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When I first started taking on clients, as a new photographer I thought newborns would be my favorite. They seemed so easy, lying around, ready to be molded into any pose I desired, nothing to it. Fast forward five years and hundreds of dollars later, they are still my favorite, but I’ve wasted a lot of money, sweat, and tears trying to figure out how to do it correctly. If you are just starting out, either with new clients, or your own baby, this article is for you, before you throw away a lot of money.
How to get started doing newborn photography
I figured to get the cutest newborn portraits I needed lots of hats, bows, blankets, and baskets. Then I needed colors that worked for boys, and ones that worked for girls. I bought tiny cribs, and big wooden letters to match the baby’s first initial of his or her first name. My house was so cluttered with photography gear we weren’t able to house our guests in our guest room, and I’m not even done.
I had a fake wood floor that was made of paper so I also had a pull out shelf from our armoire that was big enough to support the fake floor on the carpet. I had heaters, and backdrop stands, and so many blankets and backdrops they over took me. Every time I read an article about a photographer and what gear she used to get ONE specific photo, I would hunt down those items for myself. They mentioned she used rolled up receiving blankets under the baby’s head? Fire up Amazon, I need to get myself some of those. When would I be satisfied? I wanted to spend money on lenses, and photography classes, but I was so sure one more prop would produce the most amazing baby portrait, so that’s where all my money went.
Last year I read a photography article called, Less is More. It opened my eyes. It struck me that the baby is the art, not the props. The props will probably date your photograph (have you seen the photos that are black and white except for a red rose in color?). But a baby, on a simple background, with only the simplest of accessories, will be stunning, because of the baby. That is why I’m here to tell you, save your money, especially if you’re just starting out. You can achieve phenomenal photographs of babies with only the very basics, and it’s so much easier than trying to fit her into that basket while trying to keep her asleep!
First of all, you need something to put the baby on. If you are working on posing the baby (versus lifestyle photography which requires no posing), you need something that is slightly malleable. Many professional photographers buy expensive beanbags, but you don’t need that. I actually use a leather ottoman we have here in our house, and when I do sessions at client homes I bring it with me.
Of course, last week I forgot to load it in my car for a newborn session. I got to the house and realized it was missing. They didn’t have any ottomans of their own, so instead I pulled the two large bottom cushions off their couch and stacked them on top of each other. For both the cushions and the ottoman I layer multiple blankets on top of each other. In between the blankets I have a few layers of waterproof sheets that are leftover from my own children, and a heating pad. The multiple layers of blankets make it soft and pliable, and the top few layers are the various backdrops I use to photograph the babies on, so I just keep removing layers for the different backgrounds (see below).
I only shoot on black, white, and cream. I have gotten away from colored blankets, but that’s my choice. I used to have colored blankets as well, and you may still want that, but don’t buy the expensive options off of etsy, use blankets you already own. I do recommend neutral colors though because bright reds, pinks, and greens can cause colorcasts on baby’s skin.
The stack of blankets help the baby to sink down a little bit if you want her to, and I also bought a stack of white washcloths from Costco, that I bring with me to roll up and stick in between the blankets and the baby to get her propped and curled exactly how I want her. A boppy (feeding pillow) under a blanket may be a good way to get some of the poses you want, and I’ve found that if you can’t use a boppy, another good option is a neck pillow like you’d use on the plane. I actually prefer that to the boppy because it’s small, and perfectly sized for a baby’s body, so it helps keep the baby propped in place if you lay her on her belly with her arms and head resting on the pillow.
I like a continuous look for my backdrop, so I use the same material under the baby and stretch it up to create the background behind the baby. I own a stand that I bought for the purpose of holding up backdrops (or you can make your own), but you don’t need one of those. Invest in some heavy-duty clips, and you can pin up the material or blanket to anything above the baby. I’ve used bed frames, chair backs, stepladders, tables, etc., it’s just a matter of looking around you to see what will work. When I’m at a client’s house I pull stuff from all over the house to use during the session. I always put it all back the way I found it, and no one has ever had any issues.
So I mentioned lifestyle photography. It’s something that is becoming ever more popular. Essentially, it’s about capturing photos without posing the family too much. Of course you will set the scene. You might move some furniture around, lay a blanket on the ground, and tell the family members where to sit or stand. But beyond that, you let them sort of do their thing. The photos are natural, realistic, and lovely. But I think lifestyle alone is not enough when we’re talking about newborn photos. Of course they are easier, and require almost no additional props at all, but most people want at least two or three posed photos of the baby alone.
Now for the accessories. Again, you don’t have to spend a ton of money on this stuff, and believe me, it’s easy to rack up a pretty big bill once you start purchasing. My favorite backdrop is a stretchy knit fabric that when smoothed over my blankets, has no wrinkles. I bought it at a craft store. I also bought an extra, smaller piece of the same fabric to wrap the babies in. I love the continuous look. But if you don’t want to buy anything at all, look around – you probably have some scarves, shawls, or small baby swaddling blankets you can use. I’m not a huge fan of big bows, but I do like small tiebacks. You can purchase one of two of them, or make your own with some twine and pretty beads.
Once you start looking around at what you already own, I bet you can find many different options for positioning, backdrops, and wraps. To add some variety you can purchase some scarves, head ties, or small pieces of material at the fabric store that won’t set you back a lot of money, but will bring the needed variety in your photos.
Good luck, and remember it’s the baby you’re trying to capture, not the props. Don’t forget those long eyelashes, those tiny toes, and those perfect pouty lips.
This week on dPS we’re featuring articles all about different kinds of people photography including portrait, event and travel photography. See all the previous ones below, this article is the last one in the series.