The science of baby babble was the focus of this shoot for Discover Magazine. My assistant and I drove up to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to illustrate the research work of Laura-Ann Petitto, a cognitive neuroscientist using a technique commonly known (ok, not commonly known) as near-infrared spectroscopy to learn about the speech development of infants.
We had to photograph a baby with the near-infrared spectroscopy apparatus on his or her head. Not only did the contraption look like it hurt (which it didn’t),but it also kind of looked like Hollywood’s idea of a science experiment, which of course is a good thing for a photographer.
We hung up a yellow backdrop in a cramped little room and started playing with the light. I had never used a ringflash before this shoot but I had a hunch it might be the right light for the job. We tried a few different things, but the ringlight by itself looked best. We had a few babies there in case one (or two) went cranky on us.
I’m not sure anymore if I shot with an 80 mm or an 150 mm lens on a Rolleiflex 6003 but in any case, I (and the ringflash) were very close to the baby’s face. To make sure the conditions were sufficiently child safe, I looked straight into the ringlight and gave it a pop. After going blind for a few seconds I kept seeing green and magenta circles for pretty much the rest of the day. After that I decided to shoot only profiles and semi profiles of the babe.
Of course toward the end of the shoot the kid, with the lightning quick movements of a ninja, turned his head and looked straight into the light just as I pressed the shutter. A look of surprise, followed by 7 or 8 rapid blinks. Oh boy, I thought here come the waterworks and the scolding look from mother. But to my surprise, a nice, big, fat grin came over the little face, which in turn led me to believe that, during my time at Dartmouth I developed a near scientific test to predict which infants will grow up to become teenage potheads.
To read the article by Mary Duenwald.