Newborn Photography: Behind the Scenes

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Newborn photography. It has changed so much over the past two decades. The kind of custom newborn photography offered by photographers today requires so much more training and time than ever before. When I worked in a chain studio, a poser that cradled the baby much like a carseat was used. You snapped a few pictures of the tiny newborn and called it good. Those are the kind of images I have of my kids. Today, the intricate details of meaningful props and the careful posing of brand new littles, has turned newborn photography into an artform that is unique and specialized. There are so many factors when running a newborn shoot that most people don’t even know about. There are also a few things that every parent should research when they are looking to hire a newborn photographer.

First and foremost, all of these suggestions are my opinion and I have built my business using the advice offered below to give my clients the best experience I can. Every photographer does things their own way. This is what has worked for me. So, I believe any person hired to handle your brand new, days old, sweet little bundle of joy should have a business license and be fully insured. This is one of the most important things I tell people when they have asked me what they need to do to get started in the industry. It doesn’t matter what genre they want to shoot. Families, couples, weddings, seniors, and newborns. Get the license and get insurance! It’s not even expensive. It protects you and your clients.

Now, the next most important thing you want to look for when hiring a newborn photographer is if they’ve had some kind of training or not. This is huge. You want the person that is posing your baby to know what they are doing. It’s not about the camera. It’s about the safety of your baby. Things like position of the baby and breathing, is baby cold or too warm, noticing when the skin changes color, and when the session needs a little feeding intermission. These are all things that need to be taken into consideration. Some clients like to make sure that the photographer is first aid and CPR certified. It is important to make sure you’re checking out things other than just what the photographer’s work looks like. Does it need to be a photographer whose work you absolutely love. Most definitely! However, you want to be sure they are properly trained to get those beautiful images.

One more thing before I take you through a behind the scenes look of one of my newborn sessions: A second set of hands is an absolute must have for me. I never shoot my newborn sessions without an assistant. The assistant should be trained in the above mentioned items as well. If any of the people I have worked with are unavailable, I give dad (unless dad isn’t there, then mom) a crash course on spotting for a photo shoot with a brand new baby. Never ever should the newborn be in a position where no one is watching them and have a hand on them. SAFETY is THE most important thing during a newborn shoot.

What can you expect when booking a newborn session with Jennifer Norrick Photography? I like to think you can expect an experience that leaves you feeling confident that your baby is safe and that you will walk away with keepsakes that you’ll be able to treasure forever. But, to get that outcome we have to work together and get to know one another a little. Pictures are a very personal thing. If the client has the time, I try to have a pre-session consultation with them. We get together for coffee to plan out your session. It gives us a chance to chat about colors, props, and get comfortable with each other. It also gives you the opportunity to ask any questions you might have. I prefer to shoot with as minimal props as possible. However, I tell parents if there is something that is important that they want to include, bring it! Once a client lets me know that their little has arrived we set your shoot date right around when the baby is about 10 days old. For me, that is what I find to be the best age for the images that I want to take. Sometimes I need to adjust that number a little depending on schedules or baby possibly being in the NICU. However, usually it’s not ideal to wait any longer than 2 weeks. Especially if you’re looking to get those sleepy, squishy, curled up poses. Once we schedule a time and date (I shoot all my newborn sessions in the morning), I send out a newborn session prep guide. It’s a PDF that goes over what to expect before, during, and after your shoot. It also talks about how to get ready for your shoot the morning of your session. There are a few tricks and tips to help make the session go a little smoother if at all possible. It also helps with clothing suggestions if the parents want to be included.

The baby runs the schedule. It is extremely important to understand that the baby dictates how long the photo shoot will take. I book a four hour block for each of my full newborn sessions. I know!!!! That seems like a really long time. But, when baby needs a cuddle or a snack, they get a cuddle or a snack. Sometimes it has to happen more often. I have also had a few babies that arrived completely asleep and didn’t even wake up when we were posing and shooting. Those sessions lasted maybe an hour. All babies are different.

