While not all great portraits require the subject to be making eye contact with the camera, direct eye contact is an excellent method of capturing emotion within the frame and creating a bond between the subject and your audience. When shooting older subjects, teenagers, adults and well mannered post-toddlers, directing them to make eye contact is not normally an issue. However, anyone who has spent some time in the world of newborn photography will tell you that making eye contact is not as easy. A newborn has no clue who you are or what you’re doing, let alone what you are wanting them to do. Here are some of my favorite tricks to get direct eye contact in newborn photos.
The first thing you need to realize about newborn babies is that they have very limited vision. They are nearsighted and can only focus sharply on objects within 8-15 inches. What does this mean for the photographer? It means that you are going to have more problems getting them to make eye contact with you if you’re using a 200mm lens. Try moving in closer and switching to a lens in the range of 50mm to 85mm. Now you know why having mom or dad standing 3 feet behind you repeating their name over and over and saying “look at mommy” isn’t working. They’re a baby.
Contrast Draws Attention
Many people believe that all newborns are attracted to bright bold colors. This is true to an extent. What they really love is the contrast often associated with those colors. For example, a bright yellow object surrounded by a dark blue. A newborn will be just as intrigued by a white object on a black background as they would with contrasting colors. If you’re trying to keep their attention with an object that has lots of bright colors but none of them create contrast, it’s not going to work that well.
Visual contrasts are not the only thing that can get a baby to look your way. Another trick I’ve used over the years is to suddenly get very quiet. Allow the room to go completely silent for a couple minutes. I will ask that everyone back away during this time so the baby is not distracted by any movements. Then I begin whispering or make a faint sound and increase the volume until it grabs their attention. Don’t go from dead silent to “Look Over Here!” and make them look suddenly startled but just enough to get them curious and look your way.
Control Your Environment
If you’re trying to get the baby to make eye contact with the camera with one person on your left and another on the right, both making goo-goo faces, the baby doesn’t know where it wants to look. Control your shooting environment and you’ll stand a better chance of capturing the look you’re after.
This is the secret to taking great photos of babies. A professional newborn photographer needs to be patient. Sometimes you simply need to wait for them to make eye contact. You don’t want to be looking around or talking about how you wished they would make eye contact. Have your camera up to your eye with your finger on the trigger and be ready to capture that moment.
Make sure to take a look at the print products available from LifePhoto. You’ll find amazing options for announcing the families new arrival and preserving those moments forever.