Their soft, smooth skin. Their round little bellies. Even their flaky little fingers and toes. Every square inch of them is pure perfection. And their parents know it—that’s why they’ve hired a photographer to capture this incredible stage in their brand new baby’s life.
And what an honor it is to be chosen to photograph a miracle. As newborn photographers we truly have the best job in the world. We get spend hours at a time snuggling, posing, and loving on babies that are just a few days old. We get to capture this fleeting time with our camera and provide parents with beautiful heirlooms they will treasure forever. But just as much as they will adore their images, their newborn session (often their first family outing with their new bundle of joy) is a memory they will keep with them for years to come, as well. Creating a loving and safe environment is our responsibility as photographers and I guarantee every time our clients view their images their thoughts will immediately go back to their session and time spent with you, too. So here are just a few of my tips and tricks for successful and safe newborn sessions.
We were out in the cold, windy weather for the last part of her shoot and I noticed a stray hair out of place, just covering her right eye. I walked up to her and, before I went to move it back in place, asked, “Is it okay if I move this flyaway hair for you?” My client, a high school senior, said “yes, of course” and that she was glad that I noticed it and took the time to fix it.
I’m sure this exact scenario has happened to every photographer out there. As a general rule of thumb we always ask before we encroach on someone’s personal space. Whether it be moving a dad to the left in the family photo, placing an expecting mom’s hand onto her belly, or fixing a flyaway, it goes without saying that we usually ask permission from our clients before we move them around.
But it’s different with newborns. They obviously can’t give us their permission, but their parents have already done so nonverbally by hiring us in the first place. However, I don’t think that means that we are exempt from this basic respect we offer to all of our other clients.
Does that mean we need to ask mom and dad before every placement of a hand, tilt of a head, or position of a foot? No, not necessarily. But what it does mean is constant communication. I always explain to my clients what to expect from a session. What pose we will start out with, how we will transition to the next, and what I am doing as I get their baby into each different position. By communicating with mom and dad, we’re letting them know that we respect their new little one—that even though they can’t speak for themselves yet, we have their safety and best interest in mind and have a plan for our time together.
“I was like baby, baby, baby, Oh! Like baby, baby, baby, NOOOO!”
Now that I have you all singing along with the Biebs, I have to get a little more serious.
Along with the rise in popularity of newborn photography comes the temptation to try new things, to create the next infamous “pose,” or to find the next sought after “go-to” prop. As photographers we are artists and we have a desire to create. And sometimes amazing things are born out of that desire. But unfortunately, oftentimes things that aren’t always wise, or even safe, become the latest craze. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at a beautiful baby image and thought “Oh!” only to be followed by wanting to scream “No!” as I see many new photographers attempting to try that same pose or concept without the correct knowledge or skill to safely do so (okay—that might have been a stretch trying to bring it back to a Justin Bieber song, but you get the point).
Babies aren’t props, they are people.
Before every session I remind myself that this new little life is someone’s Jacob or Abby. I try to treat each little one that comes through my studio is if they were my own. I remember how madly in love I was with my six day old baby Jacob. How all I wanted to do was lay awake at night and watch him breathe. The last thing I would ever want to see would be someone trying to get him into a pose that he seemed visibly uncomfortable in or try something that was unsafe just so they could “get the shot.” I know it should seem like all of this goes without saying, but so often we can get caught up in trying something new that we forget just how precious these little subjects are. And you know what? Even though I may have used that same pose in 20 previous sessions already, it’s new to this mom and her baby has never been photographed in it. Does that mean that it’s any less beautiful? Of course not. But just because we may want to push ourselves, we shouldn’t expect a brand new baby to be the one we practice on.
Back to the Basics
If you go into every session giving a newborn the same respect you give your adult clients, then everything else will fall into place—especially when it comes to safety. But here are a few of the key safety tips that I like to keep in mind for each of my newborn photography sessions.
As photographers we have learned to balance a lot of things—family, work, life—but a newborn baby shouldn’t be one of them. Newborns should never be balanced in positions while we step back and photograph. Their little wrists are not meant to support their heads and any time an image like this is attempted it should be a composite.
That goes for all prop shots, too. I always have mom or dad be an active participant in our sessions together. I know a lot of photographers tell moms that they can relax and even take a nap, but for safety’s sake I like to have my parents directly involved in their baby’s well being. When doing images involving props such as baskets or buckets (and please, never use a glass bowls when photographing babies, it’s just not a good idea), I always explain to mom that I “don’t have Go Go Gadget” arms and can’t reach through my camera in the event that their baby startles. I always have mom sitting right outside of the shot and will often do composites if it’s not safe for mom to remove her hand for an image.
Keeping it Comfortable
With every pose I do, I’m constantly checking baby’s comfort level. If I try a pose and baby fusses or seems visibly uncomfortable I will move on to my next position. Never put a baby in a pose that they struggle against. Some babies love being curled up with their chubby feet up by their chin. Others love stretching out their little legs. They are all unique individuals with unique likes and dislikes. Some love to be swaddled. Some like to have their hands by their face. What works for one might not always work for another. Be flexible and photograph them in what they are comfortable in and I promise their comfort will translate into a beautiful, peaceful image.
Check, Double-Check, and Check Again
Throughout newborn sessions I constantly check for these three things:
- Is baby warm enough? Is the space heater a safe distance from the baby and are they comfortable with the temperature? When mom is nursing, is the heater still far enough away to safely keep baby warm or have they moved closer to it? Keeping baby cozy is huge for a successful newborn session, but the heater must always be kept at a safe distance.
- Does baby’s circulation look good? Are all limbs nice and pink? With some poses, arms or legs can get pinched and babies can lose good circulation quickly. It’s my job to make sure that baby is comfortable and safe in every pose I do.
- Since I love to photograph with so many gorgeous fabrics and textures, there is often a lot of fuzz flying around my studio. Because of this, I’m constantly checking baby’s little fingers and toes for any stray fur that might get wrapped around them. I also like to remind mom and dad to check their toes once again before they get them dressed and loaded back into their carrier at the end of the session.
Newborn babies are little miracles and the opportunity to photograph them is an honor. Go into every session with this perspective in mind and you’ll provide your clients not only with gorgeous images of their brand new baby, but great memories of their time with you as well.