I get a lot of comments about Gus’ monthly pictures. Most are from friends and family who tell me they wish they had done something similar, since before you know it, you’re sending your kids off to college, apparently.
So, while I’m no expert, I DO like to take pictures, and in the last eight months, I’ve figured out some of what works, and what doesn’t when babies are involved. If you’re thinking about starting a photo project, here are my two cents:
Lighting & Position: Unless you have a lot of fancy flashes, and a diffuser, natural light is your best bet. I like to pull a chair up as close as I can facing a large window head on — I only leave enough space in between for me to sit in front of the chair. This way the shadows will be minimal, and if you use the same set-up every time, your pictures will be consistent. When I took Gus’ first monthly picture, I didn’t think about positioning the chair — I just used it as-is, right next to the window. You can see the difference in the shadows from one month to the next (and it drives me crazy).
I also shoot at Gus’ eye-level, every time. Since he’s oblivious to his chubby cheeks and occasional double-chin, he never objects.
Schedule Smart: This will take a little troubleshooting on your part. You want to pick a time when your baby is happy, and fed. Once you know when naptime(s) might be, you can plan more accordingly. Gus is great first thing in the morning, right after his first feeding, or in the early afternoon after a nap and some food.
Sit Up: This is a little tricky in the beginning. I was lucky, in that Gus had amazing neck strength and head support from the start. I was able to sit him up and as long as I shot fast, he didn’t move. There were a few times he’d tip to one side or the other, but I was never more than a foot away from him, and nine times out of ten, I would reach up to steady him, and my hand was just outside of the frame.
It … doesn’t always work.
You can certainly start out with your baby laying on a blanket or in their crib, but gooooood luck getting them to keep doing that when they’re seven months old, and spinning like a top.
Be Consistent: If you decide to just take some pictures, willy-nilly, sitting/laying/standing, wearing whatever, in a different room each time, more power to you. That would drive me crazy.
Furniture — I started Gus in an old chair that cradled him really well before he could really sit up, but the back isn’t super tall, so I had to switch it up as he got taller. In retrospect, I would have used the same (taller) chair from the start.
Clothes — One of the decisions I made early on, was to dress Gus in the same thing for every monthly picture: White shirt. Grey pants. I’m so glad I did, because now when you look and all the pictures side-by-side, you don’t really notice his outfit or the background (more about that below) — you just see the changes in his face (and belly! And hair! And feet!) from one month to the next.
Background — Even though I had to switch chairs, no one noticed, because I covered both with the same patterned blanket from the start. Since his clothes were simple, I wanted a little color in the background so that if I ever display them side-by-side, they looked consistent.
Props — When you look at Gus’ pictures all together, you can really see the changes in his face, but you can’t really appreciate how much he’s grown overall. Next time (shout out to future babies!) using a stuffed animal or other meaningful toy for scale would be a good idea.
Distract & Bribe: Babies are easily distracted, so have a small toy that squeaks or rattles ready to go. I hold mine up over my head so he’s looking toward the camera while I shoot with the other hand. Now that he’s mobile, all he wants to do is crawl off the chair, or pull the blanket down over his face, so I’m forced to bribe him with puffs (which he is addicted to). I’m genuinely worried about what will happen when he can stand and walk, so this is not a facet of baby photography I feel I’ve mastered.
Shoot Fast & Shoot Extras: In addition to being easily distracted, babies aren’t super patient (at least mine isn’t). So I don’t waste a lot of time trying to get the best picture. I just take a lot. Like, whatever you think is enough, take a dozen more. Shake that rattle, squeak that toy, and snap, snap, snap.
For every published monthly picture, there are usually 40 that get deleted.
Think About Your Final Product: I have a few uses in mind for Gus’ monthly photos. 1) I plan on framing them in something like this, with his first birthday portrait, and eventually doing the same with his K–12 pictures. 2) I’ve been periodically working on a photo book of his first year, and the last sections will use all 12 pictures side-by-side. 3) I’m also planning on making him/us a DVD for his first birthday (videos, photo slideshows set to music) and will use them there as well.