Are you interested in being a newborn photographer, but wondering how to get started? Newborn photography, like any other type of photography, is a complex art, but here are some basic tips to help you on the road to success with your first newborn sessions.
A- Accessories: Accessories can be simple or really fancy, depending on your style. Decide ahead of time what look you are going for in the session and then choose accessories to support your vision.
B- Be Patient: I cannot stress this enough. Babies fuss, stir, startle, and cry. It happens. If you want to have a baby sleep deeply enough to pose, you are going to have to be super patient. I find that it relaxes my clients (the parents) and puts them at ease to know that I will be patient and wait for their baby to calm and go to sleep.
C- Clothing (yours & baby’s): Yours: Wear something comfortable and cool! It will be hot in the session and you will be up, down and all around! Wear something white, black or gray so you do not reflect color casts onto the baby’s skin.
Baby’s: Nothing at all or very, very simple (like stripped down to a diaper) is best! Naked babies can be posed, wrapped, and photographed many different ways, and there is nothing as timeless as a newborn baby. Cute outfits are often too large for newborns and tend to overpower them, so keep it simple…very little, like a diaper cover, or nothing at all.
D- Developmental Knowledge: The newborn period is a unique stage of a baby’s development. Learning about things like startle reflex, rooting reflex, muscle and joint development, flexibility, lack of head control, feeding needs, calming, nervous system development and sleep stages is essential to allowing you to work with newborns safely and successfully.
E- Encouraging helpful attitude: Parents of newborns are often tired and overwhelmed. I find that my positive attitude and calm demeanor go a long way toward helping them relax and feel confident in my ability to work with their baby. Try to take every opportunity to encourage and help Mom and Dad where needed. Often, for example, clients will ask how I swaddle their baby and get it to stay tight. If asked, I will show them, and I am available to help however needed.
F- Food & Family: A hungry baby will not stay asleep long. Ask your client to feed baby while you are setting up and again as needed throughout the session. I find that babies often need to eat much more during the session than they normally would (I don’t know why, but this seems to hold true time and time again). I take breaks for mom to feed baby whenever needed and sometimes, if mom wants it, I take nursing or feeding lifestyle shots during a feeding break.
Family photos are really important at a newborn session! They show the emotion and joy of welcoming a newborn, and they are an heirloom for the baby to treasure later in life. Include shots with mom and dad together and individually, siblings, and the whole family together.
G- Get creative with your angles! Babies tend to wake up and fuss more when you move them, so learn to make the most of each pose. By using different angles you can make one pose look like several. A couple words of caution: no one, babies included, looks good shot up the nose or up the bottom, in general. Avoid those angles if you can, unless you have a specific reason.
H- Heat: Heat is a major secret weapon in the newborn photographer’s arsenal of tricks. Turn up the heat (or turn off the AC) in the area where you will be shooting a few hours prior to the session. I tell moms and dads that it may feel like a sauna to them at 80 degrees in their living room, but to a baby who was recently in a 98.6 degree world, it isn’t hot at all! If you want to shoot the classic naked newborn poses, you must have heat. I cannot stress this enough. You can take all the time in the world to get baby to sleep, but the second you take the diaper off and the cold air hits baby’s bottom, it’s all over. I often use a hair dryer to warm up the blanket before I set baby down or to provide an indirect breeze from a few feet away. I bring a space heater to every session in case I need it to be warmer in the room.
I- Insist on and Practice Safety: Safety is, by far, the most important priority for professional newborn photographers. Do not do any pose, angle, prop or setup that puts baby in danger in any way at any time or that you are not 100% sure how to do in a totally safe way. Never forget that your tiny subjects are people first, and each baby is someone’s beloved child. If you are not willing to go to great lengths to ensure baby’s safety, you should not be considering newborn photography as a career. Some brief safety tips: Have a spotter at all times. If there is anything that a baby could fall off of or out of, there should be a dedicated spotter ready within arm’s reach at all times. (I ask Mom /Dad to do this) Wash your hands before the session and if you touch your face or anything that is soiled. Put space heaters, hair dryers, lights, equipment and heavy items far enough from baby that he/she cannot get burned or fallen on. Put baby deep enough into props that he/she won’t fall out (babies are top heavy, so keep that in mind!) Do not assume that because baby is fast asleep, a spotter is not needed. Babies can startle quickly and topple out of position. Wash everything between sessions.
