Make sure baby has a full belly. Before you start the session undress the baby so he’s in only a diaper and wrap him loosely in a blanket before you give him a good feeding. If you need to take a feeding break at any point during the session, take it! Some babies will want to eat again after 45 minutes and some take 45 minutes to eat. Don’t try to cut the baby off early. Patience is key.
Get in close. Don’t forget to capture those tiny baby parts!
I LOVE natural newborn poses, and I try my best to capture the precious little miracle, and show how they are naturally. I do own a newborn posing beanbag (which I highly recommend purchasing) that has curves, allowing me prop the baby up, or lay them down. There are literally hundreds of guides on the internet about how to pose a newborn, so I won’t go into the different specific poses and setups here. However, I will go over the basics, and get into some more in-depth and technical aspects. If you have no idea how to start posing a baby, start with those guides before you ever (read: ever, ever, ever) actually take photos of a newborn!
Kelli Nicole Photography – Houston Newborn and Family Photographer houston newborn photography, houston family photographer
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You can see that when I photograph the baby on her belly I pretty much always pull out her hand underneath her cheek. It helps you to see the baby’s whole face so she’s not burrowed into the blanket.
Photo one (left) holding the baby’s head for safety. Photo two (middle) holding the baby’s head from below for safety. Photo three (right) the two combined to make it appear that the baby’s head is resting on its hands.
A hungry newborn will cry and root, sometimes shaking their heads back and forth and opening their mouths (kind of like a fish) as they look for a food source, i.e. Mommy. Another symptom of being fussy can stem from being cold. Look for tiny goosebumps on their skin to see if they’re too cold. The newborn baby may also be gassy, which can be tough to detect many times, but usually happens in a delay after a feeding. Sometimes it feels impossible to detect what may be causing the baby to be upset. I’ve found that often this is due to the newborn being just slightly uncomfortable or restless. You can calm a a fussy little one by doing some very soft rubs on their forehead or back, or some very light taps on their bottoms. Every baby is different in what they like so it may take some trial and error.
A Guide to Newborn Photography – Preparation, Posing and Post-Processing
Here’s my actual setup in my studio (a spare bedroom). The rest of the pictures (with the exception of a couple of the siblings shots) were taken in this room.
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Before I dive right in, I want to give you some insight on my background and techniques, so that you can evaluate your style compared to mine, and make adjustments to my tips to suit your photography.
UPDATE: I switched to studio lighting last year and recently created a blog post about my lighting setup here and a new post about photographing newborns with studio lighting here. Continue on for good information about natural light photography, though :).
The beanbag. You can now purchase bean bags specifically for photographing newborns, but you can also just purchase a regular child’s bean bag and over-stuff it. I have one from overstock.com (similar to this one), but I also used to use one from Target (I bought two and took a lot of the filling from one and put it in the other). You can probably buy filling or make your own as well.
Warm it up! I close the door to my studio and use a space heater in the corner to warm the room up to about 80-85 degrees F (26-29c). This is usually a great temperature to keep the baby happy, especially if they aren’t swaddled.
Be sure to give any clients a heads up about the warmth, and suggest they bring light clothes for themsleves. Wash your hands. Take every precaution not to spread germs, especially for a newborn with a weak and developing immune system.
Do NOT wear jewelry. I always take off my rings, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces. While the likelihood of your jewelry falling off is low, it’s not a zero chance. Keep it simple to keep the baby safe.
Avoid fragrances. While a newborn’s vision and hearing senses are not too keen, their sense of smell is very sensitive. Don’t wear perfume/cologne, fragrant lotions, or strong hand sanitizers. This can upset the baby quickly.
Try to create some white noise. Having some white noise can dull any thuds, shuffles, or the sound of the shutter on the camera that may otherwise wake a baby. My space heater serves to not only provide heat, but also gives me plenty of white noise.
You may want to consider an app on your phone if the space heater is too far away, or too quiet. Get all your props, backdrops, blankets, etc., ready before you take any photos. The less you have to move the baby to set up a new shot, the better.
Here are a few shots taken at my studio. Note that when the babies are naked they are often on their bellies. They’re much more likely to stay asleep when you’re posing them and moving them around when they’re on their bellies.
Over the years, I’ve learned some insightful tips from interacting with parents, to posing newborns safely, and also my philosophy when it comes to editing. I want to give all of these tips to you, to hopefully fast-forward your newborn photography aspirations and take you to the next level.
Another pose I try is laying the siblings down together on their backs. Sometimes I have the older sibling hold the baby and sometimes I lay their heads next to each other.
Here’s another example of how to angle the light. In this first shot the light is coming from the bottom of the baby and it makes all these weird shadows.
When I setup a shot with the parents I often pose with their baby so they know what to do and I put their hands into position before I hand over the baby (below). Take note of the puppy pads underneath the mom so if the baby has an accident it doesn’t get all over the carpet.
If we can’t get one of those to work I’ll put the baby in a prop and try to get the older sibling to hug/kiss/look at the baby.
