I've been so lucky to get a bunch of family sessions lately - I really love a chance to peek into a day of family life and find something unique and beautiful amidst the every day moments in someone's home. That's especially true of newborn sessions. Stepping into the home of a newborn instantly takes me back to those delicious, delirious days with my own newborn babies...only without so many hormonal tears or frantic Google searches on my part. It's really sweet and special to watch people literally becoming a family right before your eyes. Here are a few of my favorites from a family I had the pleasure of meeting most recently.
I'm not saying there's anything wrong with stuffing a newborn baby into a flowering can...
...but do we all have to shoot newborns that way? There seems to be a trend of propping babies up in jaunty poses, everyone wrapping them in the same nude gauze and holding up their heads or curling them up in baskets. If that highly propped and posed look is your thing, go for it! But there's nothing saying you have to photograph newborns in that style.
Finding your newborn style. Photographing newborns should be an extension of of your photographic style overall. For me, that means candid lifestyle moments. I aim to catch glimpses of the moments between "the moments" - not posed and premeditated, but hints of real life when families are just being together. Regardless of your style, you don't have to approach newborn photography any differently than you approach any subject - there is no right or wrong way to do it. If someone chooses you to capture this time for them, just make sure that they're familiar with your style and have the right expectations for the type of photography you shoot.
9 universal tips for shooting newborns. Regardless of your photographic style, here are a few tips to help any newborn session go smoothly:
- Be a force of calm. When you enter a home with a newborn in it, you are walking into a sacred, sensitive - and sleepy - place. Take your cue for the mood of the room when you get there. Wash your hands right away, talk in a hushed tone, and take the family's lead for how chatty or loud to be. Sometimes a mom is weepy for no reason, or is self-conscious about how she looks for photos, or is nervous about the baby "behaving" for a session - be as calmly encouraging and complimentary as you can to help put everyone at ease. The white noise from a sound machine can be helpful for covering up the noise of your camera shutter or your chatting while the baby is sleeping - most newborn households have one, or you can pop a little travel one like this into your camera bag to take with you.
- Follow cues for feeding and sleep times. More than ever, you should bend to the natural family rhythm of what's going on during your time there. If the baby starts getting a little fussy, don't push through to get the shot you want - encourage mom to stop whenever she needs to, and to step in and comfort the little one whenever she wants to. If they stop to nurse, I often ask if they'd like me to capture some of that moment as well, explaining that I can shoot details of breastfeeding without showing anything explicitly, if they prefer. Or if you get the sense that a mother is more private, you can leave the room for a few minutes. You can create an intimate photo by shooting into the room from a hallway, to set the scene of what newborn days are like without being right on top of them while they feed.
- Keep the shooting area warm. Especially if the you plan to shoot the baby naked or in a diaper, keep room temperature (and your hand temperature) in mind. If you shoot with available light, the sunny spot by a window is a great place to set up anyway.
- Bring a blanket or surface you like to shoot on. I've never walked into the home of a baby that doesn't have a surplus of blankets and swaddles around, but I always take a neutral, textured blanket and a plain white swaddle with me, just in case.
- Don't forget the tiny parts. Once you've covered a shot, get in close and capture the little details - hands, feet, lips, even the tops of their fuzzy little heads,
- When in doubt, swaddle. I say this with a mother's love: newborn babies can look like funny little aliens! I love those smooshy little newborn faces, but the lack of neck control or fat rolls of older babies and those spindly arms and legs can make it hard to arrange them in a graceful way. Swaddling makes babies calm and comforted and makes them look like adorable baby burritos - it's a win win.
- Shoot as much as you can in each pose. Don't disrupt a happy baby if you don't need to - once you've gotten the baby settled in a position, try to milk it before moving on and changing outfits or poses. You do the moving instead - get the shot you have in mind, then walk around and look at the baby from other angles. Changing your position and angle can make for an entirely different shot. Try shooting back lit instead, pull back and get it wide, or get close and grab some of those baby details.
- Be flexible. The parents may have hired you, but the baby is your boss! More than any type of photo session, newborn sessions have a way of taking their own direction. It's good to prepare and have a general plan of action, but be ready for the day to go differently than your plan...babies do not always nap on cue, for example, and you may not have a chance to get all those peaceful resting photos you had in mind. The best plan to have is to just keep shooting. If they have to change onesies three times because of diaper blow outs, or are frantically pacing back and forth trying to shush a screaming baby, change your plan of action and capture these moments instead.
