If you have ever held a newborn photo session before, you know there is potential for it to be a complete train wreck. Baby crying, stressed parents, the inability to get a single good photo despite three hours of trying — I feel stressed just thinking about it! But it really doesn’t have to be that way. Here are my best no-stress newborn photography tips to help everyone in the studio feel relaxed, even you!
Communication is essential for prepared parents. It’s important to properly communicate with the parents before your newborn sessions if you want to keep things low-stress and running smoothly. Educating the clients on what to expect, asking them about what type and style of images they love and giving them guidance on what to wear and how to prep the baby for photos helps everyone feel more at ease.
One strategy for communicating with parents is to give them a detailed list of ways to prepare for their newborn photos. I started doing this in my earlier years of business, and it helped my sessions run more smoothly. Now that I’m more comfortable with my own ability to reliably create a low-stress newborn session, my strategy has shifted to giving my clients as few things “to do” as possible. As you develop your own communication style, consider my newborn session prep tips for parents. Newborn session prep tips for parents:
Here are some tips you can provide to parents to help them prepare themselves and their baby for the newborn photography session:
1. Feed your baby around an hour and a half before arriving at the newborn session and then do not feed baby again until after you arrive at the studio. This helps baby get in a good, full feeding right before their photos.
2. Keep baby awake from just after the full feeding until you arrive at the studio. This will help your newborn to be extra tired for the shoot. Baths, playing and un-swaddling work well to keep newborns awake.
3. Slightly loosen baby’s nappy about an hour before your session. This helps prevent red marks. Take off their vest and let them arrive to the studio only wearing a baby grow.
4. Wash or sponge-clean your baby’s hair on the morning of the session. This will help make sure the hair is fluffy instead of oily in the photos.
5. You may want to have extra pumped milk or formula prepared in a bottle. Overfeeding helps baby stay really sleepy and we may bottle-feed several times with baby in various poses/positions.
6. Have baby’s dummy handy (if you are comfortable with giving baby a pacifier). Even if the baby isn’t usually good at taking one, it can often be very helpful while they are settling into a pose. I can't stress this one enough, in over 13 years of working with newborns, a dummy makes the difference between a successful session and a stressful one.
7. I recommend not putting lotion on the baby the morning of the session (it ends up making them look shiny).
8. The studio will be hot (probably around 24 degrees) for baby to be comfortable naked, so you might be more comfortable wearing a tank top or t-shirt when we are not taking family/parent/sibling poses.
9. When possible, take newborn sessions when the baby is between 6 to 21 days old. While newborns can be photographed at any point, I find that this timeframe generally works best for having a sleepy baby. Sleepy babies make for much less stressful newborn photography sessions than awake babies. This is also the ideal timeframe for generally avoiding significant baby acne.
I find that mornings are ideal for a newborn photo session, as many newborns are more colicky and unhappy in the afternoon and evening.
Safety has to be your first priority.
The most important tip I can give you for a low-stress newborn photography session is to keep the baby safe. I know this sounds too simple, but because many newborn photographers are self-taught, it cannot be overstated how important this is.
Here are a few things to remember:
NEVER leave baby alone in a prop or on a beanbag. Always stay within arms length (or have an assistant or parent do so), because the baby could startle and move or fall in a way you don’t expect.
ALWAYS add weights to the bottom of all props. You never want your prop to tip over once you add the baby to it. You can use things like dumbbells, free weights, or even five pound bags of rice.
UNDERSTAND that several poses (such as the very popular “froggy pose”) are achieved by combining two images in Photoshop. A newborn cannot naturally support themselves in this position, and it is very dangerous for the baby.
WATCH for signs that baby could be over heating. Look for a red face, clammy skin and sweating on the back of the neck, especially if the baby is wrapped.
WATCH for signs of the baby’s circulation being affected, such as purple hands or feet. A newborn’s circulatory system is still developing, so certain positions and poses can limit adequate blood flow (especially to baby’s hands or feet).
ALWAYS secure your camera either with a neck strap or wrist strap. Even then, be very careful and aware of your camera position to eliminate any possibility of it falling on or hitting the baby.
ENSURE that any backdrop stands or lighting stands are very stable and secure, without possibility of tipping or falling over when bumped. You never want these things to fall on your clients or the baby.
Keep the baby warm.
Buy a space heater with a fan built in. Babies love the feeling of warm air blowing on them, and it is generally very soothing. I have found that you do not need to keep the room very warm (24 degrees should be fine), as long as you have this type of space heater to use when necessary.
Anytime the baby is wrapped, you should be able to turn the space heater off. Always watch for signs of over-heating in the newborn.
Keep the baby’s nappy on.
I know this is contrary to a lot of teaching out there, but keeping the baby’s nappy on will save you the stress of having the newborn pee and poop on your props, themselves, and their parents. I use these under all outfits and wrapped shots.
If parents request a naked newborn pose, I am happy to accommodate and take the baby’s nappy off for the very minimum amount of time necessary to get the one photo. Baby pee and poop is stressful and embarrassing for the baby’s parents, even if it is not for you as the photographer.
Use a baby shusher or white noise machine (and a dummy if possible!) Shushing sounds and white noise are generally soothing to a fussy baby. I have used a white noise machine, but prefer a baby shusher. If the parents are comfortable with you giving the baby a dummy, that is a no-brainer — it usually helps! I do suggest to the parents (in advance) that even if the baby does not normally take a pacifier, it could be the difference in being able to get certain poses. I always respect the parents’ wishes on this, though, and I do not pressure them.
Practice and use various wrapping techniques. I have saved my best tip for last. Wrapping is your very best friend during a newborn photography session. A good, solid wrapping technique is what will get you through even the worst session. You need to be able to get baby nice and snugly swaddled with a good solid base-wrapping technique, like the one I’m demonstrating in the video below. If baby is awake and fussy, I always want baby’s hands wrapped down because babies seem to upset themselves otherwise. A very stretchy wrap with four-way stretch is a must. Another secret is that two stretchy wraps are even better than one. Strong babies and bigger sized babies are hard to get securely wrapped with only one wrap, but two wraps does the trick.
The beautiful thing about wrapping is that once you have settled baby with a secure base wrap, you can then layer other wraps on top of it for a variety of different looks. Combine this with moving the baby (still wrapped) into different props, or different beanbag blankets, and you have just added a lot of variety to your gallery with minimal disruption to baby.