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Photographing Your Baby

Babies change so fast in the first year, there's no shortage of milestones to photograph -- first smile, first step, first messy bite of chocolate cake. You're probably snapping the shutter all the time. However, you may not be taking the best photos you can. Of course, nothing beats professional shots, but with some tweaks to your technique you can get great results on your own, whether you have a point-and-shoot camera, a fancy 35mm, or a digital one. We spoke to photographer John Hedgecoe, author of Photographing Babies and Toddlers, to learn his secrets.

Here are 10 tips for taking great photos of a baby at any age:

1. Wait until just after she's been fed. This way she won't be fussy.

2. Dress your baby in simple, comfortable clothes. Or just leave him in a diaper so you can get the wonderful little folds of skin on film.

3. Make sure the temperature of the room is comfortable. You don't want your baby to be too hot or too cold. Take into consideration what she's wearing; if she's just in a diaper, keep the room warmer than you normally would.

4. Set everything up before you put the baby in the picture. If you're using props in the picture (presents under the Christmas tree if you're taking a holiday photo, for instance), get everything ready and then bring your baby in. You want the photographs to take only a couple of minutes so your child won't get fussy.

5. Get in close enough. Fill your frame with the child. Don't leave too much room around him.

6. Keep it simple. Uncluttered backgrounds, such as a grassy lawn, a white bedspread, or a solid-color carpet, are easiest to photograph. Sitting your baby on a chair also works well.

7. Use mirrors as reflectors of light. Angle a mirror so it reflects the sun on your child posed in a dark corner. It will look as though she's lit by a ray of sun coming through the window.

8. Keep shooting. You might need half a dozen shots to get one good photo.

9. Incorporate play. Toys make good props that also keep babies amused and occupied.

10. Have your pictures tell a story. A sequence of photos, even of a crying infant, can be interesting as a framed series.

I'm planning to take pictures of the baby and my wife as soon as she gives birth. How can I be sure to get good ones?

In the excitement of birth, there's seldom time for anything more than a close-up of your baby's squished little face or a shot of the exhausted but happy mother and child. These photos capture the moment, but the next day or two, when there's often a lot of help around, is a good time to pose your wife and baby for another photo -- Mom may feel better because she can change clothes and put on a dab of makeup. Some other moments you may want to get on file: a photo of your baby and the doctor; a shot on the hospital steps as you're going home. Close-ups of your baby's tiny, amazing body also make wonderful first pictures that you'll marvel at years from now. Snap a shot of your baby's foot emerging from a blanket or his small hand curled around an adult finger.

Every time I try to take a photo of my baby, she starts to cry. How can I get a photo of her laughing or smiling?

The eternal question! Well, obviously it depends on the child. Parents or siblings are usually pretty good at getting baby's attention and keeping her amused. It also helps if you can distract her -- professionals sometimes use a toy on a pole that they can dangle next to the camera. You can approximate this by having your spouse shake your baby's favorite rattle or another toy nearby. Keep in mind that a baby's attention span is a few seconds -- a few minutes if you're lucky. So don't expect too much. The best thing to do is get into the habit of taking photos all the time. Take pictures every day or every week and you'll get a whole variety of emotions and facial expressions, including smiles.

My baby gets stunned by the flash on the camera when I take pictures indoors. What can I do to remedy this?

It's best not to use a flash that's fixed on the camera anyway, because it's rather harsh. Professionals usually bounce the flash off something else, such as a mirror or reflector, to soften it. So forget the flash and instead use the natural light from a nearby window. You can control the brightness with blinds. Some people also swear by faster film (400 speed or above) because it requires less light, although it gives photos a grainier look.

Is there a way to avoid red eye?

Don't have your baby looking straight at you when you're photographing. Avoid using the red-eye reduction mode on a point-and-shoot camera; the delay it causes between when you push the button and when the shutter goes off can cause you to miss a great expression or moment. Use a red-eye reduction pen on the print itself instead.

How do you photograph a baby who can't sit up yet?

Invariably parents end up shooting babies from above. But you can prop an infant up in a chair or on cushions. Also, one of the best things I've found to use is the car seat. You can put a white shawl over it to dress it up. When taking photos of your baby, you should also get down to her eye level -- if she's lying on her belly, for example. This may mean you'll have to lie or kneel on the ground.

My baby's first birthday is coming up and I want to do something special for the photo. What do you suggest?

Family portraits are a great way to mark birthdays; you can compare how much your baby has grown from the previous year. Or pose her against a background -- a particular tree, perhaps -- that you can use to measure her growth and other changes year after year.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.