How to Photograph Newborns

How to Photograph Newborns


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A Guest Post by Steph Tan.

Among the many different photo shoots one can do, I’ve always considered newborn photography as one of the most challenging. Having great equipment and great technical know-how is never enough. For me, this is the genre of photography where the human touch is most important.

Here are a few simple tips to make the most out of a newborn session:

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1. Get mommy and daddy onboard.

Have a plan, seek permission for everything that you want to do, and make sure the parents are onboard. Let them know if you wish to use flash or natural light, what areas in the house you are interested in shooting in, whether you need towels and blankets, and that these things might get soiled during the shoot. The more you engage them, the more keen they will be to help you out during the shoot. Ask if they are comfortable with nude baby shots, or if they wish to keep the baby dressed throughout the shoot. Asking and letting them know beforehand will make the shoot much more manageable once you’re there and ready to shoot.

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2. Lots of patience and mood management.

While you have a plan, be ready to mix them around or chuck them out of the window if necessary. For these sessions, I will usually advise clients to book at least 2 hours of the photographer’s time. That way, there is ample time to settle baby down when s/he’s feeling agitated, to feed when hungry (and boy, these little munchters get hungry very frequently), and clean up when the little (expected) accidents happen. As a photographer, you need to manage the mood in your set, both that of the baby’s and the parents. A stiff shoot plan won’t help you if your subjects are not relaxed. Don’t forget to put yourself on your clients’ shoes and understand how they feel. From there, you can sort out what will help them calm down and enjoy the session with you.

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3. Know their story.

For every stage of a baby’s life, they reach milestones, which are gems in their baby history. For newborns, the most unique bits for me are the tiny flakes on their skin, their newborn pimples, the wrinkles on their arms and legs, how small they are when you fold them into a fetal position, and their ability to sleep through anything. Read up on your baby age milestones and understand what are the important bits of their story. As they grow up, these things can be their propensity to put everything in their mouth, sitting on their own, belly crawls, crawling up on their hands and knees, the first teeth, first step, and so forth.

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4. Growing.

These little ones are growing everyday. Highlight how tiny s/he is at this given point in time, and use stuff around the house as reference points on how much the little ones has grown. It can be something as straight forward as a measuring tape, or it can be something more playful like a teddy bear, a bowl, a basket, or daddy’s hands.

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5. Focus on the relationships.

Everyone’s excited about the new baby! Other than shots of the whole family with baby, make sure to get a shot of baby with mommy, and a shot of baby with daddy. For bigger families, a shot of the elder sibling with the new baby is a classic heart-warmer, and is something that every parent finds precious. When you’re managing two little ones, there will be lots of patience required as usually, one will feel fussy while the other one feels cooperative. Make sure to engage the elder child and make them feel that this is just a game instead of a task. Shoot in burst mode, and wait for the perfect moment when they are connected.

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6. Once you’ve covered the ‘organic’ shots, play around with the set, props and wardrobe.

Before the shoot, ask permission to use some props you’ve been itching to try out. It will be good to ask the mommy and daddy if there are sentimental items (i.e. gifts from grandparents or childhood stuff) that they’d wish to incorporate into the shoot. This will get the parents involved, make the shoot more meaningful for them and more fun for you.

I hope these help. And when all else fails, just remember to tap into your softer side and put yourself in your clients’ shoes. Newborn photography is a quiet celebration of human life and the ties that bind.

See more of Steph Tan’s work at her websiteblog and on facebook.

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Some Older Comments

  • Jay McIntyre May 18, 2012 03:59 am

    thanks for the article, patience is definitely key. It is best not to schedule anything else close to a newborn session as you may need to account for a feeding or a diaper/wardrobe change. Babies don't know that you have a busy schedule.
    Here's a recent newborn shoot that I did.

