Milk Bath Photography: A How To Guide For Beginners

Welcome to Milk Bath Photography: A How To Guide For Beginners. Photographing a subject in a container full of water and milk is known as milk bath photography. It is a sub-genre of portrait photography. The style was thrust into the limelight by Annie Leibovitz when she shot Whoopi Goldberg in the iconic style in 2008. Since then, the method has continued to grow in popularity. So much so that many amateur smartphone snappers will have a post hidden somewhere in their social media feeds when they decided to join in on the trend.

Unfortunately, many photographers will not have taken the time to properly research and understand the elements required to shoot milk bath photoshoots. Meaning a lot of photography from the genre is relatively poor. Fortunately for those reading this, you have taken the first step to increase the quality of your milk bath photographs. Hopefully, you will take away enough information from this article to help your images stand out above the rest.

Face - Milk Bath Photography

1. Who Uses Milk Bath Photography?

There are no rules as who can and can’t use the style of photography. However, commercially, for the most part, it does seem to be used by pregnancy and newborn photographers. Likely because in the west, white communicates Purity, cleanliness, and innocence. Themes that represents a baby or the new life to be perfect. In the east, however, white is linked to death and sadness. Understanding your audience is always something to take into account when planning a shoot.

Despite being used by newborn and pregnant photographers, milk bath photography is suitable for a wide variety of styles. The only thing holding you back here is your creativity. The milk creates a blank canvas in the frame, where you can include any models or props you wish.

2. Camera Equipment For Milk Bath Photography

2.1. Camera

The camera you choose to use is at your discretion. If you plan to use the images on your social media and not for print, shooting on a smartphone will most likely do the job, especially if the scene is well lit. However, the more light and detail you can capture, the better. So using something with a larger sensor and more megapixels will help increase the image quality. Lastly, if you can record the photographs in a RAW format, do so. Capturing RAW images gives you far more information and will yield significantly better results in post-processing.

2.2. Camera Strap

One could argue that a good camera strap is essential for all kinds of photography. No matter what you’re shooting, nothing beats the peace of mind of knowing your camera is securely attached. And this is no less true for scenarios when one finds themselves shooting over water. Accidents do happen. It would be a tragedy for someone to lose their camera to water damage while shooting milk bath photography. Be sensible, tie the camera to your wrist, or wear a neck strap.

2.3. Camera Lens

If you are a beginner, as presumably, most people reading this are, you may not have access to a wide range of lenses. Or any at all, for that matter. If this is the case, then don’t worry too much. Yes, most portrait photography benefits from fast prime lenses that can open their aperture as wide as f.1. However, if you shoot face down into the bath, then this low aperture is unnecessary. As mentioned, one would still achieve quality results even if they used their smartphone for the shoot.

However, there are benefits to using fast prime lenses with low apertures. Such as the lenses capturing more light, thus reducing the ISO and boosting image quality.

The ideal focal length to use will be around the 35-50-80mm mark on a full-frame. Anything lower than this could warp the face in a fisheye effect if used too close to the subject. And anything over this would zoom in too much to capture the subject and bathtub in its glory.

2.4. Flashgun

Depending on the style you are trying to achieve and the environment you are shooting in, a flashgun could be an option. If there is no natural or artificial white light, then a flash will be your best option. On the other hand, a flashgun may offer the exact effect you are after.

If you decide to use a flash, be prepared for some bright reflections in the water. To negate this, either take the photo directly over the models face or body to hide it or shoot from the side.

Crossed arms - Milk Bath Photography

3. Props For Milk Bath Photography

3.1. Bath/Bathroom

For some, they may have no options when it comes to choosing the bath for their shoot. If this is the case, then you’ll have to make do. Overcoming these sorts of challenges can, in the long run, make you a better photographer. On the other hand, photographers with options will want to look for particular features.

The first thing you need to do is choose a white bathtub. Luckily most bathtubs are white these days. Secondly, you will want to use a bath in a bathroom with lots of natural light. Thirdly, in this case, bigger is better. Some bathtubs are tiny, and these will simply not do a milk bath scene justice. It is nice to have your subject encompassed by negative space. Thirdly, if you are going to be using artificial lighting, such as soft boxes, you will want to have enough space in the room to use them. To be able to place on either side of the bath would be the ideal scenario. However, these freestanding baths in the centre of a room are only likely to exist in hotels.

