First things first – always, always, always wash your hands before handling a newborn – they’re so vulnerable to germs and illness, you want to be as clean as possible just in case.
You certainly don’t need to get too fancy with the lighting. All you need is a large window for your main light and a Westcott 5 in 1 Reflector to help fill in some of your shadows. Below is a screenshot of the setup we often use.
If a newborn is irritated by hunger, you’ll never get them settled – let the baby feed till they’ve had enough, and you’ll have a much easier job on your hands.
Don’t try to move the baby until they’re in a deep sleep – when their bodies have become very still and their breathing is deeper. If you move a newborn in a light sleep, they’ll wake up!
With a little Photoshop magic, the images are merged and you have the composite image that you see in the first picture. (Above photos used with permission from Bree Franklin Photography).
I prefer to photograph newborns 7 to 10 days after they’re born, when parents have had a chance to settle into their new life but the baby is still definitely in the newborn stage.
Cover the essentials – is there anything the parents are particularly looking for from their newborn portraits? Have they seen any photographs that they particularly liked?
You should be able to get amazing newborn and baby photography results with almost any camera and lens if you simply learn the proper lighting, creativity, and camera angles for newborn photography. Though a professional camera like a Canon 5K Mark III, a full frame camera, will give you better overall image quality than an advanced point and shoot camera like a Sony NEX, a camera like the Sony NEX will likely be sufficient for capturing great images of newborns. Below is a quick side-by-side showing images from the two cameras mentioned above with the Canon 5D Mark III image on the left and the Sony NEX image on the right. For more on this, be sure to check out our Newborn Photography Workshop.
I’d recommend that you get as much experience with newborns as you can to increase your understanding of how a newborn might react to certain situations. There’s also reams of information on newborn development available online – spending time absorbing these articles is time very well spent.
I ask parents to take their watches off beforehand, as it’s so distracting having a big watch in the shot if you go for a close-up of a newborn lying in the parents’ arms. You don’t want to do this in the moment as a watch will usually leave a mark for a good few minutes till the skin settles.
I learnt many of these tips for photographing newborns the hard way – on the job! I’ve photographed over a thousand children now and am very in tune with babies’ moods and habits, which really helps keep a session calm.
Have in mind a loose shot list of the photographs you plan to take. Will you approach the newborn portrait session as a lifestyle session, or will you give the parents guidance and suggest certain poses or set-ups?
Certain shots are easiest when the baby is asleep: close-ups of their tiny toes, for example, are much easier when a baby is sound asleep than when their little legs are wriggling around.
Capturing these moments is a great privilege, and if any kind of portrait session deserves to be nailed, it’s the newborn photography session!
Ask the parents what time of day would suit their emerging routine best. Newborns tend to be happier in the morning, so that’s usually a good time for their portrait session. Avoid their witching hour at all costs, towards the late afternoon – it can take hours to settle even the calmest newborn at the end of the day.
Note: If you’re new to Photoshop and/or Lightroom, you can also consider outsourcing your post-production and retouching to companies that specialize in editing newborn photos.
Bear in mind that some newborns have a natural tendency to turn their heads more to one side than the other – it’s easier to move the baby around if you find they keep ending up looking away from you.
Try to keep speaking around the newborn, so they get used to your voice and it doesn’t startle them to hear a stranger so close to them. Keep your voice low and calm, newborns are very sensitive to noise.
Parents vary wildly as to whether they’d like more photographs of them all together as a new family, or mostly photographs of their newborn – some parents don’t even want to be photographed at all.
[Editor: if you’re using a crop sensor camera, a 50mm lens will give you a similar focal length to an 85mm lens on full frame. Affordable options here include the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM or Nikon 50mm f/1.8G.] Tip #22
Spend a few minutes chatting with the parents before you get started on the day, to help them relax and feel comfortable around you – calming any of their nerves will really help you take the best photographs.
[Editor: Whilst newer dSLRs like the Canon 6d mark ii offer a silent shutter mode, using one of these mirrorless cameras with a completely inaudible electronic shutter is a much better option.] Tip #19
Are you planning to photograph the parents as well as the newborn, and any siblings? Will there be any other family members present – grandparents are often in the wings, for example.
I use a Canon 5D mark iii which has an almost silent shutter – the difference between that and the noise of the Canon 5D markk ii‘s shutter is quite remarkable.
Newborns are also sensitive to touch, and temperature – make sure your hands are warm before you touch a newborn, or you’ll startle them and quite likely make them cry.
