Here are some samples from other unsettled baby sessions in my studio.
I always hope to move the bare baby into a prop as well, here is a perfect example where this worked well. The baby was in fairly the exact same pose from the beanbag and we kept her body cozy and snug. My assistant kept her hands on the baby the entire time she was in this prop to keep her settled and comfortable except for the few seconds it took to capture the images.
2) Move to the parent shots. I find that even fussy babies are usually OK with doing parent shots for at least as long as it takes to fire off a few frames!
4) Enlist one of the parents to help you hold the blanket up vs. having it clipped to a stand. This is something I recently started doing and it has made a world of difference in how free I am to rotate the beanbag’s angle towards the window to get my lighting just how I want it. But as it pertains to a difficult session, this will also allow you more freedom to shoot the same pose from different angles. For example, after this shot:
In this session, as with most sessions with very unsettled babies, she began to wake up again and become uncomfortable so I swaddled her in a different swaddle. I now photographed from above on the beanbag to provide a little variety from the first set of swaddled images.
With the unsettled baby I begin by swaddling her up tight. I am writing using a female tense because, call it coincidence, but the unsettled babies I have tend to be girls and all the sample images I will use here are of girls. Swaddling can sometimes take two people if the baby is extremely fussy or even screaming, there are some feisty babies out there and my own baby was one of them. If swaddling alone does not comfort the baby hold her on her side and sway gently and add some schhing sounds near her ear to top the cake if needed. I learned these techniques from Dr. Karp, author of The Happiest Baby On The Block, and they work 98% of the time in my studio! If all this is not working, however, then some snuggling with Mommy may be needed.
Here are some tips to help take control of a session that may seem to be going out of control. Baby is crying, parents are stressing, you are not obtaining anything worthy of a wall canvas or coffee table album; what do you do?
So how does the aspiring baby photographer succeed in every session with these tiny and sometimes unpredictable subjects?
Right after my insanely busy fall season I wanted nothing more than to take at least a month-long break from photography. But, I had two newborns due in early December that I had booked months earlier. As fate would have it, they were both born just days apart so I needed to squeeze them into the same week of shooting. Then I got a call from a family whose photographer had canceled on them due to a family emergency and they begged me to fit them in.
If parent portraits are a priority to the family I go ahead and get these in now.
I can typically un-swaddle the baby now and she will stay cozy if even for a short while to capture some bare baby shots. I change out the background blanket a couple times and carry on varying the pose and angle along with adding in hats and headbands to provide a good amount of variety in the images.
So, there I was with three newborn sessions, each more difficult than the one before. But then I realized I was using the same techniques to try to salvage what I could from the shoots and that those techniques might be useful/helpful to anyone else who is photographing a less than perfect sleeper!
I can’t tell you how much this freedom from “blanket clipping” has helped me with getting more optimal light and angles throughout my newborn shoots!
I added another wrap snug over the swaddle with a different texture/look and moved her into a prop and photographed a couple different portraits here.
2. What temperature is it? A bare newborn within a couple weeks of age prefer temps in the 85 range to stay cozy.
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5) Shoot the details. When you REALLY are struggling to get the requisite number of shots, details shots will add some much needed variety:
It’s not just a gimmick either, parents LOVE these shots! The mom told me that this smooshy lip thing he’s doing is his signature move, so you can BET that’s something the parents want to remember!
I added a headband, sometimes clients bring in their own as with this session, I try to use their own pieces if they match the setups.
I have a terrible time saying no, so I shot three newborns in one week. To give you an idea, I usually do one maybe two per month, so this was quite unusual for me and a little bit terrifying.
Once baby is swaddled and comfy I photograph her on her side first with the backdrop fading out like I would typically photograph the sleeping bare baby.
So while you may be beating yourself up about the lack of variety, you are probably the only one. The parents were there -they KNOW how difficult the session was and they are most likely just incredibly grateful that you were able to get ANY wonderful shots and will be pleasantly surprised! That’s how this family was – in the end we laughed about it, they got what they needed and everyone was happy.
After all these boxes are checked I move forward with the session. Here are some tips and a variety of portraits in my studio session flow I use for babies who are not as easily settled. I will show sample portaits here from sessions where babies were truly unsettled so you can see it is possible to achieve professional quality portraits in many of the situations with babies you will encounter. If the sessions were in a client’s home I would likely work with the family to capture more of a lifestyle feel in the portraits if the baby was not cooperating well for beanbag and prop style images but today I will focus on a studio styled session.
Baby photography is a popular niche in the photography industry, no doubt about it!
I have a confession – I don’t really LOVE newborn photography. There, I said it! Partly though I think it’s because I’m just not that GOOD at it. I mean I’m good at lighting and shooting them, but the posing and handling part I just don’t feel 100% confident in. In fact, after EVERY newborn session I swear that I’m not going too book another one until I take a newborn workshop! But then, some time passes and I get a little amnesia and get excited about the challenge again and I cave.