3.2. Milk

To make a milk bath shoot happen, you are going to need milk. The brand you choose will have no impact, and the level of skimmed won’t have too much impact either. Although you would be better of using full-fat as this is the thickest. It is always best to take into account the needs of the model you will be shooting. Are they Vegan? If so, then pouring them a nice bath of cows milk isn’t going to be the best idea. Fortunately, there are vegan milk alternatives that will work well also.

3.3. Flowers

Flowers make great props for milk bath photography. For those photographers using this for their newborn or pregnancy shoots, using flowers can help signify life and growth through their organic and vibrant forms. Flowers are also great at enhancing the beauty of a models appearance simply through association. On the other hand, if you have a somewhat traditionally ugly model, then flowers can create contrast in your images.

3.4. Fruit

Fruit is another prop to consider when planning a milk bath photography shoot. Used whole or if sliced into segments, it can add colour, texture and a visual sense of flavour to the images. When used in conjunction with flowers, they strengthen the theme of nature and growth. Make sure when choosing your fruit you pay special attention to colour theory and understand the effect the fruit will give to your image. Red, for example, will communicate things like rage and passion. Something not suitable for a newborn shoot. Furthermore, choosing colours that are not complementary such as orange and red, will leave you with unappealing images. Conduct your homework on colour theory and use it to your advantage.

3.5. Food Dye

Using food colouring is a great way to alter the colour of a milk bath. It can, of course, be without milk. However, if this is the case, then the water will be entirely transparent, exposing everything. By using a combination of milk and food dye, you can change the colour while still holding onto the opaqueness of the water. Food dye is a great way to change the standard milk bath shot, putting a more individual mark on it. When used correctly with colour theory for desired effects, it can enhance photographs extensively.

3.6. Clothing

Unless you’re shooting a partner, very close friend, or professional model, the chances of having them pose naked for you will be slim. And while the naked form can enhance this photography in some aspects, it is not essential. As long as clothing is chosen that matches the aesthetic of the scene, it can strengthen it. If the outfit does not conform to the composition, then it will ultimately ruin it. If the model has no suitable dress, you can still capture stunning headshots.

3.7. Get Creative

These are just a few recommendations on what to think about using in your milk bath photography shoot. There are no rules as to what you can and cant use. Just be sensible and have the health and safety of your model in mind at all times.

Model - Milk Bath Photography

4. How To Set Up A Milk Bath Photoshoot

4.1. Lighting

Spend some time in the space and understand how you will use the lighting in that environment. If natural light is coming through a window, understand exactly how it enters the room and where it falls. Is it going to make one side of the model face considerably darker than the other? Can this be negated by using a reflector to bounce the light into the dark side of their face? How harsh is the light through the window? Does it need diffusing?

If you are unfortunate enough to have no natural light, you will need to use some kind of artificial lighting accessories such as a soft box or flashgun. The bathrooms ceiling light will not render adequate results for you. Lighting is so important in photography. If it is not present, you will be better planning another shoot instead.

4.2. Run The Bath

Once the lighting has been understood and set up, it’s time to run the bath. If your model is with you during this time, it will be better to let them run it for themselves so they can raise it to a temperature they feel comfortable with. Handing control to the model in this fashion will also help them feel more in control of the situation. And in turn help, the photographs appear more relaxed and genuine. It will also help raise the level of cooperation.

4.3. Add Milk

The amount you need will vary depending on the level of water used and the level of opaqueness you desire. It is also a good idea to wait until the water has stopped running. Pouring in the milk too soon will cause it to bubble. And the time needed to wait for the bubbles to settle will take longer.

4.4. Add The Model

The next step is to add the model to the scene by having them enter the bath. But before you get going, it is best to make sure they are comfortable with everything so far. Remember that building this trust and rapport between you and your subject is essential. Always strive to make them feel comfortable and in control. It is also good to remind them just how incredible their photographs are going to look.

Once the model has entered the bath, begin asking them to assume the correct positions for whatever pose you have first in mind for them. And if you do not intend on using any props, this is the time to get into the shoot.