There are a few things I let clients know in advance about what to expect when they walk into my studio. Probably the most important thing: I run a space heater that keeps my studio toasty warm, so don’t wear heavy clothing. It helps keep the babies comfortable since they are in their birthday suit during most of the session. We don’t want them getting cold. I prep the studio the night before. I clean and disinfect and get all the sets ready that I’ve planned out based on our coffee date conversation. I have a full bathroom that is right in the studio if mom or dad need to change and there is a small coffee bar available if parents need a snack. There’s also a comfy chair and ottoman for mom to sit back and watch or comfortably nurse the little when necessary.

Depending on what baby is doing when they walk in the door ~ sleeping or awake ~ we either start with the parent poses or the bean bag poses. The baby needs to be pretty sleepy to be posed on the bean bag. Sometimes starting with the parent poses helps soothe the baby since they are held for those shots. If baby still isn’t quite asleep all the way when the parent poses are complete, we move to the basket shots. Sometimes swaddling and wrapping helps soothe the little and the basket shots work really well with a little that is wrapped. I have tons of baskets, wraps, headbands, knit hats, flokati rugs, and basket stuffers in different and coordinating colors. This is all included when you shoot with me. I want to make sure that you have nothing to worry about and can just show up and be ready to shoot. The basket shots is where I usually try to get all my detail shots of the baby. These are my favorite part of the session. I love photographing the nose, eyelashes, toes, ears, lips, the hair that is covering the baby’s shoulder and the little swirl on the back of the baby’s head. Detail shots are all macro shots ~ very close up. I feel like these are the things we don’t want to ever forget.

Lastly, if the baby is still ok with continuing on with the session we move to the bean bag. This is where we get those cute poses of baby resting their cheeks on their forearms or curled up sleeping with their little hands under their cheek, or in what we call the bum up pose ~ they are laying on their belly with their little bum up. There are many different poses and sometimes it just depends on the baby whether they can be posed in a certain way. The important thing is to never force it if just isn’t happening, I personally don’t pose babies in any pose in which they cannot support themselves. I tell parents this when we are in the booking process. If they are looking for the froggy pose (or something like it) with baby resting their chin on their little fists, I let them know that I don’t offer that type of posing. To me, it’s just not natural. I prefer them to be captured doing the things they are able to do at the time. Once again, that’s a personal preference. And, the most important thing to realize: those poses are composites. Babies are in no way unsupported at any time during a shot like that. An assistant is always supporting the baby’s head for a composite shot. The photographer later uses Photoshop to create an image that removes the hands of the assistant from the picture that was taken. These are little things many people don’t know about. A trained photographer will never shoot a composite shot without an assistant.

After we are all done shooting for the morning I let the client know to look for a couple of sneak peeks I will post and that I usually have about a 3 week turn around for my sessions. Depending on what the client wants to do, they either come back for a gallery reveal and we choose the images that came with their booked session together. Or, I let them know to look for an email with the link and password to their online viewing gallery, where they can choose them on their own.

I love shooting. But the real fun for me begins when I get to see what we’ve captured on the computer. That’s where I get to edit and put my own personal touch on the images that people see when they’re looking for a photographer. The creative part of a newborn artist comes out in the sets they create for their little subjects and in post-processing of the images. All photographers have their own, unique style that appeals to people. That’s what draws people to their work. So many times I see a picture and I can tell you which photographer it’s by. It’s like a signature. The best thing in the world for a photographer is to watch clients come for their gallery reveal and see tears making tracks down their cheeks. Not that I ever want to see them cry, but that means I’ve done my job. A picture should always make you feel something.

The time and creativity that goes into making images of babies that are just days old requires so much more than most people realize. The session starts the second we exchange emails and it isn’t complete until the gallery has been delivered. Imagine all that goes on in the time between that initial email and the gallery delivery. And, when a photographer thinks they’ve finally gotten caught up on all their editing (that never truly happens), there is always something new to learn. Whether it’s about the craft or the business. So many experienced, well known photographers offer workshops and educational opportunities for brand new photographers. When we’re not shooting, editing, or working on the business side of things, we’re learning! We continue learning in order to offer our clients the best experience they can have!

Behind the scenes images by: Jeni Curbey
Studio & Newborn images by: Jennifer Norrick Photography