Baby Pix Tips

Best Camera for “Holding Baby” shots?

One hand is holding the baby while the other is shooting the picture. I am calling this self "holding Baby" shooting. GH4 ISO400 1/20s and 25mm f1/4 @ f1.4.

One hand is holding the baby while the other is shooting the picture. I am calling this self "holding Baby" shooting. GH4 ISO400 1/20s and 25mm f1/4 @ f1.4.

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.

The Panasonic GH4 is quit generous in size for a M43 camera and the Nikon D750 is quit compact for a full frame camera. Overall the size difference between the two is not so huge, but weight is different and lenses are much bigger for the Nikon.

In the mood for choice

A Nikon1 V1 and classic lenses is one of my favorite combination for personal use, but it is not the best choice for “holding baby” shots due to its lack of external control, automatic features (such as autofocus with those lenses) and movable screen.

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.

On Photography forums, many are debating about size sensors and number of pixels, but few post do care about ergonomic. I do. I want my camera to feel comfortable in my hand and I am looking for direct controls with the right touch and the best positioning. GH4 offers a more professional approach on that matter than the D750. Any extra feature which help me to work faster and more efficiently is greatly welcome and the swiveling screen of the GH4 is an amazing advantage compare to traditional DSLR. The D750 is the first Nikon FX camera with a tilting screen (up and down), but it is not sufficient to compete.

And the GH series are amazing tools for video production at a very reasonable cost. Thus, GH4 is capable of 4K video.

With the mirror option, the POV “holding baby” shot will work with any camera. GH4 ISO200 1/25s and 25mm f1.4 @ f2

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.

This is the shot I achieved, despite my uncomfortable position. I had to correct the color cast on her face as the reflection of my orange tee-shirt tinted her skin in the shadow area.
GH4 ISO200 1/160s and 25mm f1.4 @ f2.5.
To achieve such a shot from my point of view (POV), it becomes sometime acrobatic as soon as my right arm is busy holding my daughter. Despite the appearance, I am composing the shot precisely, thanks to the swiveling screen open on the left side of the camera. (Shot by Sarah)

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.

Another moment and another angle from the same position. This time, I lowered my upper body to get that point of view. GH4 ISO200 1/50s and 25mm f1.4 @ f2.8.

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.

The GH4 is offering a touch sensitive swiveling screen, and a total freedom to set the focus point anywhere in the frame.

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.

Silent shutter mode is a great option to NOT wake up the baby while shooting that close!

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.

Deep sleep breath is one of the most wonderful moment holding a baby in your arm. Feeling safe and comfortable, she just let it softly go for a 2 hours sleep… GH4 ISO400 1/30s and 25mm f1.4 @ f2

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!

Sharing moment, I am watching a movie on my computer screen while Apolline is doing her gym. GH4 ISO400 1/13s and 25mm f1.4 @ f1.6

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.

Me and my mini Me: Sometime, it is mission impossible to shoot on your own; While sleeping for example. Apolline’s right hand is not cut out in composition. As we cannot shorten her nails yet, we are keeping her hands inside very long sleeves to avoid scratches on her face. Sarah’s shot with Panasonic GH4 ISO500 1/20s with 25mm f1.4 @ f1.6.

Why holding the baby?

Another good reason to turn the camera a bit further away than my arm: Mama and Baby interaction. Panasonic GH4 ISO320 1/125s with 42.5mm f1.2@ f1.4.

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.

Using a wider lens very close to the subject (the subject being close to a border of the frame) may create some “cute” distortion. GH4 ISO400 1/125s and 14mm f2.5 @ f2.8
By keeping the face closer to the center of the frame, a wider lens “behaves” normally and allow to add more information from the environment. GH4 ISO200 1/40s and 14mm f2.5 @ f3.2

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.

For such close up, you have to set the focus point on the part of the face you think is the most important, especially while using a wide Aperture. This is a risky choice and better to close down the Aperture instead, if you feel you don’t get enough depth in focus. GH4 ISO200 1/160s and 25mm f1.4 @ f1.6.

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.

Each facial expression is giving her a different personality. Being serious, She looks like a little boy much older than her 3 weeks. This might also due to the Darker shadows provided by my black shirt. Panasonic GH4 ISO400 1/30s and 35mm f1.4 @ 1.4.

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.