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There are lots of different styles of photography when it comes to capturing a newborn baby. Some people love to use lots of props, and introduce many fun things into every photo. Some are experts at posing the baby in unique and whimsical positions.
Although I can appreciate all the different styles, I prefer to capture a newborn baby the way that I remember my three newborns. My kids are almost all grown up now, and it’s hard to remember exactly what they were like when they were brand new. Every once in awhile, I have sweet memories of how they were once upon a time. The sweet smell of a newborn’s head. The skinny knees stretching out. The reflex grasp of those tiny fingers. The perfect little toes and wrinkly feet. The million different expressions that could keep me entertained for hours. The soft cheek, and even the peeling skin that inevitably showed up for a little while.
These are the things I remember. These are the memories I cherish. These are the moments I try to preserve with my camera with natural newborn photos.
One of the wonderful things about photographing babies more naturally, is that you can let so many ideas of perfection go. If your baby loves a pacifier, photograph him with a pacifier. If she’s having a fussy day, grab a few crying photos. It’s okay, because it’s life. Real life. We’re not trying to create an illusion that the baby is something other than who he is, that very moment.
Be patient and flexible when photographing newborns, and leave lots of time to stop for feeding, burping, or changing a diaper. If your goal is to just capture baby as she is, you don’t have to be as worried about getting a whole session in within the two week old time period. It’s okay if baby isn’t quite as moldable if you aren’t trying to mold them into anything in particular. Since we’re just keeping it real, you can be more relaxed. Shoot another day if the first day you try just doesn’t work out. Also, you don’t have to stress out about keeping the baby sleepy the whole time. If he’s asleep, photograph him that way. If she’s wide awake, capture those eyes. It doesn’t matter.
I love to photograph little details. I can’t hold a newborn without pulling her socks off to have a peek at her feet. That means that I can’t photograph a newborn without getting a few shots of those perfect little baby feet, either. Find the little details you love, and capture them. Feet, hands, ears, knees, hair; everything is cuter in miniature. It’s a good idea to capture hands and feet with mom or dad’s hands holding them too, because it will help the parents remember exactly how small they were.
Don’t wait for a perfect expression. Those wrinkly foreheads, big yawns, hungry mouths, pouty lips, and even those sad cries can be perfect photo opportunities. Baby faces are fascinating!
I like to use a pretty wide aperture when I photograph these details. If you can shoot at around f/2, give or take, those details will be the star of the photo. You won’t be distracted by other things, and the part you want to highlight will look especially sharp. Shooting wide open is a good idea when you are capturing other newborn moments, like baby’s bath, putting socks or a hat on, swaddling, or anything that you want the focus to be on or a particular action.
Be careful when you are shooting with a depth of field this shallow that your focus is EXACTLY where you want it, and that you don’t move after you lock in your focus. A slight movement from you or the baby could put your photo completely out of focus, and ruin what you are trying to achieve.
For more help shooting indoors with a wide aperture, you can read my article on Indoor Portraits Using Natural Light.
You might want to get some photos of your sweet newborn in her carefully decorated crib or nursery. If there’s a rocking chair that he loves to be held in, photograph mom or dad rocking the baby. One of my favorite memories with my babies was getting them out of their crib in the morning, or after nap time. They always seemed so happy to see me, and they looked so sweet and small in those big cribs. I wish I had photos to help me remember those times in better detail. Think of baby’s little world, and photograph him in the places he spends a lot of time in.
You could also take photos of the little things that are part of life with a baby, without the baby in the photo. Stacks of diapers, rubber ducks, teeny shoes, bottles, pacifiers, etc. can be photographed to remember what life was like when your house was overtaken by baby things.
Don’t forget to capture how the rest of the family feels about the new baby. Photograph sister’s look of adoration. Photograph brother’s fascination with baby’s little toes. Photograph mom’s absolute love for her tiny new being. Photograph dad’s proud protectiveness, and contrasting rough, big hands.
Sometimes the relationships the family has with the new baby are my very favorite thing to photograph. The love and bonding that happens so quickly with a new baby in the house is an amazing thing, and those special moments are so important to preserve.
Be careful with young siblings that you keep the newborn safe as you are photographing them. You can capture their natural reactions to the baby while still keeping the baby safe. Let them sit near their little brother or sister if they’re too young to hold the baby. They can pat him, or lightly kiss him on the head. If you have a young child hold the baby, make sure someone is standing right outside the frame to take the baby as soon as little sister is “done”, because sometimes that can happen very suddenly.
If you’ve always thought that baby photos had to be perfectly posed and creatively propped, give lifestyle newborn photography a chance. Try photographing a new baby swaddled in a blanket. See if you can capture a bunch of funny expressions, or capture “a day in the life” of the newborn. You may decide that these natural, real life photos are your favorite after all.