7 Tips for Photographing Newborns without Becoming Clichéd, Derivative or Boring

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When I first started doing professional photography, newborn babies were the coveted prize. An adorable sleeping creature that would look cute no matter what? Sign me up! Let’s put that baby in a stockpot! In a basket! Wait! –A headband that looks like a flower! In a field of flowers! With butterflies! And maybe a big gift box bow!

Then I realized that Anne Geddes is the landlord of that entire market. And that it’s rare for a portrait client to actually want a picture of their baby in a stockpot. What people do want is a picture of their baby, that looks like their baby. Because in about 5 minutes their baby isn’t going to look like this anymore.

BABY1

Set the Scene

In an ideal situation, you are photographing a newborn that is less than two weeks old (when they tend to be more “mold-able”), in the morning (when they tend to be a more willing participant), just after being fed (when they tend to be a little more tolerant), and in a warm room (where they tend to be a little more comfortable).

Having everything ready to go before shooting a single shot is taken will serve you well: various blankets for background and warmth, cloth diapers for when someone pees on you (let’s hope it’s the baby), any clothing you plan to use and back-ups of every possible thing. I prefer minimal clothing on newborns, but this is just personal preference. Amble natural light is important because even if you do usually shoot flash, it’s often disruptive enough to wake a newborn and rule number one in photography, parenting, and life is: Never wake a sleeping baby. If there is anything I’ve learned, it’s that.

Be prepared to work fast because babies can be ticking time bombs, but slowly because they are delicate ticking time bombs. You are methodical. You are confident. You are patient. You are the baby whisperer. Because we are speaking in ideals. And if you’re me and we are still speaking in ideals, you also have on your cute jeans and are having a great hair day. Because, why not?

BABY2

Find the Purpose

Photographing newborns is one of the few times I make a point of asking clients what they are planning on doing with the end result. Often it’s for use in a baby announcement or just as “baby pictures” documenting this time. But if it’s going to end-up as a 24″x36″ canvas above a fireplace, I want to know beforehand. Or if I’m going to need negative space to create an announcement card, I’d rather shoot with that in mind then trying to backtrack later in post.

Another thing to think about is the ratio of images of the baby alone and the baby with parents or siblings; there is no right or wrong answer here but knowing what you or your client is wanting in advance is key. Newborn shoots are not (usually) guided by a free-spirited toddler and therefore require more of a plan from you than shoots with older children. And you never know when a baby will decide that pictures are just not what he wants to do today and let’s you know this in a very unsubtle and loud way.
  
BABY3

It’s all about the Baby

The only thing I always bring to a newborn shoot is a large piece of black cloth. I have had it for nearly a decade and more babies have peed on it than I wish to think about. I have hung it on walls and used it on floors and beds as a back-drop. I use it every single time because it simplifies everything and allows the focus to be completely on the baby. Lots of photographers do a version of a black background of some sort and I’ve found that there is no need to get fancy.

Many photographers use a velvet, but mine is about 2 yards of a stretchy thick cloth that I bought at a fabric store for ten dollars. It washes well (luckily) and the light sheen of it makes editing out any wrinkles in post extremely easy. I carry thumbtacks and painters tape to hang it with if I need to and it’s thick enough to hang over about anything and not have backlight shine through. I cannot stress having a way to simplify a newborn shoot enough. If a black background isn’t your style, find what is that will clean-up everything and let the newborn to be the focus, and allow it to become your key piece for baby photography.

BABY4 1

It’s in the Details

And why shouldn’t it be? Baby details are sorta amazing. I mean have you seen a baby toe recently? Talk about something I’d like to dip in butter and call a snack. We have all seen baby parts photographed in the same boring ways: wedding rings on toes, close-ups of belly buttons and umbilical cords (ew), tops of bald heads in big grown-up hands. I am guilty of doing every one of these, multiple times over. I now see that the shots that will stand the test of time will be very simple close-ups that highlight just how small newborns are: tiny hands holding a parent’s finger, brand new feet that have yet to see wear, yawns and other adorable expressions that only look adorable on a baby.

BABY5

As Cute as they are Awkward

Oh sure, we all know they are adorable, but what are you supposed to do with them? They are flimsy and tiny and often naked. This is where I think we get into trouble and put them in baskets and stockpots. Because we can. Instead of creating scenes, it’s better to just think of “positions”. Babies can only do about two positions unassisted—laying down this way or that way. Work with that.

They may just lay there, but the beauty in this is that they often let you adjust them however you want. Tuck legs up under bodies, pull flailing arms into blankets, curl them up into someone’s hands. The baby is the star of this show and is plenty cute to pull off this role without a big supporting cast of props. A key to getting the position you want and having it stay that way long enough to get the shot you want is to keep your hands on the baby longer than needed after positioning them.

Think of it as long hug—you don’t need that extra ten seconds at the end, but it feels nice. Get the baby settled and then stay there for a bit longer. The warmth of your hands and the consistency and reassurance is often exactly what the baby needs to “hold” the position you are seeking.

