Buried deep in my parents’ basement are boxes of slides with pictures of my siblings and I, when we were kids, all taken with my dad’s Minolta DSLR that has long since been lost to the ages. I have a few scans of those early photos but most of them won’t see the light of day anytime soon. Thus the images that marked the passage of time for me, my sister, and my three brothers are few and far between.
This picture taken with a pocket camera and the fabric was purchased at a thrift store.
Thankfully modern technology and the prevalence of digital cameras means babies born today will likely have no shortage of images to mark their early years. One of the most common methods of documenting milestones is to take pictures at weekly or monthly intervals. Often these are augmented with some type of decoration or adornment to indicate the passage of time (e.g. a small chalkboard, a giant sticker on the kid’s tummy, or a number stamped in the corner of the picture).
There is an incredibly easy, fun, and highly effective way to do this in Photoshop. It only takes a few minutes and produces great results, even if you have never used this program before you should be able to figure it out.
Preparing for the photo shoot
My wife and I got this idea after reading a post on the popular do-it-yourself blog Young House Love but have tweaked it to fit our style. To get started you will need a few things, many of which you probably already own:
- Fabric with big colorful prints; Finer-detailed prints are okay, but the bigger and more prominent the pattern, the better it will look when paired with your baby. Don’t spend much money on these since you’ll need a lot if you do a different fabric each week. Pro tip, let the grandparents know you’re in need of fabric. Ours were thrilled to go shopping at thrift stores and send us what they found.
- White onesies; A t-shirt works better after the first year, but until that time onesies are best because they stretch nice and even across the baby’s body leaving you with fewer wrinkles to contend with in the post-processing phase.
- Blue painter’s tape; Used to hold the fabric down to the ground.
- A big window; Or a glass door, or another similar surface to let in a lot of light.
- A step stool; so you can get a higher angle.
- Tape to hold the fabric in place; Blue painter’s tape will work but I like to use Gaffer’s tape (I recommend this brand which is stronger and leaves no residue on the carpet when you pull it off.)
- A reflector; We didn’t buy one of these until well into our second child and it’s amazing how much a reflector helps get nice even lighting.
It doesn’t take much to prepare for this type of photo shoot.
The process works best with two people; one to take pictures and someone else to do multiple jobs like hold the reflector, smooth the blanket, and soothe the baby. Position your child with his or her feet near the light source (i.e. giant window or glass door) and have your helper hold the reflector by the baby’s head to bounce light back. Then get up on the stepstool and start taking pictures! Babies wriggle and squirm around a lot so don’t worry about quantity. It’s better to have too many good ones than to have to redo everything because you only took three shots and the baby was frowning in all of them.
After your pictures are done it’s time to head to Photoshop where the real fun begins. You will need two fonts: Fyra for the numbers and one that you want to use for the letters. I like Fertigo Pro, but almost anything will work, it’s largely a matter of personal taste here.
Open your photo in Photoshop and it will appear as the background layer. You can leave it as is unless you plan to do any editing such as color adjustments or retouching, though my advice is to keep it simple and avoid all that if possible. You’ve got a newborn and you can’t spend hours editing your photos every single week when there are diapers to change and clothes to wash!
Add the text
Click the “T” button in the tool palette to activate the Text Tool, then click anywhere in the picture to create a new text layer. Use the Fyra font and type a letter which will show up as a big circular number – perfect for marking the weeks or months of time that have passed.
Use the toolbar at the top of your screen to adjust the size of the number, and if you don’t get it perfect you can always change it later using the Transform Tool. Press [enter] to lock in the number, then repeat most of the process for “weeks” by clicking the Text tool, selecting a font, clicking on your baby, and typing the label (weeks, months, etc.) you want.
At this point your picture might look like something the neighbor kid made in Microsoft Paint, but you’re just getting started. The finished version will look much better thanks to the magic of Photoshop.
Resize and warp the text
The next step is to customize the size and position of each of the elements. Using the Layers palette select the layer with a single letter, which is actually the number in the picture, and choose “Edit > Transform”. You can now reposition the number where you want it, and resize it by clicking and dragging on one of the corners. Hold down the [shift] key while doing this to maintain the proportions (shape) of the number or else your finished product will look all stretched out. You can even rotate the number by hovering your cursor near one corner until it turns into a cornered arrow and then click and drag.
