As a rule, I don’t photograph newborn babies. I like looking at great photos of cute babies and kids as much as the next guy, but the subject doesn’t really get me excited to pull the camera out unless it’s my own kids. This weekend though, I did agree to photograph my wife’s cousin’s newborn girl as a favor on the condition that my wife would do all the posing and help with the setup, props, and clothing choices.
The pictures turned out decent and we got a few that I’m happy with and that the mother likes. After one newborn shoot, we are definitely nowhere near professionals with this subject, but we did learn a few things that I think could be useful to someone getting into this area of photography.
1. Newborn safety is your first priority. My wife and I did quite a bit of visual research on the internet through Pinterest and other photographer’s blogs. I was surprised at how many behind the scenes shots I saw that just didn’t look like the baby was in all that safe of a position. If there is any chance the baby could roll off of a prop or get into a position where her head is not supported, you’re not working in a safe manner. Start with basic and safe poses and only try more advanced poses after you study how it can be done safely. Some poses you’ll see online require composting two or more shots together to hide the fact that the baby is actually being supported by a parent or an assistant the entire time.
We ended up shooting this session in our master bedroom, and used the bed as a support. We brought in a small space heater to make sure the baby stayed warm and comfortable during the shoot.
2. You don’t have to buy a bunch of props or backdrops all at once. First off, I knew we would need some soft blankets or materials to serve as a backdrop, but we only had 1 small blanket in the house that was a color that I thought would look good. We decided to make a trip to our local Ross and TJ Max department stores. Both those stores have a great selection of random home decoration items to choose from. We found a few baskets including the mail basket one in the shot at the top of this article. We also found some grey scarves that we thought would look good. Non of the blankets were really what we were looking for, but I did end up finding a large floor rug with a nice long shag texture that ended up looking great.
Some of these items were fairly inexpensive and we will end up keeping them either for future shoots or to decorate our home. We are in the market for a rug, but after having this on in our house we decided we’ll be taking it back. The point is, you can slowly collect props and blankets and fabrics over time that you can mix and match for each shoot. You don’t have to buy everything at once. Also, don’t feel too bad about buying something (like that rug) and then returning it after the shoot if you decide you don’t want to hang onto it. Just be sure to keep it clean and keep the tags on it. Keep the pieces you like, return the ones that didn’t work out so well. Over time you’ll have a nice collection.
3. Take plenty of time. The newer the baby, the easier they will be to work with typically as they will be sleeping more and less alert. Either way, I learned that it just takes time to keep baby happy and get her into outfits and poses for each set of images. You can’t rush the baby and you shouldn’t rush the mom as this will only create pressure and stress. Newborn sessions may take 2-3 times as long a child or adult portrait session.
4. Limit the amount of people in the room. Take time to educate your client that in order to get the best pictures of their baby you really need to limit the amount of people there during the shoot. For this shoot with my wife’s cousin’s baby, we probably had too many people wandering around. The mother had her other young son playing nearby and her sister and her two kids where there as well. Space was limited and it became stressful to work around all those bodies. For the best results, have your clients get a babysitter for the other kids if possible and bring them in just for a few photos with together with the new baby.
5. Detail shots. Don’t forget to try and capture the little details that mom will want to remember. Toes and fingers, noses and ears. You might want to invest in a macro lens to get in close can capture the little details.
6. Capture emotion. After the session I quickly loaded all of the photos into Lightroom on my laptop and used Apple TV to display them on the projector in our theater room. The family LOVED to see the pictures up on the big screen. As I listened to the reactions and comments, it was interesting that some of the photos that they loved the most were not the perfectly posed and technically perfect photographs. Instead, they really connected with the funny little expressions or more emotive faces that baby was making. Watch out for those moments during the shoot and be ready to capture them. They will likely be your client’s favorites!
I’m sure many of you out there have some more tips for newborn photography. Post them in the comments!