How to Make a Photo of a Bouncing Baby

An earlier post here on PetaPixel showcased a wonderful image of a flock of cell phones and the method used to create it. In a rather snarky comment, I said to get back to me when they started tossing babies, and linked to my daughter merrily jumping in her crib with her toys. Mike was kind enough to approach me about writing up a small walk-through on how I created my image, and who can honestly turn down a chance to show off their baby daughter looking so cute?


I had this image in my head for quite some time before I actually got a chance to shoot it. It was the result of two things mainly:

  1. A desire to practice post processing images for compositing.
  2. A desire to buy a tripod.

My wife let me buy a tripod (for other long-exposure experiments including light painting), but only because I justified it with “a neat idea” for a picture with our daughter (the “I have a great idea for a photo of our daughter, but it will require me to buy more camera gear” defense).

My desire to attempt this shot was born out of how cute I think my daughter is, and her personality is almost always explosively positive and joyful. So in my head I was imagining her just bursting with happiness so much that she literally would be jumping right off her crib. It only logically follows that if she was jumping out of that crib, her stuffed animals would be as well!


I only had a rudimentary vision of what I wanted the final image to look like, but it was enough to nail down the overall idea. In thinking about framing up the image, I liked the idea of her crib being squared up straight on in the image. I wanted the focus to be on her and her animals, and didn’t want anything else detracting from that.

I set up my tripod and camera (Oly E-P1 w/ 17mm f/2.8) in her room and framed up my shots. I had a DIY softbox for my flash precariously balanced on the bureau off screen to the right (wirelessly triggered), and a large window directly behind the camera lighting the scene.

To start things off I needed a single image of the scene without any of the flying objects in it. This image would be the base I would use to later mask out anything I didn’t want (namely, me holding her). I used a spare outtake shot of one of the stuffed animals that was nowhere near my scene as my base.

Next set of images were of me holding her over her crib in various positions. Luckily she’s a really good sport about it, and a lot of tickling and kisses between takes didn’t hurt (hint: most models do not take kindly to this, use caution). Multiple takes were done in order to have the highest chance of a good image of her, and to give me multiple textures to use in post later to assist in masking me out of the image. The trick is to pre-visualize what level of work will be required in post, and to accommodate that when shooting. For instance, I knew it would be a pain to clean up the edges around her clothing where I was holding her later, so I tried to minimize my hands and arms obscuring her too much.

The rest of the images were quite easy – throw stuffed animal into frame, and fire! Rinse, repeat as necessary (again, multiple shots really pays off here – each animal probably had about 8 or so images made). The trick to making life easier in post is to make sure that the lighting and exposure is controlled to be as consistent as possible between shots – you really want everything lit with a consistent power and direction.

Post Processing

This is really where the vision begins to come together for me. I’ll usually fire up my image editor (GIMP in my case, PS for those of you with a little extra cash), and set my first image of just the background environment as my base layer.

This first image with nothing on it becomes the background against which I will begin masking out objects I do not want from subsequent layers. I loaded up each of my other shots as layers in the image to get a rough idea of placement within the scene (some stuffed animals would overlap each other in some shots – I picked through all the images until I found ones that I liked).

Then I start working on removing myself from the image. With an environment background this is relatively quick to add a layer mask in GIMP and paint over myself on the image to show the base image through in a big, rough way (the only place I slowed down was nearing the edges). Hover your mouse over this image for a comparison:

The devil is in the details, they say, and nowhere is this more apparent than when trying to make a clean edge mask from a background. There really is no quick and easy shortcut to getting good results here – a small radius brush and patience is your friend. Too hard a brush and the edge looks fake immediately, too soft a touch and the edge looks fuzzy and fake immediately. Somewhere in between is a happy medium, and that’s what I was aiming for.

Luckily, I remembered to take multiple shots, so in places where the edges were not cleaning up as well as I would have liked I “borrowed” portions of the other shots to make the edge cleaner (the side of her body by the bib is from another shot, as is her sleeve). When working on edges like this it really does pay off to have multiple takes to draw from!

Once I had blocked myself out of the image, I continued the process by adding layer masks to each of the stuffed animals, and painting them back into the visible image (by modifying the layer masks). No overlapping animals made this a bit easier, but you’ll notice that something key is missing from this version of the image.

Shadows! That whole devil and details thing again. The trick now was only to create some fake shadows for Beverly and her animals that didn’t have shadows (the doll at top left already had one). Hover over the image to compare:

The shadows are key in lending a sense of realism to the final product. They were made by simply approximating the shape of the shadow, filling with an appropriate shadow color (sampled from other shadows on the back wall), and blurring to taste. After that I just adjusted opacity by eye until it all seemed reasonably well blended.

Overall I was happy with how this image turned out, and it really was fun creating it (despite what looks like a lot of tedious work). I’ve since done others along a similar vein, but this first one still makes me smile when I look at it…

About the author: Pat David is a Director of R&D by day, and an amateur photographer by night (and some weekends). You can find him writing up GIMP tutorials and other errata on his blog, or peruse more of his photography experiments on his Flickr page.

