Being the mom of a 6 year old and 2 year old, I can attest that the first year of your baby's life really does fly by. In the midst of midnight feedings, diaper changes, and the endless soothing and rocking, time can seem like one never ending baby cycle. But all of a sudden your baby’s a toddler and you find yourself wondering, where did the time go? That’s why photographing those precious moments in between are so important.
Whether you are using a DSLR or smartphone, here are some helpful tips for capturing all of your baby's firsts.
1) Have your camera or smartphone ready at all times! You can't capture all of the wonderful first moments if your camera isn't ready to go, and you never know when those firsts are going to happen. Be sure to keep your camera somewhere centrally located with a charged battery and an empty memory card. Or at least make sure that you have storage available on your smartphone so that you don't get the dreaded "storage full" message when trying to capture a fleeting moment.
2) If you are going to try and tackle your baby's newborn pictures yourself, make sure the room you are photographing in is warm. A baby has a better chance of sleeping through the photo shoot if they are warm and cozy.
3) Many of the moments you will be capturing during your baby's first year will be in your home. And you will get the most natural looking pictures when using natural light. Be sure to turn off overhead lights and flash whenever possible. When natural light and artificial light compete, your camera gets confused and doesn't know which light to use. That is why you will sometimes get skin tones that look unnatural. Whenever possible use natural light!
4) When shooting indoors try to stay close to a window or door, but away from a direct stream of light. Soft, diffused light will make a huge difference in your images. When you are shooting outdoors look for shade. Direct sunlight is too harsh for your baby and your pictures. If you must shoot in direct sunlight put your subject's back to the sun to avoid any distracting shadows on the face.
If your images are too dark on your DSLR, simply overexpose (lower your shutter speed). If they are too dark on your smart phone, get a camera app that allows you to adjust the exposure by either tapping the screen or adjusting the exposure compensation (the camera+ app is my personal favorite).
5) Invest in a prime lens. A prime lens is a lens that can't zoom in or out. Therefore you have to zoom in or out with your feet. Prime lenses typically have a larger aperture. The aperture is how wide your lens can open. When your lens can open wider, it can allow more light in, which comes in handy when shooting in your home. You will be able to utilize natural light more when you have a lens that lets in more light. My personal favorite is the Canon 50mm f/1.2 or the more affordable Canon 50mm f/1.4.
6) Shoot with a wide aperture. Shooting on manual can be scary and intimidating. But, if you have a fancy DSLR you will want to take advantage to all it has to offer. If it's too intimidating try shooting on aperture priority. With aperture priority you can set the aperture and your camera does the rest. I prefer shooting with a wide aperture (smaller f stop number) not only because it lets more light into my lens, but also because it helps separate my subject from the background. It blurs the background, which helps keep the attention on my subject and also helps hide some unsightly messes that may be in my home.
7) Get down on their level. When photographing babies I like to get down on their level. This means laying on my belly or holding my camera on the ground to really see what they are seeing. See the world from their perspective and don't be afraid to get in close!
8) Back up your memories!!! Whether photographing with your smart phone or your DSLR camera the most important thing is to back up all of those precious memories! I have heard too many horror stories about people losing all of their memories when their hard drive crashed. Don't let that be you! I back up all of my images to an external hard drive as well as an online back up service. And I also print out my favorite images each month. Not only for protection, but also because I want my kids to have those tangible memories.
By understanding your camera and knowing how it works you will be able to capture all the firsts of your baby's life stress free. My motto is to get the shot and then get on with life. As much as I want to preserve all of the memories I also don't want my children to only remember me with a camera in front of my face. Remember, it’s important to be part of the memory, not just capturing them.
Drew Bittel is a family photographer in Southern California and owner of DrewB Photography. She also writes a popular blog for moms called Mom*tog. Mom*tog was inspired by her love of taking pictures of her own children, Brayden who is six and Kennedy who is almost three. Drew loves helping moms learn to take control of their cameras and wrote the UNmanual to teach parents how to capture beautiful memories of their own families.