We are pleased to continue Design Aglow’s Baby Week 2016 with a fantastic feature from newborn photographer Lindsay Walden. Enjoy!
Growing up, my mom had a home-based photography studio in our upstairs loft. Our laundry room doubled as a dark room and I still remember the pungent smell of chemicals and the anticipation of watching an image magically appear on paper, as if touched by the finger of an angel. I grew up with an appreciation for beautiful art and the walls of my parents home were, and still are, covered in family and individual portraits.
When my husband and I had our third child, a baby girl, he splurged and purchased me our first DSLR camera. It was basic and came with a kit lens which I quickly replaced with my first 50mm and my addiction to better glass was born.
In 2010, I shot my first newborn session for a friend. (Let’s just say we all have to start somewhere). Over the ensuing years I have had a lot of ups and downs as a professional photographer, and it wasn’t until I decided to specialize in newborn photography that I was able to focus my creative energies, continue my education, and truly blossom. Even so, I have experienced all kinds of growing pains and have had the same doubts that I would assume plague a lot of artists. I know I have enormous room for growth and constantly challenge myself to be better and learn more. I still consider myself very much a new newborn photographer.
As a newborn photographer, I belong to a lot of different photography groups on Facebook. I’ve found these groups to be incredibly helpful as I’ve grown. But I’ve also realized a lot of the advice and constructive criticism offered has been about sameness. To light from a certain direction for a pleasing result, or how to place babies hand, etc. I found myself striving to be and look just like every other newborn photographer.
Let me make myself clear: I don’t think that’s bad. A lot of the advice I read helped me to better understand how to manipulate lighting, pose in more aesthetically pleasing ways, and get those perfectly smooth backdrops. I was getting better as a newborn photographer and I also was beginning to create images similar to the photographers I admire. (Again, this isn’t a bad thing). There is a reason these photographers are admired.
That being said, I found that I was happiest when I could be unique and creative. So, with each session I tried to incorporate at least one thing that allowed me to stretch myself. A new idea, a pose that was a little bit different from the “norm”, lighting a bit differently, a homemade feathered headdress or driftwood wreath. Not all of my ideas turned out, but often they were my favorite images as well as my client’s.
Keeping that desire to be creative and different in mind, I think I walk through each day with my eyes open to the possibilities of how things in my surroundings can be used to better my photography. This is why flea markets and craft stores are incredibly dangerous for newborn photographers!
Incorporating newborns into great works of art seems so obvious to me now. It is the perfect marriage of two great loves for me. But the idea didn’t come until this past December when a friend invited me to the Gustave Caillebotte exhibit at the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. As mom to three kids, two with special needs, I’m afraid running off to museums with my girlfriends hasn’t been a frequent occurrence. So this was an absolute treat. It was also my first visit to an art exhibit since learning the art of photography.
I was mesmerized with Caillebotte’s use of leading lines and how he painted light on his subjects. His ability to create emotion and connection through the strokes of his paintbrush inspired me. It is my desire to highlight the connection between the subjects in every image I take (or the connection between the subject and the viewer) to elicit some kind of emotion.
As the night wore on the initial idea began to form in my mind of incorporating newborns into classic works of art. I could think of nothing more perfect for inspiring emotion than creating replicas of classic masterpieces with the purity and stillness of a fresh newborn as the focus.
After I thought of the initial idea for the masterpiece collection, I spent the next 24 hours creating a folder of images on my computer of all my favorite classic works of art. I was particularly drawn to the impressionist artists and their visible brush strokes and depiction of light. But how was I going to create the effect of a painting that would photograph well?
If you are a newborn photographer, you have probably come across wool roving at some point; whether for use with trendy braided blankets or the curly textured felted blankets that are so popular right now. I ordered my first bit of wool roving from ShepsWool.com over a year ago. I used it to get that dreamy cloudlike backdrop for a set of images. But the stuff is wily and not terribly easy to work with, so it kept getting stuck to baby, props and backdrops, and coming off in tufts. When I was brainstorming materials to use for my masterpiece collection, a vision of those tufts of wool stuck to my newborn backdrop came to mind and I knew I had struck gold. Wool roving, when torn off in small chunks, has a beautiful effect similar to the stroke of a paintbrush.
