Newborn and baby photography can be full of challenges, but it can also be one of the most rewarding types of photography. A successful session will mean a happy baby, happy parents and hopefully, a happy (and probably tired) photographer. Here’s our guide to photographing babies and some inspiration to get you started.
What You Need
Suitable Backdrops and Appropriate Lighting
You’ll want a plain background (and preferably more than one) when making baby pictures. If you don’t have access to a studio, you can make your own, but be sure it’s safe and secure if you do. Once you have that, you can drape blankets over it to vary the colour and style of the backdrop.
Taking pictures outside will vary your background and provide plenty of light, but make sure the baby is protected from the elements at all times.
Harsh shadows do not make good baby pictures so flash is a nono (it also may startle the baby). Natural light is always best, but if you’re in a studio situation and don’t have access to that then remember to soften light with diffusers, reflectors and soft boxes. Also make sure that these have no chance of falling on the baby and aren’t so close as to make the baby overheat.
- DIYHow to Build a $1000 Portrait Photography Lighting Kit on a $100 BudgetBen Lucas
- Environmental PortraitHow to Use Environmental Lighting Sources for Natural PortraitureHarry Guinness
You’ll need something appropriate and comfortable to rest the baby on. Bespoke beanbags can be bought online, or if you’re using blankets and cushions, be sure that the baby can’t roll off or that there’s nothing sticking through the blanket that might hurt them.
You may want to think about putting protective plastic underneath anything you use; babies can’t choose when they go to the toilet! For that reason, it’s wise to make sure everything is machine washable too.
Baskets, buckets, bowls and so on are really popular items to photograph a baby in. These don’t tend to be bespoke for the purpose, they’re picked up from home or DIY stores, but it’s important they be weighted down and are appropriately covered or padded on the inside to prevent discomfort or injury.
How much to edit a photo is entirely subjective to the photographer. However, images of babies do require some attention to get them looking their best. The parents want to see their bundle of joy in all his or her ‘perfection’, not with cradle cap, blotchy cheeks or dried milk around their mouth. Learn how to subtly but effectively clean up your portraits. Actions can help and I’ll go into this more a little later.
It’s wise to have some non-photographic items on hand when you’re photographing babies.
- Baby wipes
- Hand sanitiser (more about this shortly)
- Towels and cloth to help position and support the baby
- An app or music system that can play soothing sounds like white noise or the ocean.
- A changing table to make it easier for parents
Mums should be looking to book their shoot in their third trimester at the latest, and you should aim for a suitable date after their due date. Obviously, this could change, so you need to be flexible. If you have the availability, it might be wise to book in more than one date to account for early/late delivery.
You’ll ideally also want to know why they’re having the photographs taken. Is it just to document the occasion or will the photographs be used for something more specific? You might wonder why it matters, you’ll do the best job you can either way right? You will probably think about the process differently if you know the end goal. If the image is for an announcement card, you might want to leave some empty space on the photograph for text.
Do the parents want to be in some of the pictures? Are there siblings and how old are they? These are all things you should cover in an initial ‘get to know you’ meeting. That way, you’ll be clear about their expectations and able to manage them appropriately.
This is a nice example of a non-studio setting. Even though we can see there are things in the background, they’re a neutral colour, so there’s plenty of contrast between the baby and the background and the shallow depth of field throws it out of focus nicely so as not to look cluttered.
Babies don’t always have to be sleeping to make great pictures. This baby is a little older than newborn, and able to support itself, which makes for a nice ‘just doing my baby thing’ shot.
Another older baby shot as opposed to newborn and this picture is full of fun and a sense that everything is brand new. The plain white background helps keep our attention on the baby and the blanket and pillow are nice and clean so there are no distracting spots.
To my eye, this picture would have looked much better in true black and white,
rather than sepia-toned, but it’s a good example of extra poses you
can think about with a newborn that also gets the parents involved.
is another nice way to get the parents involved: a baby is always going to
be at their happiest and most comfortable when being held by people they know.
The plain studio background is useful but the picture might have benefited from something with a slight colour to it, just to warm it up and make it less
How to Take Your Baby Pictures Further
I’m a big fan of actions or presets for helping to bring the most out of your images. With shoots like maternity, newborn and wedding, they can add a sense of continuity though your images, particularly if you’re outside and things like the light have changed slightly.
I took our picture of mum and baby (above) and used The Newborn and Maternity Collection of Photoshop actions. There are several options with this action set which, when run, appear in a folder and are then broken down into several layers which you can can fine-tune as appropriate.
There are also three extra helper layers, Contrast, Vignette and Sharpening to aid with finishing touches.
This is the Lullaby action from the set, which has added some fill layers as well as curves. I brushed away part of the softening fill layers over mum and baby’s face, as the eyes look better when sharp and unobscured. The result is subtle, but it’s softened up mum’s hair, which was a little brassy and has also drawn our attention to the eyes by softening and lightening the far edges of the image.
Newborns and Posing
If it’s very specifically a newborn shoot that you want to do then time is of the essence. Many photographers recommend shooting when the baby is less than two weeks old and ideally, around ten days old. Babies are a little easier to pose at that age. Wait a while and you may have arms flailing, fidgeting and the baby is less likely to sleep soundly while you move them around.