  • David December 30, 2011 03:38 pm

    I really get frustrated as a photographer when I hear other "photographers" make comments about nude photographs as if they are negative. after reading these comments it leads one to believe there is an age cap for nude youths under 18 and what parts are visible. seems most of you do not know the difference between nude art, nude documentary, and sexually explicit material. if you truly want to be an artist and help protect the rights of photographers world wide then I strongly suggest you realise the difference between these formats of nude media. hiding "forbiden areas"? wth? according to the law books a person under the age of 18 can be photographed in a sexually explicit nature and still be fully clothed. that person can be held liable. so although my comments may not be openly welcomed and I assure you I'm not trolling for drama. additionally I dont shoot nudes personally myself, still I think its important you all have the information needed and do not lay the ground work for additional narrow minded laws to be placed on our books. as artist and photographers we must set the bar and we must stand firm as a group to protect our craft from what some try to deem as sexually explicit material. that in of itself is in the eyes of the beholder. and may not be the photographers vision at all. some folks may not understand what I'm trying to convey, I hope I have not came accross in a manner that was not intended. I did enjoy the article as always it was very helpful. sorry for the rant if it needs to be called that. I just think its important as the future of photographic art is the results of each of our opinions collectively which forms the laws we must abide by.example: if photographer jane doe photos a nude child playing in the tub should it be her held liable or the person who sees the photo as sexually explicit. seems the one who seen it as that way is the one who has the problem, they are the one who is looking at things NOT as they was intended nor how they truly are but how their own inner demons interpit them. just saying. we all need to think about these issues as they are truly important issues. again sorry for the rant and running off topic. love and respect to DPS and its members. peace and love to you all!

  • Otto Haring - Miami December 17, 2011 01:52 am

    I am a wedding photographer. Thanks for having an idea how to take baby photos...! :)

  • Mark McKnight October 8, 2011 08:41 am

    The best tip that I learned from Steph was using burst mode when shooting baby photographs. I already knew how to compose the shots and the use of props, but I never thought about using burst mode to get the money shot. I have tried it now and it worked really well.

  • Paul September 18, 2011 08:19 pm

    Nice article, will suit all those baby and bumps photographers!

  • Stephanie September 14, 2011 12:26 am

    Jack has an opinion, and as a pro, I've run into it as well with people bashing work I've done with newborns. The part of the comment I hated most was "I'm living in Utah..." Give me a break Jack...I'm living in Utah too, and dare I say...I'm a Mormon who photo's babies nude!

    People, please don't think that our religion dictates a behavior like Jacks. I absolutely agree that nude babies can be done tastefully and honestly, they are downright adorable! Clothes sometimes clutter a shot, right? I only bring this up because Jack had to mention Utah in his comment, and mentioning Utah is the same as mentioning religion, right? Thank you all for your input, especially Jason-- I thought your comment was well said.

    To the photographer- beautiful (and tasteful!) work. I am constantly inspired!

  • Jason September 3, 2011 10:54 am

    In my earlier post I said " I really hate giving jack so much attention" and then did the one thing I didn't want to do, lets focus on methods of shooting etc and not let him ruin the thread - even if he posts again I for one will just ignore him - no matter what he says.

    I did a shoot where the nude baby was held up to the sun, and the overexposure from the bright backlighting obscures the "sensitive parts" - when I came back for the next shoot I noticed something interesting - they had ordered a 20x30 print of it and it was in the baby's room over the crib in a beautiful frame. I will try to find the shot and post it later.

    I found that if the parent sees your prior work they realize you're reputable. If youre a female they are even more comfortable. I feel honored that folks entrust me, it always made me feel good inside to know that people like/trust me... and all nude subjects (or parents thereof) are basically saying "we like and trust you".

    of course, if a parent wanted a 10 year old nude shoot - call 911

  • Laura Ryan September 3, 2011 10:41 am

    blah blah blah .. religion Jack.. . so you think Jesus was never nude..There are many images of Jesus nude throughout time and during the Renaissance as a baby.

    There is no god or voice telling people to not photograph a newborn nude. There can be tactful ways of doing this.. I can't stand religion being brought into art and people forcing other views by quoting the so " called bible"

    Anyway fantastic imagery !! Great post!!

  • steph August 29, 2011 11:02 pm

    Hi guys, many ways to do the final shot. The way I did it though is to shoot against a window with sheer white curtains, stepping it up a couple of stops so that the subject is properly exposed. Shot in RAW. The backlighting gives it the natural glowy feel. Did some contrast and minor exposure adjustments in camera raw. Had random bokeh shots lying around, so I layered it in to just add to the dreaminess and to distract from the nudity. =) Hope this helps. =) and happy shooting!

  • ks rajaram August 29, 2011 09:22 pm

    Excellent coverage with useful hints supported by impressive pictures. Volumes and Volumes of useful information is given by you for almost NO COST Great service to the World of photographic Art !! Hearty Compliments . I feel the immense comfort of sailing with you in a well equiped Ship to encounter all turbulances of the Grand, Vast and Deep Sea of Images

  • S RAMAKRISHNAN August 29, 2011 03:09 pm

    My wife is pregnant and I am awaiting the arrival of the new member of my family. I want to photograph as much as possible and I believe these tips will help in that. Thank you very much.

