There is something so magical about the space between a baby’s birth and the time baby’s parents bring him or her home from the hospital.
After the thrill and excitement of birth, the first 48 hours of baby’s life are a time of quiet. Distractions from the outside world fall away. An intense love and bonding grows between parents and their new little one.
For us as photographers, it’s also a space where art, beauty, and life intersect. A Fresh 48 Newborn photo session is typically shot within 12-48 hours of a baby’s birth. But it can be so much more than a simple documentation of a baby’s first day in the hospital.
It can be a way to remember the beginnings of a family. These photos can capture the first seedlings of a personality. And a Fresh 48 session can give you the opportunity to share the beauty of what can be a whirlwind in the hospital with a family who might be too sleepy and overwhelmed to remember it all.
Creatively, you have the opportunity to embrace limited space and light. This is a chance to have intense emotion unfolding in front of you and then work to create photographs that capture it all.
You’ve likely heard about the importance of being present and “in the moment.” And it really is true! Life takes on infinitely more richness when we allow ourselves to be fully present.
As photographers, being present allows us to really see – and even anticipate – the emotion of each moment. Practicing being present gives us the opportunity to take better photos.
For me, being present it means not allowing worries, distractions, or expectations to cloud the moment. Instead, all of your attention is in the place you are at any given moment. It sounds easy enough, but you would be surprised at how quickly your thoughts can drift!
In a Fresh 48 session, this means you are in the room with all of your focus on the family. Even more, this means that if you miss a shot (which has happened to me more than once during a super cute yawn!), you don’t dwell on it. You forgive yourself and let it go.
How can we magically become present when we walk into the hospital room for our Fresh 48 clients? For me, much of it comes down to preparation.
The night before a session, I make sure my camera batteries are charged and my memory cards are clear. I pack my camera bag with the lenses I plan to use and clean my camera.
This way, I know I’m ready. There will be no distractions from gear that isn’t ready to go or me missing something in my bag.
OUR FRESH 48 PHOTOGRAPHY ESSENTIALS
It’s also important to prepare your mood. On the way to the session, I listen to something that will help clear my mind and relax my body. For me, this is usually a funny podcast. Laughter is the best way I’ve found to transition quickly to the present moment. It’s great for releasing any muscle tension or nervousness you might be carrying.
For you, listening to some of your favorite songs or doing a quick meditation practice in your car may be the best way to clear your mind and relax. Do what works for you!
Before I enter the room, I take three deep breaths. Then I let go of any worries and let myself enjoy all of the new baby delightfulness inside the room.
Prepare the parents
Just like you want to be in the moment, you also want the parents to feel at ease throughout the session. It can be difficult to help your subjects relax unless you have truly connected with them before the session begins.
A quick conversation—either in person, through email, or on the phone—can make all the difference in putting the parents at ease. The gives you a chance to understand their personalities, for them to become familiar with your personality, and to set-up expectations before the whirlwind of baby’s arrival.
For me, this involves really listening to their story. I want to understand where they are coming from and why they value this session.
It also means I share a little of my personal story, too. Whatever makes sense in the context of their stories I will share.
That personal connection builds trust and will help your subjects. It encourages them to follow your lead and engage in the present moment on the day of their Fresh 48 session.
I also like to provide my clients with helpful tips. I break down what to expect as I photograph in the hospital. Mom is given a What to Wear guide with pretty maternity robes for their Fresh 48 session. This helps them feel informed, confident, and in control of what they can do to help make their photo session a success.
The day of the session
On the day of the session, I text the parents when I park in the parking lot. This little courtesy allows them to prepare for another visitor and gives everyone else who might be wanting to say hello to baby a chance to step out.
Once I arrive at the door, my main goal is to put everyone at ease so that we can connect with each other. I encourage them to share all of the things that they love about their new little one. As they reflect on these things, natural photo opportunities will unfold.
For example, when you comment on how tiny baby’s feet are, Mom may feel drawn to reach out and touch baby’s feet. This is an excellent opportunity to create a photo.
