Newborn photography is often perceived as one of the easier forms of portrait photography. Although it may appear this way due to the infancy of your subject, this niche of photography can actually be complex, time-consuming and somewhat stressful for a photographer. When considering photographing a newborn, you will need to consider several external factors while remembering to practice flexibility and patience in order to create beautiful images for your client.
If you’re an aspiring newborn photographer or even a seasoned professional, here are some reasons why this format of photography can be difficult and ways you can overcome the unforeseen obstacles and challenges of photographing with infants.
Obstacles of Newborn Photography
Babies Are Delicate Subjects
The first thing to remember is that to be a newborn photographer, it’s recommended that you have an interest and basic knowledge in the care of babies. Unlike other mature and older subjects, photographing a newborn is a delicate process that requires compassion, attention to detail and adaptability.
Aside from understanding how an infant may act during a session, your main concern should be the way you interact and handle the process of caring for the infant. For example, newborns are extremely fragile – especially those who have just been born – therefore requiring every bit of attention to their needs and maintaining special care of their delicate physical state.
You may find yourself having to reposition or pose the newborn during your session in order to create different poses and scenarios for your client. In this situation, you should always ask the parents to handle the movement and positioning of the baby, as to lower the chance for any error or mishaps that could occur. It is best to discuss with the parents before the session about which poses you have chosen for the photographs – this way they have the opportunity to express their opinion and potentially offer suggestions of what would be best for their baby.
You Are Pressed for Time
The length of a newborn portrait session is contingent on the behavior and stamina of your subject. This is the perfect example of why newborn photographers need to be able to adjust to alterations during the process. For example, you may have booked the session for an hour, but the baby may become irritable or sleepy – giving you only 20 minutes of opportune shooting time.
Although you should always aim to take your time and create your best imagery – newborn photography forces you to get your perfect shot in a small window of time. It is best to never assume that you have an unlimited amount of opportunity during these types of sessions – instead, have your vision determined and set out to create it with swift and accurate intention.
Newborns Have Fluctuating Moods
The moods of newborn babies are truly fickle and fluctuating. Although this is to be expected, having a newborn who is fussy, cannot lay or remain still or cries during the entirety of your session can be truly difficult for a photographer’s work. You have to remember that even though you are trying to create the best images for your client and remain professional, the parents will be aware of the difficulties you face if their child’s mood fluctuates.
Alleviate any pressure you have placed on yourself for perfection during this session and recognize that newborn photography is an entirely different breed of portraiture. The ups and downs of an infant’s mood and behavior is going to play into the outcome of your session no matter what. The best course of action is to recognize your time constraints and be patient that you will create quality images regardless of the infant’s temperament.
You Have to Prioritize Your Shots
When planning a newborn session you may have an idea board or shot list you hope to achieve for your final images. Although being prepared before a shoot is beneficial, you will need to understand that all shots and images may not be possible with time constraints and unexpected circumstances. In this instance, you should consider prioritizing your shots.
Prioritizing your shots essentially means that you make an order of poses and scenes you want to capture from most to least important. You can do this by pulling inspiration images together to use as a reference while you are setting up to shoot. Additionally, you will want to consult the parents on each shot you intend to produce. This is due to the fact that certain newborns are more delicate and sensitive than others, so understanding how different poses or situations will affect them is key.
As a common thread in newborn photography, you must remember to be patient. Having your list of shots created is the first step, but also remember to recognize that each setup will take time. Newborn photography is anything but a rapid-fire portrait session – an effective newborn shoot is intentional, well orchestrated and meticulously planned out.
The Session May Call for Breaks
Due to the nature of children, your session will most likely not be held in one smooth, continuous session. Especially with babies, your shoot will definitely call for breaks and pauses to tend to the child’s needs. In such situations, it is best for you to use this opportunity to re-adjust yourself and prepare for the next shot. Use this lull in time to change out lenses, fix any lighting conditions or even alter the set design elements you have created.
You Need to Manage Parental Expectations
Newborn photography is a significant and memorable milestone for any family. For many new parents and even first-time parents, a newborn session is used to capture the excitement and joy of the arrival of their child. Since this session marks a moment in time that is truly special for your client, they may have high expectations and assumptions about the process and what final images you will deliver to them.
