I love babies. Not only my own (duh!) but just babies in general. When I first started my photography journey, I started photographing my own children and discovered a true passion for this art. Something in my heart ignited and I thought “This is it! I want to photograph babies and children!” What my blazed heart didn’t know, however, is that capturing these delicate creatures in a joyful and peaceful state is far harder than to just point the camera and shoot toward their cuteness. No, it takes even far more than head knowledge of posing, it takes patience, perseverance, an a stillness that can spew onto the baby and the parents.
Although this list is not exhaustive, (as I recognize I have still far more to learn!) here are a few points I have learned as a baby/newborn photographer.
- Home Vs. Studio
There are, like with everything, advantages and challenges with both of these options, and it is up to us, the creatives, to decide which one is best for us and our clients. For me, the best option as of right now is at home session with my clients. Why? well, from a practical standpoint, I am not prepared to mount on the enormous undertaking of having my own studio business, and not being able to do so at this moment did not limit me in any way on pursuing newborn photography. The results are very different, however, and truth be told I do prefer the lifestyle, more honest fashion of at home sessions. Also, it is oftentimes more convenient for my clients. Some of my moms are still recovering from a C-Sec and have very limited mobility, others just feel anxiety over getting their newborn and other children out the door to meet the scheduled time of the photoshoot.
One reason why people prefer newborn sessions in studio is lighting, but I have found that you can overcome this too with a bit of creativity. I usually schedule my appointments in the smack middle of the day when the sun is at its brightest and usually set my subject in front of a large window (I have found myself posing a newborn in the middle of a kitchen in front of the sliding patio doors) of course, try as hard as I may, the resulting pictures won’t ever be the exact same as those done in a studio, but they are still precious nonetheless.
Many parents have spent countless hours and a lot of money decorating their child’s nursery (specially first time parents!) and they want pictures captured in that space too. This is, of course, not possible at a studio.
2. Time constraints
I have none! Look, babies are going to be hungry, fussy, non-cooperative at times. The last thing I want is a mommy who is frazzled and stressed out because she just spent the past 45 minutes of our 2 hour session feeding and soothing her baby. It simply isn’t fair. I do not know how studio sessions manage time limitations (please contact me and let me know, I would love to learn!) but I usually only schedule one session for the morning and one in the afternoon, so I have plenty of time with each client. I have found, however, that on average each photo session takes about 3 – 3 1/2 hours, rarely ever lasting longer (unless I stay chatting with the parents, I do have the gift of gab!)
Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court. – Psalm 127:3-5
Logically, a studio would have all the props, chairs, wraps etc, needed for perfect newborn pictures, but it doesn’t mean that you have to make do without any props. I have a fair array of blankets, outfits, wraps, posing pillows and headbands stored in crates that I bring with me to every session (praise GOD for minivans!) as well as external soft light stands, a reflector and some diffusers in case the natural light is not optimal. I find that mommies have this one thing, like a treasured blanket, stuffed animal, favorite outfit or a family heirloom they want to include in the pictures too.
When I schedule my session, I let them know that I need a soft and safe surface to pose the baby in (we usually use a couch cushion if they are removable) and most often than not the family has already something soft to dub as a posing beanbag and tons of blankets and towels. Get creative! there’s a lot of things readily available at baby’s home to be used for your pictures! and like I mentioned above, using different rooms, like the nursery or the master bedroom are also good choices.
Now for this one you do have to do your own fair share of learning and practicing. I recommend either using a doll at first and then your own children (if you’re a parent). You have to ensure you know what you are doing and how to handle the baby in a safe way. I cannot stress enough how important safety is when handling a newborn. If you have never spent significant amount of time holding a newborn I would suggest getting in a ton of practice, and I mean really, A TON. Nothing will freak more a new parent than sensing that their photographer is super uncomfortable handling their baby.
