“Newborn poses” is half oxymoron, half misnomer. Newborns won’t sit up a little straighter, lean a bit this way or place their hands that way simply because you ask them to.
Posing an infant isn’t an art of communication and vision, but of vision, patience and moulding tiny, fragile limbs into new positions.
Posing a tiny baby that doesn’t understand — or care — what you say is entirely different from posing men and women.
Expecting to move from one to the other seamlessly is like expecting to play baseball really well because you can golf really well. Sure, your athleticism — or in this case, photo savvy — will help, but it’s literally a different ball game.
Posing infants is an art form that’s fine-tuned over years of experience. I’m still learning — and hope I never stop learning. But after working with my own kids and bridal clients who return as their family grows, I’ve picked up a few newborn posing tricks and tips along the way.
Here’s what photographers need to know about newborn posing before that first newborn shoot.
Posing Should Always Put Safety First
Your subject isn’t going to move to follow your directions on their own. Newborn posing requires gently tucking and placing tiny hands and toes — and the keyword here is gently.
Always prioritise safety when posing a newborn.
If you are a newborn posing newbie, stick with the poses that the infant can hold by themselves.
That popular “froggie” pose with the baby holding the head up in their hands, feet tucked towards the front? That’s a composite done in Photoshop. Babies can’t actually hold that position themselves.
Save the complex poses for after you have more experience working with babies or after taking a hands-on posing workshop. There are plenty of sweet poses to get great shots simply.
Run a safety check with the position you are looking for — and any props you will be using as well. I don’t create composite poses like the froggy one because I prefer a more natural pose. But I will create a composite to keep a baby safe.
If I place the baby in something that could tip, like a firefighter’s helmet, I have mom hold the prop on one side, and take a photo. Then I have her hold the same prop on the other side so I can remove her hand in Photoshop later.
Don’t be too stuck on that vision of a perfect pose that you sacrifice the baby’s safety and comfort. Chances are, if you follow their lead in how they like their hands and feet and make smaller adjustments, you’ll keep baby calm for more shots that better reflect that little one’s tendencies anyways.
What’s the Goal of Newborn Posing?
The goals of posing adults are pretty straightforward. Photographers use posing to feature the best assets and draw less attention to what may make the subject self-conscious.
Newborn posing, however, has entirely different goals. Fat rolls? Downright adorable on a newborn. Wrinkles? Same.
The goal in newborn posing isn’t to hide fat and wrinkles. It’s to capture the littleness, the sweetness, the tininess of those first few weeks of life.
Curves has an entirely different meaning in newborn photography — but they still have a place. Don’t place a baby on a flat surface on their side.
Add a blanket or posing pillow under their head and feet. This will not only draw out those adorable wrinkles and rolls, but allow the tiny fingers and toes to be visible in a full body shot too.
A second goal for newborn poses is to create a womb-like feel. This has two advantages.
First, newborns are used to being curled up inside mom. This way, they’re calmer for their session when placed in a similar environment.
Second, there’s just something incredibly sweet about the way a newborn can curl and stretch into a tiny little bundle.
As you work on posing, remember the goal is to capture that littleness — fat rolls and chubby cheeks are welcome here.
Embrace Posing Props
Because babies can’t yet hold themselves up, newborn poses require props.
You don’t need to go spend thousands of dollars on fancy studio level gear if your goal is simply to photograph your own child or a friend’s. But a few simple, inexpensive items make a big difference in the poses you are able to create.
My first go-to item is a beanbag. You can buy specially designed newborn beanbags, but a normal beanbag chair will work too.
Just be careful because the baby tends to sink into the chair a bit more when it’s not designed specifically for newborn photography. This can obscure part of the pose if you don’t correct it.
Beanbags are safe, soft places and you can easily mould them to prop baby up. Place a blanket or backdrop over the beanbag. Then you can either adjust the beans inside the actual bag, or place rolled up blankets or towels to prop baby up a bit more.
I also bring a u-shaped nursing pillow whenever working with newborns. The shape is perfect for propping baby’s head up when shooting head first. The pillow is also helpful when working with some props.
Baskets, boxes and other objects that you can place a baby in can also both add visual interest to the shot and help keep baby in a certain position. I love finding props at crafts and hobby stores.
Again, just make sure the prop is safe. Look for props that are soft or that can be made soft by adding blankets. Stay away from rough wood that could cause splinters.
Adding the weight of the baby may make even some seemingly sturdy items prone to tipping. Always keep an adult within arm’s reach. When in doubt, have someone hold the prop in place and composite the arm out later.
Wraps are also great newborn props. You can make your own by dying muslin cloths (but I’d leave the cloth longer than the instructions suggest) or buy them from Etsy or a photo supply store.
Wraps can be used in a number of different ways, from the more traditional swaddle to knotted swaddles to the “egg” swaddle.
Learning how to wrap a baby is an art-form itself (and one that I’m still working on). Watch some video tutorials and practice on a stuffed animal getting the wrap tight.
Wraps can also be used loose and draped over the baby as a way to add variety to a pose before moving the baby into another position.
