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Recognize Composites & Safety First | 31 Days of Photo Tips, day 4

“I can’t believe she hung that baby from a tree branch!”

photo credit Baby As Art photographer Carrie Sandoval San Diego, CA

Image credit: Baby As Art photographer Carrie Sandoval, San Diego, CA
click image to see Carrie’s original post

I’ve seen comments like this posted in photography forums and chat boards across the internet. And it astounds me, in this day and age of advanced Photoshop skills, that people don’t recognize a composite when they see one. And admittedly, it scares me… a lot. Inexperienced people are then attempting those shots as they appear. I want to educate people so no would-be photographer ever compromises the safety of a baby.

What is a composite image?

A composite is a final resulting image created by overlaying two or more images, like puzzle pieces, blended and combined in photo editing software, like Photoshop. It is primarily used to keep subjects safe or achieve artistic rendering impossible in-camera.

The baby is NOT hanging on a tree branch. Much like a painter mixes colors on his palette, a photographer blends images together to create her masterpiece. Composites are how artists like Tracy Raver, Kelley Ryden, Carrie Sandoval and Britt Woodall make the images they are known for.

At my studio we have a “hands on baby” policy. Any shot that can be created with a composite, is. I do not balance baby’s head on her hands. I do not hang babies on branches, hammocks or slings unsupported.

safety first in photography - iowa photographer

Since I am a newborn photographer, my examples are all of babies. But the same safety first rules apply to photographing all ages.
All of the following images are composite images:

iowa newborn photographer

iowa newborn photographer

iowa newborn photographer

iowa newborn photographer

I’ve seen photographers make excuses like, “Well, if you do it carefully you can achieve it by yourself without having to hold baby.” No matter how safely photographers believe they are doing this, I will stand firmly that it’s irresponsible. I’ve seen too many babies jump or twitch in their sleep. The risk is too great, and the life is too precious.

But it’s not just with posing. There are other important safety issues to consider.


Resulting image:


And that shot is with a trencher bowl that is only about 3 inches up. The risk is low, and still, safety comes first.

  • Use weights to balance top-heavy props or equipment
  • Use sandbags over legs of light stands or tripods – to balance top-heavy weighted equipment
  • Be aware of your environment. Read David Duchemin’s story.
  • Always wear your camera, if dropping it would mean injuring your subject (you should anyway! dropping your camera is bad, bad news!)
  • Before you take on a SINGLE client, make sure you have liability insurance. Without it, you could lose everything.

Other articles about safety and composites:

Photo Tip, Day 4: Never, ever, ever, ever hang a baby on a branch, balance his neck, or place baby in a way he could fall. Please be judicious with the little life that’s been entrusted to you. These shots should be done with an assistant and created in Photoshop. ZERO exceptions.

What are some tips you have for photographers to maintain safety first?


  1. Thank you. I know this is a little like a magician sharing her secrets, but the more photographers talk about it, the more newbies will hear about it and learn.

  2. I think I need a lot of help in creating composite images! Yours look great!!! Is the trick in cloning or in layer masks?

    • Rachel – yes, the key is layer masking. Overlap the two, three, or more images and mask out the hands. 🙂

      • This is great advice thank you, I live in AK and the demand for photographers here are very high. These tips will help keep everyone safe. Also, how do you layer mask?? What photo editing program do you use? Thanks again and Happy Holidays!

  3. This makes me CRAZY! Thank you Darcy for sharing! Seriously, I don’t get why anyone would EVER endanger the life of a baby for a photo. COME ON PEOPLE! Learn how to do the composite in PS or don’t do newborn photography. Or just do newborn photography with mom and dad holding infant. Or keep baby on floor with mom and dad close by! I hope MANY newbies see this and stop trying to one up someone with another crazy stunt. Hugs and blessings!

  4. I’ve got to buy photohop!

    thank you for your tips!

  5. I just so surprised I can’t think what to say. It’s great that you are educating people to the safety factors of photographing babies. As Forrest Gump says: “Stupid is as stupid does.” I hope people make sure their newborn’s photographer isn’t a ‘stupid’ before turning them loose with the baby.

