Taking care of my new born baby, I cannot resist shooting her daily, trying to capture her random facial and body expression while she is nestled in my arm. Shooting with one free hand only (often the wrong one), I am enjoying the great overall features of a camera, which became my favorite tool for self “holding Baby” Shots.
By Franc Peret
In my 28 years career, I had a chance to use a wide range of cameras from film to Digital, and since I am working in both photography, film making and video fields, I had to diversify even more my arsenal of shooting tools.
In the mood for choice
For my work assignment, I am using a traditional Nikon Full Frame DSLR camera (D800 and now D750) because I am accustomed to this reliable line up which is able to deliver great details images.
Also, to match any shooting situation (according client’s demand), I am owning a wide variety of Nikon lenses from 16mm to 500mm, an expensive collection I started 28 years ago: A good reason to keep faithful to a brand…
For my own time (street photography or traveling), I often pick up something funnier, lighter and more compact such as a Nikon1 V1 or any other compact alternative.
Panasonic for Pro Videography
Working also in Film Making and Corporate Video fields, I invested in the hybrid (photo + video) Panasonic Lumix line up (GH1, GH2, GH3 and GH4) as I always liked the image recorded by Professional Panasonic video camera (HVX200 or HPX500) I was using beforehand.
And the GH series are amazing tools for video production at a very reasonable cost. Thus, GH4 is capable of 4K video.
However, for professional photography, The Panasonic GH4 will not yet replace my Nikon bodies as there is still a difference in term of use and final quality output between the two.
Nikon for Pro Photography
Globally, Nikons are offering sturdier body, less shutter lag and more accurate continuous autofocus for sport photography, a second card slot for safety, more pixels for big prints, more accurate optical viewfinder for composition and better raw files to work with (more color information)…
Overall, I still feel that my traditional DSLR bodies are more suited to answer to any of my clients need.
Flexibility for Private use
My shooting style in private life is very different compare to what I am doing for work, and I do not mind to use a much more compact Panasonic system, as I like to feel freer not carrying too much weight.
Most of the time, creativity depends more on system flexibility (adaptability) than ultimate file quality.
Self Baby Nestling Shooting
Recently, as I explained in the introduction, I am stuck at home for a good reason, and often need to take picture, by myself, of my little girl resting in my arm.
This is a difficult task as I am having only one hand free to select the focus point, to modify the setting and to press the shutter button.
Also, being so close to my subject, I often meet the minimum focus distance limit of my lens and I can hardly diversify my point of view. Actually, this last restrain is counterbalanced by the possibility to carry the subject under the source of light of my choice.
GH4 is made for it!
Actually, I am working around all those limitations by using my Panasonic GH4, thanks to its numerous interesting and adequate features:
1 – GH4’s fully articulated swiveling screen provide a perfect vision of the composition from any Point of View (POV) for me to shoot from any position and even in front of me for a self portrait of us, if needed.
2 – This screen is touch sensitive and it allows me to select the focus point with one finger on the exact part of the subject I want sharp after composing my shot. If I want, I can also take the shot by taping on this screen, just like a smartphone.
3 – The GH4 has focus points located everywhere on the frame (which is not the case on former DSLR which get their focus points spread around the center of the image) and I am free to put my subject wherever I want it in my composition, even next to a border of the frame.
4 – Thanks to a smaller sensor, the Lumix lenses are often sharper on the complete frame (from center to corner), even at full Aperture, while FX lenses often need to be closed down 2 stops to deliver an equivalent result. This means possibilities to use lower ISO on the Panasonic.
This also means another possibility to use lower ISO on the Panasonic.
5 – Also thanks to a smaller sensor, the depth of field is more important than on a Full frame camera (globally a f1.4 Aperture on the GH4 is equivalent to a f2.8 Aperture on my Nikon D750), so there is more things in focus under the same lighting condition (while using the base ISO on both cameras), which is an advantage at such short distance.
6 – The generous size of the GH4’s body (for that type of camera) and its multiple display of physical buttons mean a great ergonomic. Therefore, with only one hand I can have direct control on ISO, White Balance, Exposure compensation, Aperture, focus point positioning and shutter trigger!
7 – Last but not least, the GH4 gets an electronic shutter function, which means (almost) complete silence shooting, which is a huge advantage to NOT wake up the baby who had so much difficulties to fall asleep!
GH4 better than a Smartphone?
Compare to all those advantages, my smartphone is quit limited. lacking a screen independent to the on-board camera and a physical shutter button. I am often missing great shots with my smartphone as, in certain position, I cannot efficiently reach and press the virtual shutter trigger located on the screen.
Another restrain is the deformation created by the wide lens, especially while shooting so close.
Why holding the baby?
Of course, there is some limitation and lack of variety by shooting while holding the baby, but there is something extremely motivating: straight interaction between her and me.
While nestled in my arm, my baby girl never stop to change her eyes, facial and body expressions.
She might be willing so much to communicate with me.
And I do not want to miss a chance to grab those fragments of early baby language, before articulated words come into our relationship.
Magical moments capture
Therefore, most important is to concentrate on some usual and unusual technical factors to capture those magical moments. Here are some:
1 – Being so close, lenses (especially wider ones) create distortions as soon as the subject is not centered. Best is to shoot with, minimum, a 25mm lens on a M43 camera, a 35mm on a APS-C (DX) Camera and 50mm on a FX Camera. I am using a wider lens sometime (14mm on M43 = 28mm on FX) to play with the distortion (to make the baby looks like a doll with big eyes on the foreground for example) or by carefully keeping the face of the baby close to the center while showing much more things in the background.
2 – Being so close, the depth of field is extremely reduced and it is, more than ever, important to pick up the right part of the subject to focus on (Eyes, most of the time). Also, do not hesitate to close down the Aperture to get enough in focus.
3 – The way you dress will matter a lot on the final result. While holding the baby in your arm, close to your body, your shirt color (brought alive by the main source of light) is going to be reflected on the shadow area of the baby’s face. Best is to get a white shirt (for smoother contrast) or a black shirt (for more dramatic lighting style, with darker shadows) or a warm color tee shirt to “spring” up the atmosphere.
As you can see, by learning its restrain and gaining more experience on that shooting style, I am going to come up with more creative ideas by taking benefit of the limitation of the concept itself.
So do not be surprised if you see me wearing an aluminium suit one day!
As a conclusion, I would like to give a very important advise to those who are willing to give it a try with a baby, a pet, a pole dancer, a Chippendales or your grand’Ma: hold firmly your subject!
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.