When I started studying child development as an undergrad, I soon began to appreciate the complexity of the developmental milestones that babies reach in the span of their first 15 months.
There are the obvious milestones to capture, like sitting up, crawling, standing and walking, but when I became a baby photographer, I saw that through my lens I could capture much more.
While the expected gross motor changes (like sitting and standing) are important, there are many other milestones in between to look for in order to truly serve our families well.
Birth to 3 months
Baby’s visual focus range begins at 8 to 12 inches, so move in close if you’re trying to establish eye contact or want the baby’s gaze to look toward the light to pick up pretty catch lights in the eyes.
New babies will often grab onto a finger or an object that fits neatly into their hands. Try capturing a new baby holding tightly onto big brother’s finger. Big brother’s reaction may make this shot even more lovable!
Toward the end of baby’s first 3 months, she might start swatting or batting at dangling objects. A fun way to capture baby’s first Christmas at this age is by laying the baby by the decorated tree and photographing her batting at a low-hanging ornament.
3 to 6 months
Babies are beginning to respond to facial expressions at this stage, so don’t be afraid to be overly animated with this age group. During these months, the baby will gain upper-body strength, so try doing tummy time and shooting on baby’s level.
Babies from 3 to 6 months love it when caregivers hold them upright so they can push their feet on the floor. This is a great transitional pose for a family picture if baby is getting fussy from all the tummy time.
Baby’s hearing is improving at this stage. He’ll turn his head toward his parents’ voices or the sound of an iPhone playing music. Try playing a little music at your next baby session to elicit fun responses from both baby and her family members.
6 to 9 months
Babies are developing the concept of object permanence, an understanding that objects continue to exist even when they’re out of sight. Try showing baby a favorite rattle and then hiding it under a blanket. Start photographing the child and pull the blanket away to discover —surprise! —their favorite toy. The look of joy on their face can make a frame-able capture.
This stage of development is often a favorite among photographers because the baby has begun to sit up unassisted. If the baby is also crawling, you can slow them down by placing the sitting baby on a textured surface like a short pile of autumn leaves or summer grass; they will not take off as quickly with rough terrain beneath them.
Want to show their ability to scoot around using their cute army crawl? Lay a quilted blanket on the ground and watch them go. One of my favorite shots is baby lying on his back holding onto his feet.
At this stage, reaching and hand-eye coordination is getting stronger, so even if the baby isn’t sitting yet, this is a great alternative milestone for capture. Be aware that stranger anxiety might have kicked in at about 9 months, so approach your little client calmly and interact a lot with the parents to show you are a trusted friend.
9 to 12 months
Incorporate environmental props like leaves or flowers to show baby’s pincer grasp, which allows her to pick up small objects with thumb and forefinger. Baby’s non-verbal communication is progressing, so try getting her to clap or wave at you.
At this point, baby might be pulling up to stand either on his own or holding on to something. Turn a sturdy bucket upside down and see if baby will hold onto the side so you can capture this sweet milestone. Don’t forget to start shooting before they’ve pulled themselves all the way up. Pulling up is a milestone in itself.
Baby might also be pointing at this stage; ask baby “where’s mama?” or point to the sky and say “airplane!” Photograph the child imitating your gestures to document these social milestones.
12 to 15 months
Keeping a baby engaged in the session is always a challenge, especially if she’s beginning to walk. I always bring blocks or stacking toys for this age group; they love banging the blocks together or knocking down towers.
A child’s attention span at this stage is usually only a minute for each toy or activity. Be ready to move around and change things up often. Offer lots of high-fives to these 12-to-15-month olds; they’ll likely respond to your hand gesture and maybe flash you a smile, too.
At this stage of development, the child may have formed an attachment to a lovey or blanket. Have the parents bring that object and photograph those sweet cuddly moments at the end. If you introduce it too early in the session you may not get it out of their hands!