Your newborn baby has his or her own schedule. When they get fussy, be sure to take your time and wait it out. Sometimes you’ll spend 3-4 hours on a shoot with the baby crying the entire time and finally, in the last 20 minutes, you’ll get everything you need. It’s not going to be easy and be sure to plan sufficient time or the shoot. Your shoot duration will vary depending on the number of wardrobe changes and scene setups, but in general be flexible. If you’re doing this professionally, consider charging per session, per image, or per scene rather than charging per hour.
Guest post by family photographer Louise Downham | www.louiserosephotography.com
Responding to the newborn during the portrait session Tip #9
So any time you see a picture of a baby hanging from a branch or resting on a basketball or in any other precarious position, understand that the images should not be attempted without proper safety and composite techniques for newborn photography.
Over the years, I’ve developed a set of tricks that help me get the most out of a newborn portrait session, and here they are.
The more you photograph newborns, the more you’ll get a sense of how you want to go about this.
Bear in mind the hormone crash that mums will go through on day 4 or 5 after the baby is born, and the fact that newborns will often suffer from baby acne and digestive issues from week 2 for a couple of weeks, and will often launch into cluster feeding from days 11 onward as they prepare for a growth spurt.
If you’re leaning towards more lifestyle photography, a wider lens like a 35mm is great as you’ll get more of the interior in without too much distortion – just don’t photograph people at the edges of the shot or they’ll look enormous.
This guest post on newborn photography tips is by award winning family portrait photographer Louise Downham.
[Related posts: Tips on photographing children and the best cameras for kids] Newborn Photography Tips for a Baby Photoshoot
A cheaper option for close-up shots is using an extension tube like this one with a 50mm lens – the results aren’t as gorgeous, but it does the job pretty well.
Creative props can be the difference between a professional photo and an amateur one. Newborn props don’t have to be expensive and you can find most of what you need at home or a local crafts stores. Other recommended locations are Beautiful Photo Props and Etsy. For ideas, consider incorporating the parents’ hobbies, their culture, their favorite colors, or their overall personalities. We came up with the concept below for Ellie because her mother used to live in Paris. For more inspiration and to see how this scene was shot, please see our Newborn Photography Workshop.
For more newborn photography tips and tutorials, please see our Newborn Photography Workshop, a full guide to baby and newborn photography, teaching posing, lighting, planning, and post production for newborn photography.
Make some suggestions as to what the parents might wear. New mums might prefer a loose T-shirt as it’s more flattering for baby weight than tight breastfeeding tops – word this suggestion carefully though, as no one’s more sensitive than a new mum!
As with any portrait session, the most important element is preparation – feeling comfortable with your game plan and with your clients will go a long way to making sure you capture those precious moments beautifully.
Part 2 of our Newborn Photography Workshop covers post production and includes newborn photography presets.
You’ll likely end up in all sorts of strange positions getting just the right angle for a tiny newborn, so wear clothing that you’ll feel comfortable moving around in and stretching.
Tip 10. Learn Proper Post Production for Newborn Photography
For group shots with a newborn, a 50mm lens such as the affordable Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM (or Nikon 50mm f/1.8G) is a good choice, as even if the family’s home is small you’ll usually manage to fit the whole family in.
[Editor: if you’re using a crop sensor camera, a 35mm lens will give you a similar focal length to a 50mm lens on full frame. Affordable options here include the Canon 35mm f/2 IS or the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G] Tip #23
Get some experience with newborns first before photographing one – they’re quite different to young babies, and need a lot more attention!
If you’ve spent time around a new baby, the constant nappy changes and feeds won’t come as a surprise – and you won’t be panicking that all the time is being used up with bodily needs, you’ll have seen how there’s a window of calm after all the excitement – that’s the moment you’re waiting for to really start photographing in.
And of course, if you have an illness, postpone the session – the baby’s health is the top priority here.
New parents can be completely consumed with amazement at their newborn – you may not be offered a drink for hours! Take a bottle of water with you just in case as your concentration levels will start to dip if you get thirsty.
I hope you find these newborn photography tips helpful – see what works for you and don’t be afraid to experiment.
If a baby is starting to fall asleep, wait a minute or two so they fall asleep properly – even on silent mode, a clicking shutter can be enough to disturb that snooze.
Tip 8. Use Window Light and reflectors for Newborn Photography
A more economical option for a portrait lens is the Canon 85mm f/1.8, or if you’re a Nikon shooter, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8.
