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Best Camera Settings for Newborn Photography

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Infant photography pauses the rapid growth in the first few months of a child’s life in pixels.

Nothing quite makes a person wish for the ability to freeze time like holding a newborn baby. But while pausing the space-time continuum isn’t possible, freezing that moment is — you just need a camera.

Close-up photo of a newborn baby swaddle in a turquoise blanket

But what are the best camera settings for newborn photography? How do you keep the photo sharp, but the background blurred?

The best baby photography settings blur out the distractions. They freeze any movement for sharp memories of those first few months of a child’s life.

Here’s what you need to know to freeze time and capture great newborn photos.

Common Infant Photography Questions

Photo of a baby sleeping in a yellow blanket

Babies come without an instruction manual — but your camera does. Each camera model varies a bit on where each setting is located. Once you understand what setting you need to adjust, consult your camera’s manual if you can’t find it.

Here are the answers to some of the most common infant photography settings.

What Is the Best Camera for Baby Photography?

The larger sensors and more advanced controls of a DSLR or mirrorless camera make them ideal for newborn photography.

You don’t need the fastest, most advanced mirrorless camera on the market. Even an entry-level interchangeable lens camera will capture good baby pictures.

Check out our current recommendations for the best DSLRs and best mirrorless cameras on the market right now.

When Should You Take Baby Pictures?

The best time to take those sleepy newborn photos is between 7-14 days of age. But since babies are always changing, continuing to take photos on a regular basis is a great idea.

What Are the Three Basic Camera Settings?

A photograph’s exposure relies on three basic camera settings:

  • shutter speed, or the length of the exposure
  • aperture, or the size of the opening in the lens
  • ISO, or the sensitivity of the camera sensor

We go more in depth on each below.

Close-up photo of a newborn baby swaddled in a blanketWhat are the Best Camera settings for Newborn Photography?

In infant photography, you’ll need to consider the exposure settings (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO). You should also consider settings such as white balance and focus settings.

Let’s dive deeper into what those settings entail.

Getting Set Up for Infant Photography

The camera settings for any image are largely dependent on the available light in the scene. For that reason, you should, ideally, set-up for infant photography near a large window.

Place the baby so that the window light falls on their face in a natural way. The light from the sun doesn’t come from the ground, for example, so never place the baby’s toes towards the window.

You might be photographing unposed images, such as newborn photos in the hospital. If so, open any window blinds during the day, or at night, turn on all the available lights in the room.

That extra light will help you get the most flexibility with your camera settings.

Once the room is prepared, start with the camera settings that will remain unchanged for the entire shoot. The first setting to consider is file type — JPEG, or RAW? If you plan on editing those photos, RAW is the best option. A RAW photo is much more flexible inside a good photo editor than a JPEG.

The only problem is that RAW photos must be edited first with a compatible program. JPEGs are ready to print and share straight from the camera.

If you don’t plan on editing, use a JPEG. (RAW can sometimes also slow the camera down, but isn’t an issue with most infant photography.)

The white balance setting will also remain the same as long as the light remains the same. But the white balance may change if you are photographing outside and the sun goes behind the clouds, for example.

Auto white balance will work for a majority of infant photos, especially with the camera set to RAW mode. If your photos are turning out too blue or too orange, you can adjust the white balance to match the lighting in the room.

The settings are named after the light they are best for, like cloudy, or fluorescent.

Autofocus settings can also be set at the beginning of the photoshoot. The autofocus area mode determines what area of the photo the camera focuses on.

The best autofocus setting for infant photography is the single point autofocus mode. This lets you custom set the focal point.

In most cases, you’ll put this focal point on the baby’s eye. There are exceptions, such as focusing on those baby toes or that wisp of baby hair in a close-up.

You can also use eye AF if your camera has it, which will automatically find and focus on the eyes for you.

Other than the autofocus area, you’ll want to tell the camera whether to focus once or to focus continuously. For still, sleeping babies, set the autofocus to AF-S or One-Shot.

You might be photographing older babies that are crawling or moving in any way that changes the distance from their face to the camera. In this case, use the AF-C or Al-Servo focus mode.

For active babies, you’ll also want to turn on the camera’s burst mode. This will continue taking photos in quick succession as long as the shutter button is pressed.

