Shedding Light on Carrie Sandoval
Carrie at work
(photo by Brittany Woodall)
Hi Carrie! Thank you for joining us at EtL for this interview. I am very glad to be talking to you because there are so many things about baby photography that I don’t know, and it seems to me like this is a small niche with very few photographers focusing on this type of work. In fact, you are the only one that I am familiar with.
It’s very common for parents to get into photography when their first baby is born, but not that many end up making a career out of it. Tell us how you went from photographing your first child documenting his growing up, to making Art with other people’s babies. When did you realise you could make this more than a hobby?
I think the difference for me is that I have a history in art. I have always been crazy about drawing, painting, play dough, you name it… since I was 2 years old. So, for me, it was completely natural to pick up the hobby with a vengeance! I guess I was always wanting to improve and at one point, I knew my kids were tired of being my only models!
Are you a full-time photographer, or is this something you do on the side?
A supporting partner is always an asset! You now have 4 children (including a set of twins). Did your photography improve with every birth?
Unfortunately, I didn’t get serious until my twins (now 6 years old) were 10 months old, so all I have are snap shots of them as newborns. I was definitely hooked on newborns by the time my youngest (now 2.5 years) was born, so I would say I improved leaps and bounds with her birth!
Where do you get the ideas for your props? Did you test drive them on your babies first?
Most props (bowls, baskets, etc) are my inspiration, as I am always on the look out for them at flea markets, antique shops and ebay. But other ideas, such as most of my hanging poses, were sketched out long before I tried them. I know Anne Geddes suspended babies long ago, but I was never really fond of the ones in which the face was not showing (reminded me of taking out garbage!). The branch added an “on the tree top” theme and I became very fond of the idea. Brittany [Atlanta based baby photographer Brittany Woodall, Ed. note] and I practised on a few dolls and when my twin niece and nephew were born last August, we gave it a go on live babies. It worked like a charm and it is now requested very often by my clients. It’s a lot of fun trying to make it different every time. When I have a new idea and I don’t happen to have a niece and nephew due to be born, I will have a casting call so that I can try it out with out any worries before trying it out during a real session.
I really like the babies hanging from the branch, that’s so sweet. But when do you plan to introduce a stork? You could train it to hold the cloth basket in its beak, no?
HAHA, funny! May be a little too cliquey for me! Although… I have a fabulous idea for another branch shot. It will have to wait for the right client, the right place and right time. It’s a doozey!
You like to photograph babies when they’re less than 10 days old, why is this?
Babies are much more pliable and sleepy the younger that they are… sort of like they are “recovering” from birth. Because most of my galleries depict a peacefully curled up baby, I really urge clients to try to come as soon as they can. Of course, this isn’t always possible and I have had successful sessions with babies as “old” as 4-5 weeks old!
Here’s a question that will help both baby photographers and new parents who aren’t getting enough sleep: How do you get them to stay asleep during a shoot? (The babies, not the parents.)
Well, I think what I do works like a charm because quite often the parents tell me that they themselves are having a hard time staying awake! Keep the room (almost unbearably) warm. Run white noise to drown out chatter and most of all, the loud shutter of my camera. Those are the main keys. Then there are little things like stroking their foreheads and keeping them swaddled until they are in a deep slumber.
You know, that would put me to sleep to!
OK, pick one on a baby: Feet or bottom?
Feet. For sure.
I knew you’d say that, there are so many baby feet photos in your portfolio!
Now tell me, how can babies fold up so well? I can barely touch my toes…
The same way they are able to fit inside a uterus. 😆
Yeah, I guess that makes sense…
I mentioned in my March F-BoM post that one of the reasons your photography strikes a cord with me is because I have photographs of myself when I was a baby, and not only do I enjoy looking at them, they also make my mother happy. Now that your kids are old enough, and I’m sure they’ve seen the photos you took of them, do they tell you what their feeling are about those pics?
Although my first 3 children’s photos are snap shots, they absolutely love looking through their baby albums. I would say they thumb through them at least once a month! I’d say they like them. Which reminds me… I need to update albums with recent pictures!
What about you? Do you look at those photos and just drool with pride at your babies, or do you think “that composition could have been better, that exposure is off”, etc.?
I don’t really critique my snapshots, because there is no point in it. I am very happy to have them, though. I do have one picture of my son (now eight) where the flash didn’t fire. At the time, I adored the picture (actually, I still do) and I didn’t know why. After studying the picture over and over (I suppose with pride!), I realized that the flash had not fired and by pure luck, I had been close to a well lit window. Part of what I loved about the photo was the soft natural light. That was the very first “self taught” lesson that sparked my interest (although I didn’t buy my DSLR until 2 years later, when my twins were 10 months old).