  • Mitchell Camps

    That’s awesome! Love the photo

  • Raymond Wong

    Great tutorial. I had no idea Gimp had the much power. I really should start learning compositing.

  • Sadisticbuttrue

    Great tutorial but a lot of effort.

    My tutorial for this effect.
    Step 1 Bounce Baby
    Step 2 – 4 Go to hospital and get baby stitched, wait until it is old enough and explain the photo above was why it was a scar on his forehead 

  • Mead

    Just an FYI- To make masking easier next time wear a brightly colored clothing that stands out from the background colors, it will make masking so much easier and if you do have PS then you can color sample select the color of your clothing to erase….

  • 8fps

    Listen, photoshopping is NOT photography!

  • Anonymous

    and being a turd on a forum isn’t either.

    this was a photo shop tutorial that was requested, you didn’t have to look at it, nor was it expected for you to give it the stamp of approval.

  • Mbridges13

    You still have to think of the concept. Take the photos. Then composite them. Yes, still photography. They use to do this before photoshop in the labs. 

  • barbara showell

    Editing IS an art in itself- whether it’s done on crappy pics or good photographs, or from no camera image at all!  And I love this, and the base photography is crisp and well composed.  I’m glad you got your tripod and hope Santa is good to you this year.  Your kid is going to love these when she is grown.

  • Pat David

    Thank you all for the kind comments!  I certainly appreciate them!

    Sadisticbuttrue – You should see some of the outtake photos!  (There is one where I tried to balance her on one hand, and she decided it was a good time to dive forward where I luckily had a hand waiting between her and the crib rail…)

    @f3b79716488d364da76e458e34030f46:disqus – True, but sometimes photography could use a little photoshopping (I refer you to the current most expensive photograph in the world ala Andreas Gursky).

    @twitter-391045132:disqus Thank you!  I really do hope that these are fun photos for her to laugh at much later in life… (It’s her show, really. I’m just lucky to be around to push the button.)

  • Dave

    It isn’t for narrow minded people who lack creativity. Since the beginning of photography, post production has ALWAYS been a part of the process. This includes darkroom work where image density is changed, dodging, burning, masking, filter effects, objects are removed or added, toning effects that are different from the original scene are used at the ARTISTS discretion. If you are using photography as a creative medium, then no little self righteous twerp can tell you what the limits are or which mediums you are ALLOWED to use. Ansel Adams would bitch-slap you for your comment.

  • Shannon Rosan

    This is absolutely adorable! Love the concept and execution!

  • Becky

    This is seriously, seriously AMAZING and adorable and just fun, fun, fun.  I would get this in a huge canvas gallery wrap and display it very proudly in my house – it will be a conversation piece for decades.  For the person who said this isn’t photography, WOW – this is the essence of photography – starting with an artistic vision and using photography to achieve that vision.  People use the phrase “making an image” too lightly, but you truly MADE an image here.  LOVE it!!!!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Ohh man, this gives me so many ideas, thank you Pat! This is truly amazing and the end result really does make up for the time spent in PS :) Thank you!

  • sophiegrapher

    awesome!!! :)

  • raxtah

     best photographers are best photo editors.. maybe you have to attend photography workshops and do some research about best photographers..

  • Amitbhawnani

    Awesome picture… I had managed to do something similar myself

  • Amitbhawnani

    Posted picture

  • Sabina Lorkin

    Brilliant! Love the subject but also the tutorial on how to achieve it. Thanks

  • Seanmorr

    here’s one I tried or my daughters 6-month birthday :)

  • Patriot

     Little bitches taking shots of flowers and other inanimate object in black and white with a camera their mommy bought them is not being a photographer but you still pretend you are.

  • Meagan

    I had the same initial response, but if you follow her link back, the cell phone photo is obviously a photoshop job too. This is a photoshop tutorial, not a photography tutorial. I agree that photoshop is not photography, but that doesn’t mean photoshop isn’t art, and they are obviously RELATED mediums, even if not precisely the same.

  • Anastacia Spada

    That is so cute! Time well spent, I think

  • Krystal Maye

    super cool and to the lemons your lame 

  • H.

    Poor man… Whithout creativity…8fps is not a photography is a movie…

  • Kyle valencia

    Great Blog!
    Here is my attempt at making my two year old “fly”

  • alexmichaelphotography
  • Rebecca Nixon

    cute, but the shadows look uber fake. Need softening. :)

  • alexmichaelphotography

    actually some of the shadows are real, but thanks for the feedback.

  • baby gifts

    Wow! This is way too adorable! Thanks for the tutorial! I definitely love it.

  • Mommyopal

    So much fun! I tried this today with my daughter. Here’s my result!
    (just so it’s known, I’m not a photographer and am just learning how to use my camera)

  • Niac180

    I use to do it also, but to be sure to not have a single finger to delete, i literaly throw my son in the air

  • Sheri Peterson

    So fun! Your baby girl is adorable, and this will be such a fun picture for her to have when she gets old enough to appreciate it! Thank you for sharing your secrets. :)

  • Darren Hundt

    Loved this tutorial/project. Lot of fun.