The first year of a child’s life is filled with awe and amazement. It’s a time of many changes for a family and many opportunities to make new memories. It is a time, that as a photographer, we get to stop time when babies keep growing. For parents, they simply want beautiful images of their equally beautiful baby.
Educating parents in the process that we take is a very important part of the experience and memories tied to the portraits we create for them. When working with babies and their parents, we need to communicate to the parents what they can expect from the session. I believe the best way to approach any baby session is to highlight the developmental stage and milestones they have reached. As a professional photographer working with babies, we should have a basic understanding of when most babies reach the “big” milestones so we have a starting point when planning the session with parents. It is important to ask the parents during your session consultation (whether you do this via email, electronic forms, telephone conversation, or in person is up to you) what their babies can do since this will determine the kind of images you will be able to create. I want to share with you some tips that will help you prepare as well as give you ideas to manage client expectations. I’m also sharing images of my daughter’s first year so you can see all the changes that go on in that time—it truly is such an amazing time seeing a little one grow and learn.
Depending on your style of photography, you will most likely want to schedule a newborn session within the first 10-14 days of baby’s life. While you can certainly attempt some of the newborn poses with an older baby, please be clear with parents so they know what to expect. In my experience, the session can be completed but some of the poses are simply unattainable because the baby has gotten used to being outside the womb and has stretched out, making some of the curling up a bit more difficult and uncomfortable for baby. You know your skills and experience level. Under promise so the parents are not disappointed. Keep in mind how much variety you want to show in a full gallery. It is one thing to be able to create a few sleepy images but will you be able to deliver a full gallery? Don’t be scared to approach a newborn session with an older newborn! You might be able to get some images with eye contact. I have yet to have a client pass up one of those images from their newborn session. Prepare the parents for their session understanding that some newborn poses might not be achieved due to the age of their baby.
Three to Four Months
Tummy time! At about 3-4 months of age most babies are able to push up on their arms and hold their heads up steadily, perfect for eye contact with the camera. This stage is a great time to capture those early gummy smiles and the beautiful eyes that light up when they see their parents. Babies that are around 4 months old have found their feet, so be sure to include that in your plan of action. Be sensitive to the time of day when the session is held. At this stage babies have a very short attention span and will tire quickly. Schedule the session for soon after they awaken from their morning nap and baby has been fed. Work quickly for individual portraits putting baby on his tummy and back. Keep in mind going into the session that some babies do not like being on their belly. Incorporate the parents holding the baby up over their shoulder or in front of their body as the baby’s energy starts to fade. Images of baby on his back work well at this age. If the baby falls asleep during the session (they don’t always follow schedule!) you have the opportunity to make some images of baby sleeping or cuddled up in mom or dad’s arms. When you schedule the session, ask the parents how well their baby can hold his or her head up as well as if their baby is rolling over yet.
I can almost give away my excitement when a client calls me to photograph their 6-7 month-old babies. Why? Because they are smiling and sitting up with nowhere to go! This is one age that I absolutely love. Be sure that baby can sit up unassisted to make this an enjoyable session. You always want to keep baby’s safety a top priority and a parent or assistant should always be at arm’s reach. Have fun with this session. Capture all the different expressions your little client will give you or even their quiet yet soulful glances. If they have not had portraits done with you prior to this session, feel free to incorporate some tummy shots and baby on back shots to add variety to your gallery. Again, schedule the session for a time of day when baby is rested and happy. Do not schedule a session too soon after baby has had his 6 month shots. The baby will not be happy no matter what tricks you have up your sleeves. Wait at least three to four days if baby will be having shots prior to the photo session. You may encounter a few early crawlers at this stage. You will also find that the babies might have other means of being mobile. While my daughter did not crawl at this age, she could scoot on her bottom and get across the room. Always have someone else to spot the baby while you photograph to prevent any accidents—you just never know when a baby will lose balance and topple over.
Crawling, Pulling Up and Cruising
The joy of independence! Once babies figure out that they can get around on their own, there is no stopping them for long. Seven to nine months is a range when most babies begin to crawl. For some, pulling up and cruising along furniture is a milestone that comes very close behind the crawling. For others, it comes before crawling. Regardless, it is a fun time to capture the baby’s newfound independence. Get ready to get down low and wait for the giggles and smiles. If baby is pulling up, chairs, benches, fences, and low walls make great supports. Always remember to have a parent or assistant at arm’s reach to keep baby safe. At this age, babies tend to have a more organized sleep pattern for naps and have a more predictable routine which makes it a little easier choosing a time of day to hold the session. Don’t forget that the baby is fed so you get a happy little one. Safety comes first! Remember that part of the memories tied into those images you create is the experience while the images were being created. You don’t want mom looking at the photos remembering how little Johnny fell and got a boo-boo on his face.
Incorporate special blankets or a lovey that the baby is attached to or have meaning for the family.
Walking/ 1 year
The big milestone of the first year (or soon after) is probably a child taking his or her first steps. It is also when baby has new shiny white teeth and is having a transformation from babyhood to toddlerhood. As a mother, I found this time to be bitter sweet which was a great reason for updated portraits. It’s that last opportunity to really capture a child’s babyhood. So much can be incorporated into this session. Have fun with the baby and allow them to explore. Work at their pace and give them space (as in personal space). This session is best scheduled after the baby has mastered balance so that they are not walking with their arms up a la Frankenstein. Remember the vaccination schedule at the one-year baby check-up and how it can affect the baby’s mood, so schedule accordingly. I encourage parents to be part of this session. This is a momentous time for them as well. They have survived and are thriving after that first year, after all the sleepless nights and adjustments to new routines. I love having the parents jump in and play with their baby to focus on the bond and relationship they’ve formed. I have found that most parents are at ease and are most relaxed after some time has been used to focus on images of the baby individually. Most often you will capture some great expressions and very sweet moments that will melt the parents’ hearts.
Some final thoughts: always keep the session and what you do during the session age-appropriate. If a baby has not reached a developmental milestone, please do not push them or try to fake it at the session. Please remember that these little individuals are human beings that deserve our respect. They should be treated as people and not a prop. Keep them safe always and remember to have fun!