Over a year ago, one newborn session completely changed my thinking about how I approach newborn photography.
The parents asked if I would take a photo of the dad feeding the baby in the kitchen. It wasn’t a place I would normally seek out but I obliged since it was important to them to document this moment.
At the time, I would seek out rooms with what I thought had the best light in the house and control the posing of the parents. But this moment made me wonder what else I was missing out on at my sessions.
It became important to me to figure out how to photograph more natural moments for these new families and make the experience more client-centered. I wanted clients to look back on their photographs and be drawn to the memories at that moment like the one of him feeding his son in the kitchen nook.
The question, for me, really became how could I make each session feel more intimate and personal? I couldn’t achieve that goal by myself so I started asking three basic questions. While the questions may seem simple and obvious I found I was overlooking them. The simplicity of the questions also helped me find a way to still provide some direction to parents.
Where do you spend time with your baby?
This is different for each family and person: for some families it is on the bed and for other new families that gravitate toward the kitchen, a dad might spend time in a certain chair in the living room while mom snuggles with the new baby in a rocker in the nursery. Once people get into their spot, you can see them relax a little.
At the session below I had the family nestled in a different part of the couch for some family photos and then stopped and I reminded myself to ask the mom where she spent time with her new son. She pointed to this opposite end of the couch. It wasn’t a dramatic change for me to make but now the photo became more about her. It is the spot she gravitated to while she nursed and relaxed with the baby. The baby rests in her arms as it would if I weren’t there and her feet are curled up on the couch, something I wouldn’t normally pose.
The spots vary for parents. In this family, the dad spends his time with the baby in a different part of the couch.
The spot doesn’t need to always be a sitting area. This mom said her 5 week old had been colicky and to comfort him she would rest him on her shoulder and walk back and forth in the living room.
How do you hold your baby?
This might seem like a strange question at first but when I think of my son as a newborn I remember the only way to calm him was to put him in what we referred to as the grandma hold. He would lay across our arms with his head in one of our hands and this was the only way to calm him. We never took a photo of this position but it is what I remember the most during the first few difficult weeks.
During the session parents inevitably ask, “How should I hold him or her?” The parents are looking for direction from me but I want to know what feels natural to them. So, I just ask a question back, “How do you normally hold him?” Often mom or dad will respond quickly with “in my arms like this” or “he is really comfortable lying on my chest”, etc. Sometimes parents are nervous and need a little more direction. I’ll try to observe them during the session or just ask follow-up questions if more guidance is needed such as, “when you are walking toward the kitchen to make lunch how would you hold him?” or “when she is crying how do you comfort her?”
In the photo below, we were actually trying to do some posed portraits of the newborn but the 2 week old baby girl didn’t want to be away from the comfort of her mom. The baby was totally at peace resting on her mom’s chest. I love how the baby’s hand is grabbing hold of the mom’s body for security.
Parents hold their baby in different ways at different times and I use observations and prompts to document these moments. In the first photo dad wasn’t even paying attention to me but playing around with his son. And, here is the same dad holding the baby a different way after trying to manage both of his sons. I used this positioning for a more traditional portrait.
When I am able to I love documenting an uninterrupted moment. I had just arrived and we were about to get started with our session but the baby wouldn’t stop crying. Here, the dad instinctively just picked up the baby and starting bouncing him on his shoulder. If I wasn’t able to capture this photo I could have made a mental note of how the dad comforted the baby and used the position later on in the session.
Sometimes, if I really love a spot in the house I’ll use it but incorporate how the parent holds the newborn. I loved this nook in the bedroom and just asked mom to sit down and spend a few minutes with the baby.
Once parents are in their spot holding the baby something special happens. Being patient pays off and a lot of times I find parents caress the baby in a way I could never have directed them. It happens because they are relaxed and everything feels a bit more natural.
Below, the mom started to gently caress the baby’s cheek with one finger.
Here the mom started making faces at the newborn and began to become playful with him.
In this moment mom and dad were changing the baby and the baby ended up with a tight grip on dad’s finger.
Is there anything you would like to incorporate into the session?
The responses always vary and I love using these items to create a unique photo of the baby. Handmade or parents’ baby blankets are popular but I’ve also had requests for using a special toy, a favorite outfit and heirloom pieces like a crib. When parents aren’t sure or nothing comes to mind I look around the house to see if there is something I can incorporate to personalize the session – an interesting texture in a carpet, the duvet on a bed, or a piece of furniture are some other examples that have come up.
For this family it was an heirloom bassinet.
When I arrived at this session, the baby was wrapped up in three different blankets. It was winter, the house was chilly and this baby was content.
For this mom, it wasn’t an object but a photograph of her hand with the baby’s hand because she thought their hands looked alike.
There are so many beautiful ways to capture a newborn and this technique has helped me to increase client involvement and provide them with more variety and intimate moments in their galleries.