Baby Pix Tips

New Born Apolline

Happy event may happen anywhere and anytime in life.

Happy event may happen anywhere and anytime in life.

Apolline (Ling Li, 灵莉, in Chinese) was delivered on June 3rd, after 36 hours of tough efforts from her mother (and my beloved wife) Sarah. First mensuration: 51cm long and 3.65 Kg. I am taking advantage of this great personal event to offer some tips about taking pictures of babies.

By Franc Peret

Having a baby is the start of an emotional journey which is going to last until her adult life (at least).

Another earlier shot, less than 3 hours after birth. In China, a tag is attached to the body with the name of the mother and the sex of the baby. Majority of Chinese parents prefer boy than girl and some of them would not hesitate to switch a baby to get their wish fulfilled. Light was getting lower already, but my subject is not moving. I increased the ISO to be able to close down a bit the Aperture to be sure that the complete frame will be sharp. Panasonic GH4 ISO400 1/40s, 25mm f1.4 @ f2.
One of my very first shot in the hospital, a couple of hours after Apolline birth in Shanghai. Artificial Light was real bad, but that does not matter in such circumstances, capturing immediate magic moments are more important than aesthetics improvement sometime. Panasonic GH4 ISO200 1/80s, 25mm f1.4 @ f1.8.

Most of the time, my students are having difficulties to take good pictures if they are too much in love with their subject, which is often the case with kids (hopefully!).

When emotions get on the way

With a camera in hand, they can hardly see their beloved ones with cold blood aesthetics and critical eyes for concentrating on key elements, which are somehow needed to achieve a successful composition and therefore a better shot.

A second “finger holding” picture with a different angle and much more light. Notice that on those 2 shots I am using a diagonal composition to fill up my frame with interesting information and to render a more dynamic feel: her finger grabbing seems to be in action, like it just happened. Panasonic GH4 ISO200 1/320s and 25mm f1.4 @ f2.8.
First day with Apolline, I was amazed by her hands, especially compared to surrounded Chineses babies in the same room. Her fingers are so thin and so long. To give an idea of their size, I let her holding one of my finger and I focused on it to attract the attention of the viewer. Panasonic GH4 ISO200 1/60s and 25mm f1.4 @ f2.

Double personality

Due to my long professional career, I am used to split my personality in two as soon as I am grabbing a camera for shooting.

Massage time on Apolline’s little foot. While my right hand was busy, I succeeded to stabilize my camera with my left hand, setting up manually the focus on the nearest limit of the lens and just moving physically toward my subject until the foot gets in focus. I used a very bright lens to render that dreamy comfy look from the blanket and surrounding element. Panasonic GH4 ISO200 1/100s + Metabones Speed Booster + Nikon AIS 55mm f1.2 @ f1.2.
A foot print was taken from our new born baby for Hospital record, I focused on the blue ink which is still visible. Important here was to press the shutter at the right timing, when feet were statics, to get the shot in low light and low ISO. Panasonic GH4 ISO200 1/250s and 25mm f1.4 @ f1.6.

As everyone else, I am using my heart for emotion and inspiration, but whatever happens, I am able to keep my brain concentrated on technical decision as soon as there is a view-finder between me and the scene.

Different Case Study

For example, in usual life, seeing blood flooding make me badly sick, but as a photographer, watching bloody scene through my lenses does not affect me at all.

Here, the composition challenge was to get both my hand and her feet in the shot and the rest of her body out of focus in the background. I turned the bed to soften a bit the contrast by getting the windows (main source of light) closer to my right shoulder. Here, depth of field was less important as only the foot is the main subject. Nikon1 V1 ISO200 1/50s with Angenieux 25mm f0.95 @ f2.
I am addicted to my daughter’s feet which are quit slender for a 2 weeks old, half Chinese, baby girl. I position the bed to get that strong contrast lighting from the nearby window to help me to separate her feet and my hand by creating a shadow between the 2. I tried to be as symmetrical as possible to attract the attention on both subjects texture, shape and size. I Closed down the Aperture to get enough depth of field and more details (by reaching a sweet spot of my lens) to perfectly render the skin texture of both hand and foot. Nikon1 V1 ISO100 1/40s and Angenieux 25mm f0.95 @ f2.8.

In such shooting circumstances, I am only thinking of getting the best shots possible out of the scene, even the guy in front of me is bleeding like hell, as you can see here, in my 1994 Taiwan Qi Gung report.
Actually, I felt sick the first time I watched my pictures!

Sweet headline

To come back to my headline sweeter topic, shooting baby (especially yours) need that double personality split capacity and I am sure any of my student or reader can earn it.

Wake up time. This is a difficult moment. Baby is moving randomly and it is best to pull back to get some headroom and “footroom”. In this shot, I didn’t anticipate enough the amplitude of her movement and her right foot is cropped a bit. I still like this picture because the blurry parts (legs are both out of focus and moving) translate the body tension accompanying the moaning session. My advice: Just get what you absolutely need in focus and do not mind the blurriness elsewhere as soon as it serves your intention (more dynamic and lively shot). Nikon D750 ISO 560 1/125s and AF-S 85mm f1.4D @ f2
Sleeping time, nothing is moving, there is no excuse to get a blurry or grainy pictures, in those ideal conditions. I positioned the bed (a chair actually) next to a window to get the smooth light (overcast polluted day is perfect for that) falling on my baby. I can work quietly, stabilizing my camera and shooting at base ISO for best quality. I used a very bright lens and focused on her face. Panasonic GH4 ISO200 1/200s and 42.5mm f1.2 @ f1.2

To help them and you on that, I am delivering some simple tips related to baby shooting, something I am experimenting since 3 weeks at the time I am writing this article.