And the resulting shot! Their little heads are heavier than the rest of their bodies, so I often put a rolled-up towel underneath the blanket to prop up their heads (I did in this image). You want to keep the head higher than the bum.
Safety is my absolute number one priority for taking photos of newborns, which I’ll talk more about later in the article. It scares me how many pros and amateurs alike don’t make this step important. While on my soapbox, if you don’t make safety an absolute priority, then you have NO business photographing newborns. Whew – I feel better now.
Using the clone tool, the blend tool, and creating/manipulating layer masks in Photoshop, you can create exactly what you are after in a “look”. Digital Photography School has some basic Photoshop tips that are fabulous!
Whether you’re a photographer inviting newborns and their parents in, or you’re a parent yourself trying to capture beautiful images of your baby, the steps for preparation are virtually the same.
I then layer all the blankets that I’m going to use, with a puppy pad between each one. If you have a holey blanket on top make sure you have something underneath that you don’t mind showing through a bit (a similar color if you can). I also have a backdrop stand that I use to pull the blanket tight (when I don’t have access to one I use a chair or something that I can clip the blankets to, such as in this case).
Facing the baby this way creates unpleasant and unnatural shadows (the nose shadow should always be below or beside the nose, not above it).
We don’t need to see up her nose. This next shot is much nicer.
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In this shot I’m using the vibrating thing (I’ve since removed those bars) to help keep the baby asleep. I always put a blanket or burp cloth between the baby and the vibrating thing so the cold plastic doesn’t rub against the baby.
When I photographed one of my nieces (where many of the following pictures are coming from…she’s 3 now :P), I couldn’t bring a bean bag on the plane, so my sister got this kid-sized $20 one from Target (which her other kids loved) and we tied off one section with a rubber band so it would be tight and give the appearance of being overstuffed.
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Like I’ve stated numerous times already, MAKE SAFETY FIRST! Natural poses are also safe because there’s very little risk involved if the baby twitches or moves spontaneously. While the baby is posed naturally, I’ll also snag some macro feature shots of the baby’s unique features like their cute little noses, tiny feet and toes, and the adorable little lips they have. Posing the baby naked, or swaddled with blankets, is something that you’ll decide, hopefully after a conversation with the baby’s parents to see what they prefer, and what photo theme they want.
The most important thing to keep in mind during a newborn session is the safety of the baby. Don’t do anything that will jeopardize the baby’s safety. If you’re using a prop that’s high like this next one, make sure there’s always someone spotting the baby and making sure he doesn’t wiggle or jump off.
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Then I place the baby and remove the diaper! This is sometimes disconcerting :).
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Here’s a tip – you don’t need a massive studio with a huge backdrop to create gorgeous images from far away. Take the example before/after photo above (sans newborn baby) – some minor editing and blending can create fabulous images you’ll be proud of. Just search for some floor/backdrop fading tutorials online for details and step-by-step instructions on how to do it.
First, I’m a natural light newborn photographer. I will use a continuous lighting system in my studio on the darkest of days, but 99% of the time the only light in my photos is coming from that big fiery ball in the sky. Speaking of studio, I exclusively shoot newborn sessions at my in-home studio space. I’ve converted one of the bedrooms in my home to my shoot-space. You don’t need a huge studio for newborn photography – my small 10×10′ (3×3 meters)room with two windows gives me enough natural light and room to do everything I need to do.
Sibling shots! Photographing a rambunctious toddler with a newborn is not always easy. There are a few poses I usually try when I’m working with siblings.
and then place a puppy pad on the top one to catch any accidents and make sure there’s no leakage to the blankets below.
Often, I’ll put a baby in a prop and the baby fusses. Instead of taking the baby out I try to calm her where she is. Here, you can see that I’m patting the baby’s bum and cradling her head while the mom is letting her suck on her finger. I’m probably also rocking her a little with my legs.
White noise. I use a white noise machine to help drown out the sound of the camera shutter and talking. It usually also helps babies to sleep as they’re used to constant noise and they might not stay asleep if it’s too quiet. The womb is not a very quiet place.
Bounce, rock, shush, pat. There are different ways to soothe a newborn, and these usually work really well. Do you have a yoga ball? If I’m working with a baby that won’t go to sleep I hold the baby close to me, park my butt on a yoga ball, and gently bounce. It mimics the motion of the mother walking when the baby was in the womb and if the baby is ready to go to sleep he’ll usually be out in about 5 minutes or so. I also use the vibrating piece from a bouncy seat to help keep babies sleeping during posing when they start fussing and it works really well!
Don’t shoot up the nose. I see this all the time on facebook and most of the time it’s very unflattering (even for a baby).
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Newborn photography is, in my opinion, one of the most rewarding (and difficult) branches that a photographer can get into. I’ve shot numerous hectic weddings where I was physically exhausted afterwards, and had lifestyle sessions where nothing went right, but nothing has even come close to the process involved when taking photos of a precious newborn baby!
Here’s another image from that session. You can see that I’m standing close to the window (the source of light) rather than in the middle of the room (though I occasionally do that for a back-lit shot).
For photographers who want to take better newborn pictures or moms who want to take their own, here are some tips for a successful newborn session!
