Sunday, September 23, 2012

DIY Infant and Kids Photo Sessions

I have several friends, and one AWESOME sister who all are photographers. Through the years, I have been fortunate enough to glean some important information from them about photo shoots and how to get some good "basic" shots.

Because money is a little tight in our house, and a trip to Idaho Falls to have my sister take pictures of Phillie was DEFINITELY going to be out of the question, I knew that I would have to take her newborn pictures myself... using this same train of thought, I also knew that I would have to take Faith's 1 year pictures as well.  To be honest, I was kind of excited at the prospect, and after actually having done it, I can honestly say I can't wait to get behind the lens again and take some "Irish Twin" pictures of the girls in some special outfits we got them for the day that Phillie came home from the hospital. are the "good" shots that I managed to take on the days that I took pictures. After the pictures I will share some tips. They may not be 100% professional quality (I don't have a DSLR camera, in fact, my camera is a cheapo that I bought on Black Friday 3 years ago...the only positive thing I can say about it is that its 14 megapixels so I can make large prints- up to 16x20- without the pictures getting too pixelated.) but I think between what I know about using natural light, toying with my camera settings, and my free photoshop program (I'll talk about that later), they are definitely "wall worthy" fact, I have them on my wall right now thanks to Shutterfly and 50 free 4x6 prints.

Enjoy the cuteness first, then, if you think I did an okay job, you can read how I did it. :)

 are some DIY tips for a newborn/small infant (ie one that can't crawl yet ) photo shoot...

Where:  While you can do an infant photo shoot in front of the same set up that you would use for an "active" infant (ie a crawler) to child photo shoot ( to be discussed after you see Faith's pictures), I found a tip on Pinterest that I decided to try with Phillie's shots and it made things a lot easier than I think they would have been in front of a traditional backdrop.

My bed has this amazing, tall headboard that is tan, I used it for the backdrop for ALL of Phillie's pictures because I knew it would work color wise with all of the throw blankets I was using for Phillie to lay on.  Even if your bed doesn't have an amazing headboard that is padded and the perfect color, you could actually use your headboard to drape a blanket or sheet over the top and create the backdrop color you'd like to use. The beauty of using your bed as the base and the headboard as your backdrop is that baby is up higher and therefore easier to reach and there is a nice, soft padded area for baby to lay on cozily as you're setting up your next shots.

When: You want to take advantage of your natural light.  You want to use a space that has a large window to let the natural light in. The best times of day to use natural light are: 10:00 AM to noon (by noon the sun is too high in the sky and the natural light starts to make the pictures WAY too bright and you will get weird shadows that, no matter how hard you try, you won't be able to photoshop them out, and 2 PM to 4/5 PM (depending on if its summer or fall. In summer, you can eek out a little more natural light usage until 5 PM, but you may find those a little more difficult to photoshop.) I will say that Phillie's pictures were taken during the 10 AM to noon slot and Faith's were taken in that 2 PM- 5PM slot and my personal preference is 10 AM to noon...Phillie's pictures just had better light (not too bright) and were MUCH easier to photoshop...but my photographer friend that shared this tidbit with me said that she is able to get amazing outdoor and indoor shots during these times because the sun isn't too high in the sky...who knows, try both and maybe your personal preference will be different depending on your camera and what amount of light your source (window) lets in.   If you have good natural light, you shouldn't need the flash.

If you're shooting a newborn, its best to do the shoot when they have a full belly. This will make them sleepy and easy to pose...unfortunately, what is normally true wasn't true for my Phillie. She had a full belly, but was wide awake (of course, we found out that the bottles we were using were causing her to have extra air in her tummy...that's another blog- when do you NOT want to use Dr.Brown's bottles... oh, its coming, you'd better believe it...LOL) so she was harder to pose. I would get her set into the pose I wanted and she would lift her head and shift her body and mess it up! UGH...but I did manage to get some good ones, so I can't complain.

I also know that some photographers go so far as to set the thermostat to a certain temperature to keep newborns sleepy...I'm not sure what that temperature is, but I'm sure you could Google it if you wanted to be "hardcore" about your newborn photos.

