Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Great Baby Photography in 5 Simple Steps

Your baby is on the way and you've just decided you want to record all the special moments. What do you need to know? Let me break it down for you in 5 simple steps that have worked well for me over the years.

1) Buy a Digital SLR

You want a DLSR if you can afford it, because there is a very visible difference in image quality. Quite apart from the higher resolution, only an SLR can consistently give you the nice bokeh effect - where the subject is in focus and the background is blurred. However, you don't need to get a top of the line DLSR. A basic DLSR like the Canon EOS700D should more than suffice for a beginner, and it is a lot smaller than the pro models. I subscribe to the belief that "the best camera is the one that you have" - and the smaller the camera, the more likely you are to carry it around with you and catch those precious moments.

The best way to keep costs down is to buy your equipment second-hand, at forums like ClubSnap.

2) Buy a Lens

To shoot babies, you need a fast lens - this refers to a lens that can capture fairly quick movements, because babies don't hold that smile for you (how this works). The speed of a lens is measured by it's aperture rating, or how much light the lens allows in. Ideally you want something f/2.8 or below. And because you don't need a zoom lens, the absolute best starter lens for a baby photographer is a prime lens such as the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, which only costs about USD100 and is very compact. It's all you need for the first year, until baby starts crawling.

To shoot toddlers, you now need a zoom lens, which unfortunately won't be as fast or as cheap as a prime lens. You should get a lens that is rated at least f/2.8, and not something rated f/2.8-5.6, which means that at the longer zooms the aperture shrinks to f/5.6. You will want a zoom of about  17-70mm. For crop-frame DSLRs like the 700D, you need to multiply this by a factor of 1.6 for the effective zoom (explanation here). The Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 USD has worked well for me, as an alternative to the similar Canon lenses. Although image quality is a bit worse, and the autofocus is slightly slower, the lens is smaller and cheaper.

3) Adjust the Av Settings

Cameras come with many modes. 99% of the time, my camera is on the Av mode, with the maximum aperture. This achieves two things. Firstly, it allows the maximum shutter speed so that the image of the child is sharp. Secondly, it creates the minimum depth of field, which translates into maximum background blur.

The only time I make the aperture smaller is if I am shooting multiple kids at once, or for some other reason I want to increase the depth of field. The only other mode I use is Tv mode. I do this when the lighting is really very bad, and I need to set Tv to about 1/100 in order that the child is not blurred. Then I let the camera compensate by bumping up the ISO (when set too high this makes the photo grainy). If the lighting is really bad, I may even set the camera to under-expose. In the worst case, I will use flash.

4) Set Spot Metering

The camera has many different metering modes. Personally, I always use spot metering, because with a shallow depth of field you want to ensure that your primary subject is clearly in focus. My Canon allows me to manually select which focus point I want to use (the red dot). In practise, I've found it more reliable to always use the centre dot to focus (press the trigger down halfway), then shift the camera to the desired framing.

5) Activate the Motor Drive

My camera is permanently set to motor drive. This means that when you hold down the trigger, it will take a continuous burst of photos. But if you just snap the trigger, it takes one shot as usual. The thing that moves quickest on babies is their facial expression, so this is a useful way to get the perfect expression. But it also means you need to weed through and delete the unwanted ones.

Wi-Fi Uploads

My last tip is not about taking a better picture, but getting it to your camera. The nature of documenting your baby growing up is that you might take a handful of photos here and there throughout the day, or every few days. It's rather tedious to have to pop the SD Card into a reader every time you do this. So a very effective solution to saving this effort is to get a wireless SD Card like the Eye-Fi, unless your camera itself already comes with Wi-Fi. These cards are not cheap, but worth their weight in gold!