Etta and I collaborated on a couple of newborn photo sessions a few weeks ago and I thought I’d pass along some tips I picked up along the way.
Now, if you’re a frazzled new mom, don’t trust your photography skills or you have a fussy baby, you may want to opt for a pro. But if you’re like me and are comfortable with your DSLR, kind of a cheapskate (ahem… raises hand) and your baby is (somewhat) cooperative, give it a go! Nothing to lose, right?
Get the timing right
- I’ve read that the best age to take newborn photos is in the first 14 days, while the baby is still very sleepy. I took these photos at 7 days and 9 days. I wanted to sneak them in before her skin started peeling or she got a weepy blocked tear duct or cradle cap or all that other ugly stuff. (Elise had all of these at the same time, so I am well acquainted.) I don’t know if any of them will actually happen, but why procrastinate and miss my opportunity for good photos?
- Feed the baby prior to the photo shoot. You want them to fall into that deep sleep and a full belly will help with that.
- Start out with a clean diaper. Dress (or undress) the baby in whatever outfit you may want before they fall asleep. Changing diapers and clothes will only disturb them. Keep naked babies wrapped in a blanket. This should probably go without saying, but the goal is to keep the baby calm or asleep.
Setting up the photo shoot area
- Gather all your supplies ahead of time. Blankets, pillows, props, outfits, etc. (I used woven blankets with nubby textures.)
- Choose a spot in your house that gets good natural light, then open the blinds, curtains, etc. to let in as much of that light as possible. Aim for a time of day that gets soft, indirect light; avoid the harsh shadows of the late afternoon.I did two sessions. For the first, I had great light. The second day had pretty crummy weather, so I supplemented with a flash. I just use my on-camera flash (still very much an amateur here), but I use a product called a Light Scoop. I love love love this attachment. I wouldn’t use my flash without it. It’s just a piece of plastic and a mirror, but it bounces the flash onto the ceiling allowing the light to diffuse over the whole room. If you’ve ever struggled to get well lit photos indoors, the Light Scoop will be nothing short of a revelation.
It just so happened that the spot with the best light in our house is the kid’s bedroom, which allowed me to work on top of Elise’s twin bed. I put two of our dining room chairs on the side of the bed, with the backs of the chairs facing the side of the bed. This allowed me to create a sloped backdrop with a large blanket.
- For many of the shots, I used a Boppy pillow positioned underneath the blanket. If you don’t have a Boppy, try using another firm pillow. (Of course, be safe. Use common sense. Supervise. Keep baby’s face away from soft surfaces.)
- I also turned on the white noise machine we have in the bedroom to dampen the noise of the house and keep her calm.
- Keep baby warm. Turn up the thermostat. (I’ve read other tips about using heating pads or space heaters, but I didn’t do that.) If you are doing a naked baby photo shoot, keep them covered with a blanket whenever you aren’t snapping photos.
- Use a pacifier. If they’ll take a paci, use it. I was able to pull it out, snap a photo and give it back without her getting upset. This may or may not work for you.
- Take a lot of photos. If you take hundreds, you are bound to get a few good ones.
- Get down to baby’s level. This means you’ll probably be sitting on the floor. Get close and avoid strange angles.
- Be patient. I spent about 90 minutes to two hours on each session. There’s a lot of time spent calming baby, shushing and slowly posing. If you wait until baby’s really asleep, you’ll be able to re-position them without much resistance.
Keep it simple
- This was my first time trying to photograph a newborn, so I kept it simple. Basic natural poses. No props. Nothing fancy. No baby hanging out of a bucket or a basket. Or propped on a stack of books. Those are cute and all, but perhaps too much of a challenge for a first timer.
Any other tips for mom photographers? Add them in the comments!