We all want our newborn photography sessions to run as smoothly as possible. This way we get the best outcomes for our clients, both in terms of the photographs and the overall experience.
This post focuses on getting the best in newborn photography sessions. It is a follow on from the last blog post I shared about top tips on how to settle a newborn baby.
As I was thinking about the ways that I work with babies in my studio, I realised that these can be equally applied to the home situation so I set about writing 10 tips on how to settle your baby in your home.
But here, it is all about the photography session with newborn babies in a studio setting. You will find that the 10 ways I have listed here are almost identical to the previous tips for home. I guess because babies have a particular set of needs then really there isn’t too much difference. But when it comes to photographing newborns there are certainly a few other factors to consider.
1. Temperature Control
I have said on many occasions that my most powerful tool during a newborn photoshoot apart from my camera, is my heater. Without warmth, we couldn’t safely pose babies without clothes on. The optimum temperature for babies without their clothes on is around 27 degrees Celsius. Newborn babies are not able to regulate their own body temperature. It is not advisable to expose them to sudden cold or leave them lying around without clothes on for a duration while you are busy photographing them.
As equally as important it is to have a heater for your studio, having a thermostat is also something I couldn’t imagine living without. If you have one, then keep an eye on it to make sure that it doesn’t get too warm. If the temperature starts to creep up then turn off your heater and cool the room down.
Remember that your studio will only need to be 27 degrees if you plan on photographing newborn babies without clothing.
2. Remain calm
Remaining a calm persona is essential when photographing not only babies but children in general. If you are tense and stressed then I guarantee that children and babies will pick up on this vibe and react accordingly. When you are in a tense state it is also not conducive to doing your best creative work. So if you feel yourself getting stressed about any situation then check yourself, take a breather and re-group.
One of the ways that I manage to remain calm during a photoshoot is by talking to my clients beforehand about what may happen during photoshoots with babies. By setting their expectations in terms of how the photoshoot may go, this allows me to just get on with my job and not worry if I feel like they might be thinking it is going too long or if they are having unrealistic expectations in regards to how they think their baby should be responding or behaving. For example, every now and then there are babies who don’t like being in certain poses, or don’t like being in a wrap, or a hat and etc.
In the instance where you might have a baby who just happens to be quite unsettled on the day of your photoshoot, it is important to remain calm and take the extra time to soothe and settle the baby if possible. But paramount, is to demonstrate to your clients that these things are normal and that they are in safe and confident hands with you as their photographer. If you stay calm then most likely they will too.
3. Don’t try to get every single shot possible
There are many ways to photograph newborns and a multitude of poses that photographers love.
While you want to get a variety of different poses for your clients, be realistic about how many that might be. Set the expectations for your clients before the shoot about the types of poses they might expect. If they have their heart set on a particular pose for their baby then make it a priority but explain to them that every baby is different. Some babies don’t want to curl their legs up underneath them, they want them more straightened out. Some babies will sleep through the entire session and you may not be able to get shots with their eyes open. And vice versa.
You will find a workflow that suits you over time and get an understanding of how you best like to work through poses with a newborn. I will admit that when I first started out as a newborn photographer, I think I probably worked far too hard in every session trying to get every shot possible and sessions went on way too long.
4. Slow down
Take it slow (but then hit the accelerator when you have to! (I realise this is a contradiction – more on this in a minute)
If I had a dollar for every time one of my clients commented on how patient I am during their newborn photography session then, well! Newborn photography really does take a lot of patience and an ability to slow down and take the time to settle babies properly if needed. If you do so then you will likely be well rewarded with the chance to take a number of photographs of the baby in a number of different poses before they wake up again. Apparently the average time it takes to settle a baby to sleep is 20 minutes. This actually doesn’t sound like much time but it can feel like an eternity during a newborn photography session when you first start out.
Of course sometimes you just get well settled sleepers who require very little input in terms of settling. But there are plenty of times I have had very young babies in my studio who want to stay awake and interact with you. This is great by the way! But more often than not, their parents want shots of them sleeping and curled up in the newborn poses they see in my gallery.
The accelerator part particularly applies to the more awake babies. If you happen to get these awake babies to sleep and nice and settled then it is often a good idea to work as quickly as possible to get a variety of shots and angles before moving the baby around too much and risk them waking again.
Keep the noise constant and reasonably noisy. The thing with newborns is that they are well accustomed to noise. It is very noisy in the womb.
Some photographers use a heart beat machine, some use a white noise machine, or a “shoosher”. Personally I play music. After experimenting with these other mechanisms I found that really its just constant sound that is the most important factor and I figure that we may as well all enjoy it. By playing music it means that if people stop talking then the room doesn’t just go quiet (which can sometimes wake babies up, oddly enough) and music helps everyone relax too.
Preparation is a big part of any type of photography. Good preparation makes a huge impact on the quality of your end result as well as your own sanity before, during and after a photoshoot.