4.5. Add The Props

The last thing on the list is adding your chosen props to the scene. If shooting multiple props, it is best to take some time to properly plan what to use first, second, third and so on. For example, if you had cereal and flowers you wanted to use, it is better to use the flowers first (as long as they are clean). The breakfast may come apart and be harder to pick out and discolour the white milk. Spending a little time planning always helps avoid mistakes and keeps things cheaper in the long run.

Covering breasts - Milk Bath Photography

5. How To Shoot Milk Bath Photography

5.1. Camera Settings

There are no universal camera settings for milk bath photography. The ones you use will first be affected by the amount of light you have in the scene. If you are shooting your subjects face close to the water, then creating a shallow depth of field with a low aperture is not vital. Although still advisable to gather as much light as possible. Furthermore, if you are working with a model that is not making any movements and staying still, the shutter speed can remain low.

Understanding all the variables and how they affect the camera settings will inevitably come with experience. But for now, try using your cameras aperture priority mode. If you notice the shutter speed fall below 125, begin to bump up the ISO in manual mode until you find a good balance. Furthermore, the camera will most likely underexpose the photograph due to the level of white in the shot. To combat this, make sure to alter the exposure compensation if necessary.

5.2. Utilise Negative Space

The negative space in milk bath photography is what makes it so unique. The cloudy, dream-like negative vacuum surrounding the model makes it seem like their features are rising through the composition. Depending on how you compose your photographs, this effect can be lost. Often the best milk bath photography organises a shot entirely of milk with no bath in the frame. Doing this allows the subject to float in space without reference to objects based in reality.

5.3. Create Contrast

Contrast is a powerful tool in all creative fields. Especially in photography. To create contrast in photography, use elements from a category but at opposing ends. For example, if a photographer chose the category age, they could put a child and senior together to create contrast in an image. Contrast also works in colour theory by using opposing sides of a colour wheel.

5.4. Use Colour Theory

Colour theory is something every visual creator needs to know. If you do not understand it, then learn it ASAP. Colour theory is vital because it helps people utilise colour to help communicate a message to the viewer, help capture their attention, create certain feelings and so on. Furthermore, without fully comprehending colour theory, it will be impossible to develop harmonious and appealing images.

5.6. Use Complimentary Elements

Using complementary elements means thinking through what you put in the bath. If you were to go to your cupboards a pull out five things at random to eat, chances are they won’t make a great meal. It’s the same for choosing props. To find a recipe that works and creates something visually appealing, special attention is needed to create something tasteful.

Depending on what style you are aiming for, the props and colours you decide to use will vary. Making them fit a theme should always be the number one priority. Using pastel colours is often a good idea to fit in with the white of the bath. Sticking to natural elements such as leaves, flowers, and fruit is also a good idea. Or, if you prefer, a mix of cereal and other breakfast items could work. Just don’t mix the two.

Holding head surrounded by apples

6. Managing The Model In A Milk Bath Photoshoot

6.1. Be Professional At All Times

For those not used to having their photograph taken, the entire experience of laying in a bath for a shoot can leave them feeling very vulnerable. To help the model feel more at ease, it comforts them to see you are entirely professional in all of your actions and understand what you are doing. That confidence will then pass to your model and ultimately leave you both with a better experience and better photographs.

6.2. Share your Plans And Concepts Before the Shoot

When a model sees that you have thought things through and made a plan, they will feel more at ease that they are in the hands of a professional. To do this, you can use any formatting you like, such as a notebook or tablet. Just don’t use an old piece of paper with coffee rings on it. Knowing what they are in for will also help them feel more at ease as they are not entirely in the dark about what will be happening.

6.3. Share Your Images As You Go

Remember that the models have little to no idea how their actions, expressions and features appear on the camera. What could be working in their minds could not be working in the composition at all. So throughout the shoot, take the time to share the photographs you have taken. Furthermore, this is an opportunity to take the time to explain what is working and what isn’t.

6.4. Encourage And Support Your Model

Encouraging and supporting a model is a basic necessity when shooting any style. Always let them know they are doing a fantastic job and that the images are looking great. Although, if they are not, don’t become frustrated with the model. If the problem persists, stop and share what is going wrong and what they can do to improve the results you are trying to achieve.

