photographing a fussy newborn

by Rita Lawrence

Baby photography has become a popular niche in the photography industry, no doubt about it!  So how does the aspiring baby photographer succeed in every session with these tiny and sometimes unpredictable subjects?  Here are some tips to help take control of a session that may seem to be going out of control.  Baby is crying, parents are stressing, you are not obtaining anything worthy of a wall canvas or coffee table album; what do you do?

First, take the effort to communicate with clients prior to the session on what to expect and what to do to prepare.  This can make such a huge difference in your session success!  On the occasion I have an unsettled baby in my studio I run through my happy baby checklist here.

1. Has baby eaten recently, maybe she is hungry?  If she just ate maybe she needs to burp or has gas bubbles?  Sometimes just holding the baby upright and close to you while rubbing or patting their back for a bit can help them settle in after eating.

2. What temperature is it?  A bare newborn within a couple weeks of age prefer temps in the 85 range to stay cozy.

3. Is the noise on and loud enough?  You may not realize this but sounds in the womb were loud and an appropriate volume for your white noise is necessary to return the baby to a sleepy and/or happy womb-like environment.

After all these boxes are checked I move forward with the session.  Here are some tips and a variety of portraits in my studio session flow I use for babies who are not as easily settled.  I will show sample portaits here from sessions where babies were truly unsettled so you can see it is possible to achieve professional quality portraits in many of the situations with babies you will encounter.  If the sessions were in a client’s home I would likely work with the family to capture more of a lifestyle feel in the portraits if the baby was not cooperating well for beanbag and prop style images but today I will focus on a studio styled session.

With the unsettled baby I begin by swaddling her up tight.  I am writing using a female tense because, call it coincidence, but the unsettled babies I have tend to be girls and all the sample images I will use here are of girls.  Swaddling can sometimes take two people if the baby is extremely fussy or even screaming, there are some feisty babies out there and my own baby was one of them.  If swaddling alone does not comfort the baby hold her on her side and sway gently and add some schhing sounds near her ear to top the cake if needed.  I learned these techniques from Dr. Karp, author of The Happiest Baby On The Block, and they work 98% of the time in  my studio!  If all this is not working, however, then some snuggling with Mommy may be needed.

Once baby is swaddled and comfy I photograph her on her side first with the backdrop fading out like I would typically photograph the sleeping bare baby.

photographing a fussy newborn photo

I will add a hat or headband for variety.

photographing a fussy newborn photo

Now that the baby is settled it’s a good time to move her into a prop.

photographing a fussy newborn photo

If parent portraits are a priority to the family I go ahead and get these in now.

photographing a fussy newborn photo

I can typically un-swaddle the baby now and she will stay cozy if even for a short while to capture some bare baby shots.  I change out the background blanket a couple times and carry on varying the pose and angle along with adding in hats and headbands to provide a good amount of variety in the images.

photographing a fussy newborn photo

photographing a fussy newborn photo

photographing a fussy newborn photo

photographing a fussy newborn photo

I always hope to move the bare baby into a prop as well, here is a perfect example where this worked well.  The baby was in fairly the exact same pose from the beanbag and we kept her body cozy and snug.  My assistant kept her hands on the baby the entire time she was in this prop to keep her settled and comfortable except for the few seconds it took to capture the images.

photographing a fussy newborn photo

photographing a fussy newborn photo

In this session, as with most sessions with very unsettled babies, she began to wake up again and become uncomfortable so I swaddled her in a different swaddle.  I now photographed from above on the beanbag to provide a little variety from the first set of swaddled images.

photographing a fussy newborn photo

photographing a fussy newborn photo

I then wrapped the swaddle in a stretchy wrap, again to provide variety without fumbling with her too much since she was comfortable.

photographing a fussy newborn photo

I added a headband, sometimes clients bring in their own as with this session, I try to use their own pieces if they match the setups.

photographing a fussy newborn photo

She was not staying settled after un-wrapping from this set up so I swaddled yet again and photographed a couple different angles/shots than previously.

photographing a fussy newborn photo

photographing a fussy newborn photo

I added another wrap snug over the swaddle with a different texture/look and moved her into a prop and photographed a couple different portraits here.

photographing a fussy newborn photo

photographing a fussy newborn photo

She was happily awake after this set so I took the opportunity to get a nice wide eyed awake portrait, the parents do love these.

photographing a fussy newborn photo

Here are some samples from other unsettled baby sessions in my studio.

photographing a fussy newborn photo

photographing a fussy newborn photo

photographing a fussy newborn photo

Thank you Rita for sharing these wonderful tips with us!  What are your favorite tips for photographing a newborn?  We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

photographing a fussy newborn photoRita Lawrence, Maryland
CMpro
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Rita has had a camera in her hand for over 2 decades and began her photography career in 2006.   Rita owns and operates a photography studio in Maryland and specializes in baby photography.  Through working with hundreds of babies she has established an efficient and predictable session flow even for the unsettled baby for each stage of a baby’s growth.  She considers herself blessed to capture these fleeting moments for her clients.  Rita is a member of Professional Photographers of America, National Association of Professional Child Photographers, CMPro and the Better Business Bureau.

 

9 Comments

  • Cindi Cox says:

    Dear Rita,

    Thank you for sharing these secerts! I do have one question please, Do you actually wrap the new born or do you let the parent? I am always afraid if I do something very simple and the baby crys, the parents might think I’ve done something to make them cry! Scare me a little! Thank you again for sharing!

    Sincerely,

    Cindi Cox

    • Rita says:

      Cindi, sorry this is so so late! I do wrap the babies in the studio yes, always. The more babies you handle and work with the more comfortable you will be, then when you are comfortable and confident so will your clients be =)

  • Nicole says:

    Great post! I love how much you change things up. That’s something I want to work on even more!

  • Linda says:

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful tips and your beautiful imagery. Your newborn work is beyond stunning and something for every new baby photographer to aspire to.

  • Leah says:

    Rita!!! you have done a fantastic job by sharing these tips. For the baby photographers, every session is an adventure…..Thanks for the share!!!

  • Dana says:

    Thank you. You totally rocked that difficult session. I have been in the same circumstance. Swaddling is something I hadn’t really tried. I will be doing that now.

  • Lacey B. says:

    These are some wonderful tips! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Love these images! And great tips for working around a baby who is harder to settle. I have found swaddling to be huge, just as you mentioned. Worth the effort every time!

  • Binny says:

    great tips. Thank you so much for sharing them, Rita.

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