Could you please tell us a bit about you, where are you from, where is your studio located and the (as wonderful as difficult) genre of photography in which you specialized?
I’m Elli Cassidy, and I run a portrait studio in Lincolnshire, UK, specialising in Newborns and Maternity. I teach photography internationally and mentor photographers in both technical and business skills. (I was a teacher before I became a photographer and it turns out I love combining the two!)
Are all your newborn photoshoots done in your studio, or do you also shoot on location? Could you explain the importance of having a controlled environment and the right temperature?
I used to be a mobile photographer but since getting my studio 6 years ago all my shoots are now exclusively held there. I like the control my studio gives me, especially with lighting, but also the props and equipment I have. Over the years I’ve built dedicated studio rooms within the large building that I have, and I’ve now created individual shooting zones within those studios too. It’s made my workflow a breeze. meaning I can deliver a varied portrait selection to clients within a minimal session time.
Is there an optimal age for this type of sessions?
For newborn babies I prefer to have them under 4 weeks, ideally between 6 days and 14 days, though I will do newborn sessions for up to 6 week olds. Beyond that I know we can still get great baby photos, but it’s not as easy to get the curled up sleepy shots that lots of parents want. The youngest baby I have photographed was 2 days old, though if a baby is being breastfed their mother’s milk may not be fully established until around day 4, so generally I like to leave it a little longer.
There are no 2 babies alike, but how long can such a session last?
My sessions last an average of two and a half hours. If they are a great sleeper then I can be done within 90 minutes, but more often than not they need a little longer for feeding and cuddles. Having a planned workflow in place makes such a difference and will vastly reduce your shoot time.
It’s more frequent for you to photograph Newborn than Maternity, right? Why does this happen? Because you personally prefer to work with babies, or is there still some preconception and resistance in future moms to do this type of sessions?
Around a third of my families opt for maternity as well as newborn, the majority still just have newborn sessions and over the last ten years I’ve only had a handful of clients book a maternity session and not a newborn one.
Partly it’s cultural I think, Brits tend not to be massive investors in portraits of themselves, but I have noticed a definite increase in the number of maternity bookings I’m now getting. I like offering both sessions as I love the variety of work. Initially I very much preferred just working with babies, however, it’s really rewarding when a client grows in confidence and realises how beautiful she looks in her pregnancy portraits, especially as it’s a stage in life where you don’t always feel great and your body can look and feel so different.
In addition to the photoshoots, you also have training sessions in newborn photography. Your courses are exclusively targeted for the experienced photographer that aims to pursue a career in this genre, or do you also receive couples who wish to take their children’s pictures to another level?
I offer a whole range of courses, including newborn photography, but I also offer lighting courses, editing and business skills, and other genres such as art nudes. The newborn courses are tailored to each client and range from day courses to annual programs, I have lots of experienced studio owners looking to perfect their skills and also lots of beginners still finding their way around their equipment and hoping to develop a new career in photography.
With newborn photography I think the most important part is a genuine enjoyment of babies, it’s not a genre I would undertake if you have no desire to hold, cuddle, soothe and pose newborns. And patience, you definitely need lots of patience.
Because there are no photos without light, besides being a Fuji X Photographer, you’re also a Elinchrom ambassador. Flash or continuous light, and why? What’s your typical setup and how it differs from the usual scheme for portraiture of an adult?
Light is light, you can create newborn portraits with daylight, continuous or flash, the results can look the same with each. However, I have chosen to work with flash lights as it streamlines my workflow; I can have consistent and controlled exposure regardless of the weather, the modifier available give me a beautiful soft light, and both the Elinchrom D-lites and ELCs go really low in power, which means I can still shoot wide open with my Fujifilm mirrorless cameras for that shallow depth of field. Working with flash also means I can batch edit my files efficiently.
For newborn work I generally only use one light, and occasionally a reflector too, a simple softbox placed so it gently feathers across the baby. It helps create the all important shadows we need to define a baby’s features, whilst retaining details and with a soft and gentle fall off which I believe suits the subject.
