Very little is as precious to photograph as a newborn baby. Those tiny toes, the fluttering eyelashes, the way they grasp their parents’ fingers. These are the moments that parents want to record and keep forever. There are two schools of newborn photography – I think it is fair to say that they exist on one spectrum.
On one far end of the spectrum is what we’ll call traditional newborn photography. This is an incredibly popular style with so many beautiful applications. It is usually posed photographs on a natural background, oftentimes with props or staging, i.e., baby in a basket photography. It’s gorgeous and gives a client’s baby a chance to be a model for the day.
On the other end of the spectrum is newborn lifestyle photography. This is more like photojournalism in that it is designed to tell a story, to document the baby and his or her interactions with the family, pets, environment, etc. These tend to be shots that are more real and less staged, designed to capture the essence of having a newborn.
Since these exist on one spectrum, you can do a combination of elements from each. But in this article I’m going to focus on newborn lifestyle photography and its advantages.
What setup is required for lifestyle newborn photography?
In order to set up a home studio for traditional newborn photography, you will likely need quite a bit of gear. At the bare minimum, you will need a beanbag or posing device, some backgrounds, lighting, and dedicated space. Most traditional newborn photographers also have an array of props, also – wraps, hats, tiaras, etc. This can cost thousands in setup costs alone, in addition to your other obvious expenses, like camera, lenses, gallery delivery system, etc.
With newborn lifestyle photography, the entire setup is much simpler. If you are entirely on the lifestyle end of the spectrum (which would take place entirely in a client’s house or destination), you would really just need your camera and maybe a flash. Natural light is highly recommended, however, as flash startles a baby and can look harsh in a home. A better solution for reflecting natural light where you want it to go would be to use a reflector.
Before the session
You’ve got a client! So, what’s next? Here are a few things to do prior to the appointment.
Communicate with the client
Call or email and find out what type of shoot they envision, how they want the end product to look. First of all, this will tell you if you have the appropriate gear or props, and if it is practical for you to procure them if you don’t. It will also tell you on what end of the traditional versus lifestyle spectrum they reside so that you can plan the shoot and what you might want to bring. You can research poses and photo ideas based off of this information for inspiration, too – Google Images can be your friend.
Setting the stage
I find it’s helpful to give the clients some recommendations for setting the atmosphere of their home for newborn photos. Babies like it warm (especially if you’re going to have them stripped down to minimal or no clothing), so I recommend either an overall temp of 78 to 82 degrees F (25.5 – 27.5C), or a space heater nearby. White noise is helpful if there are older siblings or other ambient noises around.
If they want lots of sleepy shots, keeping the baby up for two hours or so prior to the shoot will help ensure that you can get some shots of the little one napping. Sleepy shots and traditional newborn photographs tend to work best when the baby is 10 days old or younger, also, just because they’re still in that cuddly newborn stage. However, if they are okay with true lifestyle photos or if the baby is awake, you can fudge that 10-days rule and the amount of awake time some.
Do your best boy scout impression
Be prepared! Some good things to take (or ask if they have ahead of time) are a step-stool or ladder for shots from above, a reflector or (less ideally) a flash, and a spare charged battery for your camera. You may also want to take a change of clothes for yourself, just because babies are prone to all kinds of emissions!
There are also extra optional things you can make that may fall more on the traditional end of the spectrum. A newborn beanbag can be great for getting those up-close posed shots. Here is a great article on how to create your own backdrop stand. You can also take blankets and other backdrops, wraps, props, etc., as much as you can fit in your vehicle.
At the session
Every photographer conducts their photo shoots differently, so you will have your own system and style that works. Here are just a few basic recommendations.
Go where they go
Newborn lifestyle photography is all about their life at the time the baby is a newborn (not to belabor the obvious). If the family is home from the hospital, take photos there. Get shots in the crib or bassinet (if they use one), in the master bed cuddled with mom, curled up on the couch, by the front door, etc. Outdoor shots (if seasonally appropriate) can also be fun keepsakes.
However, different babies’ realities might look different. For example, sometimes complications happen and a baby has to be in the NICU for an extended period of time. Those babies still deserve to be captured in their beauty and innocence during the newborn period, so move the shoot there. Capture the reality of what the NICU life is like for the family, as those will be memories that they will have for a lifetime.
Find the light
With on-location photography, you obviously want to capture picturesque and beautiful places of the home or place you are photographing. However, just as important as the composition of the photo is the lighting. Try to find areas that are particularly well-lit if you are using natural light. Have a parent hold the baby near a large window, especially if it’s indirect lighting. The time of day may greatly affect what works best in a given environment, too. If there is limited natural light and you don’t want to, or can’t use artificial lighting, you may need to shoot at a higher ISO, too. Just keep in mind that this can result in additional graininess in your photo.
The tiny details
One of the great thing about newborn lifestyle is that it’s like being a photojournalist, so you catch everything. The curl of a newborn’s eyelashes, the shedding skin on baby’s feet, the umbilical stump. These are things that are precious and fleeting, so you can capture them to remember. You also aren’t confined to just sleeping photos when you do newborn lifestyle photography, so you can get shots of the baby crying, or yawning. Use your imagination.
Capturing the intimacy of the moment through angles
Newborn lifestyle photography is very personal and intimate to the clients’ lives (unlike a studio, which is obviously a separate space). You then, in turn, can capture them having private moments. Cuddling on a bed, holding baby’s hand, feeding the baby – these are all special moments ripe for photo making. You can also use unique angles to preserve that privacy, but to give the appearance of peeking in on the moment. Catch some shots with their reflection in a mirror, through a cracked door, through the bars of a crib, etc. (see below left)
The human element
Babies need relationships. They thrive on interpersonal connections, so catch some shots of each parent (if relevant) individually with the baby, and together with the child. Incorporate siblings (if applicable) into group shots, or alone with the baby. Don’t bother posing them. Let them love on their new sibling, and just have your camera ready. Even involve pets if it is safe to do so and desired. (see above right)
Edit Patiently and Carefully
You likely took many photos, so take the time to be choosy about what images to edit. Slightly overexpose shots to get a creamier, softer look. Black and white conversions lend themselves very well to newborn lifestyle photography. I usually offer both a color and black and white version of every photo I present to the clients so that they can choose their own favorites. Make sure to keep your white balance consistent, but one of the wonderful things about a newborn is that you don’t really need to do much to make them look gorgeous.
Do you do lifestyle newborn photography? Please share any addition tips and tricks you have and also your images in the comments section below.