Newborn photography is, in my opinion, one of the most rewarding (and difficult) branches that a photographer can get into. I’ve shot numerous hectic weddings where I was physically exhausted afterwards, and had lifestyle sessions where nothing went right, but nothing has even come close to the process involved when taking photos of a precious newborn baby!
Over the years, I’ve learned some insightful tips from interacting with parents, to posing newborns safely, and also my philosophy when it comes to editing. I want to give all of these tips to you, to hopefully fast-forward your newborn photography aspirations and take you to the next level.
Before I dive right in, I want to give you some insight on my background and techniques, so that you can evaluate your style compared to mine, and make adjustments to my tips to suit your photography.
LIGHTING AND SHOOTING PACE
First, I’m a natural light newborn photographer. I will use a continuous lighting system in my studio on the darkest of days, but 99% of the time the only light in my photos is coming from that big fiery ball in the sky. Speaking of studio, I exclusively shoot newborn sessions at my in-home studio space. I’ve converted one of the bedrooms in my home to my shoot-space. You don’t need a huge studio for newborn photography – my small 10×10′ (3×3 meters)room with two windows gives me enough natural light and room to do everything I need to do.
Safety is my absolute number one priority for taking photos of newborns, which I’ll talk more about later in the article. It scares me how many pros and amateurs alike don’t make this step important. While on my soapbox, if you don’t make safety an absolute priority, then you have NO business photographing newborns. Whew – I feel better now.
Whether you’re a photographer inviting newborns and their parents in, or you’re a parent yourself trying to capture beautiful images of your baby, the steps for preparation are virtually the same.
Here are some great tips to keep in mind when you prepare for the session:
- Warm it up! I close the door to my studio and use a space heater in the corner to warm the room up to about 80-85 degrees F (26-29c). This is usually a great temperature to keep the baby happy, especially if they aren’t swaddled. Be sure to give any clients a heads up about the warmth, and suggest they bring light clothes for themsleves.
- Wash your hands. Take every precaution not to spread germs, especially for a newborn with a weak and developing immune system.
- Do NOT wear jewelry. I always take off my rings, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces. While the likelihood of your jewelry falling off is low, it’s not a zero chance. Keep it simple to keep the baby safe.
- Avoid fragrances. While a newborn’s vision and hearing senses are not too keen, their sense of smell is very sensitive. Don’t wear perfume/cologne, fragrant lotions, or strong hand sanitizers. This can upset the baby quickly.
- Try to create some white noise. Having some white noise can dull any thuds, shuffles, or the sound of the shutter on the camera that may otherwise wake a baby. My space heater serves to not only provide heat, but also gives me plenty of white noise. You may want to consider an app on your phone if the space heater is too far away, or too quiet.
- Get all your props, backdrops, blankets, etc., ready before you take any photos. The less you have to move the baby to set up a new shot, the better.
Another aspect of preparation for photographers working with clients, that isn’t talked about as much, is preparing for newborn parents. As a photographer myself, I have met hundreds of parents who are swelling with pride for bringing life into the world, but who are also completely exhausted. I offer my clients coffee when they arrive to let them know that this is a haven for comfort, and to trust me because I know what they are going through.
You’ll also run into two types of parents while photographing newborns: “hover” parents and “passive” parents. Hover parents may clutch and grab for their baby at the slightest sign of a whimper (which is natural human instinct, by the way), and it can impede your ability to take great photos for them. Passive parents are typically those that are the opposite of hover parents, and I’ve found are usually associated with parents who’ve had multiple children and are pretty laid back about the whole process.
The best solution for interacting with all parents is to make sure they’re properly informed before the session begins. Reassure them that their baby’s safety is your number one priority, go over your process with them, and make sure you openly communicate about their baby during the session. This will help ease any concerns a nervous new parent may have.
I LOVE natural newborn poses, and I try my best to capture the precious little miracle, and show how they are naturally. I do own a newborn posing beanbag (which I highly recommend purchasing) that has curves, allowing me prop the baby up, or lay them down. There are literally hundreds of guides on the internet about how to pose a newborn, so I won’t go into the different specific poses and setups here. However, I will go over the basics, and get into some more in-depth and technical aspects. If you have no idea how to start posing a baby, start with those guides before you ever (read: ever, ever, ever) actually take photos of a newborn!
Like I’ve stated numerous times already, MAKE SAFETY FIRST! Natural poses are also safe because there’s very little risk involved if the baby twitches or moves spontaneously. While the baby is posed naturally, I’ll also snag some macro feature shots of the baby’s unique features like their cute little noses, tiny feet and toes, and the adorable little lips they have. Posing the baby naked, or swaddled with blankets, is something that you’ll decide, hopefully after a conversation with the baby’s parents to see what they prefer, and what photo theme they want.
You WILL eventually run into a fussy baby at times while posing during the session. It’s pretty rare to have a newborn that gives you no issues at all. That being said, you can prep the baby beforehand to increase your chances of successful posing. I always ask the parents to plan a feeding right before the session begins. Full belly = a happy baby most of the time. However, this isn’t the be-all-end-all solution for some newborns. I’ve been affectionately called the “baby whisperer” by many of my clients because I can typically sense what the baby wants, but I do so by using cues that the baby provides.
A hungry newborn will cry and root, sometimes shaking their heads back and forth and opening their mouths (kind of like a fish) as they look for a food source, i.e. Mommy. Another symptom of being fussy can stem from being cold. Look for tiny goosebumps on their skin to see if they’re too cold. The newborn baby may also be gassy, which can be tough to detect many times, but usually happens in a delay after a feeding. Sometimes it feels impossible to detect what may be causing the baby to be upset. I’ve found that often this is due to the newborn being just slightly uncomfortable or restless. You can calm a a fussy little one by doing some very soft rubs on their forehead or back, or some very light taps on their bottoms. Every baby is different in what they like so it may take some trial and error.
While I prefer to naturally pose the baby, I will also do a few “risky” shots for variety, and that artistic touch. I put risky in quotes because these photos would be completely unsafe normally, but with composite editing in Photoshop, you can merge safe images together to create the artistic illusion you may be going for. Classic examples of this would be the head propped on hands photo (see above picture), hammock photos, or anything where the baby is perched on some object. By the way, you should never do these photos in one take – use the composite route! Just do a quick Google search for “composite newborn images” for step-by-step instructions on how to pull this off.
As a natural light photographer, I don’t typically manipulate the light in too many of my photos in Photoshop. I’ll make some tweaks here and there, but my biggest adjustments are typically associated with skin smoothing (although I also do some touching-up in post-processing). Slightly overexposing images helps with smoothing the baby’s skin, and shooting in RAW can help you correct any exposure or color issues along the way.
Here’s a tip – you don’t need a massive studio with a huge backdrop to create gorgeous images from far away. Take the example before/after photo above (sans newborn baby) – some minor editing and blending can create fabulous images you’ll be proud of. Just search for some floor/backdrop fading tutorials online for details and step-by-step instructions on how to do it.
Using the clone tool, the blend tool, and creating/manipulating layer masks in Photoshop, you can create exactly what you are after in a “look”. Digital Photography School has some basic Photoshop tips that are fabulous!
In the end, you’ll need to decide what your style is, and what you want your photos to look like. My style includes editing out the skin imperfections on the newborns, but leaving certain features on macro shots (like skin flakes, birth marks, some baby acne, etc.), but there are others in my area that leave the images as they are, with very little touching up. It’s up to you. If someone has hired you, it’s because that person loves your images and the way you edit your photos – stick with it, or try to appeal to a different base.