BABY6 1

Got Extra Arms? Use them

I like to include siblings as often as I can, no matter the age. This gets tricky because the very definition of tricky is a two year old holding a newborn while exhausted parents watch the situation go down. Enough pillows and promises of lollipops though will get you a shot or two and a little variation in the final images. Interaction is the name of the game here—look for whatever the emotion is that’s happening and play on it. If it’s pride, comment on it to instill confidence and document a sweet moment in sibling history. If it’s indifference, engage the older child so they forget there is even a new addition in the photograph and are happy to be your star for a moment.

BABY7

Stop Worrying

I love a good worry and consider myself to be quite good at it. But as jobs go, photographing newborns is about as close to shooting fish in a barrel as you are likely to get. It’s easy to feel the pressure given that babies are so fragile and grow every single second. The truth is any picture you take of a newborn is a gift. Just as any time spent getting to photograph a newborn. I don’t get sappy often, but newborn babies are pretty special. Enjoy it.

Especially if the newborn belongs to someone else and you get to walk out of there without a crying baby and go home to a bed where you’re permitted to sleep through the night.

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Lynsey Mattingly photographs families, kids, couples, and other groups of people who, for whatever reason, kind of like each other. Her portrait work has been featured in People Magazine, Us Weekly, BBC Magazine, and on national TV including CNN, Oprah, and Ellen, but most importantly, in the personal galleries of clients across the country. Her photography can be viewed at www.lynseymattingly.com or on Facebook.

  • Very nice. I find that even babies a couple of months old will still follow the general posing assists but they will have far more interactive and interesting faces. I personally find that the Anne Geddes style shot works fine in advertizing and calendars but not so well for hanging on the wall as a mark of pride. However, every one has to try jumping on that particular bandwagon and some never fall back off.

  • Excellent article! It’s nice to see someone that isn’t stuck on the current trend of using a million props for newborns. I want to see the babies, not the stuff someone has decided to stick the baby in.

  • Karen

    Great article.. Thank you for the tips, I have just started taking photos of newborns.

  • Thank you for this article. My niece and my daughter’s riding coach are both due in July and I am so excited to be able to take pics of newborns for the first time. Thanks for all the great tips!

  • Sue

    Very helpful for an amateur/grandma photographer! Love you’re sense of humor, too. Thanks!

  • Well said.

  • Allie Tallarico

    Wow this was wonderful. As a beginner I thought I was being too critical when I disliked newborn pictures with gaudy looking props. Of course any baby picture is darling, I just don’t want to see my baby dressed as a zebra sitting in a hat box or something like that. Great read, thanks for the tips!

  • Sarah

    Thank you for this article! I have been photographing lots of newborns lately and agree with everything you mentioned. I get frustrated with the trend to use babies are props, almost like they are little dolls to get a cute Anne Geddes like picture. Which I have done and am guilty of, of course! At the end of the day, you make an excellent point. Parents will almost never purchase the prop image, they want the one with their babies faces clear and center stage. Thanks for bringing this up! : )

  • Abhijit Sarkar

    Nice article. What, in your opinion, is an appropriate lens for photographing babies?

  • I like it.
    Only done 2 newborn sessions so far. The second was much better than the first – but those rules you set at the beginning are VERY important. Time, temp, feeding, age, etc…

    Flickr:
    http://bit.ly/oufr4c

  • Ken

    Nicely done article Lynsey! I like the way you think.

  • Tony Schmitt

    Great article! And extremely appropriate, as one of my best friends is giving birth sometime this weekend and I’ve been tasked as the family baby photographer. Great info!

  • Thank you!! I’m so glad it was maybe a bit helpful. 🙂

  • Great article – think I’ve been trying too hard. I tend to use a 50 mm f1.4 – what do others use?

  • Joan

    I am not a photographer but have been studying and reading your articles. this is a great article. ( As they all are) I purchased a Nixon last spring and have been enjoying experimenting with it. We just had a great grandaughter and i am having fun with photographing her. love your site. keep up the great work.

  • Anne
  • lilen

    Thank you!!! I think this will be very helpfull! You have a extremelly fresh way of writting

  • Helen Templeton
  • Sociable

    What’s yuor take on using flash for newborn photos?

  • Mark Calvo

    a timely topic! i’ve been snapping photos of our youngest (born 2 weeks ago) from day 1. this article will help a lot!

    https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/t1.0-9/p350x350/10304357_778820055463331_4890076092937103718_n.jpg

  • Thanks For this This is from my first newborn session 🙂 comments Please

  • Great article 🙂 I Love new born shoots I’ve only done 5 so far, but it was so much joy 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoyYjAyQlR4

  • lovely!! 🙂

  • he or she’s so cute!!

