Newborn portrait photography can be very rewarding – but since your subject can’t really talk to you or move on their own, it’s also a little bit different than your average portrait session.
We’ve compiled our best newborn photography tips that we received in 2014 to give you an idea of some of the things you need to consider before starting in on newborn portrait photography (or if you’re a seasoned pro, give you some new inspiration for future sessions!).
Safety is #1 when it comes to working with newborns. Their immune systems are underdeveloped, they can’t move on their own or tell you if they’re uncomfortable, and are completely dependent on you (and the parents) during the session.
Some of the most important things to consider before even starting the session include:
- Immunizations – because of the delicate state of the newborn’s immune system, make sure you are up to date on your immunizations for at least two critical diseases: DTap (Diptheria, Tetanus, and pertussis), and MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella).
- Personal Hygiene – keep your nails clean and well-trimmed with no chips in your nail polish, as this will help reduce the spread of germs that live underneath and around your nails.
- Snacks – if you’re headed for a long day at a client’s home, you might want to bring your own snacks with you. But make sure you ask the parents first if anyone at the household has any food allergies, and/or just bring snacks without nuts.
- Preparing clients – have your clients turn up their house temperature before you arrive (or turn up your studio temperature) to about 85 degrees, as newborns lose heat rapidly. This will help keep them comfy during the session and more likely to be pleasant babies.
- Props – make sure all blankets and/or wraps that you bring with you are clean and that you wash and sanitize them between each and every session. Make sure to use unscented detergent that is free of perfumes and dyes
Also make sure that any props you are using are safe. Some props that are considered unsafe would be:
- Props made of glass or anything that can break and/or shatter
- Anything that requires placing the baby up high (like on a book shelf)
- Placing the baby inside something that is prone to tipping (such as an unstable basket)
- Putting the baby inside some type of appliance, like a mailbox, refrigerator, etc.
Example of a safe, sturdy prop
Relaxing The Baby
Having an upset baby during the session can make the session incredibly difficult, so keeping them happy and content is very important.
One of the best things you can do is make sure the parents prep the newborn for the session by feeding them beforehand so they’re more likely to sleep.
To prep you and your studio, make sure the studio is warm, or if you’re doing the session at your clients’ house, tell them to turn up the temperature in their house to about 85 before the session starts.
Also tell the parents to make sure the baby is fed right before the session so they’re more likely to sleep.
A couple other great things that come in handy is both a sound machine and warm hands – you can even take it one step further and use gloves when handing the newborn as many times adult hands can be cold and may startle a sleeping baby.
Don’t forget about parents either; often times, if the baby’s parents are anxious or nervous, it will rub off on the baby and they’ll be more likely to be fussy.
Another good idea is to have the parents sitting close to the baby during the session (but just out of frame, or in such a way that they can easily be cropped out) so they can reach out and comfort the baby or rock them between shots.
The infant’s mother’s hand is located just out of frame in this shot.
If you’re still having issues comforting the little one, one of our featured photographers, Renee Barber, also recommends reading through “The Happiest Baby on the Block” by Dr. Harvey Karp.
The book has a lot of tips on soothing and comforting babies, and Renee swears it’s one of the best things she’s done for her newborn photography business, as it gave her some great ideas on how to soothe and comfort a cranky newborn.
When it comes to posing, always consider safety first – if the infant is put in a situation where there is a risk of falling or being unstable, either don’t do the pose at all or do it as a composite image. Even then, you still may not wish to do the pose – and that’s ok.
A couple popular infant poses are the head-on-hand pose and the head-on-wrist pose (which is also known as the Froggie Pose).
When doing the head-on-hands pose, use a large bean bag and center the infant on the bean bag – that way if for some reason they squirm and start to tip, they won’t fall off the prop.
Secondly, use a lens you can shoot close to the baby with – like a 35mm. This will allow you to reach out a helping hand quickly and easily if the baby does start to tip.