When I am posing, or wrapping a newborn, I first want to ensure that they are super fast asleep. “Milk drunk” as we say, and then I take my sweeeeeeeeeeet time handling the baby. Really, I move at a slower-than-snail pace. Imagine doing Tai Chi or a slower version of Yoga when posing the baby. I use my breath to slow me down and calm the baby in the process. If the parents are Christian, I take this opportunity to pray over the family and praise for this baby out loud, and if they are not (or I do not know if they are) I do it under my breath. Any parent appreciates someone praising a Higher Being for their little miracle. If the baby is a bit fussy, I like to play white noise sounds in my phone (I really don’t know how this works on babies, but it DOES!) I find that practicing this prayer/breathing slowing down not only affects the baby, but it calms me down and so does the parents. The environment changes and it opens the opportunity for peaceful, more intimate images.
5. Prepare Yourself
There are a few things I practice before a newborn session:
- Do not use makeup/perfumes – Babies’ skins are delicate, and they are so brand new there is no way to know still if or what they are allergic to. I minimize these hazards when I handle a baby by simply not using anything that can be skin irritant to baby. Although I do not bring baby anywhere near my face (don’t kiss the baby!) sometimes makeup can rub off on blankets, or if I am holding baby upright near my shoulder, they can come in contact with some makeup.
- Wash all my props in baby detergent: Following the vein of the previous point, all fabrics that will come into contact with baby must be clean and free of any irritants. I do not use fabric softener and usually default to detergent formulated specifically for sensitive skin, or baby laundry detergent.
- Wash hands: When I leave my home, when I first come through the door, when I handle my lights etc wash, wash, wash your hands!
- Prayer/meditative time: One aspect of newborn photography that no one talks much is the parents! newborn parents, especially first time parents are overwhelmed, exhausted and sometimes stressed out. Some mommies may even start showing symptoms of PPD. When I walk into their home, I want to bring with me a breath of calmness and peace. I speak gently and softly (not whispering) but I want my presence to be a calming one, rather than a stressor. I have found that if I focus on my drive to pray, meditate, listen to calming music, I exude peace, and that is very, very welcomed.
6. Prepare The Family
It is very important that everything that is needed or that is expected is communicated beforehand. This will minimize stress and anxiety on the parents and will help you prepare better. A few tips I give parents before our session begins are:
- Communicate with me their desires/wants: I ask my parents before hand to look up newborn photography on the internet if they haven’t done so yet – like Pinterest- and let me know what vision they have, what are some poses/pictures they must have, and we’ll try to recreate it. If there’s this one online picture they really want to recreate, I let them know that we can create a close version of it, but it will never come “exactly” like that one, given that these are two totally different environments, artists, even babies! posing for that particular picture, and that is a GOOD THING. They want something uniquely theirs, uniquely their baby and their family.
- Heat it up baby!: I ask the parents to warm up their house a few hours before our session either by turning the AC off or turning up the heater. Doing so will help baby feel much more comfortable being naked (who likes to be naked in a cold room? and then expected to act calmly and peacefully?) We will all be sweating, but baby will be that much sleepier, and that’s what we want after all!
- Take care of food/naps before I arrive: We have to consider the older siblings too. Children also get cranky and hard to pose no matter how old they are. Ensuring that they have something in their bellies and are well rested will minimize struggles when taking their pictures. Also, I like to take all the sibling pictures first, in case someone gets too cranky, restless or uncooperative.
- Let them know they are my helpers: Sometimes parents just don’t know what role they will be playing in their baby’s pictures other than posing for some of them. I like to let them know ahead of time that they will be helping me either by helping me pose the baby, hold the background blankets, praying over the baby themselves (best daddy and me pictures!), holding the reflector, etc. Believe me, the parents appreciate being actively involved, and not lost and confused not knowing what to do.
7. Post Editing
Now there isn’t a one rule editing for all newborn photography, and each creative can put their own fingerprint when it comes to post production. A good idea however is to ensure that the skin looks smooth and even (babies’ skin can be blotchy, peeling or jaundice) and blankets are smooth without casting harsh shadows onto baby. I have a few favorite Lightroom presets that I use, as well as basic Photoshopping like the clone tool and blend tool. Take good care of the WB, as this affect the overall look of baby’s skin, but after that, it is up to you and your own personal style. The parents hired you because they liked your work, so stick with it and have fun!