First, take the effort to communicate with clients prior to the session on what to expect and what to do to prepare. This can make such a huge difference in your session success! On the occasion I have an unsettled baby in my studio I run through my happy baby checklist here.
And two are all you really need for a beautiful birth announcement!
3) Staying on the topic of parent shots for a second, there is one pose in particular that I find can usually be achieved even when baby is not sleeping or even that calm, partly because you can’t see baby’s face that well, but also because the frog-like leg position and hand around baby’s head like this keeps the baby well contained even when awake. Plus, often the interest of looking into their parents’ faces will hold their attention long enough to get them to calm down a bit:
She was happily awake after this set so I took the opportunity to get a nice wide eyed awake portrait, the parents do love these.
First, what follows is assuming you are employing all the BASIC techniques of newborn photography including keeping the room as close to 90 degrees as possible, using some sort of white noise app, making sure blankets and surfaces are warm before placing baby on them etc. What I’m talking about here is when you are doing everything “by the book” and it’s STILL not going well -what can you do to make sure you get enough variety for a gallery?
Hopefully all your newborns are good sleepers and you won’t ever need any of the tips above. If so, you are luckier and probably better at handling babies than I am 🙂
And in the end, even though we didn’t have enough variety for say a huge album, we had covered all our bases. We had some beautiful wide awake swaddled shots, a few full body shots as above, a shot of the whole family and a shot of mom with baby and dad with baby. Honestly, that’s plenty to choose from when it comes to the parents ordering products.. often times parents order multiple copies of their favorite one or two shots anyway, and all it takes is ONE great shot printed on a large canvas to make an impressive statement:
If left to me, I always assume that baby on blanket and baby with parents are most important, but sometimes the parents have other ideas (they might want that prop shot more!) so it’s ALWAYS a good idea to ask!
She was not staying settled after un-wrapping from this set up so I swaddled yet again and photographed a couple different angles/shots than previously.
Communicating with Color and Light starts 6/4 with Caroline Jensen
8) Don’t be too hard on yourself, you probably have more than enough. The second to last newborn I did was my hardest one EVER. I seriously could not move her fingers without her waking up screaming. By the end of the session we were all a little stressed out and I was just really down about it. But then I realized that the shots we did get were great. In fact, this is one of my favorite newborn images I’ve ever taken:
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3. Is the noise on and loud enough? You may not realize this but sounds in the womb were loud and an appropriate volume for your white noise is necessary to return the baby to a sleepy and/or happy womb-like environment.
1. Has baby eaten recently, maybe she is hungry? If she just ate maybe she needs to burp or has gas bubbles? Sometimes just holding the baby upright and close to you while rubbing or patting their back for a bit can help them settle in after eating.
6) Accessorize Accessorize Accessorize. Often, I end up getting 90% of the shots from a session during one 15 minute stretch of REALLY deep sleep. When that happens, I will literally switch out hats and bows like a mad woman trying to get some variety before I risk a bigger move like changing blankets. This little guy REALLY gave us a run for our money until literally the LAST 10 minutes of the shoot when he finally feel into a super deep sleep.. so once we got him in the bucket I just changed up the hats and kept shooting!
Or just the three parent/family shots to make a fantastic grouping:
1) Swaddle. Duh, you knew this already right? But, there’s a twist.. I find that the types of fabrics that I was using to swaddle sleeping newborns to be completely inadequate for swaddling awake babies that are moving their arms and legs and tend to break free much too easily from any fabric with slip.. so I went out recently to BRU and bought some semi-attractive looking regular type of receiving blankets for this purpose. Before my next session, I’m going to order these stretchy knit scarves from Van Klee instead.
I tried pulling him up over the “bump” I had created in the blankets expecting him to keep his head angled the same way, but then he turned it. Instead of trying to make his head turn the way it had been (and risking him waking up in protest!) I rotated my whole beanbag so that his body was no longer at a 45 degree angle but instead at a 90 degree angle from the window.
And, if not, see #1! During the session above, I only BRIEFLY shot this image before baby lost it. So we fed him, tried to come back later but he still wasn’t having any of it, so as a last resort we swaddled him for the family shot:
I then wrapped the swaddle in a stretchy wrap, again to provide variety without fumbling with her too much since she was comfortable.
Now that the baby is settled it’s a good time to move her into a prop.
7) Prioritize. I always set expectations with the parents that we may not get through all the shots they want, so I ask them what is MOST important to them and shoot that first. I had one client that REALLY wanted a swaddled shot. Normally I swaddle when baby isn’t cooperating as a plan B, but it was so important to her that we actually swaddled this little girl even though she was deeply sleeping: