Baby Photography Lighting - Part 1

Perhaps the most important aspect of photography is lighting. Baby photography is no different, good lighting can instantly be appreciated whereas poor lighting will always show the subject in bad light, excuse the pun!

When it comes to baby photography especially newborn baby photography lighting can be very tricky to master for the novice. Many new photographers prefer to choose the apparent ease of natural window light whilst some more seasoned photographers prefer to use artificial light. 

In the next couple of tutorials we are going to look at the basics of good portrait lighting and explore the positives and negatives of natural light, artificial light and lighting techiques to improve your baby photography.

The basics of good portrait lighting in baby photography

Light has a number of properties that are important to us as photographers; strength, temperature and direction.

Strength or Amount of Light

For natural light photographers the strength or amount of useable light is out of your hands and is usually dictated by the weather, size of light source (usually a window) and the usable space you have in your studio area.  If you live in the UK then the amount of light available may change by the hour and if the amount of light available isn’t sufficient then your camera settings may not be sufficient enough to allow you to create good quality photographs. On the other hand artificial light, be it strobe(flash) or continuous lighting, the amount of light will be constant, adjustable and reliable and by using different light modifiers such as a soft box the light can be controlled and softened to create results similar to natural light.

If the light source is too strong then you may get washed out looking babies with no skin tones so beware when posing a baby to near a window, move it a little further away from the window or use a diffuser if possible when the sun is harsh outside. Generally the larger the light source the softer the light and this is true for artificial lighting. The superb Bowens Luminair Soft box modifiers that attach easily to all Bowens Flash Heads and now supplied by Baby Prop Shop, create a beautiful soft light very similar to window light when used correctly and they are very easy to use, adjust and move around the studio if you want to use different set ups.

In the above image look at the soft shadows on the left of the nose and the shadows on the left hand side of the face and neck and the beautiful skin tones. The single Bowens Flash Head using a Luminair Soft Box was positioned 45 degrees to the right and 45 degrees shooting down to the right of frame.

Temperature of Light

While I don’t want to go too technical, all light has an intrinsic temperature and this is usually measured in Kelvin or K. The temperature of the light omitted from the sun varies as it reaches us and this may depend on the time of day and again the weather; if the sun is out the temperature will be different to a cloudy overcast day. This can be tricky to master and the human eye doesnt really see the chnges in colour temperature like the camera does. So as a photographer if you don’t want washed out tones or 'Ready Brek' glowing babies, you need to have a basic understanding of what is going on with the light around you and compensate either in or out of camera if using natural light. Again with artificial light the colour temperature will be consistent, usually around 5200-5500K. The colour temperature will be consistent and reliable so once you set this in your camera you can have faith that every shot will have the same pleasing tone.

Direction of Light

Ahhh direction of light! Perhaps the hardest part of lighting to master, yet the most important in my opinion, for a new photographer to master. We see so many images every month with flat washed out light with no skin tones. What I mean by flat light is that the light source or the subject is turned so it is straight on to the subject so in effect what happens is the light wraps all around the baby eliminating any detail which thus creates a very boring of unpleasing lighting effect. If using window light you will need to turn the set up or bean bag to the light. If using artificial light then you can move your light headaround and experiment alot more freely.

The key to good lighting is angles! When posing your subject try and see the light on the subject, turn the light or subject and see how it changes. Turn your subject away from the light by 45 degrees have the light source coming slight over the head of the newborn baby and look how the textures and soft beautiful shadows turn the image from a lifeless 2 dimensional object into a beautiful contoured baby photograph with depth and texture. As you get more confident and brave you will want to try back lighting which is shooting into the light with the subject between the light source and yourself.

If shooting first year photography, when the baby can sit up always have your main light source at an angle from the side. Traditional portraiture lighting is what we call 45/45 – 45 degrees from the side and 45 degrees from above. This lighting set up will create a beautiful soft shadow across the face structure creating life and depth in the image and a catch light in the perfect area of the eye as shown in the first image above.

The above image shows an example of a newborn baby photographed from the shadow side or back lit, an effective way to photograph babies to give more texture and depth.


I will let you decide what light source is for you, natural light is free, readily available (during the day only!) but can be unreliable. Artificial light may seem complicated, it will involve an intial investment (we have used the same Bowens Heads for 8 years without failure!), artifical light will allow you to experiment and change quickly saving tou time in the long run.

Whatever light source you use if you take a little time to experiment and learn the basics of lighting your baby portraits will improve. Don’t blindly think natural window light baby photography is easy, it isn’t and needs the same care as artificial light. Artificial light is an easy to use, controllable, consistent and reliable light source which many professionals prefer to use.


-    Don’t fear artificial lighting, I would prefer to turn up to a shoot knowing my light is consistent than worrying about the weather or size of window available.
-    Try and look at and understand what is going on with natural light as the day progresses and compensate.
-    Never have the light source straight on to subject.
-    Be in control rather than being controlled by your lighting.

Next time we will look at artificial lighting in more detail with a few lighting set up examples and show how easy it is to use artificial light in the studio or in client's homes.
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