Your magic window for Newborn Photography is within the first 14 days of birth. Newborns are easiest to work with during this time because they are sleeping for most of the day. They are also the most easy to adjust during this time-frame. Consider taking your baby’s photos after his or her umbilical cord has fallen off (which is typically after 5 days or so).
Being creative is a large part of being a newborn photographer, but so is making sure you get the basic, must-have shots. You should always start with the basics and move towards the more advanced photos just in case the baby gets too fussy and you have to call off the shoot. Below are some of the basic shots you should get before introducing complex, time-consuming, and difficult photographs. For more info on Newborn Posing, please see our Newborn Workshop on DVD.
Safety should always come first when it comes to newborn and baby photography. The list can get quite extensive for tips on newborn safety, but in general, use your common sense. Never bring in any hard or sharp objects as props. Never place your newborn on high or unsteady surfaces without a spotter. And realize that some of your favorite photos of newborns are actually composites. Below is an example.
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Introducing personal elements is part of what makes some of these creative props for newborns so great. However, guitars aren’t the most stable surfaces for newborns so a spotter is enlisted. With the camera on a tripod, the composition of the image does not shift. One photo is taken of just the guitar (left) and another picture is taken with the newborn on the guitar but with someone securely holding the baby in place (right).
I encourage all parents to feature in one way or another, even if it’s just their arms being in shot holding their baby. When that little newborn is an adult, it’ll mean so much to them to have photographs which also show their parents.
Consider how old the newborn will be at the time of the newborn portrait session. Studio photographers often want the baby in the first week, but for home sessions the first two weeks is generally fine.
[Editor: affordable 35mm lens options for full frame cameras include the excellent Canon 35mm f/2 IS or the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G ED, reviewed by me here. If you shoot Fuji, check out these Fuji lenses to find the equivalent one for you.
] Baby Photography Tips | Final Words
[Editor: whilst Nikon doesn’t have an equivalent 100mm macro lens, the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 DI SP does a fine job – they also do a version for Canon here too.] Tip #20
Newborn photography can seem like a scary field of photography. It’s one thing to photograph landscapes or pose adults who take instruction, but working with something as fragile and unpredictable as a newborn baby can bring out the anxiety in even the most seasoned photographer. Here are a few newborn (baby) photography tips to get you started.
I follow the newborn’s lead – if they’re awake and settled, that’s when I suggest taking a family portrait. Different photographers approach this differently – many studio photographers, for example, request that the baby has an enormous feed beforehand to induce a big long sleep, for example.
My favourite lens for newborns is the Canon EF 100m f/2.8L – the close-up details from this lens are beautiful (and it’s also great as a portrait lens).
Take a look at this adorable picture below of a newborn and a guitar.
In newborn photography, you are generally going for two looks, peacefully sleeping or awake and happy. If the baby is uncomfortable, you run the risk of him or her being fussy, potentially crying, and overall causing a difficult time for everyone involved in the shoot. Consider wearing gloves if your hands are cold. Use Heating pads, and consider space heaters if the room is not nice and warm. For a full list of non-photographic accessories for Newborn Photography, see our Workshop.
We recommend planning your scenes using the website Kuler by Adobe. On there you’ll be able to find complementary and analogous color combinations that work well together. Being able to see the colors together visually prior to going out and looking for the props and backdrops will save you hours. On Kuler we arranged the pink and yellow combination you see in the left image below prior to searching for actual newborn props and accessories.
Though newborn photography may seem daunting at first, it’s like any other form of photography in that the more you practice the better you become. Take your time, be patient, and don’t second guess yourself. With the proper planning and research, some creative and personalized props, in addition to careful and safety-first execution, you should come away with at least a few good images on which to build your foundation. For more newborn photography tips and tutorials, please see our Newborn Photography Workshop, a full guide to baby and newborn photography, teaching posing, lighting, planning, and post production for newborn photography.
Your post production for newborn photography will generally be more light and airy than other types of photography. Consider using fades, tasteful black and white effects. Also consider brushing up on advanced Photoshop techniques like Frequency Separation and other advanced retouching techniques.
Photographing newborns has to be one of my all time favourites. I absolutely love seeing a family in its first weeks, the complete adoration the parents feel and their amazement that they’ve created a tiny little human.
When selecting a camera for newborn photography, choose as quiet a shutter as you can – a noisy shutter close to a newborn’s face is likely to wake and startle them.