Last "When" tip...newborns are only their sleepy "pliable" selves for about 2 weeks...after that, you won't be able to get the cute poses like you see on Pinterest or photography blogs where their hands are under their chins, etc.  So, the key is to get them done early...Phillie was 3 days old in hers. I was exhausted while I took them, but I have to say that it was a fun way to get a little boost of energy and bond with my baby.

What do you use?: First, you'll want some inspiration.  I found a plethora of inspiration on Pinterest. In fact, I went back through my photography board and found ideas that I forgot to use (which means we may have a 3 month photoshoot in our future so I can try...LOL)  I definitely had a clear picture of the things I wanted to use in my house and do for Phillie's pictures.  I didn't purchase anything special for her pictures, everything was stuff I already had.  The white fluffy throw on the base is a big, fuzzy white blanket that Jeff and I got as a wedding present, as is the leopard print throw on the base of some of the other pictures. The green base in the caterpillar pictures is the back of a Winnie the Pooh comforter that came with Faith's bedding set we bought a little while back, the hat box was a gift from my mother in law at my bridal shower (I've held onto it knowing that it would be a good photo prop, plus its pretty handy for storing my hair stuff and jewelry- I just dumped it out before the shoot...LOL), the swaddle wrap was a gift from my baby shower (thanks again Kathryn Barlow!) but you could even use a large neck scarf and get the same effect (that's what my older sister does),  the wicker basket was another wedding present...the Christmas lights we purchased shortly after we were married (we hang Christmas lights around the top edges of our walls in the living room instead of purchasing lamps and ended up having an  extra strand when we moved to Vegas.) I just draped the Christmas lights over the headboard and let them droop at different levels to make the background more interesting.  In order to create cocoons, steps and levels on the base for baby to rest on, I just used the pillows off of my bed.

Now, if you don't have what you'd envision using for your pictures, there's no reason to go to Pier 1 and spend a million dollars for photo props.... if you need baskets, blankets, etc. my older sister (a "weekend photographer"- a woman with another career who is a photographer on her days off to make a few extra dollars) gave me an awesome tip...and if I had a better camera and was ready to step into the world of "weekend photographer", I'd fully be using it all the time...don't be afraid to check places like Savers, Deseret Industries, and  other thrift stores for sheets, blankets and fabric to use as backdrops and for photo props like interesting pieces of pottery that newborns could fit into and out of easily or wicker baskets.  My sister purchased and AMAZING trunk that she uses for a child, family AND newborn prop that would have cost her a couple hundred dollars at Pier 1 or even Big Lots, but she found it at Savers for $25...she has also purchased adorable blankets and fabric to use as backdrops there, as well as other various photo prop items.

Now...there is one unanswered question I'm sure you have: "Where did you get the knit caterpillar suit?"  I made it...If you have a crafty hand, its not that difficult to learn how to crochet. I learned last year when I was pregnant with Faith and even sold a few hats and sets of things shortly after I learned.  When I decided that I was going to do Phillie's newborn photos, I knew I had to make at least 1 stellar photo prop for her newborn pictures since I'd made several for Faith's newborn photos.  About 2 weeks before Phillie was born I started on the set. Originally, I was going to make a giraffe set, but decided that a caterpillar with striped bunting would be even cuter (and less time consuming than sewing crocheted patches onto the bunting for a giraffe.)

I made up my own pattern, but if you're not experienced enough to do that, the internet is teeming with plenty of free patterns you can use. If you're not in the mood to teach yourself how to crochet, I'm sure you have a friend that does and would willingly make it for you for either a small fee or even for free because they love you that much! If you don't think you have a friend that does because crocheting is apparently an "old lady past time" (I definitely don't think so...I love it, and  know that I'm not an old lady...LOL) you can ask at your church or even have your mom or mother in law ask around if they know someone handy with a crochet hook or knitting needles that would be willing to make things for you.  The right little crocheted set in the right colors can make all the difference.

