As many parents do, I have been doing monthly photos of our dear Ramona to document her growth. I have been styling them as overhead shots for consistency. Here are her 2 and 3 month photos:
I’ve gotten a few questions from people about how I shoot them and get the lighting even. It’s actually pretty simple—a little manipulation of the natural light, and a little photo editing. So let’s talk about how to take great overhead images of your baby.
(And, in the spirit of being realistic, I shot and edited all of these photos QUICKLY! I know you don’t have a ton of time on your hands when you have a baby. I do spend a bit more time getting the lighting and edits just so on Ramona’s monthly photos, but that’s because they are her special monthly photos. Other photos don’t get nearly that level of attention!)
Here’s what I use:
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- Reflector. This is the one I have.
- Camera. This is the DSLR and lens I usually shoot my overhead photos with. However, you can get the same effect using a lower-priced DSLR (like a D3200, which I started on), a point-and-shoot camera, or a cell phone. I’m going to demonstrate using my D7100 and my cell phone in this tutorial.
- Bright window with indirect—not direct—light coming in.
- Stool, chair, or table to prop your reflector up.
And here’s how I do it.
Step 1: Find a great spot.
Find a bright window with indirect light. It’s important to remember that most bright windows will have periods of time with both indirect and direct light. I shoot by my favorite window in the morning because that’s what it gets indirect light. By the afternoon, it has direct light and shadows cast all over the floor (and therefore your subject). Direct light is not so pretty.
Here’s what I mean by direct light. When this window gets indirect light, the floor doesn’t have those window shadows cast on it:
Also make sure that all of your lights are turned off. That seems counterproductive to having a well-lit photo, but natural light is what you want. Overhead lights and lamps in your home give off a very warm light that can make your photos look “off.”
Step 2: Set up.
Open your reflector and prop it up so that the shiny side is facing the bright window. The area you’ll shoot is between the reflector and the window. Obviously do whatever you need to do in your space to ensure the reflector doesn’t fall over on baby.
What the reflector is doing here is balancing the light on your subject. If you shot the subject without the reflector but the window on the right, there would be harsher shadows and uneven lighting on the left side of the subject. The reflector does just what its name suggests—it reflects the light from the window onto the left side of the subject, evening everything out.
Example of the lighting without (left) and with (right) a reflector on my camera:
And my phone:
Can you see the difference? It’s subtle, but it’s there. Notice the decreased shadows on baby’s right side in each photo on the right.
Step 3: Shoot.
Stand above the subject (with one foot on either side of them) and take your photo. I use my D7100 and have the lens at 18mm so allow me to get as much as the subject as possible into the frame while still being very close.
If you were to use a more traditional 50mm fixed portrait lens, you’d have a hard time getting the entire subject in the frame without using a tripod with an arm or standing on a stool (and I don’t recommend that!). It’s also perfectly fine to use your cell phone! My cell phone has a terrible camera because it’s so old I don’t even remember what model it is. But the newer cell phone cameras are amazing.
Step 4: Edit.
I shoot my photos in RAW format and process then in Adobe Lightroom. However, if you’re shooting on your cell phone, or if you just don’t use Lightroom, there are loads of free photo editing apps you can download. I’m sure you already have a favorite one that lets you correct the brightness, contrast, saturation, tone, etc.
My favorite things to do on these photos is brighten them but pull down the blacks/shadows, smooth out the skin, and increase the clarity in certain parts. These edits just make the photo pop a bit more, IMO.
If that sounds like a foreign language to you, just increasing the brightness, and maybe bumping the contrast up a bit will make a big difference. Don’t boost the contrast too much, though. That can make your photos look over edited.
Here’s an example of my camera photo unprocessed and processed.
And my phone photo:
So, as you can see, lighting and minor edits can make a huge difference in how good your photos look. Here’s a look at the before and after for each photo.
Before (No reflector or edits) and after with my camera
Before (No reflector or edits) and after with my phone
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