Developing the habit of peering out from behind your camera is also good to cultivate, so the model has the opportunity to feel the human connection. And not spend all of their time staring into a lifeless camera lens.

6.5. How To Pose Your Model

If you don’t already know how to pose a model for photography, it is worth spending time to understand properly. Having a greater sense of how to pose your models will improve your photography in multiple styles.

Once you have spent some time understanding poses and posture, start a list of what you would like in the plan. These can be hand-drawn in a sketchbook or even saved on a pinboard on Pinterest. Whatever you do, make sure you have at least five poses you would like to achieve in the shoot before you start.

6.6. Show Gratitude

Always show gratitude to the model at every stage, even if the model is getting paid. This simple thing can have a substantial impact on the images and the overall experience. If you have made the model feel comfortable, they will be more likely to work with you in the future.

Floating head with apples

7. Health And Safety For Milk Bath Photography

7.1. Keep The area Dry

To make sure you and the model are not in danger of slipping, make sure the area is kept dry at all times. Keeping towels laid on the bathroom floor will be a good idea. But only if they don’t risk entering a composition. Reducing the level of water in the area will also be beneficial if using electricity.

7.2. Electrical Items

While shooting close to a bath, it is always best to use battery-powered lights, opposed to mains operated elements. If you decide to use them, make sure you use an extension cable with a surge protector. So it will cut out if there is a surge. Make sure any connections are made as far away from the bath as possible. Outside of the bathroom will be best. If you are using a light box, make sure it is placed well away from the tub and does not pose any risk of being accidentally knocked in.

Hunched in bath tub

8. How To Post Process Your Milk Bath Photographs

After you have completed the milk photography bath shoot and are back at the studio (AKA the computer), it’s time to begin editing your images. If you don’t already have a photo editor, then it is highly recommended you download one. Most camera manufacturers release editing software to accompany their systems. The functionality varies between brands. However, most are capable of performing edits well and should be able to achieve good results.

However, you do not have access to brand editing software for any reason, do not worry. There are tons of free editing tools you can download and use online. Without the use of editing software, your photographs will not achieve their full potential.

8.1. Cropping, Straightening, Geometry

The first step in any editing process is to crop and straighten your image. It is crucial because it will remove any unwanted areas of the composition and enhance the subject. When shooting your photographs, it is always best practice to leave some room for cropping rather than trying to capture the frame perfectly. If you have straight lines in your compositions, such as the sides of bathtubs, it will help straighten your image to increase the symmetry. Furthermore, if you use editing software that can correct geometry, it could be worthwhile doing so.

8.2. Cloning

The next advisable step to take is to use the clone stamp tool to remove any unwanted elements in your photographs. Things like reflections, stems, things cropped by the edge of the frame, smeared makeup are all things to look out for when deciding what to cut. If you are new to using the tool, it can be arduous to master it at the start. Take your time and experiment with different sizes, strengths and feathering. The technique will come just be patient.

8.3. White Balance

Making sure the white balance is correct in the image will help exaggerate the pureness and calm in your photographs. Depending on the lighting conditions you conducted the shoot, you may find that the shot is either too warm (yellow) or too cool (blue).

9. Conclusion

Conducting a milk bath shoot can be incredibly fun and rewarding. And is a fantastic way to get more creative in your photography. The best part is that it is easy and inexpensive to shoot. Assuming you don’t require an entire shelf worth of flowers.

So the next time you have an hour or so, and you have found a willing model. Why not plan a milk bath shoot? If you use the advice in this article, you will undoubtedly have some stunning new images to add to your portfolio!

Hopefully, you have found the information here practical. If anything is missing, then please let us know in the comments section below!

David Davis
David Davis
Hi, My name is Dave, and I am passionate about photography. I am currently travelling to document the world's most interesting people and places. I have started this blog to share these incredible sights and experiences with you, including all the knowledge I gain as a photographer/videographer along the way. If you share a passion for street, documentary, and travel photography, join the mailing list and stay up to date with the latest posts and resources direct from the field.

Similar Articles



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Most Popular