In order to avoid any form of tension or missed expectations, it is best to discuss in detail the nature of a newborn session prior to shooting. Emphasize your vision and direction for the pictures by showing your shot list or inspiration guide to the parents. After demonstrating your intention, let them know that you will do everything possible to achieve these images, but that the path could deviate depending on the infant’s willingness to be photographed and mood at the time of the shoot.
A good rule of thumb when working in a family portrait session is to always apply compassion and understanding to the situation to make your client trust you and feel connected to your work. Be sure to take the time prior to your shoot to create a connection and relationship with your client. It may prove to be helpful to interact with the baby and carve out time to casually talk with the parents. A strong photographer-client relationship is built on mutual understanding, shared interests and total, complete trust.
In such situations where the mood of the newborn could alter the outcome of the session, most, if not all, parents will understand the fluctuating nature of photographing their newborn. Yet, just as a good rule of client relations, it is best to be upfront and manage expectations through the entirety of your session – rather than having to address concerns after the fact.
Accept That Lighting May Be a Challenge
In most situations, you will be photographing your newborn subject inside their family home or even in a studio. When photographing indoors, you will want to take note of changing lighting conditions and how they will affect your images. It is always ideal to utilize as much natural light as possible, so aim to position your subject or specific set design close to a window for soft lighting conditions. In any case, understanding how to work with both ambient and artificial lighting will help you create delicate, flattering compositions.
If you are photographing your newborn subject in a studio setting, it is important to create a setup that will not irritate or aggravate the baby during the session. Utilize softboxes to diffuse the light sources and set up a comfortable, serene setting for the newborn to rest upon. This can include placing a soft rug on the ground, swaddling the infant in a blanket or even resting them against a large, fluffy stuffed animal. Remembering how delicate and gentle photographing newborns can be will help you create an atmosphere that is conducive to a successful session.
Ways to Have a Successful Newborn Session
Even though we have covered the elements and obstacles that make photographing newborns a fairly intricate process, there are many ways for you to have a successful newborn session. As previously mentioned, as a newborn photographer you must first and foremost understand the importance of practicing patience and being adaptable to any situation. Here are some additional guidelines for creating an enjoyable newborn session:
Don’t Focus Too Much on Gear
Although a newborn shoot is a form of portraiture, a good rule of thumb is to focus less on the gear you use and more on the production of your images. While using a lens dedicated to portraits would be your best option, you should aim to rely more on your artistic eye and direction rather than becoming tangled up in the technical aspects.
Beautiful newborn portraits can be created with a variety of various cameras and lenses, so it is best to use what you feel most comfortable with during your process. If you need recommendations for lenses that will work well in newborn sessions, it is best to consider using prime, fixed length lenses such as a 50mm or 85mm. When using these lenses and shooting wide open – with apertures around f/1.8 or so – you will create those ideal soft, delicate and bokeh filled images.
Choose a Proper Time for the Session
Determining a suitable time for your newborn session is a necessary factor that you will need to consider. Newborn photography usually takes place no more than ten days after a baby is born. During these first few weeks, the baby still acts as if it is inside its mother’s womb – crawled up, sleepy and hardly moving from their resting position. This is an ideal period for the session due to the fact that the baby will be more manageable to photograph before he or she begins to stretch their little limbs and become more active.
Additionally, the time of day you choose to hold your session should be heavily considered. Due to the erratic sleeping schedule of a newborn baby, it will be best to consult the parents on which time of day would not interfere with their child’s daily habits. Most likely, they will recommend a time in the morning right after the baby has woken up from its nighttime slumber – as they are still a bit sleepy, but not yet too irritable to create a fuss. It is best to avoid any time of the day that is right before or directly after a baby’s nap. This is because the baby’s mood will be incredibly unpredictable and hard to determine how it affects the overall productivity of your session.
Create Up Close, Detailed Shots
When composing your list of shots, it is important to include a mixture of compositions, angles and framing options. While you will want the majority of your images to be full of photographs of the baby, you should also consider more intimate and creative shots to add dimension.
For example, composing close up and detailed shots of the newborn’s hands, feet, eyes and even narrowed in focuses on their face will add a special touch to your photos. Since most parents use a newborn session to mark the initial birth of their baby, your client will appreciate such images that demonstrate their child’s infancy and small size to compare their growth and fondly reminisce on over the years.
