Hello again! I’ve debated on posting this article…but I worked very hard on it, so here goes nothing. If you are a photographer that currently has a newborn or are about to deliver and would like to try and take pictures of your own baby, this is for you!! Please know that I am a VERY STRONG BELIEVER in hiring a newborn photographer – both to capture your sweet baby and of course the love of your expanding family. I specifically wrote this tutorial for other photographers.
First, many of you that follow my blog + facebook page know that I was a part of a big photography forum. I have since stepped down as a mentor and am no longer on the boards. Thinking about all of the drama + hurt surrounding the events that led up to some very dear (and talented) friends + myself leaving makes me want to hyperventilate. This article was set to run on their blog a few weeks ago. Everything I write becomes my ‘baby’ and I came up with this concept long before giving birth to Sam. When I pulled it from the blog (because I was leaving and it didn’t feel right) another photographer was asked to write on this same topic. I just couldn’t let my words sit there covered in dust. Obviously not as many people will see it, but that is a-ok with me…as long as it helps one of you!
All of this being said…if you were ever interested in purchasing my lifestyle newborn breakout session or PS actions you may want to head over to the store and do that now!
Photographing your own newborn…exciting and scary! As photographers, we value the importance of pictures, but we are also realistic about the challenges of newborn photography. Whether you’re a hobbyist or professional, deciding on taking images of your own little one involves extra planning and preparation. There are many pros and cons that surround photographing your baby…and often we have to expect the unexpected!
If you’ve decided that absolutely you will attempt to take pictures of your newborn, then the planning needs to begin right away! The more children you have, the harder that might be. Things to take into consideration are WHAT types of images you want to take, WHERE you will take them, WHEN you will take them and what do you NEED to take them.
Obviously posed portraits will require more ‘stuff’. If you’re already a newborn photographer who is familiar with the ins and outs of posing babies you should have most of what you need to achieve these types of portraits. I’d say a space heater and white noise should top the list. For me, it was an opportunity to buy/upcycle a few new hats + wraps…plus some extra throws (more than a few…I sort of have an addiction to pretty blankets!!) The good news is that once your baby has outgrown little props, you’ll be able to use them in other sessions. Remember that hand made items can take awhile to be created and shipped…so order early. Once you have the basics (and remember you don’t have to have a beanbag to take posed pictures) you’ll need to figure out where these images will take place. I chose our bedroom for a couple of reasons. I’m familiar with the light, my bed works to place the baby on and the room heats up easily. Not to mention that I spend a lot of time nursing and laying around staring at my babies after they’re born! In my opinion it’s important to have a door that will trap the heat and also keep little ‘assistants’ out until you’re ready to include them in pictures. (of course I’d recommend help with older siblings!) If your room isn’t the best option, then find a location with reliable light and set it up for when inspiration hits…that way you won’t spend 20 minutes prepping your spot. Consider other areas of your home that can work for buckets or baskets, but make sure you have help if attempting something that requires a spotter/composite. Obviously posing babies can take time…sometimes lots and lots of time! You will be sleep deprived, hormonal and probably sore so be patient! If you attempt pictures and it starts to stress you out or baby is just not feeling it, then stop. Take a break, get some rest and try again later. The awesome thing about shooting your own newborn is that you call all the shots…unlike being at a client’s house YOU can ultimately decide when to feed or cuddle baby and you know when they are the most sleepy. It’s not an easy task, but if you slow down and relax it can certainly be done. Personally, I’ve nursed my babies right before placing them on the bed or even while they’re in a certain position…something that is not appropriate with client babies!!!
