Printing baby portraits with heart

Award-winning fine art photographer Kelly Brown shares her essential advice on newborn portrait printing.
In an editing studio, a large print showing a baby, mother and father is coming out of a large format printer, while a smiling woman carefully holds up the edges of the print.

"I find photographing babies relaxing and every session is filled with joy. There's not a lot of stress, as parents are always so in love with their baby," says fine art portrait photographer Kelly Brown, who uses the large format Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 (now succeeded by the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4100) to print her beautiful work.

From the tiny fingers and toes of a newborn baby held by a glowing new mother to innocent chubby faces with delicate eyelashes and flawless skin, photographing the earliest days of a child's life is a joyous task for one of Canon Australia's Canon Masters and award-winning fine art portrait photographer, Kelly Brown.

Though she began her photographic career shooting 'anything and everything' from weddings to family portraits, babies have become her main point of focus. As a mother, she understands why these precious, fleeting moments need to be documented for families. "When you have your own baby, you don't want to miss a moment and they grow up so fast," she says.

Kelly has been a photographer for 18 years and has travelled internationally to speak at events and teach newborn posing classes in nearly 20 countries, while raising children of her own. "Now my eldest is almost 19 and I have twins that have just turned 16," she continues. "They're only small for such a short period of time and being able to document their growth and every milestone was really important."

For Kelly, her intimate fairytale-like style, which sometimes involves making her own props and wrapping tiny newborns with soft fabrics, began to truly take shape when she decided to go niche. "I did a lot of commercial jobs for different companies and didn't love them, and I didn't love working for other wedding photographers," she says.

"I found so much more enjoyment in photographing families that were welcoming new babies, which was special for me. Nothing prepares them for how much they're going to love a baby when it arrives."

Printing these emotionally engaging portraits of newborns is also a vital part of Kelly's work, and as a Canson Infinity Ambassador, she is usually shooting with print in mind for her clients, crafting high quality prints with her large format Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 printer (now succeeded by the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4100).

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"We live in such a digital world with photographs and videos everywhere. They come and go, literally disappearing within seconds," she says. "I focus on creating something that's tangible and is going to last a lifetime. Something that hangs on a wall is forever present as a reminder of a special time or a person."

Here, Kelly shares her best advice for photographing newborns in a way that captivates the hearts of families and how to translate your work into outstanding large format prints.

Two identical newborn twins sleep next to each other, one with their arm around the other, wrapped in a pale cloth.

Kelly has mentored hundreds of photographers around the world, helping them to find their own creative portraiture style. "I want to encourage them to be unique, so I show them how to make their own props or style things the way that they prefer to do it," she says. "It's very satisfying to see people be able to create work that's theirs and that stands out." Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 70mm, 1/200 sec, f/4 and ISO640. © Kelly Brown

1. Combine a safe space with soft light, longer focal lengths and a wide aperture

For Kelly, when photographing newborns, aside from creating a welcoming environment, it's important to keep in mind soft lighting and use a longer focal length.

"When you have a baby in front of the camera, you've obviously got to create the right environment and make sure that they're well fed, calm, safe and secure," she says. "I welcome them into a space that creates an experience for them, right down to the temperature of the room and the music that we have playing – everything is planned.

"In terms of lighting, you want to create beautiful, big soft light. Whether you're using natural or artificial light, you need to know how to control and direct it, so modifiers are really important. Being able to feather and diffuse your light to make it really soft will definitely have a huge impact on the final result.

"The right lens is also really important. I use the Canon EOS R5 with the Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens, but it's very rare that I will take it off 70mm, purely because it's going to give me the best results in terms of creating beautiful depth of field and not generating any distortion.

"It also allows me to zoom out if I need to for safety reasons when I'm photographing a baby and a prop," Kelly adds. "Being able to shoot with a wide aperture is something I prefer to do because of the beautiful softness it adds to the backgrounds, which helps really make the baby stand out."

A person sat at a white desk with two monitors and several prints on it holds up an image of a mother in a flowing dress rocking her newborn baby.

"I'm very passionate about photographing mums with new babies because it's not just the fact that they're welcoming a new baby into the world, it's that they're welcoming a new lifestyle and becoming a different person," says Kelly.

2. Previsualise your print

Kelly recommends having a very clear idea of how prints will look, even before you shoot the images. "Every time I pick up the camera, I've already got an idea of how it's going to look hanging on the wall," she says. "That obviously can mean putting different photographs together to create one image for safety reasons – for example, if a young baby needs to be supported.

"However, when I am creating a beautiful portrait of someone and there are storytelling aspects to the image in terms of the props I use, or the way it's styled, everything is well thought out in terms of lighting and exposure so that I know exactly what I need to do. Every time I set up a shot, I'm already seeing how it's going to print."