Include the Family in Your Images
A helpful technique that will add another layer to your session is to include the family members in your portraits with the newborn. This can be a portrait of the parents holding their new baby, a brother or sister lying on the floor with their new sibling or even an entire family portrait.
Adding additional family members to your session can be a nice transition if your newborn starts to become fidgety or irritable during a session. Insisting that the mother or father cuddles their baby while you create some portraits can be a refresh to the session and allow the baby to feel more comfortable.
Depending on the comfortability of your client, you can also offer to include more intimate and private moments such as the mother their child breastfeeding to your set of images. In today’s current landscape, breastfeeding images have become increasingly popular to document the beautiful and natural relationship between mother and baby. Be prepared for such client requests as a part of your newborn session and as always, be sure to maintain and manage any expectations the new mother may have.
Consider Hiring a Photography Assistant
It’s no surprise that photographing newborns can be somewhat of a juggling act. Even if you are comfortable and confident in your abilities with children, it may be an overall beneficial and stress relieving choice to hire an experienced assistant for your session. In this case, your assistant can be in charge of elements such as adjusting the position of the baby without waking them up or aggravating them. They can also be in charge of altering their position to make sure they remain balanced and poised if placed on their side or back in some of your images. They can also be used to grab the baby’s attention or calm them down if they start to become ancy.
Utilizing the capabilities of a knowledgeable photography assistant can remove some pressure from you and alleviate any tension or apprehension you may have about juggling the baby’s needs with your own photographic process.
Create a Calming Atmosphere
Aside from the initial assurance that your newborn is comfortable and happy, you will need to maintain this level of calm and tranquility throughout the entirety of the session. In order to keep the mood and feelings of the baby lifted, consider playing soft, peaceful music or even white noise to keep them feeling relaxed or even nurture them to sleep. In some situations, a child may even be soothed by the sound of their parent’s voices.
Depending on the weather, you may want to also consider using a space heater, small fan or a dehumidifier to create a completely comfortable atmosphere for the baby. As long as the baby is soothed and attended to, you should have little to no issue capturing them in their restful state.
Make Sure You Have Taken the Proper Sanitary Precautions
A vital component you must remember when working with children, especially infants, is to ensure that your set environment whether in your client’s home or at your own personal studio is clean and sanitary. Infants are highly susceptible to catching germs and various illnesses as their immune system continues to strengthen and develop. In the instances where sanitation should be emphasized and will be of the utmost concern, could be in situations where you may place the baby on the floor or pair them with props that may have been previously used by prior clients.
In order to avoid any kind form of potential medical issues, be sure to double check with the parents on where you can place the infant if within their own home or thoroughly clean and disinfect your studio between every session.
Create a Visually Appealing Set Design
A final way to have a successful newborn session is to create a set design and setup that is fun, adorable and creative for the new baby. Often, parents like to see their children dressed up in various outfits or surrounded by playful elements to make the portraits even more unique. This can include placing the baby inside of a basket, dressing them up in a holiday-themed outfit such as a Christmas elf or the Easter bunny or even surrounding them with elements such as toys, blankets or stuffed animals. Additionally, you could also create a full set design to integrate the rest of the family members into your images – such as setting up a chair for the mother or a couch for the entire family to sit on with their new bundle of joy.
As always, it is best to discuss these ideas with the parents prior to creating an intricate set design. By managing their concerns and expectations, you will be able to create their ideal images in a manner that makes them feel secure and comfortable about their child.
As you can see, newborn photography isn’t always a simple and seamless type of family portrait session. With obstacles such as properly handling the infant, time constraints, fluctuating moods, having to anticipate potential breaks of times and managing parental expectations – you will need to approach these types of sessions with true flexibility and patience. In order to make sure that your newborn photography session is successful, it is best to implement concepts such as including the family in your images, creating a calming atmosphere, maintaining a sanitary environment and setting up a visually appealing set design.
By recognizing these more difficult aspects and potential unforeseen circumstances, all while instilling some simple and effective techniques – you can make your newborn photography session a truly special and memorable occasion for your client. In the end, your client will be truly grateful and happy that you were able to capture such a special and significant moment in their life for them.
Are you a seasoned newborn photographer or looking to break into this niche of family portraiture? Let us know your thoughts and experiences of photographing newborns in our comments below.