Newborn photography’s definition is about as flexible as those impossible ways newborns can tuck each finger and toe in to curl into a tight, little womb-like ball. An easier way to think about it is as posed or lifestyle newborn photography.
Newborn photography can be those traditional, intentional images with the baby in a basket or perched just so on a beanbag and a blanket. Or, it could mean photographing a baby inside his or her nursery, interacting with parents, siblings and even the family pet.
Newborn photography can be as different as the families captured by that camera — there’s no one answer to just how a newborn should be photographed. But, posed newborn photography and lifestyle newborn photography have several important differences — and one photographer may do better inside one style, while another may be completely at home in the other.
So how can photographers figure out which approach is best for them? Here are ten things to consider when comparing posed newborn photography vs. lifestyle newborn photography.
What’s the Difference Between Posed and Lifestyle Newborn Photography?
Before determining what style of newborn photography is right for you, it’s important to differentiate between the two. Posed newborn photography is more traditional.
These images are usually of a baby (most often asleep) in poses on blankets or inside props. This style of newborn photography typically uses backdrops and props and may also include studio lighting.
Lifestyle newborn photography, on the other hand, is a style of photography where the baby is in their own home or another location important to the family, not a studio. In lifestyle photography, the baby is photographed in natural settings and poses that the baby moves into unaided.
A lifestyle newborn photographer doesn’t follow the family around for 24 hours, so the photographer will typically instruct the parents to interact with the baby in a certain spot and in a certain way, such as suggesting a bath.
Both studio and lifestyle photography can include family members. But a lifestyle photographer tends to place a bigger emphasis on interaction between the baby and the members of the family. The only props are what’s at hand, and there are no backdrops. Lighting is often ambient light.
Lifestyle Vs. Newborn Photography
Photo by Hillary K Photography
If you are trying to settle on a style to run a successful business (rather than to photograph your own child or a friend’s), meeting client expectations is key. Clients whose expectations are met will recommend you to friends and leave positive reviews. But how do you determine if your client expects lifestyle — or the traditional poses?
Expectations can vary on a number of different factors. In some areas, traditional posed newborn photography is more common. In other areas, the expectations are based simply on the family’s lifestyle. Researching your own area and talking with expecting parents can help you determine what your clients expect.
While several aspects of the clients’ expectations are out of your control, there is one way photographers can help ensure client expectations are met: the portfolio. If your portfolio is full of only traditional newborn photographs and you go and deliver an album full of only lifestyle images, you probably didn’t deliver what your client expected.
Choosing images most representative of your work and style to include in your portfolio will help manage client expectations. And it will make discussions with the client ahead of time easier.
If you want to branch into one style or the other but don’t have the portfolio samples for that style, try shooting a newborn session with a mix of your current style and experimental style shots. Make sure to discuss your plans with the client ahead of time.
Lifestyle newborn photography is typically shot in the client’s home. That means, if you’re shooting entirely lifestyle photos, you don’t have to have a studio location. This makes lifestyle photography easier for new photographers to branch into.
Shooting in-home sessions doesn’t necessarily have to be exclusive to lifestyle photography, however. While a studio is more common for posed newborn photos, some photographers offer in-home posed sessions, carting along everything they need to photograph the baby at the client’s home or another location.
This means a lot to bring and losing some control over the surroundings. But, some moms may appreciate the ability to stay home (after all, they just made a tiny human). Others may be nervous over inviting a stranger into their homes at a time when a newborn’s demands leaves less time for housekeeping.
Just like lifestyle newborn photography favors natural positions for the baby, natural light is often preferred for these types of images too.
In lifestyle photography, the photographer may adjust where the baby and family members are in order to properly light with a window. Lifestyle photographers typically work with natural light along with the lights in the home. Natural light’s softer qualities mix well with lifestyle photography.
Traditional newborn photographers can use natural light or studio lighting. Some prefer the look of window light while others recreate it with studio lights for more control over the final result.
Even when using studio lights, traditional newborn photographers still tend to favor soft light, so those studio lights will have some type of large diffuser to create that softer look.
Photo by Hillary K Photography
Props offer a sense of scale. Traditional newborn photographers will supply their own props, but in lifestyle photography, the props are what’s already available in the scene. Lifestyle photographers will photograph the newborn in their own crib, on their parents bed or on the living room couch. Existing toys and items around the home will serve as the props to create a sense of scale.
Traditional newborn photographers will have more props to buy and bring, which can both be a blessing with control over what, exactly goes into the shot, and a downfall because, well, props can be expensive.
If traditional newborn photography requires a studio, studio lighting and props, then of course that photographer is going to have to pay for a studio, lighting and props. While both types of photography will have some start-up costs, such as the camera and business expenses, lifestyle photography’s entry point is typically lower.