I’m a big believer in all types of ‘lifestyle’ images. I love both carefully planned and beautifully lit compositions, but I’m also a huge fan of everyday moments. Just because you’d like to attempt lifestyle pictures of your newborn doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t prepare. I find that with lifestyle, inspiration hits me at random times. Often I’ll spontaneously ‘see’ a moment that has to be documented. Doing your best to keep clutter to a minimum and also noting how the light falls in your home will motivate you to capture your new baby in their natural environment. Take into consideration what your baby is wearing or the types of swaddling blankets you’re using. If you love what they have on, you’ll want to shoot them in it (even if white onesies are your favorite!) Don’t forget to take pictures of random little details like diapers, a paci, nursery details or anything that will remind you of those fleeting few weeks. With lifestyle I find that emotion plays a huge role…now is the time to involve older siblings (more on that below) or a new daddy/grandparent. Consider self portraits, even if the last thing you feel like is being in front of the camera. If you really want the entire family in pictures then you should practice these types of shots *before* baby is born…it’s too stressful if you’re trying to learn this technique with a newborn. Also, even if you’re set on taking images of your newborn I can’t recommend enough hiring an experienced photographer. I truly believe that inviting a lifestyle photog into your home will take loads of pressure off of you and it can round out the stack of memories that you are already building. Don’t forget that your baby will look back on pictures one day and want to see their family…my favorite images of me as a newborn all include my parents and grandparents!
If you live in a climate where taking your baby outdoors in an option, then do it…and snap some pictures! Remember to always take safety into consideration…mosquitoes, excessive heat or cold and harmful plants (poison ivy) are all important factors. If you’re comfortable with posing babies outside in a natural setting then plan for a time that it can work. For me, this took the most effort. Although outdoor images are some of my favorites (hello golden hour) my energy was usually at an all time low by the end of the day. I literally forced myself to take Sam’s pictures in the bluebonnets and looking back I’m thrilled with the results. He was almost 3 weeks in this image, which means that you can push ‘posing’ past 10 days if you have enough patience! Going outside can also help you get all your children in a shot together. Spread out a quilt and do your best to get them around baby…or just let them play until they wander over (or see the lollipops you’ve put out for them!)
Having your camera and lenses available at all times will really help when you’re ready to capture the baby. Find a spot that is up high and out of reach of your other children, but easy for you to grab. You need to use lenses that you feel comfortable with to keep your frustration level low. My favorites for newborn photography are my 35mm, 50mm and 100mm macro. However, the beauty of taking pictures of your own baby is that you can really push the limits. After you’ve taken a few shots you’re pleased with switch to a lens you might not use as much (your lensbaby?) I was so thankful to borrow a 45mm tilt-shift and really fell in love with it while I took pictures of Sam. When my 2nd baby, Ty, was born a couple years ago I rented a macro lens for his pictures and then purchased it shortly after. Make sure batteries are charged and CF cards are cleared…if you’ve got your bases covered then you can spend more time taking pictures and not worrying about rushing around and wasting precious time. I also consider my iPhone as ‘gear’. Make sure your phone (or point + shoot) is charged and has enough memory to take both pictures and video…it’s a great tool to capture baby.
Birth Photography is also something to consider. Will you hire someone? Will you be the one to document before + after? or… Will you trust your significant other to capture the birth memories? Any of these is a valid choice but needs to be decided on way in advance with a possible back up plan. Having a baby is one of those rare times that we have to give up control and truly expect the unexpected. I personally was lucky enough to have my talented friend, Sara Seeton, photograph Sam’s arrival. I was also able to capture details in the hospital the day of his birth, but take into consideration that you may not feel up to it. If you’ve chosen to have a family member take some shots do not wait until you go into labor to teach the basics! Tutor them in advance and even practice possible set ups. Whether you’re delivering at home, in a birth center or hospital have items available that you’d like to include in pictures. Special blankets or hats to keep them warm can add a personal touch to your baby’s first hours. Keep in mind that taking care of your body + mental health should always be the priority and never compromised just to get pictures (which is why relying on someone else to help might really be important!)
