Guide to Newborn Photography
Newborn photography is a type of family photography dedicated to capturing the arrival of a new member. It’s one of the most important and happiest events in life, and that’s why everyone wants professional images to immortalize it.
It is, however, one of the most delicate matters to approach because it’s so intimate. That’s why it’s important that you and your client are prepared.
One of the key aspects of your job is to provide all the information on what they should expect. Help them decide on a location and provide some tips on when to do it.
To be able to help them and deliver high-quality images, you need to be confident and informed.
In this article, you’ll find all the information you need to plan and perform the photoshoot. You’ll also find some tips from a professional to get you ready and inspired.
But first things first, you need to decide which area you want to specialize in.
Types of Newborn Photography
Newborn photography is a growing business and has many areas that you can cover. It all depends on your interests, your skills, and your personal approach.
- Birth Photography – this is the most literal meaning of newborn photography. More and more couples are hiring professionals to capture the moment of birth. This is followed by doing high-quality images of the precious bonding moments right after the baby comes into this world.
- Lifestyle – normally, these types of sessions happen at the client’s home or on location; this depends on your style. Most of the time it’s done with natural light, although you can bring some fill lights if the house isn’t particularly bright. These images feature casual scenes, and they can include pets or siblings.
- Studio Portraits – this can happen in the studio, or at their house but treated as a studio. The baby is posed, and you use props, costumes and decorations for the scene. The images can be very simple, i.e. the baby swaddled in a seamless background; or an elaborate set can be created, for example, for seasonal images.
- Creative Composites – this is a sub-genre of the posed portrait photos. You’ve probably seen images featuring a levitating child surrounded by flying toys. Needless to say that those are digital composites, and you need to make the photographs specifically for this purpose.
What Do I Need for a Newborn Photo Shoot?
To capture the best images possible during your newborn photography session, you need to be prepared and properly equipped with all the camera gear, lenses and newborn props.
If you want to be able to control your light, then you can’t just rely on ambient light, because newborn photography sessions can tend to take longer than expected.
It’s useful to have as much information as possible about the client’s expectation and the place where you’ll be working to understand what you’ll need. First, let’s talk about camera gear:
- Camera – in general, every camera that has a manual mode and allows for different lenses can work. However, mirrorless cameras have the advantage of being totally silent. If you work under low light conditions, a full-frame camera will give you better results because they create less noise.
- Lenses – these can depend on the type of photography that you do and the availability of space. If you can choose, always have a macro lens for photographing the details on those adorable fists and toes. Also, a range of focal lengths between 35mm and 85mm. This can be all in one zoom for versatility or a couple of prime lenses for sharper images and bigger apertures.
- Lights – while natural light is the most common, sometimes it just isn’t enough. If you are facing this situation, bring some low power strobes or some continuous light to avoid using any flash that could hurt their sensitive eyes.
- Light Modifiers – you should avoid firing any bright lights, so, if you really need to use a strobe it’s best if you soften the light. You can use softboxes, umbrellas, or any other modifier.
- Memory Cards – sometimes it is easy to get carried away and try to capture the perfect expression, yawn or frown, and you can get through your storage space quite quickly. It’s always good to have two or three on hand.
- Backdrops – this is essential for studio portraits. You can have different colors or patterns to make your subject stand out.
- Clamps – always pack some clamps in your photographic bag. They can be useful to position the backdrop, hold some of the props or secure everything in the set to avoid accidents.
- A-Ladder or Steps – photographing from the top down is a great angle for this type of photography. To do this, you have to be higher up, but you don’t want to be endangering anyone. So, you’ll need something stable to work with.
While photographic equipment and tools are essential to the photoshoot, the props and baby-related items are just as important for successful images.
Here’s a quick checklist that you can use.
- Wet wipes – this will come in handy for all kinds of accidents, trust me, you won’t regret having them.
- Soothing Noise/Music – you want the child to be calm, happy, and preferably asleep. So, a white noise machine, a playlist with classical music, or any kind of sound that creates a relaxing atmosphere is useful.
- Pillows – one or two pillows are always helpful to position your subject while keeping it comfy and safe.
- Blankets – all sorts of blankets and swaddles will come in handy in your photoshoots. They will keep the infant warm and comfortable while making a perfect prop to add a touch of color or some texture.
- Rattles – not all baby images feature a sleeping infant. Sometimes it is nice to have them awake and looking at the camera. The best way to grab their attention is by using noise and colorful toys, for example, rattles.
- Props – without props, you can end up with monotonous images if you’re not creative and well prepared. Bring with you all sorts of toys and decorations to fill the frame and make an interesting composition. This will also help you to create your own style, just make sure that everything is safe to use.
Newborn Photography Tips
These photography tips are by award-winning family portrait and newborn photographer Louise Downham.
They relate to preparatory tips for yourself, and your clients, as well as tips for the day of the photoshoot.
As with any type of portrait photography, the most important element is preparation – feeling comfortable with your game plan and with your clients will go a long way to making sure you capture those precious moments beautifully.
1. Shot List
Have in mind a loose shot list of the photographs you plan to take. Will you approach the newborn portrait as a lifestyle session, or will you give the clients some guidance and suggest certain poses or set-ups?
Are you planning to photograph mom and dad as well as the newborn, and any siblings, like in a family portraits series? Will there be any other relatives present – grandparents are often in the wings, for example.
Gather all the information you can to prepare the right shot list.
2. Make Yourself Comfortable
You’ll likely end up in all sorts of strange positions getting just the right angle for a tiny newborn, so wear clothing that you’ll feel comfortable moving around in and stretching.
If you have a camera with a tilting LCD screen, you’ll be able to get creative with your compositions more easily.