For adults I’m much more adventurous with my lighting, generally on maternity shoots I use a mixture of 2 and 3 light set-ups. My favourite maternity lighting is low key rim lit, so I’ll use two strip boxes for those.
Talking about gear, what cameras and lenses do you currently use for newborn?
I love talking about gear! I currently use an X-T2 for my main camera body, with an X-T1 as my back-up. I’ve also got an X100s that I’ll sometimes use in the studio, though it’s predominantly the X-T2 I reach for.
I love the lighter weight of the Fujifilm X system compared to my old Nikon DSLRs, but I also prefer the ergonomics. The first time I picked up the X100S (my first Fujifilm) it felt very intuitive, and I’ve found this to be the same across the models. I’m not a fan of menus, I appreciate being able to change my settings with dials that are readily at my fingertips, it keeps the session flowing and means I can concentrate on capturing the moment.
The tilt screen deserves it’s own special mention too, especially the new multiway screen on the X-T2. Combined with the light weight, I can hold the camera over my newborn (using a hand strap), focus and compose with live view whilst keeping my feet safely on the floor. I’ve never been a fan of standing on stools or ladders to shoot over babies and love that I now never need to.
I have quite a variety of lenses, and as I get bored easily I like to mix and match what I use. For the most part I either use a combination of the 35 f/2 and 56 f/1.2, or my 16-55 f/2.8. I also have a 60 f/2.8 macro for those close up details and I was lucky enough to test the new 80mm macro and it blew me away so that’s next on my shopping list. It was super quick to focus, I’ve never used a macro quite like it before. I have the longer 50-140 f/2.8 lens but I tend to use that for personal outdoor work rather than in the studio.
What equipment did you use when you started and why have you chosen Fuji over other mirrorless systems?
I first started with a Minolta Dynax 7 film camera and then a Konika Minolta Dynax was my first digital DSLR. A few years later I bought two Nikon D700s and had a whole array of lenses, I loved using them but did find the weight an issue, especially with the longer lenses. The first mirrorless camera I used was the Olympus E-M5, but I never got to grips with it, I felt everything was buried in menus and I couldn’t get the look I wanted for my newborn photos with the raw files, they were a little too edgy for me.
My first Fujifilm camera was the X100S and I actually bought it to use for personal work as my DSLRs were too big to want to carry around for casual days out with my kids. I fell utterly in love with the X100s, using it was a joy, I felt a sense of freedom from the fixed lens, and loved the ergonomics, everything was literally at my fingertips.
Finally it was the file quality that won me over, there’s a special something about the images, the skin tones were beautiful, the details were crisp yet creamy and the film simulations were impressive. That little camera sold me on the X series and I knew I wanted to use Fujifilm for all my professional work too. I sold all my Nikon gear and bought the X-T1, then later the X-T2 when it was released. I’ve honestly never looked back.
Thank you Elli for all your kindness and availability! To finish this interview, have you got any funny story you would like to share?
There are lots that spring to mind, but they all tend to involve copious amounts of baby poo….though I did have one session where the baby’s umbilical cord fell off so I casually said catch and threw it to the dad…he caught it and then looked horrified and completely freaked out that he was holding it. Or there was the time a baby threw up in my mouth….not so amusing for me but everyone else in the room found it hilarious!
You know earlier when I said you need to be patient to work with newborns… I think I should add that you need to be ok with getting messy too! 😉
This interview was originally published in Fuji X Passion magazine # 21 – March 2018
Elli is an international award winning maternity & newborn photographer based in Lincolnshire. She is one of the UK’s leading newborn photographers, working from her dedicated baby studio in Swaby, near Louth/Alford.
Elli has photographed hundreds of babies for families in Lincolnshire, Grimsby and beyond. Her photography style is warm and intimate, enabling you to have beautiful photos that capture the newness of your baby. Elli has achieved her AIPPN Newborn & Maternity Qualification.
An indemand trainer, Elli teaches photographers from around the world in the art of Newborn & Maternity photography, alongside offering lighting and business training. Elli is an Elinchrom lighting ambassador and a Fujifilm X Photographer.