Updated: Jun 24
Everyone loves cute photos, and few things are cuter than a tiny baby. Newborn photography captures babies at their most peaceful and “aww!”-worthy moments. It can be one of the most rewarding assignments a professional photographer can have. But working with subjects that can’t take direction means newborn studio sessions require planning and care. You’ve got to have patience, it looks fun, but you have to be ready to get pooped on.
Babies are terrible models. Sure, everyone oohs and aahs over the precious portraits of newborns swaddled in a haze of bokeh. Tiny hands and feet peek out from downy blankets. Whimsical hats cradle dimpled cheeks. Delicate lashes close over sleepy eyes…
What people don’t realize is that babies – especially the newborns – are total divas who need constant feeding, incessant snuggling, and endless reassurance in the form of eyebrow massages, overheated rooms, ambient noise makers, and clicky tongue-noises.
Newborn photography requires planning both on the part of the photographer and the parents. This blog should provide you some guidance on how to make a newborn shoot successful. Newborn sessions tend to be on the quicker side, and are dependant on a lot of factors including how the baby is feeling, you may get a solid half-hour or only 10 good minutes. Be ready to work fast and make the most of the time when the baby is asleep, calm, or feeling good.
Planning your newborn photography shoot effectively is very important. You need to know a great deal about the baby to be able to photograph them well.
Feeding and nap times are important. But knowing the baby’s age can help a lot. Often, within the first two weeks works best for newborns.
At this age, newborns are easier to pose. You will find they curl up much easier than they will in a week or two.
Use this knowledge to your advantage, and make the appointment as soon as possible.
So how do you do it?
How do you take a squirmy, screamy, wide-awake, possibly still-terrified-to-be-out-of-the-womb little human, and turn her or him into a malleable, moldable mound of infant perfection?
That really is the first lesson. Approach each session with the assumption that this baby will be the diva-est of all baby divas, and you will need to pull out all creative stops in order to make a single usable portrait. Now that that’s out of the way…
Get Them Milk-Drunk.
Think how YOU feel when you’re hungry. We like to call it “hangry” – you know, Hungry + Angry? Now, for a newborn, throw in a dash of Confusion, a fistful of What-Are-You-Doing-To-Me, and a heap of I-Was-Happy-Where-I-Was-Why-Did-You-Make-Me-Leave, and you’ll have an inkling of how miserable this little person is at the slightest pang of hunger.
Keep them Warm
Babies like warm environments, so have a space heater ready regardless of the season. If you are doing an at-home shoot do not turn on the air conditioner.
Keep the baby in familiar environments
Now that Baby is in a happy, drowsy state of milk-fed bliss, it’s time to get the whole family involved. When Baby is wide-awake, plop the little one in her family’s arms! A newborn’s vision is … well, mostly it isn't. Their little eyes can’t track a darn thing, and, to be honest, you’re mostly a blur to them. However, a baby will naturally look toward familiar sounds and smells – like the scents and voices of their parents or siblings.
Babies normally calm down in Mom’s arms. Try to have the baby awake for the family images as it allows the photographer to capture the bond between the baby, siblings, and parents.
It may also help to align the shoot with the baby's normal schedule providing the maximum amount of time for a happy baby shoot.
Costumes, props, and gear for a newborn baby.
When gathering equipment for newborn photoshoots, start with the basics. Get some wraps ready, skin-toned and neutral-colored wraps are good options to have on hand as they give you options that go well with whatever the parents choose to wear. Once you have a good collection of wraps and other basics like headbands, branch out. Wraps in jersey knit, strips of fabric and cheesecloth wraps work really well.
Simple baby shots are usually the best; there is no need for cluttered or overly bright backgrounds. Using the spaces you have on hand could make your picture more unique. Using a natural environment such as bedrooms, living rooms, backyards can make the image more meaningful.
Regardless of how you dress the newborn, make sure you have something comfortable for the baby to rest on during the shoot like a bean bag, pillow, or cushion. These can be easily color coordinated using a simple wrap.
Capture the Babies Attention
It is not easy to capture a baby's attention for any amount of time. Rather move the camera to capture attention than trying to get the baby to look in a direction.
The following may help to also capture the babies attention;
Natural window light is less startling to a baby’s eyes than a flash of a strobe. If you need to add a light source, consider continuous lighting or big sift boxes instead of flashes.
Move the camera to the Baby’s line of sight. It looks like the baby is looking at the camera, but in reality, the camera was moved to the right place!
Babies tend to look in the direction of unknown sounds, make lots of sounds! Little clicks and coos can make the baby look your way if the little guy is focused on his feet.
Grab their attention them with light. Our eyes are naturally drawn to the brightest spot in any scene – and babies are no different. If you’re standing between Baby and a light source (such as a big window or a big continuous lightbox), chances are good Baby will look in your direction.
A good candid shot really captures who the baby is and what they like to do. Seriously channel your inner spy to snap these shots. Grab some photos of everyday life. Leave the mess; let the kids’ hair and faces be messy! You’ll love remembering those real details when your babies are teenagers.
Wrap them tightly.
Most newborns Love being swaddled or wrapped up tightly. They’re so fresh out of the womb, all that space is uncomfortably freeing.
A good, snug swaddle makes Baby feel secure and keeps them from startling awake. But wide-awake is fine, too! Now that Baby is swaddled, you can snag some fabulous photos of the tiny tyke glaring at you (it’s their best model face – really), and make a few detailed images while you’re at it! (Who doesn’t love pouty baby lips?
“Baby can’t wiggle about while wrapped, so you can photograph those teeny toes, sweet little fingers, and beautiful lashes without too much trouble!
Swaddling is also a great solution for newborns whose emotions have run away with them. If Baby can’t stop crying, a good swaddle often saves the day!
What happens when it all goes bad?
After all, we all have a bad photo day!
Would you want to arrive in a strange place only to immediately be plopped into a basket and told to smile? I dont think so!
While no one can argue with the utter adorableness of a newborn curled into doll-like repose, we also can’t blame them for the occasional refusal to participate in our portrait rituals. Communicating the change in plans to the Baby’s parents if they have their hearts set on a picture of baby in a pumpkin or a basket – but Baby isn’t buying it – it’s up to the photographer to regroup and refocus the creative energy.
Calm the parents, soothe the baby, and move on to photographs that document their bond and capture these fleeting moments in their lives.
If you want me to help you to plan your newborn shoot contact me