If a baby really doesn’t like a pose, don’t force them, just forget it and try another one. You don’t want a grumpy baby or grumpy parents.
I perpetually have cold hands, even in summer! If you’re like me, then babies and animals alike will shrink in horror from your icy touch. Try keeping hand warmers nearby so you can move the baby with warm, comforting hands. If all else fails, wear gloves.
Remember to photograph details as well as baby as a whole. A macro lens is really useful for this as you can get up really close to toes, eyes, lips and hands. Shoot fairly wide open to give yourself a nice, shallow depth of field.
A full baby is a content baby. For this reason, many photographers ask the parents to hold off feeding until they’ve arrived at the shoot. Once they’ve been fed, they’re much more likely to sleep soundly while you complete your session. It also helps if they’ve been awake prior to the photoshoot so they’re a little more tired out.
You may have particular time-slots that you give your clients but be sure that those are time enough to get everything done without rushing. Moving from pose to pose, changing backgrounds and breaks for the baby’s needs all need to be factored in. Many newborn photographers recommend a three to four hour time slot because of this.
If you get stressed, parent and baby will sense it and could feel stressed too, so keep everything calm and fun; this is supposed to be an enjoyable process after all!
It’s wise to have a comfy area in the studio for parents to wait and watch, where they can relax and also to keep them out of your way while you photograph.
Safety First (and Second, and Third…)
Safety is your top priority, the baby must be 100% safe and comfortable at all times. Here are some things you need to consider:
- Keep nails short so as not to scratch the baby.
- Never, ever leave the baby unattended. Ever. Have an assistant if needs be.
- Keep your camera tight against you when you’re not holding it, don’t let it swing or drop near the baby.
- Don’t wear any jewellery that might catch on delicate skin or hair.
- Newborns can’t regulate their body temperature properly so be sure the room is an appropriate temperature and think about warming any blankets you place them on, first.
- Always weight down props with something heavy like a sandbag. Never put a baby on or inside something that could tip.
- Be clean. Babies can pick up bugs easily as their immune system is still developing. Have some wipes or hand gel close by to sanitise your hands before handling the baby. Also wash blankets and props prior to each use.
An assistant is a good idea, as it will allow you to be able to concentrate on photographs and know that someone is watching over the baby’s safety. A parent can help with this too, if you need to step away, have one of them come to stand close to the baby to make sure they can’t roll or hurt themselves on anything.
Seeing Isn’t Always Believing
There are a lot of images on the internet of babies balanced on objects. I’ve seen them perched on guitars, balls, branches, etc. These images are the result of a little post-processing magic from composites, so please don’t attempt to balance baby on anything, anything at all.
If you do want to try your hand at a composite, take one image of the scene all set up, without the baby. Then take your image with the baby in position, being firmly and safely held in place from behind. Then, in Photoshop, erase the person holding the baby from the picture and you’ll have your composite.
Top Tips to Getting Baby Shots
- Have suitable backdrops and appropriate lighting to create soft, subtle images
- If you want to use props, make sure they’re safe and comfortable.
- Safety is paramount. Consider an assistant if needed but never, ever leave a baby unattended.
- Keep baby happy by being calm, having a warm room (and hands!) and making sure they’re well-fed and sleepy.
- Hone your post-processing skills to make your images really stand out.
- Capturing Simplicity in a Maternity Photoshoot: There are numerous reasons to keep a maternity shoot simple and this article outlines how and why.
- Documenting a Birth Story from Beginning to End: Being invited to document a birth story is exciting, despite the long day. Whether you are a hired photographer or a close family friend, knowing as much as you can about the day can help you secure some great shots that will be treasured for a lifetime.
- Completing a Newborn Baby Portrait Session on a Beach: What can be more beautiful than capturing a new life in a natural setting like the beach?
Pictures of babies, newborns in particular, can produce really lovely results photographically. You’d be hard pressed to find anything sweeter than a baby all zonked out on a soft blanket. It’s challenging though: you’re responsible for baby’s safety, the parents’ (and baby’s) happiness and you still have to get the job done.
Adequate preparation will save you a lot of time and worry in the long run. Have an area in the studio, but out of the way, where parents can sit and watch without hovering over you.
Think about your light and remember to use things like soft-boxes and reflectors to diffuse harsh light. Weight your props and never leave the baby unattended, even if the setup looks rock-solid. Use an assistant where possible, but at a push you can rope in mum or dad to stay close.
When you’re posing the baby, never persist with anything that makes them uncomfortable and try warming hands and blankets before placing them, so keep them sleepy and happy.
When you’re taking the photographs, make sure your camera can’t swing or drop, and remember to include details like closeups of hands, feet and facial features as well as your regular shots.
When it comes to post processing, consider using actions to aid your workflow and give your images a sense of style. If nothing else, they’re a real time-saver!
The most important
thing is to enjoy the whole process. If you’re happy and positive then chances
are parents and babies will be too and everyone will really get the most out of
the session. Once you’ve got a few under your belt, you’ll be able to stop worrying
about each stage as it becomes second nature, and focus on taking some great
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