Photography Blog Newborn Photography Safety Tips to Ensure a Comfortable Baby Photo Session
Plan for a warm baby. You want the baby to be as comfortable as possible — and that means cranking the heat. Ask the parents to turn the thermostat up to 80-84 degrees F or use a space heater in the room. You could also try using an electric blanket to pre-heat the blankets or backdrop the baby will be lying on, but you never want to place an active electric blanket on or near the baby.
Looking for more information about newborn photography? Check out “Craftsy’s Ultimate Baby Photography Tips and Tricks” and the other two posts in this newborn photography mini-series: “Quick and Simple Backdrops for Newborn Photography” and “Tips for Easy Newborn Photography Props.”
A curled up, sleeping baby will often stay that way when reassured with a steady hand and a firm hold. Wait a few beats for the baby to settle before withdrawing your hand and taking the photographs. Swaddling is another great way to immobilize a baby for certain shots.
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And, use common sense. If the baby isn’t easily going into a certain position or is showing signs of discomfort do NOT force them.
Plan ahead for the types of shots that both you and the new parents want. Spend a little time plotting out which shots work well with various backgrounds or when to risk upsetting the baby with an outfit change. A little forethought and a big dose of safety will go a long way towards a successful newborn photography session.
Newborn babies cannot support their own heads. Any photograph you have seen with a baby’s head lifted or propped up on its hands, or balancing on a prop was done as a composite. The photographer took two or more shots with a parent supporting the baby’s head (one shot holding from above and one from below) and removed those hands digitally during post-processing. This style of shot can only be done safely with an adult carefully supporting the baby during the entire process. Unless you have a lot of experience compositing separate images, do not attempt this type of shot.
We must remember that it is a privilege to be asked to photograph these little bundles and I believe that too often then not we get caught up in getting ‘the’ shot that we forget the real reason we are hired – which is to document every little detail of these babies and this incredible time in our clients lives so that it can be remembered forever.
Never leave a baby unattended in a prop, on your posing bag or with a young sibling. Always have a spotter or parent next to your baby when using props Use a support hand or finger when posing the baby and clone it out later in Photoshop.
Don’t force a baby into any pose. Instead, adjust them to where they are comfortable. Have your camera strap around your neck when shooting above the baby. Never stand on anything above the baby in case you fall or it breaks.
Never put a baby inside or on an object / prop that could potentially break or fall. Glass props should never be used.
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Scheduling newborn sessions involves a willing flexibility on your part. Best case scenario: Talk with the parents-to-be beforehand about the timing and expectations of your shoot. That way, once the baby arrives, the parents will already know what to expect and how to contact you for final scheduling.
The safety of the baby is the most important aspect of your session. And, parents will also feel more comfortable throughout the session knowing that their baby is in safe hands.
Newborns are delicate and fragile, and you always want to use the utmost care when moving and posing an infant. Always wash or sanitize your hands before any newborn session. (It goes without saying that you must reschedule a newborn shoot if you think you might be getting sick.) Ask parents’ permission before touching or moving the baby, or ask for their assistance in posing. Be prepared to work slowly to get the pose or look that you want.
Even sleepy babies may fight the urge and try keeping an eye open. Gently use the back of your knuckle to massage down the baby’s nose. This usually causes the infant’s eyes to close and give you that peaceful, sleeping look. It may only last a moment, however, so consider asking a parent to help so that you can capture the shot the minute their hand is out of the way.
I would explain to the parents that if the baby becomes uncomfortable at any stage, you would move onto the next pose. I personally would leave images like these if they are requested till the end of the session and I would not attempt poses like these on your own if doing them for the first time.
Above the ‘taco’ pose. This image has been rotated counter clockwise to make the baby look like they were lying flat.
Above left the ‘froggy’ pose on the left and above right a safe simple hand held set up using the posing bag.
I am lucky enough to know a lovely photographer by the name of Fiona McGuire who before having her own children worked in neonatal and paediatric intensive care and special care wards as a physiotherapist. A while back we had a discussion about poses like the ‘froggy’ and the ‘taco’ regarding the dangers. I believe it’s very important to understand babies and what they’re capable of when handling them. No shot is worth the risk if something was to go wrong.
The ‘froggy’ pose puts the hips into a bent up and spread wide position (flexion and abduction). This causes their muscles up the back of the legs and bottom to stretch. When in utero most babies hips and knees are bent up like this, which is why after birth their legs will remain up and bent when they’re on their backs. So in theory there should be little risk of dislocating hips in this position as dislocation usually happens when the legs are bent up and bought in together. My main worry with this pose is the placement of the hands – getting them into position requires a very sleepy, relaxed baby. If they’re wriggling around in this upright position they will be very unstable because a newborns neck is not strong enough to support their head – Most babies are top heavy as their head accounts to roughly 25% of their body weight. And if the hands and head are not properly supported the weight of the head can put a lot of strain on their little wrists.
Lately I’ve had a few messages from new photographers to our industry regarding the safety of certain newborn poses so I thought I would share some of my thoughts regarding safety, some tips and a couple of images.
Newborn photography is a huge responsibility: Parents are trusting you with their new, tiny baby. Yes, you want to capture incredible and amazing images that they will treasure for a lifetime, but you also want to be sure that you’re shooting with the safety and comfort of the baby in mind.
If the baby isn’t going into a position easily or is showing signs of discomfort by waking or wriggling it’s time to move on or finish the session if you are at the end.
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And remember that every baby is different. They will all have ‘their’ comfy spot so they need to be worked with and photographed individually.
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If a baby has unstable hips with a tendency to dislocate this should have been picked up during their screening after birth at the hospital. I would check with the parents about screening before attempting either of these poses.
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Then, aim to feed the baby as full as possible about 15-20 minutes before you plan to start shooting. This will help induce a baby coma of peaceful sleeping. If you know that arriving, organizing your supplies and setting up might take those 15-20 minutes, you might want to recommend the parents wait until your arrival to feed the baby.
The more comfortable you make the baby during your sessions the more content they will be. If they are continually moved and disturbed during the shoot they will become over stimulated and unsettled. Gentle, small movements that transition babies into different poses will keep your babies nice and calm and ensure a smoother session.
And I’m a big believer in “prevention is ALWAYS better then cure”.
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The hip positioning in the ‘froggy’ pose is basically the same as in the ‘taco’. But in the ‘taco’ pose the weight of the upper body is on their lower half, which can be very uncomfortable to the baby if they are not supported and positioned properly. I tend to only attempt this pose on newborns that naturally draw their legs up into this position.
When photographing newborns, it doesn’t have to be complicated. The simplest of images are often the most beautiful and treasured.
There are some poses that you may be asked to create by your client. I can’t stress enough how important it is to know how they are created safely. Some being composite images that will require Photoshop to put multiple images together. Composite images are the only way to really ensure the safety of the baby when doing poses like the ‘froggy’ or ‘cocoon’. You need to be able to explain to your clients what’s involved with creating these set ups as they will be required to assist you if you don’t work with an assistant.
Most newborn photography sessions take place when the baby is between 5 and 10 days old. At this stage, newborns are super sleepy, making them easier to work with, and they are still fairly flexible and moldable. As they get a little bit older, newborns gain more control over their limbs and bodies and get much more proficient at wiggling out of whatever cute little pose you were attempting.
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Plan for a sleeping baby. Most newborn photographs rely on an exhausted, sleeping baby who is willing to submit to whatever poses, outfit changes and interactions you have in store. Advise the parents to try to keep the baby awake for the two hours leading up to your session. (Reassure them that this is likely to be a futile endeavor but still to try.)