“Never work with children or pets!” This is the number one comment said to me in just about every photography session I’ve ever done, even sessions that I feel I have 100% nailed! I could go off on a lot on tangents on this very topic but today I am focusing on tips for working with infants.
Why is working with newborn babies particularly difficult? Because most parents want their precious new baby, in their birthday suit, and posed sleeping perfectly. I repeat, SLEEPING!
Ok, so before we even start you are up against a few major issues right there. Here are my top tips I find make my sessions go a lot smoother-if you have any more please feel free to share, as I don’t claim to know everything, but these have definitely helped me!
The older the babies are, generally, the harder the session will be. Yes there are exceptions to the rule, but the first 2 weeks are the sleepiest the baby will ever be, and they have some left over hormones keeping them nice and curly, and easier to manuvoure into those cutesy positions that everyone love. I always aim to do my newborn sessions between days 5 and 10. I let my clients know the reasons why this is important (before they are tired new parents) so if possible the session will happen within that timeframe, meaning we are starting the session with our best foot forward.
I also educate parents on not having any time constraints on session day (so don’t make appointments or arrangements with family or friends that day).
Brand new babies are unable to regulate their body temperature particularly well yet, and they don’t like being too hot or too cold. To complicate things more, they generally like sleeping with all their clothes on and in a nice wrap to make them feel safe and secure. So you can imagine in winter, the whole birthday suit thing becomes even less appealing to them! Temperature control is probably one of the most important factors for a successful newborn shoot. As I’m yet to have my own studio, and be completely in control of the temperature, this is also something I stress to clients (this falls into the whole educating your client thing!!) ask about what room they think can be heated appropriately, and if required I bring an extra heater. The magic number is 28 degrees (Celsius), and in general I tell the parents that we need to be feeling a little uncomfortable for it to be perfect for their little one.
Infants have small tummies and they need to feed frequently! It’s quite normal for a baby to need to feed several times during the session – this isn’t something you can rush. As a starting point I get my clients to undress their baby leaving the nappy on, wrap them in a non textured blanket (to insure no patterns are left on baby’s skin) and then feed sometime in the hour before I am due to arrive (timing of feed led by baby). So ideally by the time I arrive baby has a nice full tummy and has been burped, and is hopefully on their way to checking out the back of their eye lids…
If you or the parent has any anxiety about baby not sleeping they pick up on that like a toddler sniffs out cake, they just know! Assure the parents that this is a process that takes time (anywhere between 2-4 hours I would consider normal). Once baby has had a feed, take baby and bounce out a little rhythm and go to happy place of sleepy vibes and enjoy the newborn cuddles!
It took me a long time to really understand the best way to set up in comparison to the window location (FYI I use 100% natural light for newborn sessions). One of the easiest ways to create depth, and not a flat looking image with no highlights, is to shoot at about a 45-90degree angle from the window, NOT 180 degrees and baby facing window (which is how I did it for quite a while!!). Like any good portrait- a simple pose with magical light goes a long way!
Ok so you have your sleeping baby (hopefully!), now you just need to set up your equipment (or if you have your own studio obviously set up well before baby arrives!!). This topic could be an article on its own, I literally feel like I’m taking everything but the kitchen sink with me, and moving into my clients house for a few hours. Let me be clear here, my collection of equipment and props did not happen over night, as with many things in the photography business- this took time! It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed with everything you feel you ‘need’ in the beginning so I’m going to be more general with things that DO make your session better significantly. I’m not talking camera because I do feel that’s a personal preference thing, but these days I mostly use a canon 5D mark iii and a 50mm 1.4 or my 24-70mm 2.8L for newborn sessions just FYI.
Ok so here goes…
Firstly, This takes a massive amount of practice! But going back to point 4, if they sense you are unsure or hesitant to move them, I will guarantee you that they will wake up! Before you even start to refine a pose after putting them down on your chosen set up, make sure they are in a nice deep sleep, and have a plan on what you want to achieve. I usually get them to a certain point in a set up, then get a ‘safe’ shot just incase they suddenly decide to wake. Next, I get my inner perfectionist working and get all the details like hands and toes, and backdrop in the best position for the least amount of editing. Parents are often amazed at what is possible, if you are confident and movement is fluid, that bubba is not going to bat an eyelid on most occasions. So fake it till you make it!
I also let the baby guide the poses. Not all babies will go into every pose, and if they are uncomfortable they will soon let you know! No matter how much the clients have their heart set on a particular pose, remember this is not something you can force.
As a general rule for any particular pose I try and get as many different angles as possible while keeping their privates modestly covered at all times. Try and get all the little details like eyelashes, fat rolls, hair swirls, and the 10 tiny toes together is a must have shot.
Safety first ALWAYS- this is not negotiable, you don’t take unnecessary risks with someone’s family. Parents get excited about their shoot understandably, and sometimes want to incorporate all sorts of things to personalize their session e.g. guitars or 4WD tyres. Clients will often ask for and want particular poses like the very on trend “froggy pose” or hanging pod shots, which I know in the beginning was a little daunting! I have always had the attitude that I will happily incorporate things the parents want if it is safe to do so, and if that means getting them to hold and support their baby in particular poses, which requires more editing time to clone out the hands then so be it! Never ever risk it, if you are feeling unsure about something be polite but firmly say no it is not possible.
Ok I have a massive advantage being a paediatric nurse; other people’s bodily fluids don’t really bother me! Though I can imagine for others this could be a little confronting? So take the warning, there is going to be the occasional wee on your favorite wrap, or even worse a code brown on your new flokati white rug (which cost you a small fortune), or even on you! You are photographing a new baby in their birthday suit, just accept this fact and move on! Yes, you will have to wash everything. Biggest tip of the day- I can’t believe I’m going here, but here it goes- after you wash any pood on items hang them out with stain area to the sun and the sun will bleach it completely out for you – no soaking required, honest!
The newborn photography session is always focused on the newest addition, but I make it my personal mission to get a shot with any siblings if possible (that’s a whole article in its own right!), and a shot with mum and dad. Particularly with mum, because lets face it, mum is usually the one behind the camera. It’s been about a week after having given birth, and sleep deprivation is well and truly kicking in, I can tell you from experience mum isn’t feeling particularly glamorous right now, and will often decline on first offer. This is where I insist! On cue I say:
“I don’t want you to regret not having a photo with your baby just because of how you feel in this moment- your baby will never be this small again, and even if you show no one else, would you let me capture this time for your child to have in the future?”
At a guess, 99% of mums agree to a couple of shots at this point, and then later say:
“thank you for making me get those done, I LOVE them!”
Newborn photography isn’t for everyone, and if I haven’t scared you off- you will learn quick that babies are individuals and you can do every trick in the book and sometimes it won’t work. Don’t despair, you haven’t lost your baby whisperer touch all of a sudden- take a deep breath, let it go, and start the process again- and remember why you threw yourself into it in the first place!
Because nothing compares to that feeling, that despite everything that went on during the session- you managed to create some beautiful images that your client and their entire family will cherish forever. And babies are cute! So adorable infact, you find yourself willingly and even excited about the next session. And that’s when you know….you’re a newborn photographer!