Photos in the dark?
May 30, 2012 11:53 PM   Subscribe

How do I photograph my sleeping children, in a dark room, without waking them up?

My two small boys insist on sleeping together, and I think they look adorable when I peek in on them late at night. I'm their mother, so I'm allowed to get sappy. I would love to take a photo of them like this, before they get bigger and don't want to sleep together any more. The room is much too dark to take a photo without using a flash, and I assume that would wake them up (will it?). I don't have an infra-red camera or anything like that. I imagine a long exposure is no good since they move slightly, and would therefore be blurry? How can I get a snapshot of them sleeping?
posted by Joh to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Flash will probably not wake them. Nor will turning on the lights for a few minutes.
posted by zia at 11:59 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Mefites will probably freak out if I suggest drugging them, so instead, I suggest getting them really tired: chase them around the backyard, run around the block, etc. so that they sleep soundly enough for you to take the picture with the light on.
posted by Anoplura at 12:02 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

If your room is dark then your camera isn't going to be able to take a good picture so you'll need to think of a way to introduce some light into the room (yes really fast lenses and high ISO cameras are around and will help, but both are expensive and you still require some light).

Using the flash or turning on the lights won't do harm, but you probably won't end up with the picture you intend either - you want a picture of them sleeping in a dark room.

Is there any way you can introduce light from the window? That way it would look like its being illuminated by the moon.

Similarly you could bring in a lamp and use that to give your camera the light it needs but still make it apparent that the room is dark.

Depending on how much they move and how up close you want your shot to be a long exposure could work. If you shined some light on them for part of the exposure they would pop out a bit more too and you'd be able to get rid of some of the motion.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:32 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by mdonley at 1:10 AM on May 31, 2012

I have quite a few photos of my kids sleeping, but they (like their mother) sleep like the dead. The flash never even caused them to stir. If your kids are sound sleepers like mine, the flash won't wake them.

That said... would it be so bad if they did wake up briefly? Photos of angelic sleeping children are priceless, and are well worth the hassle of getting them back to sleep again.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 1:19 AM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Unless they're moving constantly, I'd try that long exposure, combined with a little supplementary light. Plug in a desk lamp or something similar, pointed away from them, to give enough light so that you can use an exposure of less than a second. Take several photos with a tripod to increase the chance that you'll get one with a minimum of movement. It's just a matter of finding the right balance of light/exposure/ISO.

As others have said, a flash probably won't wake them - it's more a case of how you want the lighting to look. I'd probably want the photo to look like it was taken in low light, rather than the glare of a flash, although there are ways to mitigate that.
posted by pipeski at 1:40 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do they wake up before dawn? If they're still asleep at dawn, then set your alarm clock for ultra early and take the picture in natural light.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:12 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I do this all the time, either with flash or the lights. She never wakes. In fact we turn on the light every night when we check on her!
posted by dpx.mfx at 4:16 AM on May 31, 2012

I suggest getting them really tired: chase them around the backyard, run around the block, etc. so that they sleep soundly enough for you to take the picture with the light on.

Nice idea, but you'll probably fall asleep yourself and forget to take the photo ...
posted by carter at 4:28 AM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

We always trod pretty softly in my kids' rooms while they were sleeping, until one night when we were leaving for vacation the next morning and my husband couldn't find his wallet. In desperation, we turned on all of the lights, rummaged around in their rooms AND their beds, without them stirring at all. I'd think that if you introduced the light gradually, you could get a well-lit photo without disturbing them at all. (My daughter produced the wallet the next morning, which she had stashed -- for her own unknowable reasons -- in her pajama bottoms.)
posted by dreamphone at 4:39 AM on May 31, 2012 [9 favorites]

I suggest giving them a nightlight that plugs into the wall. If they're like most kids, they can fall asleep just fine with it on, and depending on what kind of nightlight you get (a cute glow worm!), it can add an even more adorable kind of whimsy to the photo. Also, single-light-source photos are really great.

A quick example from google here.
posted by cmchap at 6:08 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Take the photo. So what if they wake up? They lose what, an hour of sleep tops if they do wake up? But you get a nice snapshot of a time before they were sweaty and smelly and their feet were too big and all they say is, "huh? whatever."
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:47 AM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Maybe you could gradually introduce more light into the room, slowly enough so they don't notice and wake up, so that after twenty minutes or so there's enough light to take a picture? And then after you take the picture, you can remove/turn off the extra lights.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:35 AM on May 31, 2012

Use a flash.

Also, cup some white paper up over the flash-light and them, so the flash bounces upward toward your white (?) ceiling, and makes bounces back down. Practice where to put the paper on your own first. Nothing ruins a photo like a bad flash.

[ ]->/
posted by cmiller at 7:45 AM on May 31, 2012

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