10 “Must Know” Newborn Photography Tips!
Newborn photography can come with many surprises, especially if you aren’t a parent. I’ve compiled a list of newborn photography tips that have helped me tremendously and I am sure will be helpful for anyone interested in learning more about newborn photography. Of course every photographer will have a different way or style of doing things but these are just some of the top things I’ve learned through the years as a newborn photographer.
1. Posed vs Lifestyle: Know Your Clients’ Expectations
There are two types of newborn photography – posed/studio & lifestyle. I love both for different reasons. However, it is important to make sure your client knows what type you intend to do so there are no surprises during or after the session.
Posed/studio sessions – Typically must be done within the first 2 weeks of birth when the baby is very sleepy and “mold-able”. The focus in this type of session is on shots of the baby looking perfect, usually in blankets, wraps, hats, & headbands. The session can last up to 4 hours with feeding, potty breaks, and posing. Editing this type of session also takes quite a bit of time as each image needs to go through Photoshop individually to get a polished end result.
Lifestyle newborn sessions – Are a bit more casual approach to newborn photography. There may be some posing but the intention is to capture more natural images of the baby and their home. These sessions can be done up to 6 weeks old and usually last 1-2 hours max. My favorite thing about lifestyle newborn photography is capturing the wonder and amazement between the family members. Newborns are incredible but so is the love in the air. Memories of this time-frame often become fuzzy for new parents and that is precisely why I feel these types of shoots are so important.
Personally, I value both types of styles so I approach it as a posed session, but use the breaks in between poses to get my lifestyle shots. The breaks do not have to be wasted time for you. Have the feeding take place in the best light and you have yourself a great opportunity for some lifestyle shots.
2. Be Prepared
If you are doing the session in the client’s home, posed newborn sessions require nearly the same amount of prep as a wedding. You need quite a bit of “stuff” and it is easy to forget something so I make sure to pack the night before and use a checklist so I don’t forget anything (I’m a mom with a very limited memory). To make your life a bit easier, I’ve made a print ready checklist you can use which is included in the free newborn photography toolkit.
My prep includes packing the following:
- Camera and backup camera
- Formatted memory cards
- a few loud and funny kid toys (if there is a toddler that will be joining the session)
- Newborn posing beanbag
- Backdrop stand and clamps
- Space heater
- Step stool
- a Boppy pillow (for posing)
- Waterproof pads (to catch messes)
- a change of clothes for me (in case of a mess)
- Props (baskets, crates etc…)
- Big blankets for backgrounds
- Small swaddle blankets
- Loud enough music to hide the startling sound of my shutter (usually just my phone and small speakers – some photographers prefer white noise).
Since the sessions can be up to 4 hours I make sure to eat a lot before I go. Also, because it will be very warm with the space heater blaring, I make sure to wear cool & comfortable clothing. Some photographers bring a soft mat for kneeling comfort but I’ve found using one of your blankets work just as well.
3. Prepare Your Client
The #1 way to ensure a successful newborn session is to make sure your client knows what to expect and how to best prepare for the session. I send my prep tips a few days before our session to get mommy and daddy prepared. In fact, go right here to get a free copy of my email templates and see exactly what I send and when I send to help get my clients prepared for their session. Many moms choose to feed while I unpack and setup. I have them feed the baby in only a diaper and a loose swaddle blanket so we don’t have to bother the baby with undressing them. I also let them know what I’ll be bringing, the approximate length of the session, to expect messes and frequent feedings, and to warm the house, even though I will be bringing a heater.
4. Let the Baby Inspire You
Inspiration is everywhere – probably even in the form of Pinterest emails from your client. It is a great idea to have some poses in mind before you arrive at the session. However, like letting the love story of a wedding day unfold organically, I believe the best images are unplanned and inspired by the uniqueness of each baby. Whether it is cute dimples, big beautiful eyes, full lips, or a great head of hair, try to highlight the beauty of the baby.
Be in the moment…
Let the baby move, yawn, and stretch. Babies have wonderful, perfect, sweet movements, do not stress over having the perfect pose in every frame.
When you are posing, though, my top tip is to open up their fists. Sometimes it’s a bit of a struggle, but relaxed hands will add a much more peaceful feel to the image.
