Disclaimer: I am not a professional newborn photographer, but I have done enough to have learned from many mistakes.
Have you taken newborn pictures and found it difficult to get the pose you wanted? Or, did the baby do nothing but fuss and squirm for you? Newborn photography can be challenging to get started with; so many aspects of it seem to have to be learned the hard way. I have learned a lot of things to do and not to do and I share them below. I hope these tips prove effective for you the next time you have a newborn to photograph.
Getting the Baby to Sleep During the Shoot
- Most newborn photo shoots work best when the baby is 5 to 10 days old. A day before or after that time frame may still work, but I do not recommend pushing past it more than that. Why 5 to 10 days? Because the baby is very sleepy, making it more likely that s/he will sleep for you. And, with the sleeping baby comes the sweet poses. Babies that are awake often do not stay in the position you want to them to be in. They squirm, stretch, flail and more.
- The space you use to shoot needs to be very warm. Let me say it again….VERY WARM. You should be sweating. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. How to get it hot in there? The best way is to bring the heat with you: space heater(s). I started with one and now use two. Not only do babies love the warmth, but they love the noise from the heaters too.
- Another way to keep baby warm and asleep is to put a heating pad on low under the blanket which he/she is laying on. Please use caution when using a heating pad; it is easy to get the baby too warm. I used to use it on medium with two blankets in between, but now keep it on low. When laying your hand on the blanket, it should just feel a tad bit warm.
Lighting for Your Shoot
- Set up in front of the best window light the house provides. When I go to the house for the shoot (usually first time I have been there) I ask to go through the house and look for the best light. I have set up in kitchens, upstairs bedrooms, playrooms and a study. One time I got to a house and there was no good window light, none. What did I do? I set up in the front hallway, using the front door for light (see picture at the end of the post for a pullback of one of my early set ups)
- Reflectors. Buy a couple and learn how to use them. I usually position one off to the side and then use the other for extra light right on the baby. You can also buy white core boards from Walmart or Target (in school supplies area) and position those to reflect light from the sides.
- Buy a speed flash. I am sorry to say, but there are times when I have lost light and still needed to shoot pictures. Buy a speed flash and learn how to use it. Bounce the flash off the ceiling or walls. Reduce the strength until you get a nice soft, natural looking light.
Setting up Your Traveling Studio
- Use some type of soft, mold-able surface, like a bean bag, to lay the baby on. You can even use large ottomans if the family has one (it isn’t something you will want to tote around).
- Layer the blankets you plan to use over the bean bag, with water proof mattress pads in between each blanket layer, so if the baby pees, it will stop at the mattress pad and not go down to the next blanket. Have all your blankets laid out so that when you want to change “backdrops” it is as easy as lifting baby and pulling the top blanket up and off (and then tucking heating pad under the blanket below).
- Use clamps to hold the top blanket over your stand. Whether your stand is a homemade one or a purchases backdrop stand, you will need something to hold the blankets on. Try to pull the blankets tight enough so there are no wrinkles and folds. This was a mistake I made early on and didn’t learn to keep the blankets smooth until shoot #4.
- Put space heaters close enough so that the baby feels the warmth, but not so close you overheat the baby. I can put the little one (in the pic above) closer because it is a sad little heater, doesn’t push much heat. I got it from Target, do NOT get that one.
- Position reflectors or white boards on the sides to reflect more light into your “studio.”
Getting the Pose
- Once the space is warm and cozy, blanket is warm, lay the baby down. She or he does not need to be a sleep before laying down on blanket. I often start with an awake baby and get them to sleep there on the bean bag.
- Slowly work baby into a pose on his or her belly or back. Do not worry if it is not the exact pose you are trying to replicate (via a posing guide or something else), just get them into what looks to you to be a sweet shot.
- Frame your shot and then (here is the secret tip) tilt your camera. Yes, I promise it is usually just that simple. I tried hard during three different shoots to get certain poses and never could until during the fourth one I realized if I just tilted my camera, everything came together. Maybe other people have shared that tip, but I had not heard it before, and it was a big “a ha moment” for me.
Blankets and Props
- Blankets you use need to have texture. I learned this through much trial and error. The texture helps hide creases and gives a matte finish, while those with little texture show creases and lines, and also reflect light. My favorite blankets have come from IKEA, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Dollar General (yep!).
- Props can be baskets, headbands, wraps, hats and more. Make sure that they are sweet and subtle. Try not to use things that are going to date your pictures, something that is likely to be a passing “fad.”
- I love to use wraps because those can be used with the diaper on, allowing for longer posing and more use of your blanket/backdrop. Also, they often provide just enough of that “something special” for your shot
Mistakes to Avoid
- Shoot with blankets with a sheen to them, reflects light on all the creases.
- Shoot up the baby’s nose. Try to shoot head on, from above, from the side, etc. Not up the nose.
- Let baby’s head stay buried into the blanket. Pay attention and gently position the head so nose is going out, not down.
- Tilt camera so far you can’t recover. Tilts can make the shot, but they can also ruin the shot. Trust me.
Other Helpful Tips
- Pack all your necessary items (especially those following) into a rolling suitcase. I used to use a plastic container, but since moving everything to a large suitcase, it is so much easier!
- If you get a little “poo” accident, wipe it up and keep shooting, if baby is content and it was not a full “blow out.” Shoot from an angle where you cannot see it, or just plan to do a bit of cloning in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.
- Bring a noise maker, if you have one. Babies like the sound of the ocean or rain, or simply the white noise. My heaters provide enough of the white noise so I am not buying one just yet. (Funny thing, we used to have one and my husband threw it out just a week before my first newborn shoot LOL).
- Have all your props, lenses, WB card, posing guides, etc, already laid out in a convenient spot to grab.
- A boppy can be helpful, but they can also make things difficult. I have yet to really love using a boppy for my shots, but I bring one to each shoot and always try it out.
- Make sure to set up far enough away from your light source to allow for shooting space, especially if you like to use “long” lenses like the 105 mm f2.8 or 85mm f1.8. Those lenses require more focusing distance than the 50mm.
- Buy a pack of white T-shirts and pack them in your box to bring. These will make you cooler in your hot little studio and help reflect light. I bring three, so I have back-ups when the baby pees/poos on me (has happened three times, so far, expect it).
- Pack knee pads for when you are shooting on hard wood floors (last shoot was on wood, I ached for days).
- Make your bean bag more firm, less floppy (from kids using it) by gathering up at the bottom and clamping or tie with a zip tie.
- Buy extra clamps, you will be surprised how many you can find a use for (like the bean bag, as mentioned above).
- Keep a burp cloth handy for little spit ups.
- Bring extension cords in case you are set up in an area with not many close outlets.
- Shop at consignment stores for the headbands, hats, blankets, boppy, etc. Or, yard sales and flea markets. You do not have to buy new!
- If you cannot afford a stand, buy a tri-fold board from Walmart and drap your blankets over it. I used that technique up until my last two shoots. The picture below shows how, but remember to get those blankets smooth, not bunched up like they are in that shot.
I made a checklist for you, if you would like it. If you would like to save/print it, click on link following, then click on it again in the new screen. When the document shows up, you can save or print it from there. newbornchecklist