It has been a while since I have posted a new blog entry. Over a year! We added a 4th child to the mix, and well… this blog kind of took a backseat. Sorry. 🙁 But, things have finally calmed down around here. It took 2 1/2 years, but hey, better late than never!
I’m going to get back into blog writing with a series on photographing different age groups and types of family photography. We will start off with newborn photography, and then work our way up to large family groups. It will be exciting, so don’t miss out on a single blog entry.
So, here we go with newborn photography for beginners…
Let me start off by saying that this is not one of my favorite age groups. Actually it is my least favorite. I prefer to interact with my subjects during a photoshoot, however with newborn photography, there isn’t much interaction with the newborn. You spend most of your time trying to get the baby to sleep, not getting them to smile for the camera. There are some photographers who love this about newborns, though! If you are good at getting newborns to sleep, the possibilities are endless. Either you love newborn photography or you hate it. My point is to tread very carefully if you are planning on going “all in” with this kind of photography and know exactly what you are getting into. Read my 10 tips for newborn photography beginners to get a feel for if this is the right specialty for you. Or, if you are currently struggling with your newborn photography, this should help get you back on track!
1. Safety first.
I cannot stress this enough. We are all familiar with the cute and adorable newborn photos where the baby is resting on his or her hands or sitting up while swaddled. What it took me a while to realize is that these are composite photos, taken from two different frames. So, in one photo, a parent or assistant is holding the baby’s hands or holding the baby up from one side and in the other photo, they are holding the baby’s head or holding the baby up from the other side. Then, in post-processing, you combine those two images together to make it look like the baby is holding themselves up.
At any time, if a newborn is on an elevated surface, you need a spotter or assistant nearby to make sure the baby doesn’t inadvertently roll over or push off. My advice based on my experience? Unless you are specifically trained in doing certain poses, just don’t take the risk to do them. There are lots and lots of different poses where the baby’s safety is not put at risk.
2. Plan for at least 2-3 hours.
In my experience, newborn sessions take at least 2 hours. However, the average time is 3 or 4 hours. Why is this? If you have never experienced raising a baby, they need a lot of attention when they are so new. Dirty diapers, being exhausted, hungry, etc. are all things that will set you back. Once you can get the baby to sleep, that’s when the action happens. However, it is ultimately getting that baby to sleep which will be time consuming. Basically, a typical newborn will need time and attention in order to be happy and/or sleepy for your photos.
3. Schedule the session within 2 weeks of birth.
They are sleepier in those first 2 weeks and do not develop the usual baby problems (baby acne, cradle cap, etc.) until after 2 weeks. And, they are much, much crankier during the 3-4 week stage. In order to ensure that this happens, when you are first contacted by a parent about newborn photos, mark their due date on your calendar. Then, make sure they know to contact you as soon as the mom has the baby to get on your schedule.
4. Come prepared with the right tools.
Heating pad, white noise machine, posing bean bag, swaddling wraps, blankets, hats, and headbands are all tools you will need in newborn photography. Newborn babies crave that warmth from their mother’s womb, as well as the security from swaddling. Remember, they are still getting used to this outside world, so their comfort is anything that reminds them of being back inside the womb.
Some other tips and tricks with newborns to calm them down is bouncing while holding them, “shushing” to calm them, and holding their head and feet at the same time while they are lying down. This is another trick that mimics what it was like in the womb for them. A newborn doesn’t have room to stretch out their legs and arms, despite their best efforts. 🙂 That’s why they prefer their legs and arms scrunched into their bodies the first few months of life. Understanding what makes newborns happy is half the battle of getting good newborn photos.
5. Expect lots of bodily fluids.
Yes, gross I know. But, this is what it’s like to have a newborn baby! If that diaper comes off, there will be pee and a very strong possibility of poop. There is also a strong chance of spit up as well. I usually leave the diaper on and try and cover it up with a blanket or wrap. It’s my personal preference not to have to deal with cleaning up the newborn’s bodily fluids during the session. Every photographer is different, though! Just make sure you are prepared for whatever you choose to do during your session.