Big brothers and sisters are always important to include in pictures. Remember to set realistic expectations. Little ones under the age of 3 need extra supervision around newborns and it’s so important that you have someone to help you with pictures (for your sanity, if nothing else.) As you know, photographing your own kids is usually extremely stressful…add in new-mommy hormones and sleep deprivation…and well, you can figure it out!! You’ll need to pull out all the stops if you’re attempting pictures of your babies together…I’m not above rewarding with something they love. Little light-colored candies can help with luring toddlers to get closer to the new baby. Now is the time to be extra patient and lower your expectations! I remember being extremely frustrated after the birth of my 2nd son…I only have a couple pictures of the two boys together and felt like a total failure. When Sam was born I promised myself that although I would try to get the three together that I wasn’t going to let it stress me out! Once I let go of the ‘perfect’ portrait, we got shots that are silly and real. Consider having a family member or friend help watch your older children when you’re ready to attempt individual shots of the baby. There is nothing worse then getting everything set up and then being interrupted by “mooooooom, I’m hungry!!!” Do your best to capture images with your ‘real’ camera, but don’t stop snapping with your phone or other point + shoot…not every image needs to be portfolio-worthy, lots of my favorites are on Instagram!
Obviously the safety of your baby during any type of newborn pictures is extremely important, but also your health needs to be taken into consideration just as much. You’ve just had a baby…pace yourself! Depending on your type of delivery it really is important to take care of your body. I remember over-doing it a few times and my back was so achy from bending over too much. I was also able to take a ton of pictures when Sam was brand new because my mom was here helping with his big brothers. I had to make the most of that time…when she left my productivity dropped to zero. Every family and situation is unique, which is why it’s so important to know our limitations. If you cannot take pictures for health or other reasons then move to your back-up plan (another photographer or friend?) Accept that life is what it is and do your best to capture what you can along the way…without hurting yourself. It won’t do your family any good if you feel terrible.
Oh the pressure!! I didn’t really start to recognize that there would be immense pressure put on me and the pictures I was about to take of Sam until right before his birth when friends started saying how excited they were to see him through my lens. Obviously something we need to get past…because it’s not about pleasing everyone else, it’s about capturing that precious new life that YOU created. Please don’t feel like you have to take certain types of images because that’s what other newborn photographers do. It’s certainly okay to be inspired by beautiful work, but there is no better time than to follow your heart and shoot what you love. I’ve always been a fan of both lifestyle and posed portrait images…so I attempted both. Somewhere along the way I lost the want and drive with posing and I stopped! If you love hats and classic newborn photography on the beanbag yet do not have the experience, then it’s really important to line up a photographer. If you are in business, you know how important it is to book early and I truly believe that hiring a seasoned professional will not be a regret if it’s something you want. Same with lifestyle…capturing your family together can be extremely difficult and especially if you’d like to be in the pictures. Often we get wrapped up in photographing our baby and forget to enjoy the moments as they pass us by. If you’re so focused on getting perfect newborn images and beat yourself up for not capturing what’s in your head, then what’s the point of doing it? For me, taking pictures of Sam meant that we could spend quality one on one time together. I had no schedule, no agenda…when the creativity hit and we had a moment I took it. Of course there were times that he didn’t cooperate with me, I was too exhausted or an idea I had didn’t pan out, but in the end I let it go. Honestly looking back at the pictures of Sam helps me remember how special that time in our lives was…we were (and still are) so incredible happy to have him join our family.
I can admit to really having fun this year with Sam’s announcement. It was an idea that came to me out of frustration for picking an image to put on his cards. I had no idea if it would turn out cheesy (and it is a little bit) but in the end it summed up perfectly the first couple weeks of his life. Poor guy!! Again with the PRESSURE. Why why why do we feel the need to make it perfect?? We spend so much time helping other families with their memories and photo products that when it comes time to do the same for our own little ones we can’t make a decision. I’ve had several friends create two (or more) different announcements (same with holiday cards) and then send those out. That can be a great idea if you float between two specific styles. If you are someone that’s laidback about announcing the birth of your baby AND you’re a newborn photographer…I’m totally impressed!
and there you have it!! CONGRATULATIONS if you are expecting!! I would love to do it all over again.
p.s. here is Sam at 4, 5 + 6 months just because my blog has been so neglected!