  • Jason August 28, 2011 07:01 am

    Obviously I am not sure how this photographer specifically did this - but the last photo could be created with a while muslin background and two photo strobes. One to overexpose the background and for the subjects. Personally I would have the lighting set up for proper exposure, shoot in RAW, and then in post increase the exposure to get the desired effect. It also looks like a brush tool was used to overexpose some areas more than others... but I could only speculate exactly how it was done. But thats how I would do it. To finish it all off, I would use "post crop vignetting" in lightroom 3, change the midpoint so that it covers most of the image and then feather it out so that it has an angelic look. I have NO idea how to add a picture here to this post, but I would love to show how these steps can be used to change a normal exposure image to look like this. I dont belong to flikr, so please visit

  • Stephanie August 28, 2011 05:23 am

    I second the request for a lighting set up "how to" with the last shot. It is just amazingly lovely, as are the rest of the photos. Thanks the for the article, great tips. I'm due, well two days ago and am excited to capture some sweet moments of our newest arrival! As for the discussion on the topic at hand for pure baby pics it's interesting to get everyones feedback. I am hoping to someday pursue becoming a semi pro photographer and it's good to see that the majority have a similar idea of what is acceptable and that I fall into the majority. All that being said, it's so important to know what the parent want and find acceptable or not. We live in a very warm climate and I have tons of photos of my toddler airing out his diaper area (heat + humidity= diaper rash) blowing bubbles and playing outside in our private yard. These are some very sweet memories for me as a mommy and I love that I have been able to capture some of these sweet moments. One of my fav pic being his sweet little baby cheeks covered in mud, water flying out of a hose (he was "helping" me water the grass) and him looking over his shoulder and with a fun sun flare in just the right spot. I do appreciate the innocence, and sweetness of a little one (and even a carefree toddler running around enjoying their freedom) dressed in their birthday suit. :)

  • Samantha August 27, 2011 05:16 am

    Well enough about Jack... thanks for putting it to bed Jason. Back on topic, in the final picture in this series the mother and baby are "enveloped" in a beautiful soft white light shining from behind them; all I would like to know is how can I achieve a shot like that? Is it simply that the photographer shot into the sun behind them? Or is there photoshop/lightroom tricks afoot? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • Dewan Demmer August 26, 2011 11:11 pm

    Shots with regards to nudity are always a personal thing, and as @jason mentioned it about postioning, I happily photograph babies naked, but I will always look to have them at that clever angle that hides those "Zones" ... the "Zones" in this case do not add to portrait and concealing them in a clever or almost natural way we can even add something.
    These photos are meant for the mantle piece or on the wall in the entrance area, so its about taking a photo and making sure its tastefully done.

  • Graham August 26, 2011 06:10 pm

    Excellent comment, well done.
    To me the "forbidden zones" are exactly that. Too many people with a warped sense of humour that will dig out these images after 20 years, for whatever reason, much to the embarrasment of others, under the guise of humour.

  • Jason August 26, 2011 10:37 am

    I really hate to give Jack so much attention but the topic is important. I have done many newborn shoots and the parents almost always specifically ask for nude shots... Nudity is not profane in the least bit. Now on the other hand there is a line. If a parent wanted a picture of specifically a certain body part, or touching in an inappropriate way - well that obviously cannot be allowed and authorities must be called immediately.

    The nude shots are not "full frontal nudity", they are cute side or rear shots, I always cover the "forbidden zones" by moving the child or having them held a different way. I believe in this so much I have a nude pics of my own daughter and wife on my photography website at

    I think it is immature to not be able to handle such topics. Perhaps Jack feels uncomfortable changing his baby too. But it has to be done! From a purely scientific standpoint someone who is usually so opposed to something fears it. And maybe Jack is trying to stay out of trouble. In that case more power to him for PERSONALLY not taking part in taking the nude photos. Its not an attack on Jack, but more of a behavioral profile. Utah, DC, Paris, who cares - we all know what kind of pictures cross a line and these beautiful pictures of a baby's first days on earth - a new life, so pure, so clean, honest.... there really is no way to show that with a layer of clothing covering it up. That is what makes the nude baby shots so important.

    That being said it is up to the parents to show those to others. The pictures I took are MOSTLY for my own family.. only the extremely "hidden nudes" I share with others. I can tell you, when I did the shoot with my baby Ellie, I felt a connection to those pictures. Thats what art is about - it moves you. My guess is I will have that picture in my hand as I watch her getting married someday - seeing how she started and where she got to. From a fragile nude newborn to a bride.... and I will cry and not care who sees me because it is true emotion.