  6. Loving the photo tip days!

  7. Thanks for sharing. Beautiful end shots are always better if “safety first” is applied. I’ve often wondered the secret behind those shots and thought, “I’d never”. Good to know neither would the photographer.

  8. I’m cracking up at that first quote: “I can’t believe she hung that baby from a tree branch.” Because you know people all over the internet are actually saying that to themselves.

  9. Thanks for sharing this info. I will be sure to pass it on to my friends when they ask me if I can do stuff like “hanging their baby from a tree.”

    I only take photos for friends when they ask and they know I am not a professional and don’t claim or want to be. However, I have had a friend want me to do something that was just not safe.

  10. Hi Darcy,

    Just wanted to pop in and say what a lovely little baby model you have! :o) I’m glad you are being safe….because I totally bonk my kids with my camera all the time.

    I’m enjoying the series!


  11. THANK YOU for writing about this important subject. Well said. Thank you.

  12. Great post! I’m glad you cleared it up for the ones that were confused!

  13. I have no idea how to create a composite like this, but thank you for clearing up the confusion. I know photographers of babies are super safe, but I always wondered how photos like this were taken. I wish I knew more so I could create such beautiful masterpieces. 🙂

  14. Great tips as always! Newborns scare me – they’re so floppy and delicate! But what beautiful images you create!

    Also – I *need* that headband in your pink picture for my baby girl! Did you find it on Etsy? Can you share your source?? 🙂

    • Yes – that headband is from Lindsey at The Pleated Poppy. I use her stuff a lot and the parents love her stuff. Tell her I sent you!

      (sorry this is way late, during October I had my comments NOT go to email because there were too many! I missed a lot of comments. eek.)

  15. Thanks so much for the tips. People do need to be educated. Thanks for sharing.

  16. This is a wonderful post! I have seen so many people, especially those new to photography, attempt to do all these newborn poses without realizing the consequences of what is being done. Newborns are extremely fragile and need to be handled with extreme care. This is a great piece to read for those trying to figure out how it’s really done. No shot in the world is worth compromising a baby’s safety. You guys do great work!

  17. Thanks for sharing this. I always wondered how they do it. Although I knew they use photoshop for the composites, but didn’t think they would hold a baby’s head as shown above. As beautiful as newborn photography might be, it is not the path I’m trying to go for. God forbid, something goes wrong, I just don’t wanna be in such a bitter situation. I believe photographers should educate themselves first and have a good amount of training with a professional before trying to venture out in this type of field.

    • I couldn’t agree more! I paid more for my training than a year of in-state college tuition – but I wanted to learn how to do it safely and properly. There is no price tag for the life of a baby. None.

      I take my job very seriously, and cringe at the number of people who do newborn photography so haphazardly.

  18. Brooke R. says:

    Could you give a bit more info on how to erase the hands? Even just some key words to find a good tutorial would be great. I am not a professional, just a mom wanting to get good shots of my little ones:)

    • Brooke – layer masking. A google search or visit to youtube will give thousands of tutorials! I even have some here. 🙂

  19. Thanks for the advice and encouragement. Photographers can and should be prepared as much as any body and not just for the moment but the accident

  20. LOVE these tips! I am due any day now, and I am looking for any tips and info I can find on how to best photograph my little angel when she arrives. I am just now learning/self-teaching about how to do photography composites, and these tips are GREAT! And for those of you who do not have and can not yet afford Photoshop or similiar programs, there are free downloads available of a program called Gimp2. You can do a Google search and find a reputable sight to download it from, and also find step by step instructions on how to layer using the program. I use it for ALL my new composite photos, and they all look professional!

  21. I have a pullback shot of them hanging a baby from the branch…and it is not a composite. Sorry, you’re wrong! They are really hanging the baby, but are close by!

  22. Awesome information! Where are some good places to get good images of tree branches to composite them in photoshop?

  23. I looked for the shop called “The Pleated Poppy” on etsy.com and it is not bringing anything up. Is this shop still open?



    • She’s on Facebook. A quick Google search should locate her for you. She’s still in business. 🙂