J- Jen’s tips for setup: Look for an area in the client’s home or your studio home that has ample natural light coming in if you want to use natural light. You want soft light, (light that does not create harsh shadows) as opposed to harsh hard light (light that will create hard lines on the floor or harsh shadowing, typically from direct, bright sunlight). In my home, I love my north facing large window that goes almost all the way to the floor for this. When I go to client’s homes, I often set up near sliding glass doors, long windows or a glass storm door. If you will be using studio lighting, choose a place with ample space to set that up. When I use my studio lighting, I use a huge soft box placed within a foot or two of the baby.
You will need somewhere to put the baby. I like to use beds, ottomans, beanbags (if full and not too soft), couches, changing tables or dressers, or baskets with a wide base. Put some folded receiving blankets and flat cloth diapers nearby. If you are using a basket or bowl, you will need filler. You can use towels to fill it most of the way and then arrange something soft and pretty on the top, like a blanket or scarf.
Pay attention to the background when choosing your location. It is easiest if you can shoot someplace where the background is not distracting and can just be left as is. Clean up anything that may be in the shots, even if it is just to move piles. If you need a backdrop, you can make a simple one with a large blanket you already have (neutral is best), and covering the surface of your beanbag/ottoman/whatever with it, then pulling it up and over something higher, like a backdrop stand, headboard, a couple kitchen chair backs, etc. You may need clamps to secure it in place. Pay attention to wrinkles, as it is not always easy to take them out later. I like to clip the blankets as far back as possible, and make them come in at as shallow an angle as I can in order to create enough distance for the blanket to really get good and blurry in the background.
K- Keep your props and supplies close by. Have some cloth diapers and rolled up blankets as well as your wraps, hats, tutus, diaper covers, etc. available within arm’s reach for convenience and baby’s safety.
L- Lens Choice & Lighting: When it comes to newborns posed on a beanbag or other prop, prime lenses are best! I most often shoot newborns at f/2 or close to f/2 to get the background blurred out completely. Try a variety of focal lengths. 35mm lenses are great because they allow you to stay close to baby, but I also use 50mm, 58mm and 85mm lenses. Also, a macro lens is great for capturing those sweet squishy lips, soft ears, eyelashes and toes!
Whether you are using natural or strobe lighting, you want it to be soft light at an angle that cascades down the baby from the head down. Position your baby that way and avoid lighting baby from the bottom up. Not only does it cause a “ghoul” effect which is unflattering, but it also highlights baby’s bottom, which you do not want to do, especially if these are naked baby shots! You may want to “feather your light” to darken the backdrop but placing your subject at the edge of the light and making sure the light does not spill behind the subject at all. Play with placement until you have the light and shadowing that you want. I find anywhere from 45-90 degrees from the front of baby to be the lighting angles I use the most.
M- Messes: Babies make them! Keep cloth diapers and wipes available to clean up messes, and always bring a bag for dirty items.
N- Noise: White noise…another weapon in our bag of sleepy baby tricks! White noise apps for your phone, white noise machines or just a hair dryer whirring away can be a lifesaver in keeping baby asleep and happy. I bring them to every session and use them good and loud! If a baby starts to cry, fuss or stir, I immediately begin patting and loudly “shushing” (“shhhhhhh…shhhhhhh…”) in the baby’s ear. Most often, baby will settle back down.
O- Own your style, but don’t be afraid to experiment a bit! Newborn portrait styles can vary a lot. Lifestyle, posed, composite poses, macro, soft, natural, bright, colorful and more – all are possible within the newborn portrait genre. If you know your style, stay true and do what fits you well. If you are still unsure what you like, try a little bit from all of the ideas that interest you and see what fits. Also, don’t feel trapped by a style. For example, I do not think lifestyle and posed portraits have to be mutually exclusive – I do both within the same session, because I like them both. It is also important to be open to client requests within your boundaries. I want to serve my clients more than I want to serve any ‘purist vision’ of my style. So if a client wants a huge, bright red bow on her baby’s head, I will do it for her. Know your boundaries, however, and hold true to them. For example, my style is very natural, and even my posed images have a natural feel to them. So I do not offer poses that a baby cannot do on his/her own, even if asked. I let my clients know this ahead of time so they know what to expect and will not be disappointed. It is totally OK to have boundaries, and clearly communicating them to your client ahead of time sets expectations and avoids disappointment.