Before doing the head-on-hands pose, it is absolutely crucial that you check with the baby’s parents and make sure that the newborn has not been diagnosed with Congenital Hip Dysplasia (CHD), because the positioning of the legs for this pose would cause the infant’s hips to be dislocated.
When doing the head-on-wrist pose, it’s best to do it as a composite as newborns have no control over their balance and could easily tip over when put in this position.
It’s best to do this pose in two shots – one shot with a helper holding the baby’s wrists, and a second shot with the helper stabilizing the baby’s head (see examples here).
When combined in Photoshop the extra pair of helping hands can be edited out, giving you the desired pose but without sacrificing the baby’s safety.
Composite image created from two separate images, both with different stabilization points.
And finally, when posing the baby in any pose, always keep an eye on their skin tones and color – if you see their skin turning purple or blue, their circulation is being cut off and they need readjusting.
One of the most common styles of lighting for newborns is soft, even lighting, which is often achieved when you correctly utilize the play between light and shadows and feather the light.
Even, feathered light on the baby’s front with depth created by shadows.
The lighting setup for creating this type of lighting is relatively simple, and includes a safe resting place for the baby (and most likely a backdrop of your choice), and a softbox (preferably one that is relatively large in size; a 50×50″ softbox would work perfectly).
Place the softbox at 180 angle and about 6 inches in front of the baby and backdrop setup. This placement will ‘feather’ the light onto the subject, which will create softer shadows and even lighting across their face.
Example of lighting setup used for feathering the light.
Final product of light feathering setup.
Baby skin can often be red and blotchy, which isn’t as appealing as smoother, creamy skin tones. To help with that, reduce the reds in post production to help even their skin tones out a bit.
You could even use a preset or action to do this for you, and may even be able to find one made specifically for newborn skin.
Babies are super cute, and we really hope this post gave you some inspiration for where to start if you’re just looking into newborn portrait photography, or just some new tips you maybe didn’t know if you’re already a seasoned pro.
But remember – at the end of the day, if a pose or prop or lighting setup or anything whatsoever seems unsafe for the baby, or you’re not completely comfortable with it – don’t try it! It’s not worth the risk to the little one.
Here are some other products we recommend for Newborn Portrait Photography:
To really maximize your portrait sales, nothing beats in-person sales sessions. But just getting into them can be intimidating – which is why Matt and Katie have created a guide to teach you exactly how to conduct one. Complete with scripts for you to follow, it’ll help take the edge off of figuring it out on your own.
A lot of the lighting techniques above discuss off-camera lighting, but if you’re not familiar with off-camera lighting that immediately puts a damper on trying out some of the lighting ideas above. Andy from Simple SLR has put together a great guide on off-camera lighting, and even if you’re a seasoned pro it can serve as a great reference piece for future sessions.
None of the information in this post is valid if you don’t have a solid contract in place. The Newborn Photography Contract is written by photographer-lawyer Rachel Brenke at The Law Tog, so you know it’ll cover all the legal basics and necessities (including the contract itself, model releases for adults and minors, print releases, and more).
Baby skin can sometimes be mottled and blotchy, so doing skin smoothing on newborn portraits can help give the image a cleaner, finished look. Doing it by hand can really eat up your time though. We love and recommend the Portraiture plugin from Imagenomics, which automatically does a lot of the skin smoothing for you in just a click of the button.
Black and white images are a great way to evoke emotion, but oftentimes just cutting the saturation doesn’t quite have the same affect because it’s important to remember that you must edit a black and white image differently than a color image, and Photography Concentrate has created a guide to show you how to do just that.
If there’s one thing new parents like to do, it’s show people pictures of their family’s newest addition. StickyAlbums is the mobile app made for just that, and allows clients to easy share pictures of their session with friends and family (which in turn is amazing free marketing for you!).
A great way to get your client their images is with a personalized flash drive – no more burning files to a disc, just drag and drop onto a flash drive and send it along. Plus the personalization gives it that extra professional touch, and since CD drives are sort of on their way out, a flash drive will probably have greater longevity.
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