Photo of a baby sleeping with old cameras around him

Best Exposure Settings for Infant Photography

During a newborn photo shoot or a session with an older baby, the exposure settings will change often. Options like whether to shoot RAW or JPEG won’t change that much.

You should use manual mode or aperture priority mode for newborn photography. The first allows you to change all three exposure settings. But the latter adjusts some of the settings for you.

Manual offers more control. Aperture priority is faster and easier for beginners to grasp.

The camera’s shutter speed will allow you to freeze any motion in the photo. But if you are taking photos of a sleeping infant, the only motion you need to freeze is the shake of your own hands.

In this case, you’ll want to use a shutter speed that’s at least as fast as the length of your lens. If you are shooting with a 100mm lens, set the shutter speed to at least 1/100, for example.

The more active the baby is, the faster the shutter speed should be. A baby that’s relatively still, but smiling and awake, needs a bit faster shutter speed than a sleeping baby. Start at or above 1/160 is ideal.

Crawling babies need an even faster shutter speed, at least 1/250. If there is plenty of light in the scene, you can use even faster shutter speeds.

The lens aperture determines how blurry that background and foreground is. To get that out-of-focus background, you’ll want a wide-open lens or a low f-number, such as f/2.8.

Photo a child watching his brother sleeping in a crib
This f/2.8 aperture gets big brother in focus, but not the baby.

The wider the aperture, the harder it is to get everything in focus. You might be photographing a baby with another member of the family. An aperture of f/2.8 will likely leave at least one person a bit soft and out-of-focus.

If the aperture is really wide and the baby isn’t facing the camera, one eye will be in focus while the other eye will not.

The closer you are to the baby, the narrower you’ll need to make the aperture to keep the subject sharp. If you are doing a close-up of baby toes, you may want to step the aperture down a bit instead of shooting wide open.

Start with these aperture settings. Adjust as needed for the depth of field or how light or dark the image is:

  • f/2.8 and lower: Soft creamy backgrounds for baby portraits, ideally with both eyes the same distance from the camera to keep them sharp.
  • f/4: A still soft background, but an easier time getting the baby sharply focused. This setting is also good for close-ups.
  • f/8: Photographing the baby with other family members, when you want both people to be sharply focused.

Both shutter speed and aperture also affect how light or dark the image is. Faster shutter speeds and narrower apertures create a darker photo. Slower speeds and wider apertures create a lighter photo.

ISO helps balance out the exposure. This allows you to use the shutter speed and aperture that best suits the photo. And still get a well-exposed image.

Lower ISO numbers are less sensitive to light. This creates darker images, while higher ISO numbers will lighten the image. The trade-off is that higher ISO settings reduce the image quality. It introduces noise or grain in the image.

Every camera is a little bit different. Most modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras can handle at least ISO 3200 without getting terrible image quality. Some can go higher, so feel free to test your gear out at higher settings and see what results you get.

In general, you should use the lowest ISO setting. It should allow you to use a shutter speed high enough to freeze the motion.

In manual mode, you can adjust all three settings. The exposure meter in the camera will help guide your camera setting choices to get a proper exposure.

You’ll want to keep an eye on the meter (usually at the bottom or side of the viewfinder). Or you might want to take an occasional look at the photos on the LCD to make sure you don’t need to adjust your settings.

Aperture priority, the A or Av mode on the mode dial, is often easier for beginners to work with. It can offer more control than you think. Inside the camera menu, turn on auto ISO and set a minimum shutter speed based on whether the baby is still or on the go.

With Auto ISO and that shutter speed limit in place, you can focus just on adjusting the aperture. The camera will make sure the shutter speed is at or above what you selected, and that the ISO is the lowest possible that will balance out that shutter speed and aperture.

In aperture priority mode, if the photo is too light or too dark, use the exposure compensation setting to brighten or darken the image. A positive value brightens the image, while a negative one darkens the image.

Photo of a baby sleeping with pumpkins around

Conclusion

Infant photography captures the constant growth before tiny toes become teenage feet. But the best baby photography settings vary based on the light that’s in the scene.

The perfect camera settings for an indoor shoot will be way too bright for an outdoor shoot. That’s why learning exposure basics is essential.

It’s important to know how much of the image you want to be in focus and how much movement is in the scene. This will also play a role in determining where the camera settings should be for the shot. Balancing shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, you can freeze the sweet moments with an infant.

We have some great tips of shooting DIY newborn photos with your smartphone to check out next!

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