Completing a Newborn Baby Portrait Session on a Beach
As the title explains, this tutorial aims to give direction on how best to photograph a newborn on the beach. Many variables come into play mainly because you have a newborn baby to deal with! Of all subjects to work with, a newborn baby has to be the most needy, thus potentially bringing the most stress on both you and the parents!
If you’re able to take advantage (with the help of the tips below) of the situation and work with the flow of the day rather than against it, you will be successful. What can be more beautiful than capturing this new being in a natural setting like the beach? Not much I’ll say!
Firstly, compile your props. These should include: blankets, sheets, baskets, buckets, pillows, heat packs and whatever it is you usually use to make a newborn comfortable. Use materials with different textures.
Go for natural hues to compliment the colours at the beach. Do you have a theme? The beach can inspire many ideas, especially using new life in a natural setting like the beach. Do you have a surfboard? Beach chairs? What about buckets and spades? Rubber ducks from baby’s bath time? All of these can be great, fun props to use in a newborn shoot.
Also, check around you for props already at the beach. Sailboats parked on the sand. Large flip flops to highlight baby’s tiny size. A beach bag where baby ‘happens’ to be sleeping. Baby surrounded by Mum and Dad’s footprints. Your imagination is your friend here. Even though a prop may seem completely impractical to place a newborn in, your collection of blankets, sheets, hotpads and more will help make it possible.
The weather is an untamed beast! You won’t be inside for this shoot. This wonderful variable called ‘weather’ doesn’t ever consider the happiness of tiny babes. It might be windy, it might be too sunny, it might even rain! Check your weather forecast as you schedule the photo shoot.
Personally, I find the 4:30pm (onwards) sun the least intrusive. It is still bright but not so much that the subject is completely blown out. Considering that the subject here is especially sensitive to bright sun. It would make the most sense to schedule your shoot as close to this time as you can. Either go in the afternoon or early in the morning. This way baby will be as content as possible location-wise so you can know you’ve done everything in your power to make conditions as perfect as possible.
3. Shooting Stations
To get the best out of baby, it is helpful to set up ‘shoot stations’ where you can easily transfer baby from one to the next, quickly and efficiently. This way, if baby is content, you can make the most of your shooting time. Organization is key here!
If you're able to show up the scene early. This gives you a chance to arrange a blanket station, beach chair station, a sandal station, an umbrella station, or even build a sand castle! By doing this, you should be well prepared to make the most of your time.
4. Time Management
Newborns are rarely content for longer than...well...anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour. That is unless they are warm, snuggled and sleeping very deeply, all factors usually found in an indoor home shoot, not outdoors on a beach. Consider three to five themes to plan your props, shoot stations and outfits.
This way, with a certain level of organization, you will find this type of shoot to be more like a well oiled machine. You can move through the shoot in a methodical way capturing what you need and walking away with a lot of wonderful images. Most importantly though, baby is still alive and his parents aren’t completely frazzled because you went on and on as you just couldn’t quite get the shot you were hoping for. Planning is key!
5. Baby Shade
It is helpful to have an assistant/parent standing by with an umbrella to shade baby from any bright sun, during and in between taking pictures. Either that, or have one plugged into the sand they can quickly slide under if you’re lacking an extra assistant.
This is probably the most important part of keeping your subject happy. Nothing will ruin a shoot faster than an sunburnt, dry-eyed baby. That being said, there are a few other things you can do to keep baby happy.
6. Comfort For Baby
Consider keeping a parent close by, barely out of the shot, in order to sing, hum, or talk to baby if they are on the verge of breaking down. Also, you may not know that babies can smell their parent and feel comforted by that alone.
The parent can hold baby’s hand while you photograph the face or toes. Keeping a parent right there will help in keeping baby as calm as possible. If that isn't possible, hopefully they are completely asleep and comatose. It also might be nice peace of the mind for the parents to not be too far from their precious bundle!
7. Photo Ideas
Play around with the contrast of the baby’s size along with the surroundings. The vastness of the ocean. The softness of the sand. This newborn baby (seemingly) in the middle of crowds of people, alone. These contrasts can highlight the smallness, vulnerability and innocence of the baby.
Why not focus on the beauty of their skin? So soft and smooth, like a reflection of the sand around them? What about the sparkle in their eyes? Could be similar to the sun twinkling on the ocean.
Here in Hawaii we have giant banana tree leaves that envelope a baby perfectly, giving the idea of a possible Jungle Book scenario. If you don’t have something like this at your fingertips, what about at the local florist? Your garden? A neighbour’s garden? With the proper equipment, you could even float your subject in the water. This can evoke all kinds of thoughts! Someone just shipped this baby off to brave the elements...alone? But it also speaks volumes of the tenderness of Mother Nature.
The colour palette at the beach is wonderfully soft and at times mimics the pastels usually found in most baby rooms, decor, and other designs. They are perfectly suited! Consider picking out a natural prop like a shell, palm, or piece of driftwood. Then discuss outfit choices to match with the parents.
Also, consider blankets and sheets in neutral tones to complement all your shoots, not just the beach ones (although you may only be doing beach shoots from now on).
9. Family Participation
Incorporating a parent or siblings or an entire family is a great idea, too! Baby will be most happy cuddled in a parent’s arms anyway so you may as well take advantage of that. It won’t be hard to get a beaming smile out of each of them. They will be enthralled with this new little person. Take advantage of stone walls, rock formations, and sand dunes to help with positioning of everyone. If they’re willing, why not have them edge out to the water a little? Consider shooting from different heights and distances. This is possibly a good time to whip out your wide angle lens if you fancy, particularly if you’ve got a lot of people AND a view to incorporate! Phew!
10. Lens Choice
By using a portrait lens, I find the colours, landscape, subject come together the best, especially with such beautiful bokeh! In my personal opinion I find bokeh & babies go together really well. It’s like another soft, beautiful blanket has encased baby! Have no fear! Bokeh is here!
Many people can’t really tell the difference between the kit lens and a 50mm, for example. However, with a portrait lens such as this you have more f/stops to play with. It also makes you zoom in and zoom out with your feet rather than the lens. If you’re a beginner then a simple portrait lens can be relatively inexpensive and well worth the experience you’ll gain from having it in your repertoire.
Also, try using the manual focus in order to focus on specific features of baby. This is also a wonderful way to really take your time and think about the photo you’re trying to take rather than just snap, snap, snapping away!
It may seem daunting to attempt a shoot such as this, braving the elements with someone else’s newborn offspring! It certainly is a lot of responsibility. But, if the parents are willing and you can plan adequately in advance, the outcome has the potential to be absolutely beautiful.
It doesn’t take long either. Babies don’t do much so you don’t have to spend hours with make-up and outfit changes. Lighting is out of your control (unless you bring a reflector with you, but even still, no set-up is needed per se). You also can’t take long as they have very time sensitive, specific needs.
So get outside that comfort zone and give it your best shot! You won’t be disappointed. If you have any of your own newborn-shooting-on-the-beach tips, I would love to hear them in the comments!