    Nudity is not evil in any way - its what you do with it!


  • steph August 26, 2011 05:00 am

    hi there, i think on baby nudity, this is a matter of personal preference. the clients are afterall asking you to take their photos for personal purposes, so the best thing is to ask your clients what they are comfortable with. i won't even restrict it to cultural or religious context. let's just keep it simple and just ask. =)

    hi stef, on the shot of the baby being held folded against a black backdrop, i kept it simple by shooting against a black shirt and a black leather headrest. the raw shot will not be as clean, so I did some clean-up in post-processing. =) hope this helps.


  • Jared August 26, 2011 03:26 am

    Alexander im from Utah and the nudity was not an issue with my wife and I or any of our friends with newborns.

  • Wayne August 26, 2011 03:07 am

    @Stef They used a black drape over the Mom just exposing the portions of her arms and hands the wanted in the shot. If you look you can see what I mean.

  • Ros August 26, 2011 02:02 am

    Although interesting as an article I was disapointed to see that the majority of images are not what I would class as a newborn being photographed.
    The majority of newborn photographers out there will tell you that they consider newborn to be 2 weeks and under in age, the babies above are generally older than this.
    With regards to nudity i think that it is the parents choice, I would never show anything in my photos, even those for just the parents viewing as I find it tasteless, but I have seen many 'ART' photo's of newborns that are quite graphic.
    Saying that what could be more natural than a baby as naked as the day it's born?

  • Wendy August 26, 2011 01:58 am

    I live in Utah and we shoot newborns nude all the time...not sure where in Utah you live.....

  • Heather August 26, 2011 01:08 am

    I’m also from Utah and I feel like a newborn shoot isn’t complete without a few naked bum photos. I honestly think Jack was being sarcastic. At least, I hope he was!

  • Killian August 25, 2011 08:03 am

    Too bad god didn't teach "us" to use capitalization, punctuation, and correct spelling. Or maybe that's just a Utah thing?


    My biggest issue with newborn photography is coming up with ideas that aren't overdone or trite. The wedding bands over the toes, the baby on a stack of towels, the baby slung over the dad's arm, it just gets so boring. When the originality slips, the photos are no longer as special.

    I'd love to see/hear some examples of cool ideas to be shared.

  • Sean August 24, 2011 01:43 pm

    Jack, ummm idk if im right but werent Adam and Eve naked until they ate the fruit off of the forbidden tree? so God intended us to be naked, and there is an art in those pictures

  • Ellie August 24, 2011 10:44 am

    As far as newborn nudity in the states is concerned, I've found that it's really a case by case basis, different communities have different viewpoints on the subject. For the most part, however, it is common and acceptable.

  • Ron Slaughter August 24, 2011 07:13 am

    Hi Steph,

    This article couldn't have come at a better time. Thanks for for your time and effort in writing it. Hopefully I'll have some nice shots up on my website soon.


    PS you have a very nice website as well!

  • Alexander Rose August 24, 2011 05:50 am

    I'm sure he does. Doesn't God use Canon?

  • Jack August 23, 2011 06:54 pm

    im living in utah and we would never photograph a nude newborn.
    the lord in all his wisdom gave us rules to live by and we shall praise the lord of light for creating us humans after his image. but we should not take pictures of naked bodys.

    may god bless you all.

  • Stef August 23, 2011 11:39 am

    Hi, I'm wondering how to accomplish the shots that have the black background and only parts of the body show up, as in your example above of the mother holding the baby? It looks as though she is simply wearing a black shirt, but I've seen some where parts of the baby are not showing but they can't be simply covered up. Just wondering if there are some tricks to those shots. Any help would be appreciated!

  • Alexander Rose August 23, 2011 04:48 am

    How is the nudity issue being treated in the US?
    I'm European and seriously, I cannot imagine anybody putting their newborn into a dress of whatever nature for a shooting.
    Just curious and I don't mean this offensive at all.

  • Dewan Demmer August 23, 2011 01:39 am

    The great thing about new born is they sleep a lot, generally. I have been quite lucky that I have been able to learn from my daughter, and from some friends with more knowledge than me.
    I like props with a new born, nothing over the top. I realise a colourful scarf or a simple cushion can do it all, simple yet brilliant so long it creates some contrast.
    Getting parents involved is a excellent idea, however new parents will obviously be new at this and probably overly careful, so give everyone time to acclimatise to any ideas and don't be afraid to explain how they will be involved.
    Here are photos from I took of my daughter, and please don't be shy to give helpful feed back, its always appreciated.