3. Streamline your editing workflow

When Kelly begins her editing process, she uses Adobe Photoshop* to perfect her work, usually delivering around 20 images per gallery for her clients. Editing is kept to a minimum – around five minutes per image.

"I use Photoshop to polish my images and enhance a lot of the details that are captured, but I would say 75% of the image is created in-camera, so I'm not relying on using it to fix photos," she explains.

"First of all, I'll go through the background of the image and remove anything that's distracting, such as little creases or fluff that might be on the backdrop. Then I'll start working on anywhere I might need to darken or lighten any areas. Once I've done that, I might add a little bit of contrast, any skin softening, then any colour enhancements. I then sharpen and close the image.

"Photos can take a little bit longer if I've had to do any composite images, but we try to keep them as natural as possible and not overdo it.

"When sending images to print, I'm printing in Adobe RGB and use the paper profiles so that I can make sure that everything's going to work best for that particular paper choice. I edit on a self-calibrating monitor so that what I see on screen is definitely what I'm going to see when I send it off to print."

A tiny baby is swaddled in green fabric. Its legs are folded up across its body, one hand is under its cheek and it is smiling, with its eyes closed.

LUCIA and LUCIA Pro are the Canon professional pigment ink brands used in Canon professional photo printers. Prints made using these inks can last approximately 200 years in a photo album, and up to 60 years exposed to light.** Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM lens at 70mm, 1/160 sec, f/2 and ISO640. © Kelly Brown

4. Focus on the eyes

The eyes and lashes of a newborn baby are the main focus of many of Kelly's images and she says finer details and facial features such as this really matter when making prints.

"We're trying to focus on the eyes of the baby every time, even though they're sleeping," she says. "When I'm shooting with my Canon EOS R5 and my Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens, I know that those eyelashes are going to be crystal clear and sharp with phenomenal detail.

"When I bring that image up on my calibrated monitor, I know that every print I produce is going to have those details and that comes down to the printer that I use as well," Kelly continues. "Working with the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 with Canon ink allows me to produce a really high-quality print. It hasn't skipped a beat in the last few years and I've been very lucky to win a number of awards using that printer. But it also comes down to paper choice."

5. The best type of photo paper for portraits

For Kelly, a textured paper is ideal for her fine art prints, but it can vary depending on the tonality of the image. She says, "I love a very textured paper, such as the Canson Infinity Edition Etching Rag, which is a beautiful paper with a gorgeous texture that is better suited to neutral tones.

"When I am going for those richer, darker, moody shots, then the 100% cotton Canson Infinity BFK Rives pure white paper is amazing. The skin tones that I can produce for some babies with that is really quite phenomenal.

"If I'm working on a black and white image that's quite heavy in those dark tones, then I'm going to print on something like a Platine Fibre Rag, which is going to really help me capture all of that detail."

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A person sitting at a white desk with a Canon camera and prints on it admires a photograph of a newborn baby in a thick white frame.

"For client work, I'm 99% sure every time I hit the print button on my Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 that it's going to come out exactly the way I want it to look, based on the calibration of my monitor and using the right colour profiles for the paper that I'm using," says Kelly.

6. Give clients succinct options

Kelly keeps her offerings simple because, in her experience, clients "can be overwhelmed with too many options, need to be guided and want the process to be simple". She often produces archival matte prints in keepsake boxes for families, but also creates large format prints for walls, as both the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4100 and Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 allow fast 44-inch output.

"I can hand-feed A3 sheets so easily with my printer," she says, "and I'm able to print larger wall art for my clients often while they wait. They get a beautiful slideshow on a large TV screen to watch but I often invite them to view their large print coming off the printer too. I've seen quite a few tears as they watch photographs come to life in front of them. They love the process and get to see what goes into creating a print like that."

The value of printed images is an extra piece of magic that a photographer can bring to families and something Kelly feels is really important to maintain. "Photographers today have lost a little bit of that value in terms of what we have the ability to produce. If we can share more of that and show people what we can create, then they're more aware of it," she says.

"I've been printing my own work for more than 10 years and people just expect it now. Even when I'm teaching and I have models come in that aren't clients, I still give them prints because of how much I value those photographs. I get tears, I get gifts, I get things sent to me in the mail because of what I'm producing for them."

  1. *Adobe and Photoshop are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

    **Criteria for estimation of album life, light fastness and gas fastness: Each image permanence data of album life, light fastness, and gas fastness are estimated based on each test of Indoor Thermal Stability, Indoor Light Stability and Indoor Ozone Stability which are set as “Digital Colour Photo Print Stability Evaluation” (JEITA CP-3901) standard issued by JEITA (Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association).
Lorna Dockerill

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