Apart from normal studio preparations such as equipment, lighting, backdrop, props, music, toys for kids, or technical requirements such as tethering if you do that, there are a number of extra elements to prepare for newborn photography. For example, having wipes and towels on hand to clean up messes. Having all of your props within arms reach so you don’t have to walk away from the baby when you need things. Having water nearby for yourself so you stay hydrated.
Part of preparation for me also is sending information to my clients about how to prepare for the photoshoot. While I don’t really like giving them instructions, I communicate with them that this directly impacts my workflow and helps make the newborn photography sessions run smoother and quicker. And most clients prefer a smooth session that doesn’t go on for hours and hours if it can be helped.
Safety is ofcourse paramount and of the utmost importance during a newborn photography session. There are certainly methods of best practise that I follow to ensure baby’s safety. For example, never walking away from the baby when they are lying on the posing beanbag. Even when you think that baby is fast asleep and has no chance of rolling off that posing beanbag, I say, never tempt fate.
If you are new to newborn photography then I thoroughly recommend doing a course specific to newborn photography. When I started out, I did Kelly Brown’s course. This helped me immensely and gave me confidence to work with newborns safely.
Something that many new photographers do not realise is that many newborn poses are composites ( in other words, if it looks like baby is supporting their own head, then they are not – a hand is supporting it which is then photoshopped out later). Babies that appear to be suspended in mid air by hands or hanging in sacks or baskets are in reality laying safely on a flat surface. For me, I favour a fairly minimalist approach to newborn photography without a huge amount of props and tricks.
Learn about the safe poses that you can do and the ones which are composites. Avoid leaving a baby in the same position for too long. Work gently with them and move them through the poses fairly quickly.
Make sure your own immunisations are up to date. If you work with newborn babies then make sure you have had your whooping cough vaccination. Maintain a safe and sanitary practise by using clean hands and always reschedule your sessions if you are unwell. Also, go and get yourself a Working with Children check. It’s good to have and gives your clients peace of mind. Having said this, I have never been asked for this by domestic portrait clients (as opposed to commercial jobs), but I like that I do have it in case someone ever queried.
One more safety tip: beware of your fingernails and cut any sharp edges off to avoid accidentally scratching a baby.
8. Entertain other children
Make sure your studio is welcoming and child friendly. I always make sure there is entertainment for siblings such as toys, drawing, or sometimes parents bring ipads if needed. When children become bored and whingey their parents become stressed and then no one enjoys themselves and everyone just wants out of there.
Sometimes you have to be a child whisperer as well as a baby whisperer. I always have a chat with the parents before hand as part of my preparation regarding their other children’s willingness to be in photographs. This gives me a good feel for what to expect and also gives me a chance to talk to my clients about the ways I work with children. For example, I might enlist the help of an older sibling who is willing. Bu on other occasions if the child makes it clear they don’t want to be involved, or if my client has prepped me that it might be difficult to get them happily involved, I almost appear to ignore them at first. Then, I slowly build a rapport with them throughout the session so they willingly come to be involved towards the end. There are a number of ways to keep children engaged and happy during a photoshoot and if you regularly photograph babies and families then you are no doubt down with this.
9. Stay positive to help everyone have an enjoyable experience
As we all know, babies are individuals who may or may not want to be as asleep or as awake as the parents want. Staying positive about the wonderful moments you have captured and how you can work with them will make a huge difference, especially when parents might have their hearts set on particular shots they want.
Having a baby is a miracle. Your clients have done so well just getting to your studio, so feel free to remind them about this. If their baby is being fussy, help them understand that most babies are fussy from time to time and it is completely normal. Give them positive feedback and remind them they are doing amazingly and so is their bub.
10. Stay hydrated
It is important to keep up the water intake when you are working in a warm studio with a newborn. Take care of yourself so that you can be at your very best and in peak performance for your clients. The more you fatigue, the less likely you will get those amazing shots. The more your clients fatigue, the less likely they are to enjoy the experience with you. In my preparation email to my clients prior to our newborn photography session together, I always suggest that they bring their own snacks and water. This is because when I am working with their baby, I am not always able to offer them anything straight away. A new mother who has recently birthed a baby who may or may not be breastfeeding needs constant nourishment and fluid. Likewise any accompanying small children will also.
If you are a newborn photographer already then most likely you have a natural way with babies which is part of the reason that you got into this line of work. Working with babies / children / animals is not for the faint hearted. The one thing that they all have in common is unpredictability! But you can take a lot of the unpredictability out of the equation by following the 10 tips that I have suggested and you will find that your newborn sessions run smoother and quicker. Whether you run a newborn portrait studio or hold your sessions in your clients homes, the techniques are all the same.
Most newborn photographers will have been referred to as “baby whisperers” by their clients at one time or another. If you have been referred to as this before then you know you are on the right track with newborn photography. It’s a lovely compliment, too. So well done and keep it up because I guarantee that the more you practise, it will just keep getting easier.