  • Gail

    Love the insights….COMPLETELY enamored by the delivery (no pun intended) of the information! You are a very good writer, Linsey! And to say that your photography is only “good” is a gross understatement. Your newborn photos are beautiful — and your philosophy on photographing the little handfuls of joy is spot on. NEVER. Wake. A. Child. 😉

  • Chrisaman Sood

    beautiful

  • someone

    selective coloring is terrible, please don’t do it again… ever

  • Posting a photo to any site and asking for feedback is a brave thing to do. Selective coloring is not my cup of tea, though I do still have clients who ask for it. I’m assuming you were hoping for some honest feedback and constructive criticism that you could use in the future. I find this image to be very delicate in nature and I love that about it. The pose is a classic though a slightly different angle than usual. Your black & white seems a bit flat–a different conversion or a curves bump might make a ton of difference. I also would be curious how this would look if shot a bit wider to really give us the idea of just how small a newborn is in those adult hands.
    I applaud you for asking for feedback and I hope this article was helpful!

  • This is TACK SHARP! Lovely. 🙂 I hope this article was helpful!

  • Thank yo so much for this kind comment–it made my day. 🙂

  • I don’t care to use flash ever, but especially not with newborns. I think it’s jarring. 🙂

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    excellent..

  • Jamie Sommers

    constructive feedback is much more valuable than a simple obnoxious comment based on opinion…

  • Nato Hinojosa

    How about a second opinion? No! Don’t ever do that!

  • Rye

    Fantastic work and very inspiring! The use of accessories and choice of color made me sure she is a girl. 🙂

  • Alison Beechner

    I think selective coloring can look great or terrible. In this particular instance I think it looks great. This is a beautiful photo.

  • Moe

    You are so funny. I am cracking up. And this is so helpful. Thank you.

  • bundle of joy

    Great tip for newborn photoshoot ..newborn photoshoot

Some Older Comments

  • Anne June 22, 2013 05:23 am

    My favorite picture of my daughter and her first child!

    https://www.facebook.com/anne.bruyere.7?ref=tn_tnmn#!/photo.php?fbid=10201325253597022&set=a.1218760792841.2033488.1343528509&type=1&theater

  • Joan June 16, 2013 09:01 pm

    I am not a photographer but have been studying and reading your articles. this is a great article. ( As they all are) I purchased a Nixon last spring and have been enjoying experimenting with it. We just had a great grandaughter and i am having fun with photographing her. love your site. keep up the great work.

  • Judith Conning June 16, 2013 05:52 pm

    Great article - think I've been trying too hard. I tend to use a 50 mm f1.4 - what do others use?

  • Lynsey Peterson June 15, 2013 09:00 am

    Thank you!! I'm so glad it was maybe a bit helpful. :)

  • Tony Schmitt June 15, 2013 03:34 am

    Great article! And extremely appropriate, as one of my best friends is giving birth sometime this weekend and I've been tasked as the family baby photographer. Great info!

  • Ken June 14, 2013 07:45 am

    Nicely done article Lynsey! I like the way you think.

  • Brian Fuller June 14, 2013 07:15 am

    I like it.
    Only done 2 newborn sessions so far. The second was much better than the first - but those rules you set at the beginning are VERY important. Time, temp, feeding, age, etc...

    Flickr:
    http://bit.ly/oufr4c

  • Abhijit Sarkar June 14, 2013 05:20 am

    Nice article. What, in your opinion, is an appropriate lens for photographing babies?

  • Sarah June 14, 2013 05:01 am

    Thank you for this article! I have been photographing lots of newborns lately and agree with everything you mentioned. I get frustrated with the trend to use babies are props, almost like they are little dolls to get a cute Anne Geddes like picture. Which I have done and am guilty of, of course! At the end of the day, you make an excellent point. Parents will almost never purchase the prop image, they want the one with their babies faces clear and center stage. Thanks for bringing this up! : )

  • Allie Tallarico June 14, 2013 02:21 am

    Wow this was wonderful. As a beginner I thought I was being too critical when I disliked newborn pictures with gaudy looking props. Of course any baby picture is darling, I just don't want to see my baby dressed as a zebra sitting in a hat box or something like that. Great read, thanks for the tips!

  • gloriam June 14, 2013 01:39 am

    Well said.

  • Sue June 14, 2013 01:32 am

    Very helpful for an amateur/grandma photographer! Love you're sense of humor, too. Thanks!

  • Janice June 14, 2013 12:54 am

    Thank you for this article. My niece and my daughter's riding coach are both due in July and I am so excited to be able to take pics of newborns for the first time. Thanks for all the great tips!

  • Karen June 14, 2013 12:50 am

    Great article.. Thank you for the tips, I have just started taking photos of newborns.

  • Debi June 12, 2013 09:52 pm

    Excellent article! It's nice to see someone that isn't stuck on the current trend of using a million props for newborns. I want to see the babies, not the stuff someone has decided to stick the baby in.

  • Cramer Imaging June 11, 2013 08:23 am

    Very nice. I find that even babies a couple of months old will still follow the general posing assists but they will have far more interactive and interesting faces. I personally find that the Anne Geddes style shot works fine in advertizing and calendars but not so well for hanging on the wall as a mark of pride. However, every one has to try jumping on that particular bandwagon and some never fall back off.

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