Newborn Poses: Basic Positions
My favourite way to pose adults is to start with a few basic poses and add variety by adjusting the placement of hands, legs and chin. Newborn photographers can take a similar, simple approach.
Working with three main positions, you can add variety by adjusting the hands and legs, adjusting your camera angle, adjusting the crop and swapping out props.
Anticipate the next basic position. As you are calming the baby in your arms, you have an easier transition from your arms to the setup once the baby falls asleep.
If you are going to place the baby on their back, for example, hold them back out so you don’t have to shift the position too much.
So what are those three basic newborn positions?
On the back
Placing the baby on his or her back is a safe, simple pose that’s still very sweet. With a back pose, you don’t need more than a blanket and a soft surface. But you can add plenty of variety by using different props if you’d like.
Back poses work well for swaddled babies, as well as newborns in that birthday suit. Just tuck the legs or use a blanket to keep it appropriate.
Once the baby is comfortably sleeping on their back, you can add variety by taking the shot at several different crops — full body, upper body, face, then other details like the fingers and toes.
You can shoot the back pose from straight above. Propping the baby’s head and feet up, you can also get a sweet shot from the side, without moving baby from the back pose.
On the side
Placing the baby on his or her side is almost just as simple as the back pose. Use blankets, towels or the beanbag to elevate the head or feet as needed.
This is to emphasise those cute fat rolls or to make sure the baby’s face isn’t obscured by the blanket or hands.
Side poses work well swaddled and unswaddled, or with a loose swaddle. Again, you can shoot from several different angles for variety — from above and from the side, for example.
Remember to adjust the crop for more variety, full body, upper body, face, and up close details.
Another trick is to use the angle of the camera to make the pose look like an entirely different pose when shooting on a solid coloured backdrop.
If baby is laying flat, holding the camera at an angle can make it look like the baby is sitting upright — and you didn’t have to wake the baby to add that bit of variety.
On the tummy
Placing baby on the tummy is harder to do. This position can sometimes obscure the face, but it’s a sweet pose. And if you’re not trying to make the baby hold an unnatural position, a safe one.
For the tummy pose, prop the baby’s head up higher than their bum with a blanket or a u-shaped nursing pillow.
You can shoot the tummy pose from the side or above. A sweet angle for the tummy pose is to stand straight at the top of their head.
Adjust the baby’s head gently so you can see the whole face. The face will be at an angle to keep the baby comfortable and in a natural position.
Stand a little off to the same side the baby’s face is turned to. You can curl the arms under their chin, but don’t expect those tiny hands to hold the head up. Rely on the pillow, not the baby’s hands, to keep the head in place.
Just like the other poses, you can add variety by altering your composition and shooting position and swapping out props.
What About the Hands and Feet?
Back, side and tummy are the basic poses. But you can create an entirely different look by working with the baby’s hands and toes, without moving the baby’s entire body.
Start by watching what the baby naturally does with their hands. Newborns have just emerged from pretty tight quarters. Many of them tend to curl up tightly on their own and may create a great pose without much prompting.
Once you see where the hands and feet naturally fall, gently adjust for the best position or to add variety into the shots.
When possible, keep the baby’s fingers and toes visible. Tiny fingers and toes are adorable, so get them in the shot whenever possible.
On the tummy pose, tuck the baby’s feet underneath their bum, with one foot showing from a side angle. On a side pose, try leaving those little legs bent but together, or for variety, cross the legs at the ankles.
There’s just something about a sleeping baby with their hands tucked up by their face. Try two hands under their face — either both on one side or on separate sides, or one hand by their face and another down by their side.
Both side and tummy poses tend to work well with hands tucked by the face. The back pose can be more flexible with where those hands are. Hands can be on the tummy, stretching out, or behind the head.
Working with three poses doesn’t mean you’re just going to end up with three photos. Every time you move the baby, you’ll probably have to do some shushing to get the baby back sleeping comfortably. This is why keeping big changes to a minimum is a good idea.
You can add a lot of variety without moving baby just by changing your position instead and adjusting your crop. You can also adjust some props without disturbing the baby.
Often, moving just a hand or a foot will add some interest but won’t bother the baby too much. With some babies, you can also tuck a blanket underneath them to prop them up a bit differently, without waking them up.
Once you do change that base pose, apply the same ideas. Adding different angles, crops, props and hand and foot placement all allows those three basic poses to grow exponentially.
Don’t forget to also shoot the detail shots. Get up close on tiny fingers, toes, bellybuttons and pouting lips.
Newborn Poses: Bringing it All Together
Newborn posing and posing an adult are entirely different in almost every way. Throughout the posing process, always make sure the baby is safe and comfortable.
Beginners should stick with poses that the baby can hold on their own naturally and leave the complex composites up to the pros with years of experience.
That still leaves plenty of natural, sweet poses for infants, however.
When posing a newborn, gently arrange the baby on their back, side or tummy. Working to have baby curled up a bit will help baby stay calm with a more womb-like feel. And it’ll ensure you can include those tiny fingers and toes in the picture.
Adjusting the camera’s position, cropping and props can create enough variety for an entire album from just three basic positions.