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Photography Question 
Rachelle P. Cooper

Where to position my main umbrella light??

I mostly use just natural light, since I photograph mostly newborn babies but lately I have been getting shadows in between the babies arms and around head. So I am wondering where I should position a main umbrella light??? As of right now I shoot with 2 large windows behind me, facing the subjects and have the main light beside me on my right to give some extra light?? Is this a good position?? Its seems to help a bit, but I also find it give an orangey cast? I also have very limited space in my condo. Any help would be soooo appreciated as I have a newborn shoot tomorrow.
Thanks so much!!

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11/12/2008 12:34:29 PM

Michael  Wasson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/28/2006
  High Rachelle. You may want to check your white balance. Using multible light sources such as natural and artificial Auto white balance may be a good start. That said it sound as if you are actually using the natural light as the main and the artificial as a fill iight. You may also cconsider re posistioning the subject just enough to get rid of the shadows.

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11/12/2008 2:58:19 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005

"getting shadows in between the babies arms and around head..."

Before getting into lighting positions etc; have you tried reflectors?


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11/12/2008 3:01:30 PM

Alan N. Marcus   First, pictures devoid of shadows are flat and uninteresting. You should quickly go to the newsstand and buy a magazine or two that features babies. Study these pictures. You will see shadows. The difference will be a. shadow placement b. shadow depth.

Photography, the type we practice is a two dimensional medium, a reproduction of three dimensional subjects. Except in specialized cases our customers won’t tolerate images made with flat lighting.

If you halfway believe what I am telling you, your goal should be lighting placement that produces soft shadows. You did not give much detail as to your umbrella type. I surmise it likely works off of a florescent lamp. It perhaps is an electronic flash. You need to fill us in.

Likely your window faces north and this is your chief light. Window light from a north sky is usually quite blue. Your best bet, as Pete indicated, is to procure a reflector or two. These are cheap. Go to Home Depot or building supply and buy white foam insulator board. Sold as 4’ x 8’ sheets, they are cheap, lightweight and pure white. Take a utility knife to the store; you can easily cut the sheets to fit in your car.

Now go home, use a doll as a practice model and practice moving the boards around. There is no correct placement. The idea is placement that softens shadows. Do not attempt to eliminate them. Forget the umbrella for now. If you must use it, you can purchase blue gel filters to cool the light down making it a better match to the window light.

Best of luck,

Alan Marcus (marginal technical gobbledygook)

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11/12/2008 4:54:24 PM

Hi Rachelle,

I agree with Michael that it sounds as if those windows are your main light. Which is good, imo. Better than flash light as main. I would turn either of my shoulders towards the window(s) and re-arrange the baby so that the main (window) light hits it at an angle of 60º or 70º in relation to the lens axis. And like Pete suggested: I would probably use 2 (D-I-Y) reflectors, or even 3, for fill.
I'd try to do it with natural light only, but you could experiment with a flash light with a self-made snoot (thick black paper and tape) as a hairlight.

Have fun!

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11/12/2008 5:19:53 PM

Rachelle P. Cooper   Hey thanks for all the answers so far.
I guess the whole point of using the umbrella light was to use it as a fill light, the windows are the main light sorry. I dont like using flash photography for newborns but since its winter its been getting darker in my place and I just wanted a bit more light so thought I would try the umbrella light.
As far as shadows goes, I know that having some shadows are good and I like soft shadows as well. But it has been too dark and causing some grain in my pictures.
I think the reflector would be a good idea though, maybe I should try that.

Thanks, any other tips??

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11/12/2008 5:37:19 PM

Dennis Flanagan
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/31/2005
  If you have room, angle the baby so that the main fill light hits at an angle. 45 degrees is a good start. Then put our fill flash inline with your camera position. Right behind you but high enough that your body isn't creating a shadow. Do you have a light meter? You need to make sure your fill is not brighter and preferable a couple stops less than your main light. You don't want to get rid of the shadows, you simply don't what them overly dark.

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11/12/2008 7:14:47 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  Sorry Rachelle,

Can't help ya' with the orbital mechanics of our solar system (dark outside) LOL

You should be able to bounce enough light onto the infant when you have sufficient outside light. I'd suggest trying gold and silver for experimentation.

I use gold often when photographing babies. Infants skin has a problem that is more anatomical than a photographic prob; that being their veins are very close to the skin surface. This tends to make them look a little "pasty" white, so the gold reflectors really help here.

As you prefer, this is one of the rare times I never use strobes. I use continuous lighting and shoot thru scrims with various light deflectors AND reflectors around the crib.

The strobes run the risk of startling an infant, so I don't use them.

Babies are in my personal opinion, one of the tuffest challenges lighting technically.

all the best,


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11/12/2008 7:17:45 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Greetings Rachelle. Seems to me if you're using windows as your main light and you're standing between the kid and the windows, you're blocking your own lighting. Start from scratch.

Move the kid around as W suggested. Use the umbrella for a fill to produce soft shadows as Alan said and light primarily using reflectors and avoid the umbrella light altogether. I prefer using reflectors made out of sheets of fomecore or pure white matt card/board placed to reflect the light. Remember, as the sun moves, you need to move your reflectors and/or subject.

I'd like to take this opportunity to ask you who your liability insurance carrier is. Shooting anyone in a residence without liability coverage is a bit like playing with a loaded gun. There's a lot that can happen and a lot of parents aren't too forgiving for things like bumps, burns from fallen lamps, cuts from falling on table edges, etc. Just thought I'd mention it cause most people doing this stuff at home are just doing extensions of their hobby rather than a business. It might be fun until or unless something bad happens. Seewhatimeanhuh? And BTW, relatives may be just as likely to sue as anyone else. ;>)

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11/16/2008 3:42:15 PM

If the light really gets too dim you gotta face reality and bite the bullet: you really need extra light! (Or wait until spring...).

So that would mean flash. But a) you want to emulate the window light and keep the other reflectors exactly as they are, fulfilling their established roles. And b) you want no discomfort to the baby.

I think you can do that with just one good remote flashgun (like a Canon 580EX, Nikon SB900, or Sony HVL-F58, tethered or wireless).
Point it (you could set it on the floor, next to you, pointing straight up) at your largest reflector. That largest reflector could be up against the window, on the windowsill, but angled 45º downward (with string and thumbnails if you use foamboard). Remember: the light's angle of impact = the exit angle. The flashgun would be completely out the baby's line of sight. Not visible. The big reflector would fill the role of main light. You will probably have to adjust your WB. But that shouldn't be a problem, should it? Especially not if you shoot RAW.
Depending on your style you have full options for physical/optical filters, and PP filters.
I'm assuming you work with cam on tripod, but since the duration of the flash – between 1/5,000th and 1/30,000th of a second – is the effective shutterspeed (you need not set a shutter speed faster than your sync speed) you may also use this lighting with handheld camera.

If you can make it work you'll have plenty of light to play with.

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11/16/2008 9:40:16 PM

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