3. Stay Hydrated
New parents can be completely consumed with amazement at their newborn – you may not be offered a drink for hours! Take a bottle of water with you just in case your concentration levels will start to dip if you get thirsty.
4. Cover the Essentials
Is there anything that mom and dad are particularly looking for from their newborn portraits? Have they seen any photographs that they particularly liked?
Clients vary wildly as to whether they’d like more photographs of them all together as a new family, or mostly photographs of their newborn – some parents don’t even want to be photographed at all.
I encourage families to feature in one way or another, even if it’s just their arms being in shot holding the little one. When that little child is an adult, it’ll mean so much to them to have photographs that also shows the people and environment that welcomed them into the world.
Send an email summing up what you’ve discussed and decided, this way all parties involved are clear on what is going to happen and what they need to do.
5. The Age of the Newborn Is Important
Consider how old the newborn will be at the time of the portrait photoshoot. Newborn photographers that work in the studio often want to do the shoot in the first week, but for home sessions, the first two weeks are generally fine.
Bear in mind the hormone crash that mums will go through on day 4 or 5 after the birth, and the fact that newborns will often suffer from baby acne and digestive issues from week 2 for a couple of weeks, and will often launch into cluster feeding from days 11 onward as they prepare for a growth spurt.
I prefer to photograph newborns 7 to 10 days after they’re born when they had a chance to get back from the hospital and settle into their new life but the infant is still definitely in the newborn stage.
6. Plan the Parents’ Clothes Too
Make some suggestions as to what everyone might wear. New mums might prefer a loose T-shirt as it’s more flattering for baby weight than tight breastfeeding tops – word this suggestion carefully though, as no one’s more sensitive than a new mum!
I always ask for them to take their watches off beforehand, as it’s so distracting having a big watch in the shot if you go for a close-up of a newborn lying in the parents’ arms. You don’t want to do this at the moment as a watch will usually leave a mark for a good few minutes till the skin settles.
7. Recommend the Best Time of Day
Ask the parents what time of day would suit their emerging routine best. Newborns tend to be happier in the morning, so that’s usually a good time for taking their photos.
Avoid their witching hour at all costs, towards the late afternoon – it can take hours to settle even the calmest newborn at the end of the day.
8. Don’t Rush In
Spend a few minutes chatting with the parents before you get started on the day, to help them relax and feel comfortable around you – calming any of their nerves will really help you take the best photographs.
9. Get Experience with Babies
Get some experience with newborns first before photographing one – they’re quite different from young babies, and need a lot more attention!
If you’ve spent time around them, the constant nappy changes and feeds won’t come as a surprise – and you won’t be panicking that all the time is being used up with bodily needs, you’ll have seen how there’s a window of calm after all the excitement – that’s the moment you’re waiting for to really start photographing in.
Remember that successful newborn photography is about so much more than just your ability to take a pretty picture, or having a fancy photography studio.
10. Remember Your Hygiene
First things first – always, always, always wash your hands before handling a newborn – they’re so vulnerable to germs and illness, you want to be as clean as possible just in case.
And of course, if you have an illness, postpone the newborn photography session – the child’s health is the number one priority here.
11. Follow the Newborn’s Lead
If the baby is awake and settled, that’s when I suggest gathering all together for a group portrait. Different photographers approach this differently – many of them if they are more used to family photography, for example, request that the little one has an enormous feed beforehand to induce a big long sleep.
The more you photograph newborns, the more you’ll get a sense of how you want to go about this.
12. Choose the Asleep Shots Carefully
Certain newborn photography shots are easiest when the baby is asleep: close-ups of their tiny toes, for example, are much easier when their little legs aren’t wriggling around.
13. Watch Your Voice
Try to keep speaking around the newborn, so they get used to your voice and it doesn’t startle them to hear a stranger so close to them. Keep your voice low and calm; newborns are very sensitive to noise.
14. Watch for Sleeping States
When an infant is starting to fall asleep, wait a minute or two so they fall asleep properly – even on silent mode, a clicking shutter can be enough to disturb that snooze.
Don’t try to move the baby until they’re in a deep sleep – when their bodies have become very still and their breathing is deeper. If you move them in light sleep, they’ll wake up!
15. Full Tummy
If a newborn is irritated by hunger, you’ll never get them settled – let the mom feed him/her till they’ve had enough, and you’ll have a much easier job on your hands.
16. Move Yourself First
Bear in mind that some newborns have a natural tendency to turn their heads more to one side than the other – it’s easier to move them around if you find they keep ending up looking away from you.
Newborn’s are also sensitive to touch, and temperature – make sure your hands are warm before you touch a newborn, or you’ll startle them and quite likely make them cry.
Newborn Photography FAQ
When should newborn photos be taken?
Newborn photographer Louise Downham recommends doing it when they are 7 to 10 days old. Although, you can do it at any point during the first couple of weeks.
Is 2 weeks too old for newborn photos?
No, even if these types of images are usually taken during the first couple of weeks, technically a child is considered a newborn up until 2 months of age. For some, it can be more comfortable to wait.
Do you use flash for newborn photography?
It’s best if you don’t. However, if you do have to use a flash, try bouncing strobes or using large diffusers. Avoid speedlights or the pop-up flash from your camera and never fire them directly into the infant’s eyes.
Is newborn photography safe?
Photography for newborn babies is safe. But, you need to use appropriate equipment and props, always take care of the infant’s comfort and safety, and never use strong flashes directly. As a photographer, you need to make safety your number one priority.
Newborn Photography | Final Words
This area of photography is profitable and rewarding, but it can be tricky if you’re not prepared. Remember that it’s also a new experience for your client, so make sure that you keep them informed.
An email that tells them what they need and what to expect can go a long way, and once they see your beautiful images, they will become your best marketers.
I hope this article was helpful to improve your photography. If you have any doubts or some more advice, please share it in the comments section.