This guest post on newborn photography tips is by award winning family portrait photographer Louise Downham.
Photographing newborns has to be one of my all time favourites. I absolutely love seeing a family in its first weeks, the complete adoration the parents feel and their amazement that they’ve created a tiny little human.
Capturing these moments is a great privilege, and if any kind of portrait session deserves to be nailed, it’s the newborn photography session!
Over the years, I’ve developed a set of tricks that help me get the most out of a newborn portrait session, and here they are.[Related posts: Tips on photographing children and the best cameras for kids]
Newborn Photography Tips for a Baby Photoshoot
As with any portrait session, 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.
Game plan prep for a newborn photography session
Have in mind a loose shot list of the photographs you plan to take. Will you approach the newborn portrait session as a lifestyle session, or will you give the parents guidance and suggest certain poses or set-ups?
Are you planning to photograph the parents as well as the newborn, and any siblings? Will there be any other family members present – grandparents are often in the wings, for example.
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.
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 as your concentration levels will start to dip if you get thirsty.
Parent prep before the newborn portrait session
Cover the essentials – is there anything the parents are particularly looking for from their newborn portraits? Have they seen any photographs that they particularly liked?
Parents 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 all parents to feature in one way or another, even if it’s just their arms being in shot holding their baby. When that little newborn is an adult, it’ll mean so much to them to have photographs which also show their parents.
Consider how old the newborn will be at the time of the newborn portrait session. Studio photographers often want the baby in the first week, but for home sessions the first two weeks is generally fine.
Bear in mind the hormone crash that mums will go through on day 4 or 5 after the baby is born, 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 parents have had a chance to settle into their new life but the baby is still definitely in the newborn stage.
Make some suggestions as to what the parents 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 ask parents 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 in the moment as a watch will usually leave a mark for a good few minutes till the skin settles.
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 their portrait session. 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.
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.
Responding to the newborn during the portrait session
Get some experience with newborns first before photographing one – they’re quite different to young babies, and need a lot more attention!
If you’ve spent time around a new baby, 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.
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 session – the baby’s health is the top priority here.
I follow the newborn’s lead – if they’re awake and settled, that’s when I suggest taking a family portrait. Different photographers approach this differently – many studio photographers, for example, request that the baby has an enormous feed beforehand to induce a big long sleep, for example.
The more you photograph newborns, the more you’ll get a sense of how you want to go about this.
Certain shots are easiest when the baby is asleep: close-ups of their tiny toes, for example, are much easier when a baby is sound asleep than when their little legs are wriggling around.
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.
If a baby 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 a newborn in a light sleep, they’ll wake up!
If a newborn is irritated by hunger, you’ll never get them settled – let the baby feed till they’ve had enough, and you’ll have a much easier job on your hands.
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 the baby around if you find they keep ending up looking away from you.
Newborns 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.
Getting the right gear for newborn photography
When selecting a camera for newborn photography, choose as quiet a shutter as you can – a noisy shutter close to a newborn’s face is likely to wake and startle them.Canon 6d mark ii offer a silent shutter mode, using one of these mirrorless cameras with a completely inaudible electronic shutter is a much better option.]
My favourite lens for newborns is the Canon EF 100m f/2.8L – the close-up details from this lens are beautiful (and it’s also great as a portrait lens).[Editor: whilst Nikon doesn’t have an equivalent 100mm macro lens, the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 DI SP does a fine job – they also do a version for Canon here too.]
A cheaper option for close-up shots is using an extension tube like this one with a 50mm lens – the results aren’t as gorgeous, but it does the job pretty well.
Tip #21Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM or Nikon 50mm f/1.8G.]
For group shots with a newborn, a 50mm lens such as the affordable Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM (or Nikon 50mm f/1.8G) is a good choice, as even if the family’s home is small you’ll usually manage to fit the whole family in.[Editor: if you’re using a crop sensor camera, a 35mm lens will give you a similar focal length to a 50mm lens on full frame. Affordable options here include the Canon 35mm f/2 IS or the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G]
If you’re leaning towards more lifestyle photography, a wider lens like a 35mm is great as you’ll get more of the interior in without too much distortion – just don’t photograph people at the edges of the shot or they’ll look enormous.[Editor: affordable 35mm lens options for full frame cameras include the excellent Canon 35mm f/2 IS or the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G ED, reviewed by me here. If you shoot Fuji, check out these Fuji lenses to find the equivalent one for you.]
Baby Photography Tips | Final Words
I learnt many of these tips for photographing newborns the hard way – on the job! I’ve photographed over a thousand children now and am very in tune with babies’ moods and habits, which really helps keep a session calm.
I’d recommend that you get as much experience with newborns as you can to increase your understanding of how a newborn might react to certain situations. There’s also reams of information on newborn development available online – spending time absorbing these articles is time very well spent.
I hope you find these newborn photography tips helpful – see what works for you and don’t be afraid to experiment.
Louise Downham is an award winning family portrait photographer based in London.