A beginner’s guide to newborn posing & studio lighting

A beginner’s guide to newborn posing & studio lighting

  • newborn studio lighting, backlit newborn in basket

It’s not easy to remember all the ins and outs of posing newborns in studio lighting when you’re working with unpredictable little people that need lots of breaks and might pee on you at any moment. If you’re just beginning your journey into posed newborn photography, it can all feel very overwhelming. Luckily, it gets easier!

I’m going to show you a few simple posing and lighting tricks to create the look you want in every newborn photo.

1. Use shadow and light to create visual interest.

Light and shadow build interest in our images. In this sense, shadows are just as important as light. Shadows create depth and dimension, and they direct the eye to the main part of the photo. Our eyes are automatically attracted to the lighter parts of the image, so we need to be certain that light hits the most important elements. Here are two easy rules to remember:

  1. Don’t be afraid of including lots of shadows.
  2. Position your shadows correctly.

2. Light newborns from the top of the head to the chin.

When using studio lighting with newborns, the light source should come from the direction that the baby’s head is laying. The light should illuminate the baby’s face downward, from the top of the head to the chin. Lighting from the chin upwards would cause spooky up-lighting and “monster” shadows, which we want to avoid. When posing a newborn on a beanbag, always turn the baby’s head to the side the light is on.

In this image, the light is coming from the left side. When you see shadows under the chin and the nose, those shadows are a good indication that the light is placed correctly.

studio lighting for newborn photography, baby laying on her side with arms tucked under chin

Let’s take a look at the image below, where baby was not placed correctly in relation to the light source. Since I have not moved my studio lighting, the light is still coming at a 90-degree angle from the left. This setup is lighting the newborn’s face in an upward direction, creating the wrong kind of shadows on her face.

In nature the sun illuminates us from above, creating shadows under our nose, cheekbones and chin. Lighting from below (upwards) creates unflattering shadows on the face.

If you have a baby who won’t stay in the pose you want, as in this example, turn your light so it shines at a 90-degree angle on the side of the baby’s face. That way you’ll create a well lit image — unlike this one.

newborn in basket with studio lighting

3. Pose the newborn correctly.

When you pose the newborn correctly, it’s easier to light the baby perfectly. Posing correctly means creating a curve in the image, or a C shape. Our brains love to see curves. Our eyes follow the curves in an image and we see the whole photo with all the details in harmony.

Look at the two images below. Can you see how our eyes love the C shape more than the simple straight line?

I accomplished the C curve by making sure the baby’s head was tilted and her body was curved to the side. It’s easy to curl a newborn like this by placing baby’s elbow under her knee on the inner side. The baby’s face will clearly be seen and will not be obscured by her body.

example of bad pose for newborn photo with studio lighting, baby laying in straight line
correct newborn pose for studio lighting, baby laying in c curve

4. Create visual layers through lighting & posing.

Imagine separating a two-dimensional image into layers. The features closest to the camera are the first layer and the most important part of the image. The next layer includes the features that are farther from the camera. The details on this second layer are less important, but they serve to create a dynamic and interesting image. Think of the added texture of fabric or a wood floor as part of this second layer of interest.

5. Use lighting techniques to get the look you want.

When photographing newborns using studio lighting, it’s useful to know the different types of lighting situations so that you can manipulate the light to get the look you want.

Rembrandt lighting

When photographing newborns from above, I light the baby’s face at a 90-degree angle. This way, one side is completely lit and the other side is partially lit. This creates a nice triangle of light on the cheek that is in the shadows. This is known as Rembrandt lighting.

example of rembrandt light, baby lays in wooden box in studio

Look at Rembrandt’s famous paintings for examples of this classic lighting technique. We can often draw photography inspiration from art.

studio lighting example with baby laying under umbrella light

Broad light & short light

Broad lighting is when the majority of the subject is illuminated by the light source. Short lighting is when most of the subject is in the shadows. When focusing on a subject’s face, if the face is turned toward the light, most of the face will be lit, and that is broad lighting. When most of the face is turned away from the light, and is in the shadow, that is called short lighting.

In the photo below on the left, since the baby’s face is tilted a bit to the left and the light source is on the left side of the image, most of the face is lit. Therefore, the baby is broad lit. The shadows are simply giving nice definition to the right side of the face. When the light source moves to the right side (in the right image), her face is mostly in the shadows and she is short lit. Both of these images are posed and lit correctly. Which image do you like the best? That’s how you should light this pose!

newborn baby in basket with broad lighting, studio lighting
newborn in basket with short lighting, studio lighting

Backlighting

Backlighting happens when you and your camera are directly opposite from your light source and you’re shooting from the shadows toward the light. This technique yields perfectly creamy lighting, which I really love!

Look at the image below. Do you see the gorgeous highlight on baby’s lips and the cute details of little toes in the distance?

newborn studio lighting, backlit newborn in basket

To wrap it all up, remember these four tips.

1. Consider the pose when you are using studio lighting for newborns.

2. Consider the type of lighting that best suits your vision for each photo.

3. Create visual layers in your image by deciding which elements are most important.

4. Be mindful of light and shadow. They make or break an image!

All photos by Dina Duchan

About the Author:

I'm Dina, mother of four, originally from Israel. I came here after my love 11 years ago and now live in Brooklyn, New York. I've been in business for about three and a half years. I love taking newborn images more than anything else! It's so rewarding and special! I also love teaching and directing other photographers. I have an art degree from Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), with a major in photography, so anything technical, I learned the right way. I learned newborn posing on my own. Visit Dina Duchan online.
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8 Comments

  1. Chaya Braun April 13, 2018 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this very detailed article! Your photos are gorgeous, and I will keep your tips in mind at my next session!

  2. RAchael September 15, 2018 at 10:52 pm - Reply

    What light source is used here? Is it an Einstein?

  3. Nicole September 24, 2018 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    Would love to know the type of light source your using, or what you recommend.

  4. Ash February 1, 2019 at 9:41 am - Reply

    I’m struggling to understand the difference in how you achieved the short light vs broad light? Is it possible you have a pullback to show the difference? This article is great

    • Dina Duchan February 1, 2019 at 1:10 pm - Reply

      Hi Ash,

      It has to do more with the placement of the subject (baby) in correlation to the light, than actually placing the light in a certain way. In the example shown above the light is simply on one side then the other side. It’s the angle of the baby that determined if more of it will be lit (broad lighting) or in the shadow (short light).

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