Crawl before you walk! We’re starting at the beginning of baby photography to start your growth spurt in this industry off right!
Baby photography is not for the faint of heart. It requires patience, stamina, a gentle touch and a strong stomach. But if snuggling, shushing and swaddling make your heart clench in absolute joy, it might become your favorite genre of photography!
We’ll talk about all the different kinds of baby photography, break down what kind of equipment and settings baby photographers use and talk about some tricks of the trade. Oh baby! Let’s get started.
What is baby photography?
Baby photography is the general term for taking pictures of human babies, from birth to about one year of age. There are several different types of baby photography that focus on different stages of the life of the wee ones. We’ll cover all of them below. You can specialize in one or two of these or offer the whole gamut. Whatever works best for your business!
Maternity photography focuses on capturing images of pregnant women. Sessions sometimes include other family members as well. These sessions are also called belly or bump sessions.
Birth photography is photos and even videos of the birth of the baby. A session typically begins when the woman goes into labor and continues through the actual birth and delivery. These are documentary style shoots. A good birth photographer blends into the scene and captures images of the story going on around her. These sessions can be long and physically and emotionally challenging. They also require you to be “on call” around the due date of your client. Babies rarely come on demand! Sessions may take place in the hospital or the clients home if they’ve hired a midwife.
Fresh 48 sessions
Fresh 48 sessions are lifestyle, or unposed, sessions that occur in the baby’s first 48 hours in the world. If the baby was born in the hospital, the session can place there. Other families choose to wait until they bring the baby home and photographer her in the home environment.
Newborn photography features images of the baby from 3 to around 14 days old. Sessions can take place in a studio or the clients home. This type of baby photography includes wrapping, posing and props. Photographers like to photograph babies as early as possible after birth because the baby is usually still in that sleepy, snuggly phase making posing easier.
Lifestyle newborn photography
Lifestyle newborn sessions are less formal than standard newborn sessions. The images take place in the clients home and focus on interactions between the baby and her family instead of relying on props and complicated poses. Most lifestyle sessions also include pictures of the parents, guardians, grandparents and siblings (sometimes 4-legged ones!) interacting with the baby.
These sessions offered at different intervals as the baby grows from newborn to toddler. These images try to document how much the baby grows and changes in his first year of life!Sessions at 3,6, and 9 months are common time frames. But you can set up whatever milestones your clients crave! You might also hear these called tummy time sessions (3 or 6 months) or sitter sessions (6 months to 1 year).
1st birthday sessions
The last stop in the baby photography journey is often 1 year old pictures. These can be posed or lifestyle images or even a mix of both. A common way to celebrate a first birthday is with a “cake smash” session. The baby is presented with a cake and allowed to explore and taste its ooey gooey goodness!
Which is better? Lifestyle or Posed Baby Photography?
Neither style is better or worse. They are just different. Some clients may prefer one over the other based on their comfort level in front of the camera or their own personal tastes. Photographers may also prefer to shoot one style over the other for lots of different reasons.
Lifestyle Baby Photography
- Shorter sessions requiring less time
- Less handling of the baby
- Requires fewer (if any!) props, backgrounds and clothes
- More interaction between the baby and her family and environment
- Less editing time in post-production
- Lifestyle sessions are often less expensive than posed newborn sessions because they are shorter and less involved
- Hitting the 3-14 day newborn window isn’t as critical
Posed Baby Photography
- Longer sessions requiring more time
- More handling of the baby, including swaddling and soothing between poses
- Requires training for safe handling/posing
- Requires more props, wraps, posing pillows and backgrounds
- May require the use of off-camera flash
- More editing time in post-production for a truly high end look
- Focus is on the baby himself with fewer images of baby and family
- Posed sessions are often more expensive than lifestyle sessions reflecting the time and talent it takes to achieve high end posed baby shots
What settings should I use for baby photography?
The exact settings will be determined by the light in your scene. But in general, baby photography uses wide apertures and average shutter speeds. Here are some starting points for you!
- Start with a wide aperture like f/1.8 or f/2.8. These wide apertures let in a lot of light and create very shallow depths of field. A fast lens is often critical in birth photography because the lighting is often very subdued to create a sense of calm. Wider apertures also help create the dreamy, ethereal look newborn photography is known for.
- Start with a shutter speed of 1/200 or 1/160. This will eliminate camera shake but still give you lots of light to work with. Newborns aren’t usually known for their fast speeds, but if you’re photographing wiggly siblings, you might need to raise your shutter speed to 1/500 to capture them!
- For ISO, keep it as low as possible to eliminate any noise, or grain, in your image. But if you’re shooting birth or Fresh 48 sessions, don’t be afraid to use whatever ISO you need to get the image. You often have no choice and a little grain can actually add to the rawness of the birth story.
- White balance can be hard to get right in baby photography. Hospital lights vary widely in their color and tone. Newborn skin can also be discolored, sometimes being very red or yellow. Using a white balance card or a tool like the Expo disc can help, but you’ll also want to know how to set a custom white balance in camera or correct it in post-production.
What is the best camera for baby photography?
Each baby photographer I know has their own choice when it comes to the best camera for baby photography. The brand, model and price aren’t as important as making sure you have the right features. At a minimum, you’ll need a camera that allows you to shoot in full manual mode and choose the focal points of your image. Crop bodies, full-frame DLSR or mirrorless cameras all work well for baby photography, so it’s more a matter of personal preference. Here are some other considerations:
- Image resolution. Look for a camera with 25 or more megapixels. Many baby photography clients want big prints, so you’ll need a camera with enough resolution to achive large prints.