6. Understand a newborn’s needs.
Believe it or not, there is rhyme and reason to a newborn’s schedule. When newborns get upset or cranky, a new parent’s reaction (or anyone who doesn’t have experience with newborns) would be to feed the baby. As long as the baby took a full feeding within the last 2-3 hours, this probably isn’t the cause of the crankiness. Some babies just need to suck for comfort. Some are tired and are trying to go to sleep. Some just cry for the sake of crying, and just need to be held by their mother.
Overfeeding can lead to spit-ups from a full stomach and ultimately, a cranky baby. If you can calm the newborn down by another means (swaddling, pacifier, holding, etc.), then the newborn was not hungry. If there is nothing else that will calm the baby down, and it has been at least an hour since the last feeding, give another feeding a try to see if that works. Since you will most likely be working with the newborn within the first few weeks of life, the schedule is still not set, so you won’t know with 100% certainty how to give the newborn what he or she needs.
7. Know your style and poses.
I am not referring to the complicated newborn poses where you have to take multiple images and create a composite image of them in Photoshop. That would certainly not qualify for newborn photography for beginners. There are lots of book, classes, and workshops out there to teach you about those poses.
I’m referring to the simple and natural newborn poses. For instance, one of my favorites is finding a nice, textured blanket (or flat backdrop/rug), lay it next to a window, and lay the newborn on top, parallel to the window. The baby can be awake or asleep for this pose, both yielding completely different results. You can take photos from the top down, from the top of the baby’s head facing towards the feet, straight on from the window (if you like flatter lighting), etc. It is simple, yet you can get so many different images with this set-up.
If you are looking to do more of lifestyle photos, then you want to get creative with photographing the baby in his or her environment, like in the crib or in the parent’s arms. Aside from the more difficult and challenging poses for more experienced newborn photographers, you can get a lot of idea from Pinterest on the different newborn poses that are out there. Just remember that safety always comes first!
8. Invest in a macro lens.
Have you ever tried to get close-up shots of stuff, but your lens won’t let you focus on it? That is what a macro lens is used for. When a newborn is sleeping, you can capture some very intimate detail shots of their nose, mouth, ears, belly button (or umbilical cord), hands, and feet. Oh, and you can’t forget baby hair!
My favorite macro lens is the 100mm f/2.8 IS by Canon. If you are a Nikon user, I’ve heard that the 105mm f/2.8G Macro is a great option. Basically, it gives you an entirely different perspective for your newborn photography session, and gives your clients more details of their precious newborn.
9. Work with what the newborn gives you.
If your newborn doesn’t want to sleep, despite everyone’s best efforts, wrap the baby up and snap away! Some of my favorite newborn photos are when their eyes are open. If the baby refuses to calm down, have mom or dad hold the baby and photograph the newborn in their arms. The trick with newborns is to go with what they give you. Sometimes, at the end of the day, no matter what you do, the newborn is going to do whatever they want. And, you could easily be there all day if you continue to fight what the newborn is giving you. Go with the flow and capture what you can.
10. Be flexible when including family members.
As if photographing newborns weren’t tricky enough, you have to sometimes photograph the baby with his or her family! Mom and Dad aren’t too difficult, however siblings can provide a challenge. Sometimes a nice chair by a large window works as well to pose with older siblings. Lying down on the floor with the baby is great pose when the sibling is still too young to hold the newborn. Basically, you want to work with the family members however they are the most comfortable with the newborn.
There you have it! 10 newborn photography tips for beginners. I hope this helps you out in your journey to either become a newborn photographer or become a better newborn photographer. Remember, this isn’t the most glamorous specialty of photography (c’mon… you know you want to spend 4 hours of your day getting peed on a pooped on… 🙂 ), however, it can be one of the most rewarding with how special of memories you are creating.
Up next is tips and tricks for photographing infants!