Repeat the same process for the word you’ve used then with that layer still selected, click the Text tool in your toolbar and manually select the word (in this case “weeks”) itself. Then choose; Layer > Type > Warp Text… and add an Arch style. (You can also click the “Warp Text” toolbar button to do the same thing, see red arrow below.)
I like to use just a couple of degrees here, which helps the text simulate a more natural curve that you might see if it were printed across the white onesie directly. Usually, +5 gets the job done just fine.
After that, the next step is to change the color of the text so it complements the fabric on which your baby is laying. Use the Text tool to select either the number or the word (weeks) then click the black box next to the Warp Text button to change the color of the text.
Use the eyedropper to select a color from the fabric and tweak as necessary. you will also see the color of your text or number, whichever is selected, change as you try out different options. When you find one you like you can click the “OK” button to lock it in place.
But, before you do that select the six letters and numbers in the # box at the bottom and press [ctrl+c] to copy it. This is the hex code that tells your computer what color is in use, and you will use it again in the next step.
Repeat the same process for the other layer of text. To get the same color you can either hover the eyedropper over the newly-colored text on the picture or paste the color code (6-digits you copied) into the box at the bottom. When you are finished you will have an image that is close to the final product, but you’re not quite done yet.
Two final editing steps remain before your image is done, the first involves blend modes. These have to do with the way in which layers work together and how one layer’s color can be altered based on how it is combined with the layer below.
Use the Layers palette to highlight a text layer and change its blend mode to “multiply” with an opacity of 75%. This will allow some of the texture of the white onesie to show through, and make the text seem like it naturally printed on the fabric instead of just pasted on afterward in a computer program.
At this point, you may be thinking about using the eraser tool to fix parts of your image where the baby’s hands obscure the number or text. But trust me, this is not what you want to do!
Photoshop has a fantastic feature called layer masks that let you hide (erase) parts of a layer and even recover (show) them again later if you erase too much. In the example above, you will note that the baby’s arm should be covering up the 20, so the solution is to use a layer mask to remove (hide) that portion of the 20.
Click the text layer that you want to edit then choose “Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All”. Now you will see a white box next to the layer that you can use to show and hide different parts of the layer itself. When you add anything dark to this layer mask it will erase (hide) that part of the layer, and when you add anything white to the mask it will show that part of the layer. This is an incredibly useful feature in Photoshop that you can use in all sorts of ways to edit your images, not just snapshots of your baby with milestone stickers.
Click the brush tool and start painting over the portion of the layer mask you want to erase, but keep one finger on the “x” key of your keyboard to switch between erasing mode and adding mode. If you accidentally brush over something that you want to keep, press “x” and add it back by painting it back in white! Then press “x” again to go back to deleting (painting with black).
Press the “z” key to zoom in on your image (and option-z to zoom out) and then “b” to go back to the brush tool. After a few strokes of your brush, your image is ready to share with family and friends!
When to stop
Right here is where I like to stop because the image is, as I like to say, good enough. There are some imperfections that could be cleaned up like using a displacement map to alter “weeks” so it follows all the contours and folds of the fabric, but I have found that these are just not worth my time. To be honest, most people won’t even notice.
You can easily spend hours using warp transforms, color tweaking, and spot removal to get each picture looking pixel-perfect and ready to print in Baby Cosmopolitan. But parents of newborns have to find a balance between time spent on the computer and time spent with their families.
After 52 weeks of doing pictures we used a slightly different setup and reduced our images to once a month with our child standing or sitting instead of lying down.
If you have an infant or are expecting one, pictures like this are a fantastic way to mark the passage of time. My wife and I did shots like these with our two boys every week for the first year of their lives, and then every month until they turned two.
At the time it seemed like a huge hassle to get out the fabric, put a white onesie on, and try to soothe a fussy infant long enough to snap a few pictures every single week. Looking back through them we are so glad we did. When shown in an album side by side these images provide a priceless way of seeing how our kids both grew so much during those early times of their lives.
If you have a small baby and give this a try, please share your images and/or questions in the comments area below.
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