Photographers favoring the posed look can still start out with in-home sessions using natural window light. But bringing along props, blankets and a beanbag will still cost a little more than just bringing a camera and lenses for a lifestyle shoot.
Photo by Hillary K Photography
Photo by Hillary K Photography
Both styles of photography can include family members and the interaction between that newest family member and mom, dad and siblings. Traditional newborn photography tends to have several images of the infant alone, with a handful of poses with the family.
Lifestyle newborn photography tends to have a stronger emphasis on interaction. The photographer is probably photographing the family snuggling together, dad giving the baby a bath or mom feeding the baby. Lifestyle photography can include the baby by himself or herself too, but tends to have more images of family interaction.
In newborn photography, there are two people to keep comfortable during the entire session: the baby, and the new mother. Lifestyle photography tends to keep the baby comfortable since the infant is in familiar surroundings. The baby can also be clothed or unclothed here.
And other than moving from one thing to the next faster than the average day to get a variety of images, the baby probably is pretty comfortable during a lifestyle session.
The goal of traditional newborn photography is still to keep baby as comfortable as possible to get those sweet, sleepy poses. Posed images may be more disruptive to the baby’s routine, however. The photographer has to go out of the way to keep the baby comfortable — such as using a space heater when photographing the baby with a bare bum.
The comfort of the new mother is more difficult to gage. The mom may have required surgery or stitches during delivery, which may make leaving the house to head to a studio more difficult.
On the other hand, taking care of a newborn leaves much less time for housekeeping and some new moms may be uncomfortable bringing a photographer into their homes. Others may not feel like their home decor is sufficient enough to be the background for their session.
To get those sleepy newborn poses, most photographers recommend photographing the newborn within the first two weeks.
Because lifestyle newborn photography doesn’t require a sleeping baby through the whole session, many photographers suggest this type of session is more flexible on when the baby can be photographed.
What’s in front of the camera doesn’t always determine the process for completing the image after the shutter is pressed. Some photographers use identical editing techniques on both posed and lifestyle images.
However, since lifestyle photography is a more minimalist style, some lifestyle photographers also embrace a minimalist editing style, fixing lighting and color, but leaving a majority of the images intact. Others will zap baby acne no matter whether the image was a lifestyle shot or a perfected studio pose.
Photographers may also face different challenges in post depending on the style of the image. Photographing in someone’s home may mean the paint color on the walls created an odd color cast on the baby’s skin that needs to be corrected, for example.
Without control over the background, lifestyle photographers may remove more distractions like a light switch on an otherwise clean background. Or they may not, depending on their editing style.
Studio photographers, on the other hand, may spend more time creating a perfect blanket fade in Photoshop to keep the attention on the baby.
Lifestyle newborn photography may be less expensive to start and more comfortable for the baby. Butt the posed, traditional style wins when it comes to control. No photographer can control how calm a baby is. But traditional newborn photographers can control the lights, the props, the set-ups, and the pose.
Lifestyle photography is a more go-with-the-flow type of imagery. Photographers have some control, such as asking mom and dad to move closer to a window for better light.
But the whole idea of lifestyle photography is to photograph daily life with a newborn which usually includes several surprises and bumps along the way. Lifestyle photographers may have to face challenges like avoiding clutter in homes and working in limited light, challenges that studio photographers aren’t typically faced with.
Photo by Hillary K Photography
The key? Defining Your Own Style
Newborn photography styles aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. One style may suit you best, while the next photographer may prefer the other. The key to deciding between lifestyle and posed newborn photography is to determine your own style. And balance that with the expectations of your clients.
Look at your current photos. If you are just dipping your toes into newborn photography, just look at your images from other genres. Are your images more structured, or more relaxed? Do you like the control of shooting with studio lights, or the soft quality of natural light? Do you favor a more documentary style, or a more traditional style?
There’s no rule saying photographers have to shoot only posed or only lifestyle sessions either. Some photographers do both. Typically, the photographers who shoot both styles will still have a unifying style between the two. Maybe their poses are more relaxed or maybe they use natural window light in both.
Some photographers will have a lifestyle and a studio package offered to clients. Others will offer one type of in-home session and bring along a beanbag for poses too. If you decide to use both styles, make sure that you are properly managing clients expectations.
Don’t allow a client to assume they’ll receive both styles because both are inside your portfolio if you require separate sessions for separate styles.
Traditional and lifestyle newborn photography are two distinct styles that both capture a new person and a growing family. Each style has perks and disadvantages. The key to choosing between the two is finding a balance between your own style and the expectations of the new parents that choose you to document their little one’s tiniest moments.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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