Do you obsess over newborn photography lenses? When I was learning how to be a newborn photographer, I spent a lot of energy trying to find out what the best gear was. I asked every newborn photographer I could find. And the only answer I ended up getting was, “It depends”. That was definitely not the answer I wanted to deal with. Instead, I wanted a list of the best newborn photography lenses. So that is what I am going to try and do for you here.
35 mm Prime
It is a rare photographer who does not love a fast prime lens. The tack sharp images, the smooth blurred backgrounds, the yummy depth of field everyone notices, even if they do not notice. I shoot Canon, and the L series (red banded) is an amazing lens. Here is what I like about a 35 mm lens (any brand) and what I don’t.
Using a 35 mm prime (or even shooting at 35mm with a zoom) is great when you are doing overhead shots. If you want to include that awesome prop you bought last month at the local flea market, 35 mm is perfect. Using a fast lens like a 35 mm prime 1.4 offers you great versatility in natural light. Sometimes, when a baby in a prop on the ground, there are more darker shadowy areas. A fast 35 mm can help you get a bright exposure in camera, without too much fuss in post production. There is no doubt that a 35 mm prime is considered one the best newborn photography lenses out there.
The main disadvantage to using a wide angle lens like a 35 mm is that composition can be sacrificed. When shooting wide, there tends to be a lot of space around your subject. Depending on your style, you may not want one to two thirds of your image to be of fuzzy blankets or negative space. Of course, to a certain extent, you can crop down in post production. But be careful not to crop to much. Death by cropping happens when so much image is cut away that the largest it will print is 8 x 10 or so. If all you care about are digital images online, then cropping may not be such an issue. But if your client later wants a 20 x 30 canvas of that image, you are in trouble.
The 50 mm prime is the classic “great walk around lens”. And it is true. It is long enough to offer flattering compression of your subjects, but short enough that you can get great shots it relatively small spaces. Like any prime lens that is also fast, being able to shoot wide open (2.8 or larger) can be a great feature, especially in natural light.
What I love about the 50 mm for newborn photography is that you can get super close up shots. If you do not have a macro lens, or do not like to change lenses, a 50 mm prime is a great compromise. It does provide better composition, assuming your style is for your images to be mostly of the baby. It can be a great lens for family shots too. The compression is offers can be slimming and many new moms really like that.
If you work out of a home studio, or home setting, it is probably a small space. Thus, family images are most likely going to be waist up at best. If you really like full length shots of family, then you will need to break out that 35 mm. The second disadvantage, for me at least, is that it is not the best for detail shots. Even though you can get fairly close up shots, it is not enough. You still need a Macro lens for those awesome feet, eyelashes, and nose/mouth shots.
This is the go to lens for many newborn photographers. Because photographing babies is filled with unpredictable moments, a zoom lens can be a life saver. It is easy to move from wide to to zoomed in without moving. You do give up tack sharp images, but an iota less sharp in exchange for getting that baby smile may well be worth it.
The main advantage is not having to move your body so much. You can sit or stoop in one place and focus on holding the camera rather that moving your feet this way and that to get the perfect shot. The other advantage is not having to stop everything to change lenses. There is a trade off in sharpness and image quality, but usually it is so small that most people find it is worth it.
Other than losing sharpness, there is not really a big disadvantage to this lens. It certainly allows for you to shoot in low natural light in tight spaces without having to move around or fumble around changing lenses. When I rented this lens to see how I liked it, I was not impressed. For me, the drop in image quality was too much to give up no matter how convenient.
Deciding the best newborn photography lenses for you takes time. No one can really answer the question for you. You really do have to just try a lot of different lenses and see what works with your posing and work flow.
Katie is a maternity and newborn photographer in Los Angeles, 91042