When photographing newborns, I’m always looking for ways to get variety.
Traditional ways to do this include changing the pose, changing the props, or using different angles.
Another way to get variety, and one that I use frequently, is to change up how you use your light source.
45 degree angle portrait lighting
The typical lighting used with newborns is a 45 degree angle light. It is soft, sweet, and beautiful on babies.
I tend to start the photos I take somewhere between 45 and 90 degrees. I prefer that a little better than true 45 degrees.
So don’t get too caught up in trying to place baby exactly 45 degrees from the light source. I find it most effective to pay attention to how the light is landing on baby’s face and tweak as necessary until I love what I see.
One thing I want to point out about this particular image, is the light that is kissing baby’s cheek on camera right. It’s forming a bit of a triangle. This is referred to as a Rembrandt triangle and can be a very desirable look. My “drawing” skills aren’t the best, but I’ve outlined it so it can be more easily seen.
Regardless of whether you see this triangle, you always want to look for a “kiss” of light on the baby’s cheek that is farthest from the light.
Shooting from the shadows
Another beautiful way to light and add amazing depth to your images is to shoot from the shadows. It creates a moodier look which can work well particularly in cases where you want to elicit emotions.
For example, in this image, I was standing out in the very dark hallway and the only light was coming from the window behind them. I did need to lighten their faces a bit in Lightroom but I loved how the light coming in behind them added to the emotion of the image.
This is also a technique I often use when I am using my macro lens (the Nikon 60mm macro). When it comes to newborn macro, I want to see every single detail of those fingers, toes, or whatever I happen to be capturing. Shooting from the shadows makes that possible by facilitating a beautiful relationship between light and shadows, showcasing those little wrinkles and flakes that fade so quickly.
In this next image I was leaning into the shadows. That, combined with the darker background color work together to not only add depth, but to showcase this little one’s sweet face.
Shooting from the light side
If you want to get variety without moving your little subject at all, one thing you can do is take some photos from the shadows and then move over to the “light” side, and take some from that direction as well.
Here is an example of the same baby but first photographed as I leaned towards the light and then as I stood on the shadow side. As you can see, it creates a totally different look.
Your emotional response is probably different looking at each of these images, too! Note that the changes to the setup and baby are very subtle.
Side lighting is one of my favorite ways to light a baby during a session. I personally find it more interesting than 45 degree lighting as it adds more contrast and depth to the image. However, that is simply my own style and preference. There is no one best way!
When side lighting a baby, I’ll place their head parallel to the light so that one side is clearly light while the other is more in shadows. It’s similar to the 45 degree lit image I showed but as you can see, the shadows are more defined.
There are many ways to use lighting when photographing a baby and this only covers a handful!
My best advice is to experiment as much as possible. Alter where you stand in relation to your subject without changing anything else and take note of how the light changes when doing so.
And don’t be afraid to rotate the angle of the baby slightly until you love what you see! The best way to find your favorite lighting style is to experiment and practice and you’ll most certainly find the light that speaks to your soul!