Top Newborn Photography Lighting Mistakes: Ghoul Lighting

Incorrect light placement is probably the biggest mistake new photographers make when getting started with newborn photography. And that can lead to one of the top newborn photography lighting mistakes ever, namely ghoul lighting.

When you place your light below your subject’s eyes, the effect will be similar to putting a flashlight under your chin when telling ghost stories around the campfire! You will notice shadows under the eyes, and deep, sunken eye sockets. NOT the look you’re going for when photographing soft, squishy little babies!

In this video, Lisa explains this uplighting mistake known as ghoul lighting, and shows you how to avoid that in studio by simply placing your lights in the 10am-2pm position above baby’s head. That means the light will flow down your littlest client’s head and body.

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Prefer reading about newborn photography lighting mistakes? Here goes:

Ghoul lighting may be a term you haven’t heard yet but it’s one you’re definitely going to want to remember. It happens when you up-light your subjects.

What is ghoul lighting?

Ghoul lighting is that effect when you take a flashlight and shine it up your face under your nose. It creates these really dark shadows under your eyes and looks spooky. It certainly is not the way that anybody wants to be lit, especially our newborn babies! Up-lighting someone like this is not flattering.

newborn photography lighting mistakes ghoul lighting
Remember telling scary campfire stories with this ghoul lighting effect? That’s called up-lighting and it’s not a flattering look!

Look for the butterfly shadow

The way to tell that you are up-lighting is that you will be able to see the shadows under the eyes. To fix this, you want to always light baby from the head down. What that will do is create this beautiful butterfly effect underneath baby’s nose. You’re looking for that shadow that is created in the divot under the nostrils.

Check out our Youtube video all about that butterfly shadow!

butterfly shadow under the nose of a newborn
When you see the shadow under a baby’s nose that looks like a butterfly, you know you’re lighting correctly.

Pay attention to catchlights

When you’re working with babies from an aerial perspective, you want to pay attention to the catchlights in their eyes. If they have their eyes open, you never want to have the catchlights in the lower quadrant of the baby’s eyes. Always try to have it in the area between 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock. That way you will know that you have lit the baby correctly.

catchlights in the top quadrant of baby's eyes
Ensure catchlights are in upper quadrant of baby’s eyes

It’s easy to accidentally up-light parents

When you’re working with studio light,and posing parents standing up with their baby, it is easy to accidentally up-light them. This happens when your light source is too low down. You want to raise up your light so the light is shining down instead of shining up. When your light source is too low, you will see the catchlights are in the lower portion of their eyes, and you will be up-lighting them, creating darker shadows under their eyes.

raise light higher to avoid Newborn Photography Lighting Mistakes
You need to raise your light above the tallest person in order to light correctly

Raising your light source high enough can be difficult in a small studio if you’re using a large umbrella or softbox. Be sure to raise it to at least eye level – it isn’t optimum, but the very minimum to avoid up-lighting. It can also help to tilt your light to face down, which will allow you to lift it a little more. Alternatively, you can have the parents sit down, which will be easier to light, and will ensure you get those catchlights in the upper quadrant of their eyes. And if that’s not possible, asking parents to close their eyes or look down at their baby still creates a beautiful, tender portrait.

mom and newborn baby with catchlights in top section of eyes
Catchlights for parents should be in the 9 to 3 o’clock position

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