In my Saint Paul studio, where the walls have absorbed the echoes of countless first cries and gentle lullabies, my camera lenses have been the silent witnesses to the tender beginnings of life. Over twenty years of peering through viewfinders and adjusting focal lengths have taught me that in newborn photography, the lens you choose is as crucial as the light that dances through it. Here's a deeper exploration into selecting the perfect lens to capture these fleeting moments with precision and soul.
The Poetry of Prime Lenses
The Intimate Gaze of the Prime Lens:
The prime lens is revered for its ability to capture intimacy. My journey with the 50mm f/1.4 lens has been one of discovery and depth. It's rendered life in its purest form, such as in the case of baby Lila, where each eyelash was a stroke of detail in the grand portrait of her infancy. The wide aperture provided a creamy bokeh that made her the sole focus, a technique I often share in tutorials for budding photographers.
The Story in Detail – The Macro Experience:
For me, the macro lens is the storyteller. The 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, a jewel in my kit, invites us to look closer, to marvel at the textures and tones of a newborn's skin, the velvet of their cheeks, the silk of their hair. When I photographed premature twins in the NICU, the macro lens delicately captured their fighting spirit in every image, from the fragile grip of their hands to the fine veins under their skin, telling a story of strength and hope.
Zoom Lenses – The Storytellers of Versatility
The 24-70mm f/2.8 – A Journey Through Focal Lengths:
The versatility of a good zoom lens like the 24-70mm f/2.8 has been indispensable. With it, I've navigated the realms of wide family portraits and intimate newborn shots within the same session. During the Green family's shoot, it allowed me to capture the bustle of the household before zooming in on the newborn's serene expression, all without changing lenses or missing a beat.
The 70-200mm f/2.8 – Compressing Distance, Amplifying Emotion:
The 70-200mm f/2.8 has been a lens of choice when I wish to compress the space between subjects and background, making the newborn the undisputed star. I remember photographing little Oliver; as he lay in a vintage bassinet, the 200mm focal length made the world fade away until all that remained was his peaceful slumber, creating an image of solitude and tranquility.
Fast Lenses – Masters of Mood
The Emotional Draw of the 85mm f/1.2:
Fast lenses, particularly the 85mm f/1.2, have become my trusted allies in creating portraits dense with mood and emotion. In a dimly lit room, where a new mother nursed her baby, the lens captured the hushed reverence of the scene, the soft interplay of shadows and light reflecting the quiet bond between them.
Focal Length and Feeling
Wide Angles – The Context Keepers:
While tight focal lengths draw us into the details, wide-angle lenses like the 35mm f/1.4 offer context. They've enabled me to capture newborns in their broader environment, telling stories that extend beyond the frame. In a nursery bathed in the soft glow of dawn, the 35mm lens allowed the room to become a character in the story – the teddy bears, the half-open storybooks, all elements in the narrative of a new life.
Light Shapers and Dream Makers
Fast Primes – Conductors of Light:
Light is a fickle muse, but fast prime lenses are its finest conductors. They manipulate available light to create atmospheres ranging from dreamy and soft to sharp and crisp. With the 50mm f/1.2, I've turned the ordinary light of an overcast day into a softbox of opportunity, highlighting the delicate blush of a baby's skin or the twinkle in a new father's eye.
The Wisdom of Lenses
Throughout the years, my lenses have been more than tools; they've been my teachers. They've shown me that to capture the essence of newborn photography, you must understand the subtlety of each lens – the way the 50mm f/1.8 brings simplicity and clarity, or how the 100mm macro can uncover a world within a world.
Photography is a journey of lifelong learning, and lens choice is a fundamental chapter in that odyssey. If you're drawn to the world of newborn photography, I encourage you to immerse yourself in learning about the lenses that will bring your vision to life. Understand that the lens you choose is the eye through which you'll see and …capture the beauty of new beginnings.
The Subtlety and Strength of Focal Length
Elevating Portraits with the Right Focal Length:
Selecting the appropriate focal length isn't just a technical decision; it's about vision and intention. With the 85mm lens, for example, I’ve found a sweet spot for newborn portraits. Its slightly compressed perspective enhances facial features with a natural, flattering effect. During one memorable shoot, the 85mm allowed me to fill the frame with baby Grace’s face, her bright eyes taking center stage, while softly blurring the background into a canvas of colors.
The Wide World with the 35mm Lens:
Conversely, the 35mm lens has been my choice for capturing newborns in their environment, showcasing the world they’ve been born into. I used this wider perspective during a home shoot to encapsulate the chaos and love of a family welcoming twins. The parents, each cradling a baby, were framed by the nursery — the wide angle embracing the entire scene, telling a story of double the joy and love.
Understanding Light Through Lenses
The Versatility of Zooms in Varied Lighting:
In situations where lighting is variable, a good zoom lens is invaluable. The 24-70mm zoom lens offers a quick solution to adapt to changes in natural light without the need to physically move closer or further from the subject. Its versatility shone through during a session in a conservatory where the light shifted rapidly; I could easily adjust my framing to ensure the newborn remained illuminated in soft, even light.
Creating Contrast with Prime Lenses:
When the mood calls for drama, a prime lens like the 50mm or 85mm can be used to create strong contrast while maintaining sharpness on the subject. For instance, I once photographed a newborn against the stark backdrop of a dark room, using only a sliver of window light. The prime lens allowed me to focus on the baby’s serene face against the contrasting shadows, creating an impactful and moody image.
Lens Choice as a Reflection of Your Artistic Voice
Each lens in my bag carries a part of my photographic voice, and over the years, I’ve learned to choose my lenses not just based on technical suitability but also on the story I want to tell. It’s a lesson I emphasize to my students — your lens choice should reflect your artistic voice and the narrative you want to weave into each photograph.
From Photographer to Educator
My journey in photography has been as much about capturing moments as it has been about imparting the wisdom gleaned from two decades of experience. Though I continue to be deeply immersed in the world of professional photography, my enthusiasm for teaching has flourished alongside. I'm excited to extend my role as a mentor, sharing the subtleties of lens selection and the intricacies of lighting through my blog. It's here that I offer a bridge between practice and education, aiming to inspire and educate the next generation of photographers while continuing to celebrate the art form that I love.
Whether you're just starting in newborn photography or looking to refine your approach, understanding lenses is fundamental. A lens does more than capture light; it shapes your vision and brings your artistic voice to life. It's about more than just the specs — it’s about how you use it to tell the delicate stories of life’s precious beginnings.
I invite you to dive deeper into the techniques and artistry of newborn photography by subscribing to my blog. Here, you'll find a wealth of knowledge that can help you in selecting the perfect lens for your next photoshoot and beyond.