Poignant Newborn Photos for a Military Dad

Father’s Day is over, but a gift like these photos is one to be cherished for a father’s life. From our friends at Tamron, here’s a report of something special happening in Georgia. – Blog Master

By Jenn Gidman
Images By Tara Ruby

Father’s Day is an emotional occasion for most dads, but especially so for service members who are deployed far from home. That’s why Georgia photographer Tara Ruby makes a point of setting up newborn sessions for the families of soldiers who are about to head out or are already deployed. “I offer a decent discount to all the families with deployed dads,” she says. “Of course someone can send them a cellphone image, or they may FaceTime during the birth, but there’s something really special about receiving a customized, personal image from the studio of your new baby.”

For one recent session, Tara was able to work a military dad into his newborn son’s photos just days before he was set to ship out. “He deployed about a week after we took these pictures,” she said. “They kept him back from his original deployment just so he could stay and see his baby’s birth.”

For this session, Tara used her Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 VC G2 lens. “I’ve been using this lens a lot for my recent digital composites, but this was my first session where I only used that lens,” she says. “I love that on the wide end of the 24-70 I can work the whole background into my image. That was especially important in the Batman image we’ll talk about in a bit. It’s also a terrific lens in terms of baby safety, since as a photographer you don’t want to step too far away from your subject. You can’t place the baby on a beanbag or in a mini-Batmobile and walk too far away. This lens allows me to stay closer to the baby and still allow me to capture all of the surroundings.”

Tara consults with parents before each session to plan out what the shoot will entail. “The hardest ones are the ones where the parents don’t know the sex of the baby, meaning they usually haven’t figured out yet how they’re going to decorate the nursery,” she says. “I like to have everything planned ahead of time according to the color scheme or other themes in the nursery, though we can certainly make changes on the day of the session. It just makes for a faster newborn session if I’m prepared ahead of time with props, backdrops, and other logistics.”

To light her tiny subjects, Tara uses a softbox as a constant light source. Or she’ll sometimes take advantage of her studio’s location. “My studio is in a garage, so if it’s really nice, I’ll open the garage door, which also offers me constant light,” she says. “Having my lighting set up like this means I don’t have to mess around with it during the shoot, which means I can just concentrate on the baby. I definitely don’t use flash—even if the baby is asleep, he can still detect the flash going off through his eyelids and it can disrupt him.”

Tara asks moms not to feed their babies until they get to her studio. “The feeding gives the moms a chance to relax while we talk and finalize any last-minute details,” she explains. “Then, after the feeding, the baby usually falls asleep and we can start the session, which usually takes between two-and-a-half to three hours. This is preferable, as having a wide-awake baby is much more challenging than having a sleeping baby.”

For this baby’s session, he woke up halfway through while decked out in a buffalo costume. “He looked right at me as I was taking his picture,” Tara says. “I don’t know if he really liked what was going on, but he kept staring. He soon fell back asleep. It was pretty neat to capture this one awake photo.”

© Tara Ruby—48mm, F/3.5, 1/200th sec., ISO 1250

When photographing babies, one of the most endearing aspects to show off is their baby fat. “It’s unfair we find it so cute when they’re this little to have rolls, but when you get older, everyone’s like, ‘Nope!'” Tara says. “I wanted to have the baby squished up a little to get as many of those rolls showing as we could. His little foot pushes his butt up, which helps accentuate those rolls.”

Tara often frequents online vendors to build up her props inventory, but also flea markets, antiques shops, and yard sales to track down more unique pieces. “Hours and hours of shopping have gone into my collection,” she says. “If you don’t have an ample collection, it can be a little more difficult to offer a varied selection of image options. I like that ‘wow’ factor my clients get when they come in and see what they can choose from.”

Included in her props inventory: accessories related directly to the military. “On that hat this baby is wearing, I can slip the tab out and slip the name of any of the military branches in there, or even the name of the baby or family,” she says. “My clients love the ability to customize it.”

Tara also created the mini-military cot the baby is lying on. “I don’t know if a civilian would really get the importance behind that cot, but for those out in the field, it’s significant,” she says. “A service member would see this photo and immediately recognize their own sleeping space, except a baby-sized version of one.”

© Tara Ruby—24mm, F/3.5, 1/250th sec., ISO 1250

For a Captain Marvel–themed photo, Tara wanted to use an American flag scarf against a backdrop she’d painted, and as she was moving it around, she suddenly realized she could emphasize the theme by shaping the scarf to look like a map of the United States. “I just had to shoot this image from above to make sure I captured the entire map in the shot,” she says.