Light. You can see a post I did on indoor light here. Basically, look for a large source of bright light without hot spots (and turn off all indoor lights as they’re a different color than outside light). North facing or south facing windows are best. East-facing windows work in the afternoon, and west-facing windows work in the morning. You typically get more/better light on a floor higher than the 1st, but not always. Removing screens lets in more light. Sliding glass doors are perfect. I usually shoot at 10 am if I have north facing light.
Embrace awakeness. Everyone loves to see your newborn’s eyes. Go ahead and shoot away if your little one’s eyes are open. Try swaddling her to keep her hands down if she’s flailing. You’ll have to take A LOT and get rid of the bad ones. They often move their eyes and lips so rapidly that you might not know what you’ve got until you’re looking at the images later.
You’ll also run into two types of parents while photographing newborns: “hover” parents and “passive” parents. Hover parents may clutch and grab for their baby at the slightest sign of a whimper (which is natural human instinct, by the way), and it can impede your ability to take great photos for them. Passive parents are typically those that are the opposite of hover parents, and I’ve found are usually associated with parents who’ve had multiple children and are pretty laid back about the whole process.
These are shots of a set-up in a client’s home (take note of how low the windows are and where the beanbag/prop lay in relation to the window):
Keep it warm. Newborns are used to very warm temperatures after spending so much time inside their mamas and they have difficultly regulating their body temperature, so if you want to keep them happy while naked you have to turn the temperature up! I use a space heater to help warm up the area where I’m shooting. Shut any doors to the room you’re in, close a/c vents, and if it’s hot outside you can just open the window. Somewhere around 80 degrees or so is ideal.
Another aspect of preparation for photographers working with clients, that isn’t talked about as much, is preparing for newborn parents. As a photographer myself, I have met hundreds of parents who are swelling with pride for bringing life into the world, but who are also completely exhausted. I offer my clients coffee when they arrive to let them know that this is a haven for comfort, and to trust me because I know what they are going through.
As a natural light photographer, I don’t typically manipulate the light in too many of my photos in Photoshop. I’ll make some tweaks here and there, but my biggest adjustments are typically associated with skin smoothing (although I also do some touching-up in post-processing). Slightly overexposing images helps with smoothing the baby’s skin, and shooting in RAW can help you correct any exposure or color issues along the way.
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If the baby is fussy and moving around swaddling is a good way to get some cute shots while helping him settle down.
You WILL eventually run into a fussy baby at times while posing during the session. It’s pretty rare to have a newborn that gives you no issues at all. That being said, you can prep the baby beforehand to increase your chances of successful posing. I always ask the parents to plan a feeding right before the session begins. Full belly = a happy baby most of the time. However, this isn’t the be-all-end-all solution for some newborns. I’ve been affectionately called the “baby whisperer” by many of my clients because I can typically sense what the baby wants, but I do so by using cues that the baby provides.
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Here are some great tips to keep in mind when you prepare for the session:
I get everything just right with the baby’s arms and legs and then I hop on my step-stool and shoot away (I’m really short and the most flattering angle to photograph other people is from above).
The best solution for interacting with all parents is to make sure they’re properly informed before the session begins. Reassure them that their baby’s safety is your number one priority, go over your process with them, and make sure you openly communicate about their baby during the session. This will help ease any concerns a nervous new parent may have.
One more action shot! You’ll see that I don’t have a hardwood floor in my studio so I use a bamboo mat underneath the prop pictures.
Photograph the baby early! I like to photograph newborns between 6-10 days. With preemies you can obviously stretch that out, depending on how early they were born. After about 10 days most newborns start having longer awake periods and are harder to get into that deep sleep where they let you pose them naked. They start getting baby acne, their skin peels, and many lose their hair (usually, right on top so they get that nice old man look).
You can see in this next shot how the baby is positioned facing away from the window. Don’t do that.
While I prefer to naturally pose the baby, I will also do a few “risky” shots for variety, and that artistic touch. I put risky in quotes because these photos would be completely unsafe normally, but with composite editing in Photoshop, you can merge safe images together to create the artistic illusion you may be going for. Classic examples of this would be the head propped on hands photo (see above picture), hammock photos, or anything where the baby is perched on some object. By the way, you should never do these photos in one take – use the composite route! Just do a quick Google search for “composite newborn images” for step-by-step instructions on how to pull this off.
The first one is when the older child is sitting in a chair, on the floor, or on a bed. I lay the baby down on the sibling’s lap (on her back if she’s swaddled, on her belly if she’s naked) and I always keep a parent very close in case the big brother/sister decides to leave.
In the end, you’ll need to decide what your style is, and what you want your photos to look like. My style includes editing out the skin imperfections on the newborns, but leaving certain features on macro shots (like skin flakes, birth marks, some baby acne, etc.), but there are others in my area that leave the images as they are, with very little touching up. It’s up to you. If someone has hired you, it’s because that person loves your images and the way you edit your photos – stick with it, or try to appeal to a different base.
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Facing the baby towards the window, like this, is much prettier.