So what is in a photograph ?

In About, How To, Portrait, technical, Training by a Comment

A bit of behind the scenes….

I have had several people ask me about the newborn photographs that I have been taking and the work that goes in to them so I thought I would put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and explain…

At the moment I am photographing newborns for the NCT calendar. Before I started this projects I drafted out all my ideas so that we could create twelve very different photographs, one for each month.

Once I had this drafted out, with sketches of how I want each one to look the next task was to start sourcing the various props. There isn’t a specific “photographic props shop” that you can just turn up at and buy exactly what you want ! Lots of it involves research online and then¬†going¬†to look at the specific items, making sure that they are the right size for a newborn as well as safe to use (or can be made same). One example of this is a violin case, the case will naturally fall closed at the earliest opportunity, not very good for a baby so we have to be able to make sure that the case is open and nothing short of an earthquake will close it ! As well as the physical props we have to make sure that we have the right backdrops and floors to use. Most of these are printed on to large vinyl sheets, much the same as a large outside advertising sign. Again, if I can’t find what I want I then need to photograph the scene I want or create the graphics that can be printed for me.

When I have the right backdrop, floor and props I then build the scene in the studio and start getting the lighting in place to test it. For this I use “Flash Test Teddy” this shows me how the light will fall on the subject and background and allows me to fine tune the setup before anyone arrives. Sometimes at this point we find a specific prop or background doesn’t work so we need to find replacements…. and then back to the testing phase…. I tend to use my battery operated Elinchrom Quadra lights coupled with a large Lastolite Octa II Ezybox; this means I can use a very low power on the lights and they are very portable.

For each scene I have a few variations that can be used depending on the baby that we are photographing on that day. Sometimes babies really don’t like having a nappy removed so we will have various wraps etc that can be used to hide it.

When it comes to the actual session we only ever book one newborn in on a day so that we can work in a relaxed environment without putting pressure on anyone for the baby to fall asleep; it is not unusual for the sessions to take 2-3 hours or for the baby to come back on a second day for another try if they really won’t settle !

Afterwards we have the editing. All photographs that come out of modern digital cameras need some form of post processing. Most printing companies wouldn’t be able to print the RAW format from the camera so this is where the magic starts.

The first stage is normally to “clean” the skin and remove the little scratches and spots that newborn babies have. This is quite a delicate stage because you want to remove the blemishes whilst leaving a natural skin tone and texture, after all no-one wants that “plastic” skin look ! At this stage I also “tidy up” the background, removing crease from fabric if needed and extending any backgrounds etc.

After this comes the “art” stage. Right from the start I have had the finished image in my head…. and this is where it gets transferred from my head to the photograph… and this is different for every photograph. There are no one click fixes or “actions” or “just” photoshop it most of what I do is “painted” on to the photograph using a graphics tablet and pen, after all every photograph is different and this all takes time (sometimes quite a bit of time !)

So, what is in a photograph ? ¬† – quite a bit of work actually 😉

Leave a Comment