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 photography tricks that have helped me tremendously and I am sure will be helpful for anyone interested in learning more about newborn photography. Of course, every newborn 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 this photography – posed/studio & lifestyle. I love both for different reasons. However, as a newborn photographer, it is important that your client knows what this photography type you intend to do so there are no surprises during or after the session.
Newborn Photography 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 photography session is on shots of the baby looking perfect, usually in blankets, wraps, hats, & headbands. The photography session can last up to 4 hours with feeding, potty breaks, and baby posing.
Editing this type of photography session also takes quite a bit of time as each baby image needs to go through Photoshop individually to get a polished end result.
Newborn Photography Lifestyle newborn sessions – Are a bit more casual approach to this type photography. There may be some baby posing but the intention is to capture more natural images of the baby and their home. These photography 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 baby’s parents and that is precisely why I feel these types of baby shoots are so important.
Personally, I value both types of newborn photography styles so I approach it as a newborn posed session, but use the breaks in between poses to get my newborn lifestyle shots. The breaks do not have to be wasted moments for you. Have the baby feeding take place in the best natural light and you have yourself a great opportunity for some newborn lifestyle shots.
2. Be Prepared
If you are doing the newborn 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 minimal memory).
To make your life much easier, I’ve made a print ready checklist you can use which is included in the newborn photography toolkit – one of the FREE limited time bonuses included in our online Newborn Photography Workshop.
My prep includes packing the following:
- Camera and backup camera
- Formatted memory cards
- A few loud and funny baby 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 baby 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
- Baby Hats or headbands
- Loud enough music or a noise machine to hide the startling sound of my shutter (usually just my phone and small speakers – some photographers prefer a white noise machine).
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 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 baby session is to ensure your client knows what to expect and how to best prepare for the session. I send my prep list a few days before our session to get the baby’s parents prepared. In fact, in our newborn workshop includes the email templates that I send & has a full chapter dedicated to adequate preparation before the 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 the baby’s 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 the baby’s fists. Sometimes it’s a bit of a struggle, but the baby’s 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 work wide open at f/1.2 & f/1.4. However, with this type of photography, many of the baby’s positions can have extreme angles and you will have better luck with your depth of field and sharpness by shooting around f/2 & f/2.2.
Don’t forget, it will be rare that the baby’s eyes are always on the same plane of focus and by closing down my aperture a bit from wide open I get that little bit extra of the 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 baby’s 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 moment to get these images is when the baby is very still (in their deepest sleep).
As shown with the newborn workshop where you get to shadow me on an actual on-location session, 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 newborn photos of the baby asleep, awake, yawning, having a bath, eating, cuddling with siblings, & cuddling with dad. There will be so many baby images by the time the baby turns 1 and the sad reality is that mommy will hardly be in any of them.
Get her in that baby image. She will treasure it and so will the baby years from now. The important thing is to keep mommy/baby positions easier 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 pack light and only plan 3-4 different setups (based on the client’s preferences and expectations) and that’s all.
I am usually inspired by something the client owns as well, such as a blanket knitted by Grandma or something else that’s special to the baby’s parents, 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 shots 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 the baby’s parents).
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 this type of 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, light, 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 usually 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 shots are actually composites with spotters and safeguards in place so the baby is out of harm’s 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 much easier.
The same is true for this type of 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, if you want all the info you need in one simple package with lifetime access, check out our Newborn Photography Workshop for the On-Location Photographer which Cole and I have spent months putting together all the necessary knowledge & tools to be adequately prepared for the lovely world of photographing newborns.
On sale for a limited time and all workshop participants also will get Cole’s Essential Newborn Lightroom Collection Presets, the Pricing & Positioning Yourself for Success pricing handbook, exclusive discounts & a whole lot more. Click below to see the workshop details.
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!