- Good low light performance. Birth photography, especially, will push the limits of your camera, but even some Fresh 48 and newborn sessions have limited ambient light. Look for a camera with good low light performance and quality images even at ISOs of 3000-6000.
- Some cameras are noisier than others. I love my Nikon D750, but it’s not exactly quiet. The quieter the camera, the less obtrusive you can be in quiet delivery rooms, hospital rooms and even shooting posed newborns.
- External wheels and buttons. The last thing you want to be messing with when photographing babies is going into your camera menu to changes settings like ISO or aperture. Look for a camera that allows you to change aperture, shutter speed, ISO and focal points without taking your eyes off the baby in your viewfinder.
- Crop factor. Crop-sensor cameras are wonderful and many successful baby photography professionals use them. But these cameras give you less room to work with when it comes to focal length. For example, a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera is a true 35mm lens. On a crop-sensor camera, however, it has a working focal length of around 55mm. This is a tighter focal length and can make working in small rooms and areas more difficult, especially if documentary/storytelling are more your style.
- Dual card slots. Having two cards in your camera gives you an immediate backup of each image you take. It provides peace of mind if you’re doing birth photography because those are images that can’t be recreated.
- If you’re considering adding video to your client offerings, look for a camera that also has good video capabilities.
What is the best lens for baby photography?
Every baby photographer will also have their favorite lens, depending on their shooting style and preference. But most baby photographers have a go-to lens in the 35-50mm focal length and a macro lens for capturing teeny fingers, toes and adorable cowlicks.
If you can afford to, invest in a quality professional grade lens. The lens that comes with your camera, usually known as a kit lens, won’t give you the high-end images you are looking for. They aren’t usually as sharp or fast as even a basic 50 mm f/1.8 lens.
Here are a few of our baby photographer favorites:
- 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom – a fast zoom gives you a variety of focal lengths in a single lens. These lenses are versatile and sharp and built to professional standards. The Canon and Nikon versions are always top-notch, and I’ve also heard great reviews about the Tamon G2 version of this lens.
- 35mm f/1.4 – this lens is fast and wide, giving you plenty of light and area to work with. These are proThe These lenses, either Sigma ART, Canon or Nikon, are also known for its creamy backgrounds and beautiful bokeh orbs if that’s your personal style. These lenses are true professional-grade, but are some of the more expensive lenses out there.
- 50 mm f/1.8 – the “nifty-fifty” lens is a great choice for baby photography. It is inexpensive, versatile and flattering. For a few hundred dollars, improve the quality of your lens drastically over a kit lens!
- 100mm f/2.8 macro lens – a marco lens will let you shoot close up shots of toes, eyes, wrinkle and more. You can get these images with a regular lens. But a macro lens lets you get in close and fill your frame with all the baby deliciousness. These lenses are also fabulous portrait lenses!
Do I really need training as a baby photographer?
If you want to specialize in high-end, posed newborn photography, then yes, you really do need training. There is more than just some poor quality photos and a bad review at stake– you could cause physical harm to your charges if you don’t handle babies correctly.
Training helps ensure you know how to safely handle the baby, especially when you are creating those really unique poses. For example, did you know that to safely achieve the “froggy” pose popular in baby photography, it should be done as a composite? A spotter supports the baby’s head from above and then from underneath and the two poses are blended together in post-production.
Other images, like the baby sleeping in a hammock, are also composite images. The baby is posed in the hammock while fully supported by an assistant, and the photographer uses Photoshop to composite that image with another image of the scene without the baby. The two images combined make it appear as if the baby is sleeping sweetly in a hammock off the ground.
Training for photographing older babies in the 3 month to 1 year range is less critical, but always a good idea. Not only will you ensure the baby’s safety, but you’ll learn new poses and best practices to make a shoot go smoothly.
Training can be done in person with a mentor photographer, at an in-person workshop or completed online!
Click here for the Cole’s Classroom Newborn Photography Training Workshop!
What other props or equipment do I need to become a baby photographer?
Some baby photographers have a closet full of props to help add character and depth to their images. While you don’t NEED any of these props, they can give your images a unique look and style. This is a list of some
- Newborn posing cushion or beanbag
- Buckets, baskets, boxes and other containers (for supporting newborns or posing older babies)
- Rugs or mats
- Backdrops or cloth to use as a backdrop
- Clothing like dresses, hats, suspenders, headbands and overalls for older babies
- Flowers, stuffed animals or other toys
- Cake stands or washtubs for cake smash or milk bath sessions
- White noise machine or app
- Space heater
- Speedlights, strobes and modifiers
Do I need to be a baby photographer if I’m also a family photographer?
Not at all. There is no reason why you need to photograph babies and infants if it’s not your thing. And you don’t have to justify that decision to anyone. Maybe you don’t want to be tied down for birth photography. Or you can’t stomach the idea of getting pooped on. Maybe you are intimidated by the posing and wrapping or even really just don’t like babies.
It’s okay. You don’t have to offer any kind of session you don’t like and you don’t have to justify that decision to anyone.
Your business, your rules.
You can shoot strictly lifestyle sessions or refer clients to another newborn photographer in your area. Don’t feel pressured to become a baby photographer if you don’t love babies, have a good heaping of patience or have time in your schedule to be “on-call” for birth, Fresh 48 or posed newborn sessions.
Baby photography can be a lot of fun and bring in needed cash flow to your business year-round. It is one type of photography that is always in demand and is easily accommodated indoors. If you love kids and have the time and tenderness to learn the industry, consider adding it to your list of family photography services. Or make this your specialty and be a niche baby photographer!