When I first started newborn photography, I didn’t think it was for me. I wanted it to be but it just wasn’t feeling natural & was much harder than I thought. At first I thought they would be the easiest subjects I had ever captured…they are tiny, bendy, sleepy & can’t run away! But then I realized that they aren’t necessarily easier than other subjects, just different. As it turns out there are some tricks to it that make it more enjoyable & more fun! I was excited when Courtney asked me to post this, because I feel like newborn photography is coming together so much more than it was in the beginning – I enjoy it now & I ‘d love to share what I have learned with you! Still some newborn sessions are harder than others but I’d love to share what I have learned with you.
First off let me start by saying there is no one way to photograph newborns. That is the cool thing about it. You can add your own personal flare & make your style your own. These are just tips I have learned through my experiences. If you have tips you’d like to share that I either don’t know about or have forgotten to include here, I’d LOVE to hear about them!
1. Prep the parents first on what to expect.
Explain to them fully how YOU operate – explain your time frame & why it is so much better to photograph babies when they are young. I usually say 3-9 days is the best time frame & I ask that they get in touch with me as soon as the baby is born (after keeping me up to date during their pregnancy as well). Block off time before & after their due date & tweak it as they get closer to the end. Tell them what will happen when you get there.
I always ask for them to take me on a tour of the house so that I can find good light. Tell them what you will bring. I try to make each session special by buying something new. I ask the parent what style of hats they love so I can buy one in a style they will like. Some new parents are more protective than others, so ask if they have any requests or things that might make them uncomfortable.
Here is the first way I prep parents: newborn information page
I don’t let the website replace communication of course, but it’s good to have a place they can use as a resource to remind them of things like:
– ideal timeline to keep in mind when contacting me to schedule the session once the baby is born
-warm the house
-keep the diaper loose
-feed the baby before pictures
2. Don’t rush….patience is the key.
When I first started, I had photographer friends tell me that they were in & out of a newborn session within an hour or two. I wanted to cry because I was staying at people’s houses 3-5 hours. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I was beat down & discouraged. Now with more experience, I still spend a ton of time at newborn sessions. And it doesn’t bother me anymore because now I know what to expect & I go into it knowing it will be a long session.
Now I charge more for a newborn session to compensate a bit for the extra time. It depends on how many different sets/hats you have planned for the baby as to how long you will take & I always seem to go in with a lot of ideas (temperament of the baby, whether they are going to have siblings or parents being photographed with them all go into account as well etc.).
Expecting I will be there awhile, I bring snacks to recharge (sometimes I will lurk off to the bathroom to eat them while the mom is feeding her baby….ssshhh don’t tell ;). I always have a backup plan for someone to pick my son up from daycare so that I’m not stressed & watching the clock. Newborns can sense when you are on edge or in a hurry, so just plan to be there a while. Some babies are naturally calm while others are super alert. You have to wait those ones out to go to sleep. Sometimes it takes hours! I usually get the family shots done during this time while they are awake. Then if they’re still awake but content I’ll get some individual shots to show off their eyes.
3. Walk them around, sooth them & be calm.
If they already have a full belly, it might be better to try to calm them yourself rather than the parent because if they are with their mom they will keep wanting to eat! You can buy a white noise machine or just download an app on your phone. Sometimes heat is all it takes to knock out an almost-asleep baby. I bring a space heater along with me to help them be even more comfortable.
Don’t forget to document their little details!
4. Posing takes lots of patience as well.
Occasionally you can get away with photographing them exactly how they fall when you set them down, but the more complicated newborn poses take time. Sometimes certain poses take me 15 minutes to get exactly how I want it! I always want to make sure I can see their little hands & feet – that they aren’t hidden under the blanket. I want to also make sure their head is turned toward the camera enough to & lifted enough that it is not hidden in the bean bag or blanket.
Before you start snapping, just step back & take in the WHOLE FRAME – make sure you can see the baby, he/she looks comfortable & everything is just how you want it. I won’t take the shot unless the backdrop or blanket is wrinkle free. It is always easier to fix it before than after during editing.
-put a blanket over the baby while posing to keep him/her comfortable
-take the whole frame into account before snapping & make sure you like what you see (position of baby, smooth blanket, etc.)
5. There is a big difference between copying other photographers & studying the art of newborn photography to prepare for a session when you are just starting out.