Auto portrait in the bathroom. First of all, light on as many (and good) lights as possible to get a better quality shot. Remember: Photography is painting with light! Second, position the focus point on something significant (such as a face), hold the camera firmly (and the baby too!) and try to keep it straight, horizontal and stable. Try to look friendly or smart and shoot. Nikon D750 ISO400 1/80s and 50mm f1.8 @ f2.8. I increased the ISO a bit to be able to close down the Aperture (to get more DOF) as I am using a Full Frame camera and as my face and baby’s face are not positioned at the exact same distance. Being stable enough to hold the camera and to not move, 1/80s was sufficient.
Cleaning time. Mama is taking care of her baby girl who is moving a lot, except her head (one of the heaviest part of her body). Therefore, I was able to keep a reasonable ISO value as a lower shutter speed was sufficient to get both a sharp face while keeping hands movement blurry, to describe Apolline’s excitement. I focused on her eyes precisely as I am quit close with a fully open Aperture (less Depth of field overall). Panasonic GH4 ISO400 1/40s and 25mm f1.4 @ f1.4/.


First thing first, I needed to shoot a passport picture to be sure to get it on time for a planed trip back to France during summer break.

Mission impossible?

This is not an easy task when baby is only 1 week old and can hardly:

My one week old daughter’s picture for her passport. Shot with a Panasonic GH4 ISO200 1/60s and 28mm f2.8 @ f4 (for more details and depth of field) under natural light (window and white wall).

– Stay awake with eyes opened under good lighting.
– Sit down
– Hold her head by herself.

5 steps for success

All of this sounds like Mission impossible, but I succeed to manage it following those steps:
1 – Stand next to a window to collect as much light as possible.
If weather is sunny, get a transparent curtain closed to soften the light.
Do not try to shoot it at night or under artificial lighting, the image has many chances to be grainy or blurry. Do not use flash! It is dangerous for baby’s eyes and can damage them, especially if you set a direct flash straight on her face.
2 – Mount a ‘portrait” lens on your camera: a 25mm or longer on a M43 camera, a 50 mm or longer on an APS-C (DX) camera or 85 mm or longer on a FX camera.
3 – In Aperture mode, set up your ISO and Aperture in advance, according your lighting situation, to reach a fast enough shutter speed (about 1/125s).
4 – Get your baby well dressed, in a good mood and fully wake up (daytime after feeding him/her).
5 – Someone has to hold her/him as straight as possible, facing the camera, with one hidden hand behind the neck for keeping him/her still.

One bad habit is to always shoot close up shots and to avoid too much the environment, as the changing facial expression of the little one is so attractive. Panasonic GH4 ISO400 1/60s and 25mm f1.4 @ f1.4.
With a bit of discipline, you can try to force yourself to pull back and to include informative out of focus foreground and a wider background around your main And cute subject. Panasonic GH4 ISO400 1/100s and 25mm f1.4 @ f1.4.

Later on, I am going to add some more ideas and advises into this page, while adding more pictures.
Already, you are having plenty of tips by reading all posted picture’s captions.
Hope all of this will be useful…

Some technical remarks

I am using 3 different types of cameras with different size sensor. This matters a lot in term of Depth of field and field of view. I am used to switch and I am used to consider my lens choice and my Aperture settings accordingly.

Surprise! Nikon D750 ISO400 1/160s and AFS 85mm f1.4D @ f1.4.
Do not hesitate to shoot a lot and often, as soon as you get a balanced composition, a good enough lighting and the right exposure. Facial expression is changing so quickly that every shot will be different. It was real hard to make a choice among so many cute facial expression. Nikon D750 ISO400 1/160s and AFS 85mm f1.4D @ f1.4.

To keep it simple (even it is not perfectly accurate), Nikon D750 (FX) Sensor’s Size = 2 x Panasonic GH4 Sensor’s Size (M43) and Nikon D750 (FX) Sensor’s Size = 2.7 x Nikon 1 V1 Sensor’s Size (CX).

Or Little Glamorous Asian Princess… Nikon D750 ISO400 1/160s and AFS 85mm f1.4D @ f1.4.
Funny face… Nikon D750 ISO400 1/160s and AFS 85mm f1.4D @ f1.4.

In term of field of view:
A 25mm lens on a GH4 is equivalent to a 50mm lens on a Nikon D750.
A 25mm lens on a Nikon1 V1 is equivalent to a 68mm lens on a Nikon D750.
In term of Depth of field rendition:
a f1.4 Aperture on a GH4 is equivalent to a f2.8 Aperture on a Nikon D750
a f0.95 Aperture on a Nikon1 is equivalent to a f2.8 Aperture on a Nikon D750

Former photo journalist, Film maker and ELC Shanghai Photography teacher, Franc Peret is teaching Essential Photography Classes, Advanced Photography Workshop and Film Making Classes in Shanghai, for the last 10 years.