Photographing newborns is one of the hardest types of portrait sessions. This is because a newborn photo session requires a lot of patience, knowledge, and time.
These essential tips will help you plan and execute a hassle free newborn session.
Newborn Photography 101
Newborns are very delicate and you need to handle them with the utmost care. Make sure that you have this experience before you even set foot in your clients’ home or studio.
Newborns can’t support their heads so you’ll need to hold them at the neck. They also don’t like being cold. Wherever your session will take place needs to be warm.
Feedings and diaper changes will occur about every hour. You’ll have to stop photographing for each. Naked babies will go to the bathroom during the session so prep your set for accidents.
Place a bag over your set and under the background or fabric. In case the baby does go to the bathroom during the session.
If you aren’t familiar with handling a baby, let the parents do the holding, moving, and changing. Direct and communicate what you want. For example, moving an arm underneath the baby’s head.
Newborn babies are also sensitive to light. Make sure that the lighting equipment is safe for babies. If you are photographing an in-home newborn session, use diffused or soft lighting. This will help keep the baby comfortable.
When to Take Newborn Portraits
Newborn sessions take place as soon as the first week after birth and up until 1 month. The best time to photograph a newborn is within the first 10 days of birth.
This ensures that the baby still has all the newborn features that change after the initial 10 days of life.
What You’ll Need
Newborn sessions need a lot of planning beforehand. It doesn’t matter if you are photographing the newborn in a studio or at the client’s home.
You need everything for each newborn session.
White noise app/machine: Newborn babies are used to loud womb noises that resemble a loud vacuum cleaner.
White noise apps offer different noises at various volume levels. These help comfort the newborn baby during the portrait session. Use fan, womb, or vacuum sounds to help lull the baby to sleep.
Heater: Bring a small electric heater that doesn’t blow air. Or ask your clients to turn the heat up in the room they’ll be using for the session. Keep it at around 78 degrees.
Newborns don’t like being cold and you’ll avoid having more accidents due to the baby being cold. Do not use a heating pad of any kind. Baby skin is delicate and thin and susceptible to burns.
It’s best to warm the room you’ll be using before stepping in to photograph. That way you avoid any accidents with the heater. Always best to be extra careful than to have an emergency.
Bouncing ball: A large exercise bounce ball helps to bounce the baby to sleep during the session. Especially helpful when changing positions or clothing.
Large chair, mattress, sofa, or pouf: There are custom made newborn kits that include a posing pouf and background set. A large cushioned chair or better, a sofa where there is a backrest, work too.
Whichever you choose to use, always make sure that mom or dad is close by and that there is no danger the baby will fall.
Boppy pillow: This is a pillow that helps mothers hold or nurse their babies while sitting or laying down. Because of the shape of the pillow, they are perfect for propping up the baby and coddling the baby.
You can find these at any baby or department store. They are flexible, small, and easy to carry if you are going to an in-home session. Set it up on a bed, sofa, crib, or even the floor to pose the newborn.
Large fabrics/backgrounds: If you are photographing in a studio, you’ll need background fabrics. You can place these over the pouf/cushion to create a soft and uniform look to your photos.
You can buy your own fabrics at a fabric store or through a background supplier.
Props: Props add to the story of the newborn session. Ask beforehand if your clients would like to use a basket or similar cradles for their session.
You can also use flowers, stuffed animals, and other meaningful items both in the studio and in-home set up.
Clamps, tape, velcro: These items will help secure your backgrounds, fabrics, props, or clothing. They’re also easy to carry and easy to set up in the event you are going on-location for your session.
Newborns are now encouraged to go outside. Make sure there is enough shade to protect the baby from harmful direct sunlight.
If you plan on photographing outside, have your set ready to go before bringing the newborn out.
You’ll get the shots without disturbing the newborn. Especially if the baby is asleep.
Always be prepared for bowel accidents. It can be colder outside and the baby will want to relieve him or herself.
Sometimes, these accidents make for funny photos during the session. So don’t stop photographing if something like this happens.
Be Aware of the Time
Newborn sessions take time. Lots of time. Some can last up to 4 or 5 hours. This is because of the feedings, bouncing to sleep, and diaper changes. Or other unexpected interruptions that are essential to the baby.
It’s always a good idea to notify your clients how much time the session will take. If there are siblings involved, it might last a little longer.
It’s great to have an assistant to help with setups, light changes, and siblings during the session.
You’ll have your hands full. Having an assistant can minimise the time it takes to set up or move lights.
How to Include Siblings in the Newborn Shoot
Often, newborn sessions will include siblings. If this is the case, ask your client to bring an extra person to the session. It could be the grandmother, a friend, or an aunt.
Their role will be to whisk the children away when their turn is over. This will help the parents relax for the rest of the session.
When including siblings, make sure to photograph them first. Photograph the siblings with the newborn and siblings with the whole family. If you have time and they are willing, get a solid portrait of the siblings on their own.
Once you have checked these photos off, have them leave the room. That way you can focus your attention and time to the newborn.
This will give you fewer distractions. And you can avoid mishaps or accidents while handling the newborn baby.
Older children tend to get bored or tired. Start the session with them. This will make the portrait session go much smoother and quicker.
Lifestyle Newborn Photo Session
Lifestyle newborn photo sessions are a great way to photograph the family. Documenting real moments of their day to day, even if it’s a little more stylized.
This type of newborn session is more of a photojournalistic approach. You’ll spend a few hours in your client’s home.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t direct or move your clients to the best lighting situations.
If the bedroom has better lighting than the nursery, use it for diaper changes. Or for snuggles with older siblings.
You should clean and take care of your newborn portrait setup before each session. Make sure to wash fabrics or anything that will touch the baby for that matter.
Use hypoallergenic detergent. Babies are prone to sensitive skin.
Make sure to wipe all surfaces. This includes floors, changing tables, props, and poufs. Use gentle cleaners before each newborn photo session. Harsh chemicals can also be tough on baby skin.
Newborn babies have developing skin. Oftentimes, that doesn’t resemble the silky smooth skin we envision during the session.
Babies are also prone to baby acne, jaundice, and peeling skin.
Some parents might want to keep the natural look of their newborn in the photographs. Make sure to ask your clients what their preferences are before you have the session.
Offer Baby Plans/Products Before the Session
If your client isn’t on a baby plan, make sure that you offer this as soon as possible. Before the baby arrives is the ideal time.
Baby plans are photo sessions that can include some or all the major milestones. They can include maternity, newborn, three, six, nine, and 12-month photo sessions.
Parents will be quite busy, and tired, in the weeks following the birth of their baby. This is why you should offer any baby plans, albums or print packages before the newborn photo session.
They most likely won’t have a lot of time to come to you for viewings, product selling sessions, or follow-ups.
Even better if you can take the viewing to them and do an in-person sale meeting. Your clients will appreciate it more.
Newborn Photography Etiquette
Being a new mom or dad is hard work, tiring, and never-ending. As the photographer, it is important that you check all your judgments at the door.
I know it seems like an obvious tip or one that isn’t said often enough, which is why I have chosen to include it.
Whether you’re a parent or not, keep your opinions on anything baby related to yourself. This, of course, doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions about the pregnancy or delivery. Or why they chose the baby’s name.
But don’t bring up types of feedings or negative thoughts on how they do things.
If you have similar experiences and want to share, that is up to you. Make sure that you are there to support and photograph your client as best you can.
A newborn photo session is an important heirloom for your clients. Preparing yourself will help you minimise any potential issues.
Be aware of the time it takes and remember to have fun. Babies are amazing to watch and even more so to photograph!