I was once a professional photographer. It's still fun to say that :) I took a hiatus from teaching elementary school back in 2006 and worked as a photographer and studio manager of a popular portrait studio chain for a while. I really haven't done much portrait photography since then but now that I have Cameron, I'm easing back into it. I have a neighbor friend who has a daughter only two months older than Cameron. She supplied the lights and the props, I set up the makeshift studio in the guest bedroom, and we got some great photos of our daughters for Christmas.
This is an easy setup that anyone can recreate if you have a spot in your house with good lighting. Our guest bedroom has a huge window so I set up the studio there. I used only the natural light from the window, no other artificial light or flash of any kind (besides the Christmas lights obviously). With the babies on the bed, I could easily stoop down beside the bed to be at their eye level. Had we set this up on the floor, I would have had to lay on the floor to get these shots.
What you will need:
- White backdrop - a white sheet, quilt, blanket, fabric, or even just a white wall!
- Christmas lights - with white wire if you are using a white backdrop. The green wire lights would work with a dark backdrop.
- Somewhere to hang your backdrop and lights - a backdrop stand, some coat trees, a bed headboard, or even tacked to a wall... get creative!
- DSLR Camera - (a camera with interchangeable lenses). You just can't get the same look with a point-and-shoot or an iPhone camera.
- posing pillow (depending on the age of the baby) - a Boppy or Mombo work great!
- props - outfits, hats, headbands, etc...
A Boppy or Mombo both make an excellent posing pillow for babies and if you have a baby, you probably have one of these pillows already! I have both and personally like the Mombo better. It is dual-sided (a soft side and a firm side), is thicker than the Boppy, and holds its shape better. For the Christmas photos, I draped fabric over the Mombo. (I actually used my white bathrobe in Cameron's photos!) I took the decorative cover off of my Mombo for the photos so that the pattern wouldn't show through.
You need to use the Aperture Priority setting on your camera and set the aperture to the smallest number that it will go to. How to do this differs among the different makes and models of cameras so read your camera's instruction manual if you don't know how. Don't worry, it should be a simple process no matter what type of camera you have.
I used the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens for the Christmas photos. If you enjoy taking portrait photos, you really should get this lens. Available for Canon and Nikon, the lens is only around $100! It's a sharp little lens with great depth of field that has hundreds of rave reviews for good reason and you can't beat the price.
The lower the number you set your aperture to, the more blurred the background will be. The 50mm can go as low as f/1.8. Most other average lenses will go down to at least f/4. Even at f/4, you will still get glowing globes of light, just not quite as large as at f/1.8.
Aperture is not the only thing to consider when creating a blurry background. Increasing the distance between your subject and the backdrop has a HUGE impact on the depth of field (blurriness of the background). Look at the samples below. I used the same aperture setting on both but I moved my subject farther from the background in the second photo... what a difference!
If you choose the right settings on your camera, you should only have a few adjustments to do on the computer afterwards. What are the "right settings"? It depends on your camera and how it works with the lens on it! For example, my camera tends to underexpose images (make them too dark), especially with my primary lens, so when I take photos I have to overexpose to compensate for the look I'm after. Therefore the exact settings for my camera probably won't get the same results on your camera. You really have to experiment with your camera to know what works best.
When taking photos of people, especially babies, it's usually better to overexpose a bit. A brighter photo will lighten shadows and make skin appear smoother. Brightness and contrast can always be adjusted on the computer afterwards as well with most any photo editing software.
Have your studio set up and props ready ahead of time so you can work quickly when you have a happy baby. With a digital camera, you don't have to worry about how many photos you take. You'll have a ton of photos that you will delete, but you will also have that handful of gems that make you smile every time you look at them :)
"You don't take a photograph, you make it."