How: A good picture is all in how you set up the shot.  Take a few test shots of your backdrop and props to be sure that it will be composed well...there is nothing more frustrating than setting baby up in a shot and finding out that you don't like the way something looks "on film", this will save you lots of heartache and time reposing baby after you had to change your entire set up... You also want to take some test shots to determine if your camera settings are satisfactory.  Most point and shoot cameras have a portrait setting...however, if your camera is anything like mine, you may find that the portrait setting without the flash turns into a blurry mess no matter how hard you try to steady your hands.  I have a DIS setting. The icon on my camera looks like a little hand, this setting prevents shots from being shaky...they take FOREVER to process, but its well worth it. I also played with my light and ISO settings. I turned my ISO way down so that only the necessary natural light made it into the lens. I think I had it set to 20 or 100.  I set my light settings on my camera to cloudy and that looked good, also setting it to tungsten lighting...depending on the light in your house, your preferences may be different- that is the purpose of the test shot. Play with the settings, take a shot and if you don't like it, readjust until you do. It only took me about 10 minutes to find the right settings. I knew that I would want to turn the ISO down no matter what because I didn't want the pictures to look "blown out" or grainy (grainy pictures are usually the result of your ISO being set too high)  If you don't want to mess with your settings, you can always see if auto will work, just be aware that many auto settings automatically include using the flash and if you want that "portrait" finish in natural light, you will be out of luck if your flash is going off.

Don't be too afraid of posing baby. Remember, if you're doing your shots before that 2-3 week old mark, baby is still pretty pliable and will sleep willingly in the safe positions you put them into. If you're concerned about safely posing baby, here are a few good articles I found on Pinterest written by professional photographers. You can find them HERE and HERE.  Just remember that it will take patience and practice if its your first time...again, it also takes a sleepy baby for the most part ( a luxury that I really didn't have unfortunately...LOL)

So...onto the active infant and kids' set up....

First, here are Faith's 1 year pictures (I still may do a "re do" of this shoot because, like I said, I prefer the way the lighting looks between 10 and noon, and Faith, who is NEVER grumpy, decided that being grumpy during her photo shoot would just be too much will notice, however, that I got a few priceless pouty shots that will be super fun for her baby book later on.)

Where: Let me first reassure you that you DO NOT need a fancy PVC pipe or wooden contraption to hold backgrounds.  I simply opened my dining room curtains, moved my table out of the way and used push pins to stick my fuzzy leopard print blanket to the wall.  I just made sure that it was pulled taught so there wouldn't be any weird folds in it, and that it was flush with the floor. My carpet isn't the best, so I used my fuzzy white blanket as a base, but you could use sheets or even extra flooring. My older sister actually went to Home Depot and purchased a small box of snap together Pergo planks that she puts together to use for photo shoots. You'd be surprised by what a small area you actually need in order to get it into the photo. I know I have lots of friends that have been doing home improvement projects, so maybe, just maybe, if you happen to have any extra flooring lying around after your projects are done, you may be in luck with a classy way to cover gross carpet or tile that won't really match your aesthetic. You could even go to the dollar store and purchase some plastic tablecloths to use as colored backdrops if you're feeling festive...the point is, all you need is an open space with a good window and some push pins! So simple!

When: Just like with the newborn and small infant shots, test shots will be your best friend.  I wish I would have done a few more test shots before Faith's shoot. I think my nice, big dining room window is just in a bad place and gets too much light between those 2 and 5 PM hours.  I managed to photoshop it so that it was fairly decent, but photoshopping Faith's pictures was definitely more of a chore than doing Phillie's.  Maybe the day before, do some test shots in the area you're planning on using to determine what time the lighting will be best inside your house. If you're doing an outdoor shoot, it actually won't matter as long as you're setting shots up at the right angle.

What do I use?: It definitely helps to go in with a clear vision of what you're hoping to compose. I knew that the leopard print backdrop would be fun with the pink tutu that I had.  I actually had some other outfits I was going to use and I was going to hang up other backdrops (sheets, blankets, curtains), but, like I mentioned earlier, The Little Diva had opted to be a grumpy grouch...the first few shots she was her normal smiley self, but after she tried to stand up in the wicker basket and toppled over, it was ALL downhill from there...we took a break and when we came back she cried every time I tried to put the necklace on her, which made me sad because it really did add something to the pictures, but I opted for a semi-smiley baby over a necklace in the shot...