5. Be Mindful of Your Aperture
I know many portrait & wedding photographers love to shoot wide open at f/1.2 & f/1.4. However, with newborn photography many of the baby poses can have extreme angles and you often will have better luck with your depth of field and sharpness by shooting around f/2 & f/2.2. Remember, it will be rare that the baby’s eyes are on the same plane of focus all the time and by closing down my aperture a bit from wide open I get that little bit extra of depth of field that is often needed.
6. Baby Sleepy Time = Macro Lens Time!
Aside from posed and a few lifestyle shots, the other big “to do” in my mental shot list is macro work. I love to capture close ups of the baby’s toes, little bits of hair on their shoulder, pouty lips, & ears, etc…
These close-up “detail” shots are not only adorable but they are great accompanying images for albums and accordion books. Because of the sensitive focus on a macro lens, the best time to get these images is when the baby is very still (in their deepest sleep). When I notice the baby is deep in dreamland, I’ll just stop whatever I’m doing and I’ll pull out my macro for 10 minutes and get all the shots that I need.
7. Encourage Mom to Get in Front of the Camera….Gently
After I had my babies the last thing that I wanted to do was have my picture taken and put much effort into making myself camera ready. I know firsthand how hard it is for a mom to get in front of that camera. But I also know how important it is.
Mothers work the hardest and they also love the hardest.
They love that baby so much that they will spend their days and nights, taking photos of the baby asleep, awake, yawning, having a bath, eating, cuddling with siblings, & cuddling with dad. There will be so many images by the time the baby turns one and the sad reality is that mommy will hardly be in any of them.
Get her in that image. She will treasure it and so will the baby years from now. The important thing is to keep mommy/baby poses easy and without much effort needed on behalf of the mother. Chances are, she’s still uncomfortable and in pain and possibly even recovering from a surgery so being gentle is crucial.
8. Props – Your Best Friend and Worst Enemy
One of my biggest mistakes when I was starting out was that I brought all my props/wraps/blankets/headbands to every single session. When I got set up, I would have a mini panic attack because I had no idea where I should start. Now I plan 3-4 different setups (based on the client’s preferences and expectations) and that’s all. I am often inspired by something the client owns as well, such as a blanket knitted by Grandma or something else that’s special to mom and dad, so it is not uncommon for me to not even use everything I bring.
9. Siblings Are a Whole New Ballgame
If the baby has older siblings, I try to make the sibling shots my very first priority and then let them go play while we finish the session. Toddlers simply don’t have the attention span to sit quietly and wait for you to call on them for their picture so get their poses done first while they are curious and excited about your visit. By the time the session is over, they are usually open to participating again and that is when I try to get some lifestyle sibling shots. If they don’t want to participate, I’ve found promises of ice cream & candy have magical powers! (as long as that’s ok with Mom & Dad).
10. Be Flexible, Safe, and Don’t Give Up
One thing I learned when I became a parent, was that the baby is the boss regardless of how much control I pretend I have. The same is true for newborn photography. If the baby doesn’t want to go to sleep for posing after you’ve tried everything, take some lifestyle shots & keep shooting. Swaddle tight and try to get some eye contact. Get images of mommy rocking the baby, be open and flexible – the session doesn’t always go as planned and that might just be the best thing that happens to you.
The best shots often come from open minds and surprising moments…
Aside from being flexible, be safe. The most important thing on this list is to research newborn photography safety before you start. Many traditional poses are actually composites with spotters and safeguards in place so the baby is out of harms way. Lastly, don’t give up. I remember the first time I went snowboarding, when I got back, before I could open my mouth, my friend said I need to do it 5 more times before I decide to give up, that the learning curve is steep and that it gets easier. The same is true for newborn photography. My first session left me feeling very defeated, but I’m glad I got back up and did it again (and again and again)…and hopefully this list removes some of your growing pains.
In addition to this tutorial make sure to get a copy of The Newborn Photography Toolkit which Cole and I have put together in one kit the necessary tools to be adequately prepared for the lovely world of photographing newborns. You will find email templates to prep your clients, pre-session checklists to help stay organized and even my recommended gear lists with links to make as convenient as possible for you! I hope you love it!
Any questions? If so – please leave a comment in the form below, I’d love to hear from you.
Good luck! I know you’ll do great!