I googled methods for dyeing wool roving and began to create my colorful palette for the first backgrounds. (At this point I really ought to stop and mention what an amazingly patient man I am married to). Raise your hand if you have a spouse who has ever had to pull over on the side of a busy highway so you can photograph an abandoned barn, or ice covered cotton field, or has put up with your dining table being covered with sample prints, gobs of tulle, or whatever your latest project is. I think dying raw wool in our kitchen may have tested the limits of the poor man’s patience. It smells awful! Like living in a petting zoo. And not just for an hour or so. For days. Bless him.
I also drew inspiration from multi-colored skeins of yarn, also a newborn photography staple. I’m not sure who first came up with idea of deconstructing yarn to make “fluff” but I owe them my thanks. Easier (and less smelly) than dyeing the wool, I supplemented my “paintings” with this deconstructed yarn to create more distinct shapes. Small bits of white yarn were helpful for creating highlights and the darker for my shadows.
With the wool dyed, and my pretty colors all ready to create a masterpiece, I was left only with what to place the backgrounds on. I knew I wanted to be able to use them over and over again but I couldn’t have large pallets laying around in my studio. I also wanted to keep the fibers loose so I could move or manipulate the background if I chose to. I needed to be able to roll up the backgrounds when I was finished, in order to keep them safe and in order to make room in my humble studio space.
I had a large roll of bubble wrap lying around and figured it would work well enough. The bubble surface was great, as the wool stuck to it nicely, but could still be lifted and manipulated. My kids helped me as we laid out the pieces of roving, and made it all the more fun. Mostly because we got to pop bubble wrap while working, which for whatever reason is infinitely enjoyable.
Each backdrop is uniquely different. The Scream is made up almost entirely of yarn. Monet’s Water Lilies of roving and some lilies I purchased off of ebay. Some have come together quickly and others I’ve created, pulled apart, and then started again. Creating the masterpiece collection has definitely been a labor of love but has inspired me to be even more creative in my newborn photography.
I do have some solid words of wisdom for newborn photographers.
If you don’t already (I’m talking to you, fellow photographers) I’d highly recommend incorporating In Person Sales into your business. I utilize them and man, hallelujah and amen! In person sales saved me when I was ready to throw in the towel as a photographer. I have such a great appreciation for the business side of photography, especially after doing the necessary soul searching work. What is my cost of doing business? How should I value my work? How can this dream benefit my family, instead of having them feel neglected because of it? I derive immense satisfaction in seeing my client’s images beautifully displayed in their homes.
I discovered early on that my clients will purchase what I show them. If I order a bunch of matted 8x10’s, that is what they will want. If I have 16x20 canvases on display in my studio, that is what they will order. I now have a 24x36 canvas and 30x40 metal print hanging prominently in my studio along with my favorite albums. Guess what they purchase now?
Before I sign off, I would like to thank this amazing community of photographers that I feel honored to belong to. We can be a touchy group, a bit sensitive about our art, easy to offend and misunderstand, but I’ve found most photographers I’ve met to be incredibly kind people with generous hearts and a capacity for living remarkable lives inside and outside of our profession. I have grown so much through the collective sharing of knowledge and ideas. The support and overwhelming response to my simple idea by my peers has meant so much to me. Thank you all!
Stay tuned every day this week for more fantastic advice, stories, and fun from some of the top newborn photographers in the industry today. We can’t wait to share more with you!
Lindsay Walden specializes in creating unique newborn and maternity portraits for her clients. Her studio, Lindsay Walden Photography, is located in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She is mom to three beautiful children and married to one super hot husband.
To view more of Lindsay's work, visit her here.