Shooting Stars

How to take great photos of your main attraction.


He has your grandmother's inquisitive, jewel-blue eyes. His hair, dappled in the warm afternoon sunlight, reveals soft sparkles of color too beautiful for any rainbow. His tiny, dimpled bottom is cute enough to kiss (and sometimes you do). But in your photographs, he looks like The Baby From Another Planet—a glowing-eyed, shiny-skinned lump with washed-out features and all the expressiveness of a russet potato.

It doesn't have to be that way. We approached Stephanie Rausser, a professional photographer in Petaluma, Calif., and the mother of 8-year-old Max and 2-year-old Cleo, for expert advice on how to take baby pictures you'll be proud of. Here are her top tips: Get the light right: Using the built-in flash on many cameras can give your subject an unnatural, washed-out look, so turn off the flash and rely on natural light whenever you can, even when shooting indoors. "The best thing is to have a bright room, with plenty of window light," Rausser says. "If there are shadows on the baby's face, put a white towel on the side away from the window to reflect light and soften dark shadows."

Outdoors, timing counts: Shooting photos when the sun is directly overhead causes harsh shadows under the eyes. The light also is too bright to be flattering. "Shoot in the early hours, from the moment the sun comes up until about 10 a.m.," Rausser says. "When the sun is low on the horizon, the color is warm and the light comes from the side, which is very flattering. Besides, babies wake up early." Rausser also recommends shooting in the late afternoon, when the sun is low again. "Photographers call it 'sweet light,'" she says. Try black-and-white film: The timeless look of black-and-white adds to the drama and beauty of a baby photograph. "It's gorgeous," Rausser says. "Especially because there's such a proliferation of color pictures, when you see one in black-and-white, it just grabs you."

Dress for success ...: "Nothing white, nothing black—babies are supposed to be colorful," Rausser says. "If you have a baby who has blue eyes and you put a blue shirt on him, his eyes just pop out." Avoid clothing with lettering or logos, which are distracting in photos, she adds.

... and undress, too: You needn't feel uncomfortable about photographing your baby in the buff. "Babies are new and unscathed, and there's a hope aspect to a naked baby," Rausser says. "I love seeing their skin, the tiny rolls of flesh on their arms, their little feet and toes. I always make sure to take their shoes and socks off."

Get close: "Babies are just so cute, and when you're looking at a photograph and they fill the frame, the cuteness factor grows tenfold," Rausser says. Note: The wide-angle lenses on many point-and-shoot cameras can cause distortion at close range; to avoid this, Rausser recommends using a lens with a focal length of at least 50 mm. Take a lot of pictures: Film is inexpensive compared with the priceless images you'll treasure forever, so don't be afraid to use a lot of it, Rausser says. Better yet, go digital and you can take literally hundreds of shots and print only the best. Capture the moment: Getting great spontaneous baby pictures requires agility and quick reflexes on your part. Rausser suggests lying down low, at the baby's level, with a willingness to wait. Don't have an expectation of what you'll get—follow the baby's lead. Also, take enough photos to capture your baby's entire range of emotions, from inquisitive expressions to happy gurgles to tears. "Some parents believe that they're only supposed to take smiling baby photos," Rausser says. "But it's a part of life—babies cry all the time."