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Newborn Photography Basics and the Equipment to Use

Many newborn photographers, especially those who specialize in purely newborn photos, have their own studio.

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Parents come to them with their newborns, and their studios are fully kitted-out with lights (unless they are a natural light only photographer), backdrops and props. Some newborn photographers also travel to clients’ home and bring with them their own portable studio.

When I started photography, I did all sorts under the sun. Weddings, families, children, events, birthdays, newborns, maternity…Cake-smash is the only obvious thing I can think of that I haven’t done.

Over time, I cut down on the others and focused on weddings. Now don’t get me wrong, I still do these photography genres, but reserve them for past and annual clients and referrals.

What I’ll share with you is my way of doing newborns, my preferences and the equipment I use. There are other ways and styles, so please don’t take this as gospel and the only way to do newborns. It’s just the style that I prefer. Instead, take this as some advice (if there’s any you find helpful), and as a choice out of the many styles out there.

Before we dive in, let me first say that I didn’t go into newborn photography without reading up on it and learning about safety. Safety is critical. You can’t wing it. Instead, you have to understand risks and take necessary precautions with your equipment, process, and workflow. Baby safety is of utmost importance, over and beyond poses, props and style.

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Choose a style

Your style dictates your equipment. If you want very natural looking photos, no poses, or plenty of candid captures, then you probably won’t need much equipment such as stands, backdrops, or softboxes. All you need are the basics – a camera, the correct lenses (24-70 or 50mm and a macro for close-ups like a 60mm), memory cards, batteries, reflector, speedlight (if using as a back-up).

If you like props, then it’s the opposite. You may need to use everything but your kitchen sink – baskets, bowls, wraps, flowers, textured rugs, fabrics, or toys. These are on top of all other photography equipment.

My preference is going to clients’ homes. I’ve done newborn shoots in my studio, but I prefer setting up in baby’s own home. I take my time and make sure everyone is comfortable and happy, especially the baby. Also, allowing for feeds and soothing. I know most specialist studios have the workflow scheduled to a T, taking an hour maximum and moving on to the next baby. That is fine too and makes good business sense.

1. Props

My style is simple and classic with a few props – namely blankets and wraps, sheepskin, and a basket. That’s it. I use soft fabrics to wrap the babies, so they feel secure. Sometimes I might add something extra depending on the situation, like these newborn twins, where I thought angel wings and a crown would look sweet, or a little flower hairband. Just don’t go over the top. Less is more when it comes to photographing newborns.

I also put them on a sheepskin or blanket to add texture. Usually, the sheepskin or blanket sits on top of a basket, so the babies are shaped curled up. I place the baby curled in there to represent the womb shape. The basket either sits on a beanbag on the floor or on the bed, which must be big, depending on the setup.

I like to keep props to a minimum and focus on the baby’s face, expressions, hands and feet, hair and the lighting.

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2. Poses

Never force a pose on a baby. I do 2-3 poses maximum. If the baby is not comfortable with a pose or not wanting to cooperate, I drop it (the pose not the baby!) and move on to an alternative. I like the bottom up pose, fetal position with baby curled up in a basket, mother and baby/father and baby poses.

3. Lighting

There are many lighting setups. However, I take a softbox with me, speedlights, transmitters, a stand for the softbox, and a reflector. My set-up is simple. I prefer everything on the floor, so that’s where I place the beanbag. A rectangular softbox on a stand sits at a 45-degree angle to the bean bag. Opposite the softbox is a reflector. I use a speedlight in the softbox rather than a strobe for portability. Don’t forget the adaptor for the speedlight to sit on. That’s it. Simple. This way, you can shoot whether there is natural light available or not, whether there is a window in the room , or it’s pitch black!

4. Backdrop

A basic portable backdrop stand kit, with two stands and a bar across to clamp on some fabric, has served me well. Choose material that doesn’t crease! Once I used a black cotton fabric which was so wrinkled I spent ages photoshopping the creases out and painting over the fabric. Luckily it was black and was possible in Photoshop. I sometimes use the backdrop on the beanbag with the baby on top to get a seamless fading background. I prefer a darker background to light colored ones.

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5. Other special items

I like to do the shoot as a story, so I always include other shots of the baby’s nursery. This story may include special newborn greetings cards, booties, or the most special toy gift for the baby. I check with the parents as to what they want capturing. These unique items are also why I prefer to shoot newborns in their homes – the shots become so personal to them and therefore more special.

6. Candids

I often end the session with natural, unposed shots of the family especially if there’s a sibling. That way, they have some memories together of their first few days as a family.

7. Editing

Unfortunately, in my experience, newborn editing takes up much time. Perhaps that’s because I like a more artsy look and there’s a lot of softening to do on the background to match the softness of the newborn skin. Not to mention cleaning up the newborn skin, which is often wrinkly and spotty with milk spots, or very red too. I aim to give the family a variety of images, so they have a good bunch of memories of those first days.

Conclusion

I hope this has given you a snippet of what newborn photography could look like for some. It’s different for others, but this is what I do. I’ve evolved from brightly lit newborn photos to moody, dark tones. Yours can be different. Just make sure it is something you love. Do share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Lily Sawyer

Lily Sawyer is a wedding and portrait photographer based in London. Her absolute favourite past time is going on "mummy" dates with her kids and husband. Other than that, as a homebody, she is content curled up on the sofa, hot chocolate in hand, watching films with her family whenever she has a free weekend. Check out her work on www.lilysawyer.com Follow her on her fave social media platform Instagram.