Ask the parents what their favorite things about their baby are. Maybe it’s long fingers, teensy ears, or the fuzzy hair on baby’s shoulders. These are cues not only to respond in kind, but also to include these details in your photos.
I also like to ask about the baby’s birth. Details on the baby’s measurements, how the first night went, and simple pleasant conversation make for a much more relaxed environment.
Chatting a little as we shoot helps our clients feel less “on stage” and more at ease and present in the moment. And this makes for more relaxed, authentic photo opportunities!
Hospital rooms are known to be pretty small. They typically have fairly small windows which makes natural light hard to come by. It’s important to use gear that is well suited for this unique environment.
I recommend using a full frame camera (for me, my Nikon D750) with a prime lens.
A full frame camera will allow you to push your ISO high enough for proper exposure. A prime lens allows you to shoot at a wide enough aperture to capitalize on the limited natural light.
My favorite lens for a Fresh 48 Newborn Session is the Sigma Art 35mm, 1.4, and I use it at every shoot.
A 24 mm or 50mm lens can also be a good choice for a Fresh 48 session. It’s all about finding the gear that works best for you.
For a second lens, you may choose to use a macro lens for detail shots of baby’s feet, hands, lips, and ears.
I typically keep my aperture between f/1.8-f/2.2 during my Fresh 48 sessions. The wide aperture lets in lots of light (which is much needed in these darker rooms!) and gives me both a sharp focal point and a blurry background.
Don’t be afraid to push your ISO as high as it needs to go for proper exposure. This is typically anywhere from 1600 to 4000 but can go even higher, depending on the room and the time of day.
I use spot metering. I set my ISO in the darkest area I plan to shoot. Then I adjust my shutter speed as necessary as we move around the room.
Often your clients will have lights on when you walk into the room. If you are planning on using natural light exclusively, make sure all of the artificial lighting in the room is off before you begin shooting. This will help you to avoid strange colors that can result from mixed lighting. Then raise the blinds to let in as much sunlight as possible and embrace the shadows.
Guiding your subjects
I use a mix of lifestyle and documentary approaches in my Fresh 48 Newborn sessions. This means I guide my clients in their location and activities while looking for the natural, spontaneous moments that occur throughout the session.
I start the session with whatever is happening when I come into the room. Whether baby is in the bassinet, feeding, or cuddling, I ease everyone into “picture time” by letting them just be as they are. This is an easy way to encourage parents to follow their baby’s lead for the whole session and respond naturally to what their baby wants in the moment.
At the same time, a little guidance can help your clients relax by giving them something to do and can ensure you get all of the shots on your list.
Once I’ve gotten several different types of shots in the baby’s first location, I’ll often suggest swaddling the baby or moving near a window. The whole time I am present and looking for those natural moments of connection.
For me, the most emotive photos come during the action. Handing the baby to dad, pulling the hospital blanket around the baby, or parents touching the baby’s head in love and amazement.
They also come in the reaction to a moment. The expressions made in reaction to the baby’s cry or a joke made by mom can be priceless!
The actions and reactions are what I’m looking for. My guidance is just an opportunity to encourage those more candid moments.
In the cozy atmosphere of a postpartum hospital room, it can feel counterintuitive to be buzzing all around. However, to get good variety in a confined space, moving around is absolutely necessary.
Get close up shots to document tiny details. Move back to capture the whole scene. Stay in the middle to get classic portraits.
Vary your compositions and perspective. Capture things from above and at eye level and from down low. Use layering, leading lines, and framing to strengthen your photos.
I find it helps to talk to my clients about what I am doing as I move around. That way they aren’t alarmed if I am in really close or shooting from out in the hall.For some shots, you may be getting very close to your clients.
The most important thing is to use the available space to your advantage. Beautiful photos can happen wherever beautiful memories are made, tiny hospital rooms included.
Remember the importance of the occasion
The first 48 hours of a newborn baby’s life are a time to celebrate the joy of new life. This is truly a miracle and it is an honor to be given the opportunity to document it. Let your photos capture the glow, the awe, and the wonder of this new little life and the love that met it earth side.