HOW?: Let's face it, active infants, toddlers and small kids can be difficult to say the least...the trick is to KEEP SHOOTING.  My rule of thumb comes from another photographer friend- they said they will take anywhere from 5 to 10 shots before they actually look through them to see what they got...they will delete the ones that for sure won't work, but you never know what you're going to catch if you're just hitting your shutter button 5 times in a row.  Some of my most favorite pictures that I got out of this session with Faith (like her pouty shots and her rubbing her eyes) came because I just kept hitting the shutter button and trying to get her attention...the other big thing? Don't be afraid to BE SILLY.  Faith gets excited and claps every time I sing an opera cadenza (which is how I got some cute shots of her clapping and smiling.) She may not have looked at the camera every time, but it did illicit a response so I got more than a picture of a baby sitting in front of a leopard print backdrop.  Unleash your inner child, make funny noises and funny will make the session more enjoyable for both of you!  Introduce a playtime element...I think my MOST favorite shot of the day is Faith playing with the ball with her tongue sticking out...I got that one by rolling the ball to her and then being quick to snap a few pictures while she played with it and tried to roll it back. If you can find a prop like a ball that will be fun to use for both of you it could help you get a shot of a great candid moment that can only be described as "soooooo my child..." LOL


Okay, so not everyone has a couple hundred dollars to drop on it...I know I don't...its an investment we plan on making one day, but for now I use a freeware program that is just as good, has pretty much all of the same basic (and some not so basic) actions to "clean up"a photo and make it look more professional. Its called GIMP and you can download it HERE.  I'll give you a quick run through of how I do a "quick edit" on photos to give them a little extra oomph.

1) In the color tab select brightness/contrast. Bump up the contrast by 10 or 20 (10 is usually enough if your lighting was good)
2) In the Color tab go to Color Balance...there will be "preset" color modes. Simply scroll through and preview them until you find the color balance that looks best to you.
3) The best color balance is usually a little yellow. Once you've found your preset color mode, turn down the yellow by moving it more towards the blue spectrum (again, I find that one click and moving it by 10 in the blue direction is usually the best.)
4) If there is a color you really want to pop (like a pink or purple or green, etc.) go into the hue/saturation option in the color tab. Select the primary color you want to adjust and then adjust the lightness tab ( you can mess with the saturation tab a bit if you want, but I find that, in general, just adjusting the lightness fixes most problems)
5) Go to the filters tab, select Enhance and then Antilias, this will readjust the photo to prepare it for other filters.
6) Go to Filters, select Enhance again and adjust the sharpness. You will be allowed to preview what the sharpness is doing to the photo...scroll down to a part of the picture that you can really focus on like an eye or finger to see what adjusting the sharpness is really doing so you don't turn it up too high.

Finally 7) is optional... if you find that your picture seems a bit too "bright" on one side you can go to Filters, select Artistic and then Softglow...on its own, this is actually a pretty fun, cool effect if you want to leave it the way that the program suggests. However, it can be used to fix the brightness...go to the edit tab and you will see an option to fade the Softglow. I usually turn it down  to between 25 and 35.  After this, go back to readjust the color balance. Reselect the preset color mode that you picked before and turn down the yellow again slightly...TADA!!!!!

You've just photoshopped a picture...congratulations! Of course, there are other fun things you can do, like desaturate the photo to make it black and white, you can make it look like an old photo (to make it look really old, you can use softglow first and then select old photo...its fun!) You can even select a big item in the photo that is a certain color and do the fun black and white on color with it, you will be amazed at how addicting and fun it becomes!

So...there you have it.  If you have any more questions, don't hesitate to ask!

Friends in the Henderson/Las Vegas area (and even possibly the Idaho area if you know I'm going to be in town) if this overwhelms you and money is tight, know that I am fully willing to "help a sister out." I have always had so much fun behind the camera, and will happily do shots of your kids for free so I can practice my "skills"....Also, Jeff is getting me a new camera soon (probably in January) and its going to be SA-WEEEET....and, the reality is that you'll be helping me out by giving me a chance to play with my new camera....seriously, hit me up! I sit home all day every day, so you'd be giving me something fun to do. Plus, we have the opportunity here in Vegas to be able to do outdoor shots year round! Babies, kids, family...I will do it all just for a chance to have some fun with you! YAY!

Hugs and Loves until next time darlings!

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