P- Props: Whatever your style, simple or fancy, keep them safe. Use props with a wide base if you are putting baby inside, and weight the bottom so it does not tip over. Don’t forget to have a spotter close to baby when using props! As far as where and what to get, the sky is the limit, get creative! You can find baskets, bowls, buckets and other props just about everywhere. Tutus, headbands and ruffle bottom diaper covers are popular for girls, and diaper covers and hats are popular for both genders. Etsy and local crafters are both great places to start looking.
Q- Quiet: Isn’t necessary, or even that helpful most of the time. Keeping white noise going at a fairly loud level and making a normal amount of noise, as well as talking to mom and dad, will help to keep baby from startling every time you make a noise.
R- Rock your post-processing: Newborn photography requires thorough knowledge of how to achieve good skin tones and retouch. Newborns tend to be pink, blotchy, pale, and some items have baby acne. Make sure you have training in how to retouch skin in a natural looking way. I cannot urge you enough not to “melt” your babies by over-smoothing their skin. It just looks bad. You can feel free to creative and stylistic with your post processing, just make sure the baby still looks like a real baby when you are done!
S-Swaddling: Learn how to wrap babies not only artistically, but also how to do a basic swaddle wrap. It helps so much to calm a fussy baby. Often, if you start them swaddled, you can undo the blanket and pose them as they fall into deeper sleep. Artistic wraps are a lot of fun and can add a lot to your image.
T- Time: Plan on 2-4 hours for the session. Newborn sessions are quite different from other types of photography in that they just can’t be put on a schedule, time must be allowed for baby’s needs to be met. In 2-4 hours I get a variety of posed and lifestyle portraits of baby, as well as some family shots and shots of baby with each parent.
U- Understand: Understand that newborn sessions take a high level of flexibility and “go with the flow.” You might not get everything you have in mind, so it is important to prioritize. The first time baby is sleeping well, I work to get the most essential images my client is expecting. After that, it is easier to relax and experiment to see what I can get.
V- Very rewarding!: Newborn photography is rewarding both in the experience (who doesn’t love snuggling a tiny baby?) and for your business. My clients place a high value on the images I capture of their babies during the fleeting newborn days, and they enjoy investing in the images, prints and albums that will allow them to relive and enjoy the memories of those days for years to come. It is rewarding to me to know that someday that newborn will likely be looking at the images I captured to see if their own baby looks like them as a newborn!
W- Workshops and Water: First of all, workshops…Newborn photography is hard to learn on your own or from a book. It really helps to do a workshop with someone who you can learn from by watching them work with real babies. I have taken several great workshops online, and there are also in-person workshops I have heard good things about. It helps a lot to see how pros who have been doing newborn portraits a long time handle newborns, and it is invaluable to be able to ask questions. There is more to newborn photography than I could ever possibly cover in one article. Learning and growing continually are key to your career, and finding great workshops is a wonderful way to stimulate learning and growth!
Now onto water…bring it and drink it! This may not seem like a photography tip at all, but if you are doing it right, it is a hot job and you are there a long time. Don’t get dehydrated. Caring for yourself ensures safety and a good experience for everyone.
Y- Your clients: They are tired, possibly overwhelmed, and probably under appreciated. It takes a lot of energy and love to care for a newborn 24 hours a day! Make certain to thank them, pamper them, and give them a great experience. Going the extra mile to serve your clients excellently will build a relationship of trust that will be a win for both you and your clients. If you offer baby plans for baby’s first year or family/child photos like I do, you will enjoy the relationship so much as you see them come back again and again as baby grows!
ZZZ: Just expect that a lot of your time will be spent putting the baby to sleep. And if you are like me, you might want to sleep once you get home. Go ahead and take that nap, you have earned it!