose it for me. When I first started doing it I wasn’t a fan but now I can do it without even looking at the buttons and I’m fast.

I recently starting shooting in RAW format and my pictures are worse! I thought they should be better??? The main problem is they look dark and grainy. I also recently invested in the 85 1.2L! Am I missing something that I should be doing in PP? Am I a moron? Some days I think I should just stick to finance. Ha-ha.

Are you underexposing? When metering I always ETTR (expose to the right) meaning I meter and bump down my SS a bit to “over expose” it a smidge according to my camera. Also a raw file is just that it’s raw, when you shoot JPG your camera ADDS some sharpness, contrast etc. When you shoot raw you add that stuff in ACR or Lightroom. If you underexpose you are going to add noise to your photo when you fix it in photoshop and that just looks yucky.

What lens do you typically use when shooting newborns?

LOOOOOVE my 50 1.2L, it stays on my camera for newborn sessions. I also always use my 100 2.8 macro for those close up smooshy shots.

(Canon should pay me, I’m an L Glass pusher, lol)

5. Wooo, a 5 part question from one of my favorite blog commenters Michelle Kane!

Where did you find your bean bag? How big is it and how full do you prefer that it be?
I’ve struggled to find a decent sized one.

I have two from Target and they have served me well but I just ordered a large one from here and I’m excited to try it out.

How long do your newborn sessions generally take?

Two to three hours but I’ve had one as long as 4.5 hours. It depends on the baby, the younger they are the shorter the sessions seem to be for me at least. I find 6-10 days to be the best.

Do you go with a “list” of poses you want to do or just let it unfold naturally during the session?

I am constantly thinking of new poses I want to try as I’m falling asleep at night. I usually add a few I want to do in the notes application of my IPhone and refer to it during the session.

What do you do if the baby just won’t go to sleep? Do you reschedule?

I usually can wait them out but this baby would NOT sleep as hard as we tried:
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So I went back a week later when she was 21 days old and she was SO sleepy, so you really NEVER know.
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I’d prefer to get it over with in one session and I do like awake shots as well but when a parent wants the sleepy shots I will go back if I need to.

How do you balance work and home life? Do you feel like you are always working?

My photography business is my full time job and my son goes to daycare during the weekdays. That helps a LOT because on days when I don’t have sessions scheduled I can catch up on editing and packaging and mailing orders out. I do find myself working at night when he goes to sleep. It’s hard when you own a business because it’s you put your heart and soul into it and work a lot of hours but luckily my husband is used to me being behind my macbook at all hours, lol.

6. First of all, I LOVE your work! My question is in regard to light. I live in Seattle & we have a lot of dark, gloomy days in the winter. How do you go about finding the light when there isn’t any? My problem is when I’m trying to take family pictures (where there’s 4 or 5 people). I need them to all be in focus, and not grainy. I have a 50mm, 1.4. What settings would you typically use in a situation like this? How low of aperature can you use & still have everyone in focus? Please help!

That’s tough, I definitely don’t shoot 3 or more people wide open because I want everyone to be sharp and the image to look awesome when blown up large on their walls. The MKII handles noise nicely but if at f/4 I need to go above ISO2000 I’ll pull out my speedlight. I’m not a huge fan of the flash but I’ll use it when I need to and will just bounce it off the ceiling so my photos don’t look flashy. When I shoot 4 or more people I usually shoot at f/4, I can get everyone sharp and still get some nice DOF.

This was shot with my speedlight, I was able to get the shots of the baby right next to a window with natural light but the family shots were impossible it was pretty dark in their house and outside.
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7. How do you get such great skin tones? Some times the newborns I shoot are quite jaundice or when the get warm from having the place heated up, they get a bit red. Any tips?

Again, good exposure and doing a custom white balance will cut down your processing in photoshop a LOT.

Here’s a newborn straight out of camera shot, the baby is pretty red (due to being warm and my camera seems to enhance reds a bit:
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And here’s the processed shot, I did a curves layer, ran portraiture and reduced the warmth and reduced the opacity to about 35%, in selective color selected the red channel and reduced the magenta within that channel, then went under neutrals and also reduced the magenta and added yellow. I also added some blacks. I prefer my newborns to have some warmth in them and not look cool or blue.
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Hope this was helpful! I’ll be back in the new year with another FAQ so keep on sending in your questions to amber@littlemoonphotography.com. I have a TON of newborns in the next weeks so keep coming back to the ol blog.:-)

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