I love babies.
Not only my own 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 just pointing the camera and shooting toward their cuteness.
And boy are they cute!
No, it takes even far more than head knowledge of posing.
It takes patience, perseverance, and a contagious stillness that can calm nervous babies and parents alike.
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. Sprinkled in are more pictures of baby Marlow!
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 the home. From a practical standpoint I am not prepared to take on the enormous undertaking of having my own studio business. Thankfully, this has not limited me in any way in pursuing newborn photography. The results are very different, however, and truth be told I do prefer the more honest fashion of at home sessions.
Home is also often 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 this too can be overcome with a bit of creativity.
I usually schedule my appointments smack in the 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 (especially first-time parents!), and they want pictures captured in that space too. This personalized and unique touch, of course, is not possible at a studio.
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 two-hour session feeding and soothing her baby. It simply isn’t fair. I don’t 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 three to three-and-a-half hours, rarely 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 that doesn’t mean 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.
And sometimes dad has something as well…
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 more often than not the family already has something soft to dub as a posing beanbag as well as 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 need a fair share of your own learning and practicing.
I recommend using a doll at first or your own children (if you’re a parent). Weird maybe, but you have to ensure that 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 out a new parent more 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 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 breathing 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.
If the baby is a bit fussy, I like to play white noise sounds on my phone (I really don’t know how this works on babies, but it DOES!).
I find that practicing prayer/breathing and slowing down not only affects the baby, but it calms me down and therefore the parents as well. The environment changes and it opens the opportunity for peaceful, more intimate images.
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 a 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 in 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 your hands: When I leave my home, when I first come through the door, when I handle my lights, etc. Wash, wash, wash your hands!
- Pray or meditate: One aspect of newborn photography that no one talks about 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 praying, meditating, or listening to calming music on my way to the shoot, I exude peace, and that is very, very welcomed.
Prepare the Family
It is very important that needs and expectations are communicated beforehand.
This will minimize stress and anxiety on the parents, and it 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 beforehand 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 or some poses/pictures they must have. 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! 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 be 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 the shoot: We have to consider the older siblings too. Children 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.
Now there isn’t one single rule for editing 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). I also prefer smooth blankets that won’t cast 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 affects the overall look of baby’s skin.
Past a few basics, 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!
I hope that helped someone out there.
Let us know some of your tips and tricks below!