© Tara Ruby—44mm, F/3.5, 1/100th sec., ISO 1250

Finding out what Dad’s preferences are for the shoot is paramount. “I have a bunch of stuffed animals and animal outfits, like the buffalo one, in my inventory,” Tara says. “This dad specifically wanted to dress his son up like a lion. By placing the baby against a printed backdrop with forest animals on it, as well as surrounding him with a variety of stuffed animals, I made it look like the baby is deep in the woods. The pose that just shows the face and those chubby cheeks is an image that will be forever endearing.”

© Tara Ruby—33mm, F/3.5, 1/160th sec., ISO 1250

Concentrating on different features of the baby is another approach that’s sure to please the parents. “I’m not sure if dads are as into this as the moms, but moms will always tell me, ‘I’m a finger person’ or ‘I’m a belly button person,'” Tara says. “And so I always try to get a few images where I focus on one particular baby part. I wanted to show this little guy’s toes off. Many poses involve the legs being tucked underneath the baby, or just the baby’s face showing, so I positioned him here so the toes were front and center. Having him clutch a tiny teddy bear brings the hand into focus, too.”

© Tara Ruby—33mm, F/4.5, 1/200th sec., ISO 1600

This baby’s father isn’t scheduled to come back home until November—which means the baby is going to look much different the next time they see each other. “This is their special moment together,” Tara says. “This is the picture that the dad is going to hold onto for nearly a year. My goal is to capture that connection between the two of them to carry Dad through for the duration.”

Tara often has the soldiers pose with their babies while wearing their uniforms, but some dads prefer a more laid-back look or may not be able to sport their uniforms for other reasons. “In this case, the father had already sent much of his uniform over to his deployment location, as he was leaving so soon,” she says. “But many dads also like this more casual type of shot. I’ve also done photos of dads with their shirts off, going skin-to-skin with the baby.”

“Please don’t poop” is the one minor concern running through Tara’s head while she’s taking a photo like this. “That’s why I think the dad in this pic has a little grin on his face, because we’d been joking about that beforehand,” she says. “This baby hadn’t gone to the bathroom yet the whole session, so we were a little nervous. If that does happen during a shoot, though, we’re ready for it. It doesn’t end what we’re doing.”

Another way Tara makes a photo like this extra-special is by juxtaposing parts of the body of both baby and father against each other. “This is going to be the last time Dad sees him for a while,” she explains. “Right now, you can see the baby’s foot is about the same size as Dad’s thumb. It’s definitely not going to be that same size when Dad gets back. So I’ll often try to put fingers against fingers, or fingers against toes, or whatever I think works. It’s a little positioning point that’s really important.”

© Tara Ruby—27mm, F/4, 1/100th sec., ISO 1600
Vendors: Batman outfit by Pitter-Pats Creations; felt batarang by Off My Hooks; backdrop by Baby Dream Backdrops; Batman car by Kings Cloth

Tara’s clients in the military often deal with difficult issues surrounding deployment, both practical and emotional. And so for this family, Tara went above and beyond expectations for one final photo. “The week before a soldier is deploying, the family can be upset and worried and sad all at once—emotions are all over the place,” she says. “They may view these photo sessions as either pulling them away from things they think they should be doing, or they get excited to have such an enjoyable distraction. In this case, I decided to turn the baby into Batman to make it extra-special.”

That task meant Tara had to recruit several of her regular vendors, who all pulled together to make her concept happen. “One person created the Batmobile, another the felted ‘batarang’ the baby was holding, another the Batman outfit, and yet another the backdrop,” she says. “They were amazing, which is why I use these vendors over and over.

Tara simulated fog in post-production, as well as the Batman logo in the sky. “I tend to make my baby pictures a little darker in mood to begin with, but this originally looked a little too straight-up Gotham,” she says. “The pretend fog lightened the image a bit. That’s the fun part of working with Photoshop: The only limit to what we’re doing is our imaginations. If you can imagine it, I can create it!”

The best part of this photo session, though, was the joy she brought to the baby’s parents—especially the soon-to-be-deployed dad. “There was so much going on for them that week, but for just a few minutes, we got to talk and laugh and have a good time,” she says. “I mean, we turned their baby into Batman. How cool is that?”

To see more of Tara Ruby’s work, go to https://tararuby.com.

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