Get some experience with newborns first before photographing one – they’re quite different to young babies, and need a lot more attention!
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!
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.
In regards to blankets, I have learned how much I benefit from layering many blankets on my beanbag, in the order I want to use them and clasping the entire stack to the backdrop stand. I benefit during the session from doing this because it makes the transition from one blanket to the next extremely quick and fluid, and during post-processing because the layering helps make the blankets a lot smoother.
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).
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.
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.
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.
I am so thankful to Courtney for letting me write for her on this fabulous site! Especially because she said I can write about newborn photography! This is certainly a passion of mine, and I love to chat about this genre of photography any chance I can get. Mostly because with each conversation, new tips and bits of knowledge can be gained … for the photographer just starting in this specialization to the seasoned professional.
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.
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.
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.
[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
[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
Also, explain why you suggest these things … why is a pacifier helpful at the session? Why should the baby be given a very full feeding right before, kept awake for a bit prior, and then photographed in an 85 degree room? A well informed client is a trusting, relaxed client and that goes a long way toward a successful session.
[Related posts: Tips on photographing children and the best cameras for kids] Newborn Photography Tips for a Baby Photoshoot
But I’ve also found that warming the spot on the beanbag where they will be posed is incredibly helpful too, particularly on the first blanket I’m working with. A heating pad works great for this!
This guest post on newborn photography tips is by award winning family portrait photographer Louise Downham.
[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
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.
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!
Just seeing how she handled the baby opened my eyes to what was possible with posing a sound asleep newborn. I also observed a number of soothing techniques that have proved to be so helpful … so much so that I wish I knew of them with my own babies! True, there is nothing like true, hands on experience, but studying and watching other experienced photographers work can prove invaluable.
I not only want this for each and every one of my own clients, but for every Newborn Photographers’. I’ve studied, practiced and learned a lot in the past several years and am excited to pass on to all of you, five tips that positively changed my newborn photography experience.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
I hope you find these newborn photography tips helpful – see what works for you and don’t be afraid to experiment.
The more you photograph newborns, the more you’ll get a sense of how you want to go about this.
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.
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.
I hope that some (or all!) of these tips will help you toward your goal of successful newborn sessions, as much as they’ve helped me!
Having been a Newborn Photographer for 2.5 years now, I know that there is so much to know in order to have a successful session. And I should mention; a successful session, to me, isn’t just a beautiful gallery. It is a session in which the baby sleeps well, the parents are relaxed, and we all leave the session feeling excited about the entire process.
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 started out working with a teardrop shaped beanbag that I cinched on the bottom with a rubber band to make it more full and solid feeling. But ever since I purchased a puck-style beanbag and filled it with a couple extra bags of bean my posing has become so much easier. The wide, flat work area lends itself perfectly to posing in order to see the baby well and working more easily with their legs, arms and face, rather than battling with them sinking into a too-soft, too-small, beanbag.
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.
Responding to the newborn during the portrait session Tip #9
In addition, when stuffing rolled up cloth diapers under the blanket to properly pose the baby, it really helps to stuff them all the way under the bottom blanket for a very smooth, not lumpy, look. In between those blankets? Lay down a potty pad! And lastly regarding blankets … thick, textured blankets are just so much easier to work with in post-processing because they are not as prone to wrinkles.
I hadn’t yet grasped that the direction of the light, when hitting the subject is very important! Angling thing beanbag set-up and positioning the baby at an angle to the light source creates soft shadows which add critical depth to an attractive portrait. Also, I most often keep the baby’s head toward the light, to achieve shadowing I prefer.
But personally sending them details about the age range you prefer for the newborn, where the session will take place, the length of the session, environment temperature, and your hope for the parents during the session, starts your trek toward accomplishing the shared goal on the right foot.
Depending on the size of the window, intensity of light and distance of the window to floor, I generally keep my beanbag around 3 feet from the window and my set-up at about a 60 degree angle to the window.
More little details that make a huge differences in my sessions! We all know that heating the space you’re working in is crucial … I have my space heater going the whole time and if I’m not sweating, I know the baby isn’t warm enough.
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.
And of course, if you have an illness, postpone the session – the baby’s health is the top priority here.
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?
I know you’re thinking “but doesn’t that only come with experience??” To a point, yes … but so much can also be achieved through watching videos, studying poses, taking classes or mentorships, and asking tons of questions on your favorite photography forum. I gained so much confidence before my very first session by watching a video of a well-known photographer working with a newborn.
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.
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.
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.
Guest post by family photographer Louise Downham | www.louiserosephotography.com
I can’t emphasis enough how important this is, even though it seems so obvious. Your goal for the session is the same as theirs, but they don’t often know what it takes to accomplish that goal. Right from the point of their first inquiry, inform them of your approach to your sessions. Likely, this information is readily available on your website or blog.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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
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.
I remember when I first began photographing newborns one of the very first errors I made was how I used my light. I was prepped with the blankets and heat and lessons on posing, but … I faced the beanbag and baby right at the window! What resulted were flat-light, very one-dimensional looking images.
[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
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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?
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.
To sooth the baby while posing, I have found that a very loud ‘SHHHHHH’ goes a long way! I hold my warm hands firmly on their body, often one on their head and the other on their tush, and say ‘SHHHHH’ in their ear. Sometimes I have to raise my ‘SHHHH’ to an awkwardly loud volume, but it helps greatly in calming when they start to stir. And speaking of ‘holding’ … when I mold the baby into a pose I don’t just get them there and then snap the shot. I will keep my hands on them as I feel them relax into the position.
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.
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.
Capturing these moments is a great privilege, and if any kind of portrait session deserves to be nailed, it’s the newborn photography session!
And then again a day or so before the session, send reminders for what the parents can do to prepare for their experience and what they can to to ensure it is the best experience possible.
During this time I may be shushing into their ear, while still adjusting the pose slightly or smoothing a blanket with a free hand. But whether it is a finger that keeps wanting to curl under or a foot that wants to pop out, holding the newborn in place will comfort them a great deal and bring the pose into perfection.
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.
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