“I really love those images with babies in baskets and props. Can we try to get some like that?”

When a parent comes into my studio and those are the first words out of their mouth, I know that they’ve spent time researching my website (and probably several other newborn photographer’s galleries as well) and have a clear vision for what they want out of their brand new baby’s session.

And I love that. I encourage it, actually.  Though photography is an art and I usually have my own creative idea for a shoot, my ultimate goal is to provide my client with the images they’ve dreamed of decorating their walls with ever since they first found out they were pregnant.  But sometimes the photograph or specific pose they hope for isn’t necessarily done in the way that they might think. This is where their vision and my experience intersect. What might look like a simple baby-in-a-bucket shot at first glance often involves additional planning, parent participation, and post processing in order to safely achieve a seemingly routine pose.

The first thing I explain to these parents is the term “composite.” While those of us in the photography industry are familiar with lingo such as this, often brand new parents have no clue what I’m talking about. It’s my responsibility to fill them in on the term, and to educate them on how to achieve such poses safely.

Combining two photographs to create one final image is the most effective way to achieve this type of posing. I like to call my studio a ‘Parent Participation Studio,’ because I’m always utilizing my parents in the photography process. While I’ve been hired to take the images, I’m also responsible for their child’s safety during the session. Relying on the participation of others present ensures not only a successful, but safe, shoot.

So when I do my prop shots, I always have a parent within arms reach. When I’m behind my lens—often several feet away—I cannot possibly respond to baby’s sudden reflexes. Having a parent right next to baby ensures that even if they do startle, a hand is right there to guarantee their constant safety.

Often, the safest way to take images like this is to have a hand on baby at all times. When I first started in newborn photography, I assumed in order to get a shot like this I would have to spend hours cloning out hands and editing to make it look realistic. Combining two images was not something that came to mind. Some might think it’s easier to just quickly take the shot of a balanced baby than to address it later in post processing. Yes, sometimes babies actually can balance and hold a pose, though they never should. When all it literally requires is two hands and two frames to create a portrait, anything less safe should never be an option.

So how do you compose and merge the two frames? I like to look at the image in two parts—the left side and the right side. Determine how you can have a protective hand on each part of the baby so one hand stays in one side of the frame for the first shot, and then the other stays in the remaining portion for the second photograph. If you do not have two parents available, the same can be achieved with one by placing a hand on the head of the baby, then moving to the other side (all while keeping a hand in contact), to then get your other next frame with a hand in a different place.

creating a safe newborn composite photograph by Megan Squires

Then when I edit, I will simply open up both images and clone the portion with the head without a hand on it onto the image with the protective hand on the head. By taking half of one image and merging it with half of another, both hands disappear and what I’m left with is an image that creates the illusion of a newborn baby sweetly slumbering all on their own.