It is fun to study the work of people you admire to get ideas & think to yourself – how did they get THAT shot? You can also watch YouTube videos to watch how photographers achieve certain poses. Then it’s a challenge to try to recreate it while putting your own spin on it! It helps so much in the beginning to study the work of others. The more time you put into this, the better you will be! If you need to lift up certain areas of the baby’s body, try using rolled up swaddle blankets or small towels under the blanket, above the bean bag. There’s a great article on this by Megan Cieloha on Click It Up a Notch And also Clickinmoms – Inspiration vs. Imitation.
-practice on your own or on friend’s babies until you are comfortable shooting manual, posing, choosing good light, & planning out/coordinating a newborn session
6. Play around with F-Stop. It’s fun to have the creamy backgrounds you achieve when shooting wide open but also make sure you have proper focus. Since newborns are immobile & sleepy it gives you time to look at the back of your camera to make sure you like your angle, the positioning of the baby & your focus. If you feel you can open up the f-stop even more – try it…play around!
But you want the baby’s features to be in focus so pay attention to that, so you may need to close down. When shooting wide open, make sure the baby’s body, feet, hands etc. are all on the same plane so that you don’t end up with an in focus baby & out of focus limbs.
-are all of the important parts in focus?
-is the backdrop nice & creamy?
7. Evolve your style as you go!
I have always liked the more raw take on newborn photos where I use a lot of the baby’s environment in the pictures (the home or outside) but recently I also started adding a few studio-ish (well….mobile fake studio since I am on location!) pictures to each session for a change. I think it is fun to keep it fresh & give your client’s galleries variety. You can still add your personal spin to everything while also adding a touch of “new” to your “usual.”
-be creative & use the baby’s home, outside, etc for pictures so that the client has variety in their gallery
-be YOU but keep it fresh!
8. In the beginning, don’t be overly hard on yourself!
Practice, practice, practice! Either practice for free on friend’s babies or pick a very reasonable portfolio building price to begin with. Tell your clients you are portfolio building to get more experience & that your prices will increase in the near future, then you aren’t blind siding them down the road if they re-book. If you have been up front with them then they can’t be upset! Everyone has to start somewhere. I look back at my images from the past & cringe. Instead of getting down by that, I try to rejoice in the fact that it shows GROWTH!
-remember, you have to start somewhere!
-don’t be hard on yourself in the beginning (rejoice in small triumphs) but as you go challenge yourself
to get to the next level
9. Editing a newborn session takes time but there are things you can do to speed up the process & to cut down on editing time.
-shoot in manual & start with proper exposure
-use a grey card for custom white balance, an expodisc or a light meter for more accurate white balance & skin tones
-instead of CWB, learn Kelvin & take advantage of better skin tones straight out of camera Read this article by Sarah Wilkerson to begin learning: Color by Kelvins: Aa Better Approach to White Balance
-place your subject in good light
Even so, you will spend some time retouching scratches, dry skin, acne or correcting skin tones.
-don’t overdo it…you want your baby to be smooth but natural (not fake)
-skin tones are complicated but important…take the time to read up on it. Clickinmoms has great resources on this by Sarah Wilkerson. You should join! Or you can buy the book: by Lee Varis
-come up with some steps you always do & create your own action to speed up your flow!
10. Here are some things I bring to a newborn session (I wish I had a picture of my dinky little SUV all packed up….it’s ridiculous! I look like I am going out of the country for a year!)
-coordinating blankets or backdrops (lots of them because you never know how many will get peed on!)
-camera & back up camera
-grey card, expodisc, or light meter
-my main go to newborn lenses are: Nikon 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor Lens, Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G SIC SW Prime Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras, 85mm 1.4G, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED AF-S Nikkor Wide Angle Zoom Lens
-bean bag from ShootBaby (tip, buy it stuffed…stuffing them is a nightmare)
-baskets & any other props I see fit (ie: suitcase)
-space heater, white noise app on phone
-swaddle blankets to help with certain poses (to place under the baby & blanket)
-softbox &flash in case it’s a poorly lit house, although I prefer natural light
–CowboyStudio Photography Backdrop Supporting System with 9 Feet Updated Crossbar and Case backdrop stand
-reflector or white science board to reflect light back onto the subject if necessary
-clips from Lowe’s (featured in pull back)
-hhmmm….I am sure I’m forgetting something!
A pull back from a recent session & you can find another pull back on my blog – Newborn Session Pullback