Lights, Camera….hold on, did you say lights?
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Tuesday, March 12, 2013
By Alicia Birch
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When I was first starting out, money was tight and buying loads of gear was out of the question - I think we have all been there. Besides, there are so many different light sources available, softboxes, octoboxes, umbrella’s,  and maybe you are just not quite sure what you might need…or how to use them. The way I figured it, I was better off to make a smaller investment in a basic lighting set up and a larger investment of time and money, into learning lighting patterns and techniques.


If Only…

Then there is that nagging “if only…” as in “If only I had **insert way out of budget item here**, I would take better photo’s or be a better photographer – whatever that incessant little voice has to say. Ignore it! In actual fact, I think the reverse is probably true – having to make it happen with a minimum of equipment can make you think outside the square and become more creative to achieve the result you are looking for.

So what lighting equipment will you need for a Newborn Session? Now, if you are blessed with a gorgeous shooting area that has beautiful big windows that give you all the natural light you need, then you won’t need much else at all. And I am envious! If like me you have a small shooting space with very little natural light, you are going to need studio lighting and for newborn photography, simple is quite often the best.


The Simple Bare Necessities

When I started out, I used a bare minimum of equipment as I had a small budget and didn’t want to spend it all on stuff I didn’t need. A long time ago I read somewhere that you should to learn how to use one light and a reflector effectively before adding more lights. In fact our very own Lisa Francescon has a great blog post about using one light here. (ADD LINK)

For the first year or more, I did exactly that. My first lighting setup was very simple –

1 x Canon 580EXii Speedlight

1 x Shoot Through Umbrella

1 x Silver Reflector

That’s it. I wrung every last drop out of that one simple setup and the added bonus is that a shoot through and Speedlight are super light and easy to move around when you need to work quickly.

As you can see in the diagram above, I actually have the shoot through backwards and yes I did use it that way. Why? Personal preference I guess, I liked the soft, even spread of light it gave when turned around. Do you have to do it that way? No, not at all – but it is a good example of changing things up to suit your own situation.

Do I need something else?

From memory, I think it was about a year before I decided I wanted to do a bit more. I felt I had control of the lights I was using and I was ready to take on the next learning curve by adding a second light source.

When I finally added another light to my setup, it was a really cheap constant light that I had bought years ago to photograph some things to sell on Ebay! Everything else stayed the same – with a few adjustments to settings.  I used the constant as a kicker and it gave a bit of spill on the background too. If I didn’t want  a background light or spill, I had to get creative and attach something as a gobo, bits of cardboard or corflute as well as different translucent materials to diffuse the light…all held together with gaff tape and clamps - in my opinion, you do what you gotta do to make it happen! It doesn’t have to be pretty as long as it works.

When messing with the constant light wore out its welcome – which was pretty quick, I bought an off brand Speedlight and another shoot through. Having the ability to adjust the output (ahhh, heaven!!) certainly made things quicker and easier during my newborn sessions, although I still had to be a MacGyver for directional control. Speedlights need power - batteries! Get yourself at least 16 rechargeable batteries – you will need them!

This lighting equipment served me well for a long time and for all types of sessions. I still use a Speedlight and shoot through umbrella on location for family portraits and it is one of the lighting components in my Limited Edition Fairy Portrait and Granddad’s Garage sessions – don’t underestimate the value of a Speedlight!

OK, I’ve got more money and experience, can I go BIG now???

Absolutely! And there are things you will love about your super flash new lighting equipment and things you will miss about the old one. My current lighting equipment list is –

2 x 200w Studio Flash Heads

1 x 5 Foot Octobox with Grid

1 x 36 inch Stripbox with Grid

1 x 36” x 24” Softbox

Various Umbrellas and Speedlights.


For most Newborn Sessions I use the Octobox , the stripbox and there is still a little Speedlight and umbrella over in the corner – it is now a background light….and sometimes a kicker, it really is a very versatile light to have in the studio.

The big, soft light from the octobox is beautiful –I love how soft and even it is as a main for my newborn sessions. The stripbox is perfect for more directional lighting and as well as using it as a kicker in Newborn and children’s sessions, I regularly use it for Maternity Portraits and for portraits of the parents with their new baby.

My larger lighting set up has allowed me so much more control but there are definitely some pros and cons involved. The larger light source of the octobox is gorgeous – I love the soft spread of light, the fall off and the beautiful big catchlights.  But it is BIG and it is HEAVY! I can't just reach out and quickly grab it to drag it around a bit closer like I did with the umbrella and Speedlight. It has a BIG footprint – it takes up a LOT more room than the old shoot through umbrella. The Strip box is a beautiful light source and I love the directional control I now have, this is my “go to” light for Maternity and parent and baby images. Oh, and you get to stop worrying about your batteries going flat now that you are plugged into mains power – woohoo!

As nice as it is to have a choice of lights for your Newborn Sessions, you can certainly achieve fantastic results in the studio with a bare minimum one light/reflector set up. So use what you have, you might just find that it is all that you need…for now!

Even though it plays a smaller role in my newborn sessions these days, I still can’t bring myself to do without my little Speedlight.

Til next time,


What is the one piece of lighting equipment that YOU cannot live without?

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