Let’s talk a bit about equipment then. You like to keep it real simple and classic by using a full-frame digital camera with a 50mm f/1.4 lens; how did you progress towards this setup, and do you ever use anything else?
My first DSLR was the Nikon D100. At the time, an awesome camera. I quickly learned that the cheap lens that was sold with it was doing my camera no justice. I studied online photography forums and quickly was turned on to the 50mm. I still love it to this day… and yes, I can tell the difference between the 1.4 and the 1.8. It’s faster and sturdier… and sharper. I use the 50 the most because it’s a great length for newborns–head and shoulders and full body. For extreme close ups, I use the 105mm micro. I also have an 85mm 1.4 and 28mm 1.4 in my bag, but they rarely get used. It’s a shame because the bokeh that comes with the 85mm is insane… I would most likely use that with older kids outdoors, though.
You also like shooting in natural, available light; have you experimented with flashes, or have you simply always done it like that because if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it?
Yes! I have been tempted by strobes and bouncing flash. I love to experiment… but I have always come back to the simplicity of natural light. It is most definitely my “thang”.
A quick tip, if you want to continue to use natural light, don’t move to New England! You’d only be able to work a few months out of the year. What do you have in San Diego, like 6 cloudy days a year? 🙂
[ INSERT plug for the D3 HERE ] Hehe… seriously, the camera handles high ISO noise beautifully! Hey, we have May Gray and June Gloom here! Although… I am quite grateful for our sunny weather.
Continuing with the equipment, let’s go on to postproduction. What software do you use? And how do you convert to monochrome? I love the tones you bring to the table; sometimes soft, sometimes hard…it seems like you do whatever it takes to make the baby look good, which is interesting because many photographers these days have “a look” and they use it on all their subjects, whether it works or not. I’d say your look is “frickin cute babies”.
Equipment: Mac Pro, 30″ cinema display, and Photoshop.
I think I disappoint a lot of people when I tell them that beautiful tones are much easier to achieve with lighting than any postproduction technique. I swear! I shoot in RAW, usually correcting white balance (because I lack a good eye for color, haha!) and that’s it. I am very old school with my conversions. I use Channel mixer, then dodge and burn to taste… very reminiscent of the dark room! I treat each image individually and hand craft each one. I love working in Photoshop!
I’m glad you’re a proponent of using your craft before the shot rather than later. Like I said here, you can fix it in later in Photoshop is one of the major pitfalls beginning photographers fall into.
Have you taken any photography courses? Looking at your photography I get the nice feeling that you’re not trying to show off and that you don’t even care that much about your equipment or technique so long as the subject is captured in the best possible way. And please, take this as a compliment! Too many photographers are so obsessed about their equipment that they forget they’re actually meant to take photos with it!
Like I said previously, I’ve always been artsy. I have a bachelor of fine arts in Graphic Design. As a requirement, I had to take Photography 101 in college, but was not really impressed with myself. I think the curriculum was too broad and that is why I was not inspired until I had my children.
Compliment taken. I am very proud of my 50mm. I have a very fond memory of photographing a family on the beach during peak holiday season. The beach was bustling with long lenses and there was me with my little old 50mm… I was indeed proud!
You’re preaching to the choir, Carrie, I love my 50/1.4 too! I call it my American Express lens, because I never leave home without it.
Enough about equipment, and let’s get back to babies. Babies are cute, but Carrie Sandoval makes them even cuter. What’s your secret? Can you give parent-photographers some tricks that they might be able to try at home?
Seriously… shoot a LOT of them. This past year, over 90% of my subjects have been newborns or babies. I love them. And rather than doing the same things and become bored, I am always pushing myself to think of a new way to photograph them. I have quite a few ideas that I need to get out of my head. I hope I never run out!
As for making them look as “cute” as possible, just keep in mind what I have said above. Lighting… move them around until you see soft, flattering shadows. Make sure they are happy… full bellies, soothed, WARM and comfortable (most of my babies are curled up in a bean bag). Clean their faces (although, I love photographing dirty big kids!).
Thank you so much for your time, Carrie. It’s been a pleasure having you on EtL and we hope to see those cute photos popping up on your blog regularly. If anyone wants to hire Carrie for a session, you can contact her through her site, or you can also check out her other site with Brittany Woodall, baby as art.
We wish you the best of luck in the future, Carrie, and I want to remind you that if you start using a stork in your shoots, you have to tell everyone it was my idea.
You got it, Mis. Your questions were a lot of fun!
Unless otherwise noted, all photos: ©Carrie Sandoval.