Newborn Portrait Tips from Kelly Brown
by Jacqueline Tobin
January 30, 2014 —
Little Pieces Photography founder Kelly Brown has made quite a name for herself in her native Australia, as well as here in the U.S.—capturing delicate, angelic portraits of sleeping newborns and babies with their parents and/or siblings.
“They are brand new when I get them,” Brown explains of her subjects who are sometimes only days old. “Some of them even have their hospital bracelets still on. And if the baby is smiling in the image, they are most likely passing wind or twitching their mouth involuntarily.”
No matter what they are doing, or not doing, Brown is there with her camera to photograph these new beginnings for the proud parents. “I try to make every image about the baby and the baby’s face because that’s what the parents want to remember.”
Brown, who has won several awards for her work (including AIPP Queensland Professional Photographer of the Year 2013, Family Photographer of the Year 2012 and 2013, and WPPI First Place winner in Portrait Group and Portrait Individual categories) says that photographs of newborns with their sibling are the images parents really want when they come for their session.
How old the older child is figures into how she positions them together. In the image above, the little girl is under three, so Brown positioned her lying down on top of a posing bag—“this way it’s harder for the girl to jump up, and the baby is supported. If she were older and capable of holding her new baby brother alone, I would have her sitting on the floor holding him in her lap, but toddlers can be unpredictable.”
That’s one reason why Brown always asks parents to stand next to the beanbag helping to make their toddler feel safe, and also to be a spotter in case they move while she’s taking the photo. The baby (above, left) is wrapped to make him feel secure so it’s easier for his sibling to hold him, she explains.
The photographer uses only natural light, and has a large southeast-facing window in her studio with a sheer curtain to diffuse the light. She positioned the baby and his big sister in front of a window on the left and one of the parents was holding a reflector to the right to bounce light back onto the baby’s face.
Brown’s second image (above) is a composite and the baby was supported the entire time. “If a parent requests this image, I will always leave it until the end of the session, as it takes longer to create,” she explains. “Using long stretch wraps, I wrap them around the baby to support and hold him or her into position, and by placing the hands together under the chin the head stays supported and up so all of the face is visible in the image.”
When positioning the subject in front of the backdrop, Brown will have either Mom or Dad sitting next to the baby, on the opposite side towards the window. She will then place the parents’ hands—one on the back so that it’s supporting the base of the baby’s head and one on the front. “When I’m ready to take the images I will move back and direct the parent, telling them where to move their hands. This should only take a couple of seconds and then the baby can be unwrapped.
“With this pose,” she continues, “you can get a least three different angles for photos with very small movements of the baby’s hands. I then gently roll them onto their side, clamping the blanket to the backdrop stand. The baby can be wrapped and photographed again from different angles with slight adjustments to their hands and feet for variety. From here, I will roll them further onto their tummy and bring their elbows and knees together. With this pose you can get another three different shots. I then turn the baby toward the front of the bag and bring their arms up and under the chin so the chin is resting on the wrists. I love using props and mixing them with different textures, taking images from different angles and using either headbands or little hats for variety.
Here (above) I have a large antique dough bowl lined with blankets to create a soft, supportive nest for the baby. To help keep the baby in position, I have a knit wrap around her under the blanket. There is a large window to the right with a sheer curtain to soften the light. And mum was sitting next to her baby on the left. The baby is never alone in the props or in any one position for very long. Every baby is different; I will go through a series of poses and if they are not comfortable, I will click the shutter and move onto the next setup.”
Kelly Brown’s WPPI Master Class “Step-By-Step Newborn Posing” runs Wed., March 5, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
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