Newborn Composite Tips | A Case Study for Photographers
You can bet that most of the images we see online have benefitted in some way from editing. Whether it’s a bump in exposure or a heavily modified retouch, few photos go live straight out of camera. While some edits work to hide our insecurities, however, others play a more precautionary role. Such is the case in newborn photography. Composite images allow newborn photographers to push their creativity without putting their newborn subjects at risk. If you’re new to composite photos or newborn photography, we have a two-in-one for you today.
In previous articles, we provided you with higher level newborn photography tips, but for this article, we’re going to get more specific and dive into a full start-to-finish example of a newborn photography composite. We’ll also include general tips for photographing newborns to help ensure your newborn photography session goes well.
Newborn Composite Tips and Ideas for Photographers
- What Is a Composite Photo?
- Gear and Props Used
- Prepping the Props
- Photographing the Props and the Newborn
- Creating the Newborn Composite in Post
- General Newborn Photography Tips
What Is a Composite Photo?
A composite photo consists of two or more images that have been blended together for creative and practical purposes. Photo editing software like Photoshop makes this possible and allows photographers to capture impossible (or otherwise dangerous) photos with relative ease, all while keeping the subject safe. Newborn composite photos typically involve a baby striking an impossible pose or resting in a dangerous location, such as in a basket suspended by wires under a thin tree branch. So long as you keep the baby safe, your newborn composite will only be limited by your imagination.
Gear and Props Used in This Newborn Composite
Let’s start with a quick overview of the gear and props we used to make this composite happen.
- Camera: Canon R
- Lens: Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
- Lighting: Profoto B10 AirTTL (+2 Profoto A1 Units to Bounce Light in the Room)
- Light Modification: Profoto Octa Softbox for the B10
- Calumet Oyster Paper Background
- Branch and Florals from Michaels
- Rope from Michaels
- Hanging Basket (Pet Hammock) from Home Goods
- Posing Aids
Prepping the Props
Now that we’ve collected our props, we need to put them together to build the scene. For this shot, we secured the branch decorations with wire and hung the basket from the branch with wire as well. We used the rope that you see in the photo as a decoration only. As you’ll discover in the editing portion, the rope is not really holding up the basket. Finally, we cut the netting off of an Ikea kid’s bed canopy and incorporated it into the scene.
Photographing the Props and the Newborn
Once our props are in place, we have to plan for the newborn composite. This requires careful and consistent placement of the props and baby in relation to the camera. Here’s how we photographed each element for this particular composite.
We had to make sure that the shooting angle would be the same for both shots, including the branch and basket setup as well as the baby in the basket. We photographed the basket straight-on for both shots to make it easy to align the two files in Photoshop.
We used the same lighting pattern for both shots: Loop lighting. Loop lighting is a portrait lighting pattern in which we position the light 45-degrees in front of and above our subject. In a typical headshot, this pattern creates a nose shadow that ‘loops’ down at an angle onto the subject’s cheek.
Wrapping and Posing
Once we wrapped the baby, we gently rocked her to sleep while holding her in a side pose. My assistant, Kris Shaw, and I then worked together to position the baby in the basket. During this part of the shoot, always properly support your newborn. We placed several posing aids underneath the fabric to keep her in position. My assistant kept her hands on the baby until the baby completely settled and fell sound asleep. At that point in time, we captured a couple of shots. You can see my assistant on the right of the frame within arm’s length of the baby. She remained there while I captured the photos.
Creating the Newborn Composite in Photoshop
Once we’ve captured the photos of the props and the baby, we can create the composite. The editing process in Photoshop can be broken down into three basic steps, including 1) cut and paste 2) resize/position, and 3) mask. Here’s a closer look at how to edit a composite for newborn photography.
(The instructions below are minimal and assume you have a basic understanding of how to use Photoshop.)
Cloning and Spot Healing
I used the clone tool and spot healing brush to clean up the original branch so that you can’t see any of the wires or the stools holding up the branch. This file will now be used as the master for all future sessions.
Merging the Photos
Rather than merge the two photos entirely, I used the Elliptical Marquee Tool to quickly select an area around the whole basket from the baby session and drag it over to the branch file. You can use other tools like the Pen Tool (for more accuracy) or even the Magnetic Lasso Tool (with less accuracy) to remove the basket & baby, but I prefer to use a layer mask to clean up the piece that I cut out. I’ll explain why below.
Setting the Opacity
I set the opacity at about 50% to overlay the baby basket to the empty basket to do the resizing and get it all lined up.
Using a Layer Mask
Next, I used a layer mask and a brush to remove all of the extra areas I didn’t need. I really just needed the baby with the blanket, but having the whole basket for the sizing makes lining it up much easier.
Retouching the Baby
I went through the image again and added some final retouches to the baby, and that’s it!
Final Image of Newborn Composite
General Tips for Photographing Newborns
You can, of course, dive much deeper into the art of photographing newborns, but I wanted to include a few general tips that I use regularly, including when I created this shot. They are as follows:
We’re part “baby whisperers,” but we always put safety first and never push too far to get a shot. The whole purpose behind creating a composite in newborn photography centers on keeping the newborn safe. If you believe the pose or shot you’re going for will in any way put the baby at risk, either consider creating a composite or flat out do not go for the shot.
It’s a must that you get used to reading the baby’s cues: Is the baby hungry? Is he/she rooting? Do they have reflux or gas? Do they need to poop? Is their tummy full? Are they hot or cold? Do they feel secure? Know the answer to these questions and respond accordingly. Your session will go more smoothly and your images will come out much better.
We always have a plan for the poses we want to capture, but our sessions don’t always go according to plan. In fact, babies regularly keep us guessing and choosing new directions throughout the shoot. It really comes down to this: how the baby feels will determine the wraps and poses we do. The baby has to be completely asleep to do the more difficult poses.
It’s great to have several posing pillows, towels, a bean bag & backdrop frame, and other accessories on hand, too. We tend to “stuff” the small pillows and towels underneath the blanket (and under the baby) until the baby is securely and comfortably posed.
I recommend that you keep the room dim and warm. We use space heaters and heating pads, which should never directly touch the baby.
We play ambient music in the background and utilize newborn shushers as well. We also have a yoga ball that we sit on while rocking the baby to sleep.
I hope you enjoyed these newborn composite tips and ideas for photographers. We can use composites to push our creativity, elevate our portraits, and keep our newborn subjects safe. I can’t stress enough how important their safety is. You can practice many newborn techniques, including those above, with a doll or other object in advance. This will allow you to worry less about the technical aspects during the shoot and focus instead on keeping the baby safe and pushing the limits of your creativity.