Not much is sweeter than a brand new baby—and of course that sweetness should be captured on camera. But taking a portrait of a tiny person that’s just a few days old is challenging, to say the least. How do you take a portrait of someone that doesn’t understand what you say, let alone even hold their own head up? Newborn photography requires a different set of knowledge and a different set of props than your average portrait, but capturing those oh-so-tiny wrinkles, lips, fingers and toes can be incredibly rewarding. Here are ten newborn photography tips for beginners to get started taking portraits of the tiniest humans.
Put Safety First
Hopefully, if you’re looking to tackle newborn photography, you already know that babies are very fragile. Newborns can’t yet hold their head up or stop themselves from falling. Before you get started in newborn photography, it’s important to know that not everything is at it seems—a lot of poses from experienced professional photographers are kept safe with Photoshop. If you see a photo of a baby in a hammock or perched precariously on some sort of cute prop, chances are, there’s someone there holding the baby in place that was simply edited out of the image. The popular froggy pose with the baby holding its head up on its hands? That’s only achieved through Photoshop with someone actually holding the head up, since newborns can’t do that on their own.
Beginners should stick with the poses that newborns themselves can hold naturally. Don’t try advanced poses without taking a class or otherwise going through training. The good news is that, while they can’t hold themselves up yet, newborns are pretty flexible and will often stay where you put them when sleeping. There are a lot of simple poses that can be done safely with newborns—on the back, on the side and on the tummy. There are plenty of safe poses for beginners to try without tackling the poses that require Photoshop to keep them safe.
Keep It Simple
Newborns are so tiny and sweet that the best photographs are often the simplest ones. Choose an uncluttered background—a solid colored blanket on top of a beanbag works very well. Newborns tend to swim in their clothing, so photos are often done naked, swaddled or using a diaper cover or snug romper. Get those basic, simple shots first, then try using a prop if you’d like. Opt for just a prop or two overelaborate scenes. When looking for props, choose items that help give a sense of scale and portray just how tiny the baby is. For prop inspiration, look at the parent’s interests, seasonal items or simple baby toys like a teddy bear.
Make Sure Baby Is Comfortable
Newborn photos are often done while the baby is sleeping. Why? Well, newborns don’t spend a whole lot of time awake. But a sleeping baby is much easier to pose, while the baby is awake, it may flail its arms and legs. To get those sweet, sleeping baby photos, the baby has to be comfortable. Keep the room warm with a space heater. Newborns lose their heat fast and like to be warm—if you are photographing a naked baby and don’t feel warm yourself, the room probably isn’t warm enough. Ideally, the photos should be taken after the baby has just eaten too. Also check your props before you buy them—a poky, rough or hard surface could make the baby upset.
Watch Your Lighting
Lighting will easily make or break a newborn photo. Thankfully, lighting isn’t too vastly different from lighting an adult’s portrait. Make sure the light source is coming from towards the baby’s head, not their feet—that would be the adult equivalent of holding a flashlight under your face to tell scary stories around the campfire. Light coming straight in doesn’t produce shadows, so those images have little depth to them. Try starting with the light source at about a 45 degree angle from the baby’s head.
Thankfully, you don’t need lots of fancy studio lights for newborn photography. Natural light is one of the best sources, so simply setting the shot up near a large window works well. To balance out the shadows, place a reflector on the opposite side of the baby from the window. Again, just make sure the window is more towards the baby’s head than the feet.
Tiny things make great macro subjects, newborns included. Make sure to get a few shots close up to all those details—the tiny toes, the wrinkly hands, the little pucker on the lips. If you have a macro lens, you certainly shouldn’t leave it in your camera bag during the session. Get in close to those sweet tiny details.
Make the Most Out Of Each Pose
Most of the time spent photographing a newborn isn’t taking photos, but setting up poses. You may need to settle an anxious baby down or rock them to sleep first. With so much time invested in posing, make the most out of each setup by taking several photos of each from different angles and focal lengths. Get a full body shot, then get in close to just the face or get in those detail shots. Try different angles—trying shooting from above as well as straight on. Adjust your angle to those straight on shots too and you could get a dozen or so photos from a single pose.
Time It Right
Timing is huge in newborn photography—schedule the session at the wrong time and you’re likely to end up with a fussy baby that won’t hold a pose. Ideally, a newborn session should be scheduled when the baby is less than two week old. Babies sleep the most during those first few weeks, so that’s when it’s easiest to get those sleepy poses. It’s not impossible to photograph an older baby that way, just much harder. The time of day is also important too. Most babies tend to be fussy in the evenings, so mornings are often better.
Take Your Time
You’ll spend much more time taking newborn portraits then you would get the same number of adult poses. Plan to spend a few hours on the session—most take up at least three or four. You’ll spend much of that time getting the pose set up, and sometimes, waiting for the baby to be fed and settled back into sleep. Don’t head in thinking you’ll take photos for an hour and head home—allot at least half your day for the session. If you happen to be taking photos of a newborn that you see often—perhaps your own, or a family member’s, take advantage of that and spread the session out across a few days, shooting when the baby is the happiest.
Keep Retouching To a Minimum
Baby soft skin doesn’t need to be airbrushed. Newborn post processing is best kept to a minimum. You may need to reduce skin redness and use the healing brush on any newborn acne (yes, newborns get acne too!), but you shouldn’t need to use any blur to soften a baby’s skin. Airbrushing is obvious on a baby, and parents want photos of their baby as they remember them that small. Birth marks are best left intact, unless the parents ask otherwise, though it’s usually okay to remove temporary things like acne, scratches or dry skin. Of course, it’s fine to adjust things like exposure and white balance, but keep the details of that tiny baby intact.
Conclusion: Newborn Photograph Can Be Incredibly Challenging—But Also Incredibly Rewarding
Newborns grow fast, only staying in that tiny stage for just a few weeks. Newborn photography is a great way to remember that first month, but it’s challenging to do. Be sure to put safety first and only use poses that babies can hold themselves until you gain more experience, as well as making sure props are safe too. The best newborn shots are often simple photos taken while the baby is comfortable—that means warm and full. Make sure to get the light right; try setting up with a window at a 45 degree angle from the baby’s head and a reflector near the feet. Make the most out of each pose by trying different angles and even some close-ups. Be sure to both time the schedule right and take your time to get the best shots. While it’s fine to adjust things like exposure and white balance, avoid airbrushing a baby’s skin. Done right, newborn photography will capture the sweetness of the first few days of life.