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The Newborn Session – How to work with a newborn – tips, tricks and ideas to make your session a success

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The Newborn Session – How to work with a newborn – tips, tricks and ideas to make your session a success

If you want better newborn images, take our Online Newborn Photography Workshop.

First of all I want to say Thank You to Jodi for inviting me to be a guest speaker on her blog.When she asked me if I would like to talk about Newborn Photography, my answer was “of course!”Newborns have long been my favorite subject and while I find them the most challenging and longest sessions I have they are so rewarding and amazing to work with.There is nothing more beautiful than a new life and capturing those first few weeks is such an amazing gift to parents.

If you have questions after reading this post, please add them to the comment section here on the MCP Blog.  I will come check and respond to questions either in the comment section or in another post, depending how many there are.

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To start with I would like to talk about the Newborn Session itself and how to make it successful as a photographer.My first bit of advice is to approach newborn photography as a journey.It will take you several sessions to really start perfecting your skill set and style.While this can be frustrating as a photographer just be patient with yourself.I still after almost 5 years of photographing newborns feel like I am learning new skills with every session.A good way to practice is to have a casting call.Offer clients a free session and maybe a wall portrait.This will get you the practice you need and also give the parents something in return.You can structure these in many different ways. For example, if you would like more multiples or you want to practice specific poses include that in the description of the casting call.Once you have your sessions set up here are some general guidelines that will help make them more successful.

1. Get them young.

Try and encourage your clients to book their session as soon after birth as possible.I like to shoot newborns anywhere from 6-10 days.I like them sleepy and small but I would prefer them at least 6 days so that mother’s milk is in if they are breastfeeding.It also gives mom and dad a bit of time at home with their new little one.I have photographed newborns up to the age of 6 weeks and sometimes it works out.So while I can usually get them to sleep it is harder to keep them asleep as you pose them.Around 2 ½ to 3 weeks is when baby acne sets in too so it is good to try and get them before that happens.That being said I will take a newborn at any age.If the parents are game for trying so I am as long as they understand I cannot promise a lot of sleeping shots.Here is an example of some of my older babies.

6 weeks old- she really did quite well.She took a bit to get to sleep but once she was she was pretty easy to position.

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4 weeks old- while he slept fine if we moved him he would wake right up.So mom and I really had to work for every shot we got.

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2. Keep them warm.

This is crucial if you want a good sleepy baby.I always use a space heater, which doubles as a noise maker and a heating pad if the room is particularly drafty.I always put the heating pad on low and under several layers of blankets.Then once the baby is on the heating pad I turn it off so that baby doesn’t get too warm.A good rule of thumb is if you are hot then the baby is probably happy.

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3.Take control.

This was a hard lesson to learn.But I always handle the baby myself.I purposely wash my hands in front of the parents so that they know I am clean and then I take the baby from them.I start with the beanbag so that I can undress and swaddle them if I need to.If baby is asleep when I get there then carefully undress them on the bean bag and get them nice and comfortable.I find on their bellies or on their side is a good place to start.Let them settle and then position them.Don’t move too fast.Sometimes new parents are nervous holding babies and this can lead to them being startled and waking them up.As you develop your skills you will develop methods to move baby around without startling or waking them.I often tell parents to have a seat and relax.Let me do the work.They are usually grateful for the break.

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4. Have a plan.

I always go into a newborn session with a general plan of what I want to do.It doesn’t always work out but if the baby is sleepy it makes the session go so much smoother and faster.So have a list of poses to do.I start with the beanbag poses and have several I like to do there, and then add a few other props (baskets, bowls, ect) and I usually end with shots with mom, dad and sibling.If I know my goal ahead of time it really makes my session go smoothly and ensures I get the variety I want.I always let the baby run the show though.I go by their lead, if they are not tolerating a pose, I move on and try it later or skip it all together.I want them to be comfy and happy the whole time.

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5. Be prepared for everything and anything.

I always make sure I have my camera gear and blankets prepared to go the night before.My list of equipment and props are as follows.

Canon 5D Mark II- with the 50 mm 1.2 L
Canon 5D – for backup and I keep my macro lens on this camera
135mm 2.0L in case I get to go outside.This is my favorite lens and what I use 90% of the time outside.
35mm 1.4L – this is a new lens for me but will make overhead shots easier and possibly group shots in tight spaces.
Plenty of compact flash cards.I usually shoot 300-350 shots at a typical newborn session.
Canon Flash – just in case, but I never use it.
Beanbag – I got mine from www.beanbags.com.It is a small black vinyl one.Your beanbag needs to be somewhat firm so that they baby doesn’t get too deep into it but not too firm so that you can’t manipulate it.
Many blankets- I use them for layering as well as in baskets and on the beanbag.I bring one black blanket and many cream ones (as opposed to white).I prefer the light backgrounds to the black but black is nice for variety.
Hats- some cute newborn hats
Swaddling blankets
A few bowls and baskets- you can also use the client’s personal items if you are on location.Or ask them to bring anything that they might want to incorporate into the session.
Space Heater and heating pad

Accidents almost always happen.Have back up blankets, extra towels, burp cloths and wipes close by.I also bring extra clothes in case I am holding baby when they decided to go to the bathroom.It has happened to me more than once.I always assure the parents that it doesn’t matter what they do on my things.That everything is washable.This takes the worry out of their mind.And I don’t panic when accidents happen… it is just part of the session.

6. Be prepared for long sessions.

My newborn sessions often last 3 hours.With breaks for snacks, soothing to sleep and cleaning up messes it takes a while.I try to get them to sleep with pacifiers, swaddling and rocking before resorting to nursing because the more they nurse the more they poop and pee. Remember to dress nicely but comfortably.Jeans and a white T-shirt are my uniform most days.The white T-shirt allows you to be your own reflector in some cases and ensure you don’t throw odd color casts into your images.

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7. Enjoy those babies.

Only photograph newborns if you truly love them.Nothing makes a parent more comfortable than seeing that their photographer truly enjoys working with babies.Showing patience and compassion for their new little life will make them trust you and refer you to all their pregnant buddies.

Tune in next time and we will talk about Styles for Newborn Photography.

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This post was written by Alisha Robertson of AGR Photography

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87 Comments

  1. Lizelle
    August 23, 2012 at 3:59 am —

    Thank you so much. Great Post!!! I’ve done newborn photography for a while, but it’s always good to get another point of view, especially the part of handling baby yourself…I find that parents sometimes get a little over enthusiastic and then you struggle getting baby to rest…

  2. February 13, 2015 at 9:05 am —

    I love how you’ve laid out these points so clearly in a list. Each one of them is so true. I especially like that your statement around newborn photography as a journey. The mark of a great blog post – that it is relevant even 6 years after it was written! Thank you.

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The Newborn Session – How to work with a newborn – tips, tricks and ideas to make your session a success