Photographing Baby: Expert Interview with Nick Kelsh

Susie McGee
How to Photograph Your Baby

Nick Kelsh is a renowned photographer and author whose photographs have been featured on the covers of several books in the Day in the Life series and in numerous magazines. He offers tips and advice on photographing babies in the following interview with LoveToKnow Baby.

Please tell us about yourself.

I'm the father of three of three beautiful boys. (Their ages are twenty, four, and one - I know what you're wondering and the answer is fifty-six. Long story.)

I knew I was going to be a professional photographer when I was fifteen. I've worked for all kinds of newspapers and magazines over the years, but ten years ago I did a book with Anna Quindlen called Naked Babies which was quite successful. Then I wrote a book called How to Photograph Your Baby and I've been the "baby guy" ever since. I just released a DVD version of How to Photograph Your Baby. It took me two years to complete. It would have taken two months, but as I said, I have a four-year-old and a one-year-old.

What should new parents know about photography?

Despite the fact that people with new babies are all sleep deprived and stressed out, I think it's a perfect time to learn photography. First of all, most parents really want to be better photographers and desire will carry you a long way in photography. Linguists say the best way to learn a foreign language is to fall in love with someone who doesn't speak your language, and I think comparison is valid. You love your baby, and you would love to express your love with a camera. In my mind, that puts you about ninety percent of the way there.

Also, getting your act together photographically when a new baby arrives is simply practical. You're on the verge of creating a large body of work documenting a human life. You may as well get organized and learn to file your pictures on a computer. Your parents and your baby are going to love you for it.

What should parents try to avoid when photographing their small children?

I think one of the big mistakes is to try and control the situation and force the pre-conceived picture in your brain to happen in front of your camera. I always tell amateurs that when things are going wrong they may be going right. Stay loose and playful and push the button a lot. One day you're going to get lucky and take a totally spontaneous picture that you love.

And babies do not have to look in the camera and smile every time they have their picture taken.

How long should a photo session be?

It depends on how old the baby is. A great time to get comfortable with your camera is when the baby is a few months old. Arrange to have her sleeping next to a window with some nice soft light coming in - not harsh direct sunlight. Then turn your flash off, shoot some close-ups and experience the beauty of natural light. This session could easily be thirty minutes. This is a great way to learn how to use your camera.

But when they're older (i.e. mobile) you need to have your camera ready so that when something happens - you can confidently pick it up, aim and start snapping. Be ready to grab those great moments.

And finally, when they get old enough to occasionally hold still, it's great to go back to that soft light and try and do some portrait work. If you're lucky this might last ten minutes. There should be two people in the room for this -you and your baby. Everyone else is a distraction. That situation where someone is standing behind the photographer making "funny" faces and yelling at a six-month-old to look in the camera is rarely helpful.

I love the idea of a photo session. I define it as quality time alone with you and your baby and a camera.

What kind of camera works best for inexperienced photographers?

Well, first of all, the best camera for you is one you are comfortable and confident enough with to use. A single lens reflex camera is nice, but it's relatively large and heavy, and if you don't want to carry it around that's not the camera for you. On the other hand, if you're really serious about photography there's probably a single lens reflex camera in your future.

The latest wave of new cameras (in all price ranges) is pretty amazing. If you plan to buy a new camera when the baby arrives you will not regret it. Each season cameras become smaller, faster, brighter and easier to use. "Easy" makes photography more fun and "fun" is a huge component of successful photography.

And also, generally speaking, the more you spend the more you get. Cameras in the $400-500 range are really great. Lots of my pro friends own a Canon G-10 as a small pocket camera to photograph their families with. It's really neat. I own twenty cameras and I still want one.

Do you have any other tips or advice you'd like to add?

Pictures taken with a flash are snapshots - and look like it. Pictures taken with a flash do not have a professional look. Having said that, I love snapshots. They are among the first things people grab on their way out of burning buildings. They are treasures. So the next time you're photographing a two-year-olds' birthday party - use your flash.

But if you want to get to the next level photographically, turn off the flash, get close and put your baby in some beautiful natural light. This is where the magic is going to start for amateurs.

Additional Information

  • For more helpful photography tips, visit LoveToKnow Photography.
Photographing Baby: Expert Interview with Nick Kelsh