- Get mama in the frame. A new mother is often self conscious about having her picture taken. Her body feels foreign to her, she might still even be in pain, and she probably hasn't worn make-up or done her normal beauty routine in the last week or so. But a mother is the real rock star of those newborn days. Her life and identity have changed in an instant, as she experiences a new and all-consuming love, and she has had to dig deep to tap into more strength and energy than she's ever found before. This, more than anything, deserves to be documented. So, be gentle as you encourage her to get in the frame - and whatever you ask of her, keep it simple - but make an effort to include at least a few photos that capture the bond between mother and baby. Dad and siblings, too, of course!
Life is rarely framed as neatly as we compose our photos. Sometimes that’s exactly what we love about photography – it lends a frame to a piece of life that we might otherwise miss, it elevates the moment. But sometimes, that neat framing removes us from the feeling of the moment all together. One way to maintain the depth and realism of a moment is to include a foreground in your composition. Rather than just focusing on your subject, consider what you’re shooting past.
You're longing to have meaningful pictures of your family, so you finally booked a photographer to capture your family in all your cute and cozy glory...but now you're totally nervous and dreading the shoot day. Don't worry! Most people feel timid before jumping in front of a camera (including me). But I've been around a lot of shoot days of all kinds, and I'm here to tell you- as soon as you get that first shot clicked, the nerves will dissipate. Promise. In the meantime, here are a few things to prepare yourself for a family photo session, so you're less anxious ahead of time and ready to get that first shot clicked!
To Do (and not do) Beforehand
Prepping the kiddos. First off, there's no homework to do! But you can describe the shoot to your kids beforehand, just so they understand someone will be hanging out and taking pictures. It doesn't hurt to make the event sound like something fun and special. Using words like "photo shoot," "director," or "model" can take the mystery out of it and make it all a fun dress-up kind of game to look forward to. // Don't make them practice smiles or poses! The best photos are made when little ones can just relax and be themselves.
Scheduling. Try to keep nap and food times in mind when scheduling your shoot (I know you're programmed to do this already!) - having your picture taken is a chore if you're hangry at the time. // Don't force it. It goes without saying that cranky babies trump any kind of beautiful light...if your little one is a nightmare before dinner every evening, it's best to skip "golden hour" in favor of a more cheerful time of day.
Photo inspiration. Think a little bit about the types of photos you most love and the moments in your own everyday lives that you'd like captured. Feel free to share images that resonate with you with your photographer ahead of time. Poke around on Pinterest if you have some time, to get an idea of what you most want to achieve - keeping in mind, of course, that if you've chosen a photographer already, your shoot will naturally fall into his or her style and strengths.
What to wear. Think about what you feel most comfortable in...and also pretty or handsome, of course, but now is not the time to break out fancy duds you don't usually wear. Feel yourself. This is especially true for your kids - put them in something they've warn before that allows them to be themselves. // Don't go too matchy matchy with it - you can try to harmonize your outfits with each other, but don't over think it.
To Do (and not do) At The Shoot
Relax! I know, I know, that is such an easier-said-than done kind of thing. But seriously, now's the time to channel your inner diva. You picked a photographer, you packed the snacks, you got everyone there (with shoes on, no less?!) - you're a parenting rock star. Now let the photographer worry about the rest - this is all just a typical day of work for him or her. // Don't overthink it. Try to let go of any thoughts about your upper arm flab or your daughter's "good side." Take this time to just be with your family, and let your photographer find and capture all the beauty that's there.
Directing the kiddos. Feel free to tell your little ones ahead of time to be "good listeners," but let your directing stop there. You'll be a better "model" if you spend your time relaxed and enjoying yourself, rather than talking or frowning as you direct others. Plus you never know what the photographer is seeing through the viewfinder, so it's best to let him or her direct (or choose not to direct) what's going on around you.
Most importantly: Don't sweat it if your kids are acting like maniacs! I promise you, we've seen it all! Your photographer has chosen to photograph families because he or she loves the silly, messy chaos that comes with it. Plus, you'd be surprised how beautiful photos can be taken even while the chaos ensues.
Most of all, of course, try to enjoy yourself!
Click HERE for a free printable download of this list. Break a leg! xjamie
There’s nothing more unnatural than the crusty position of a child’s mouth while he groans “cheeeeese” for the 18th time in a row. The moments most worth capturing are ones that have a breath of reality, spontaneity, and whimsy to them. There are a couple simple techniques, way better than yelling cheese, for capturing that spontaneity in our images.
I wrote a guest post over at the MCP Actions blog about capturing these types of candid moments when photographing children - for the complete post, including more photo examples and tips like "please, please don't ever ask them to say cheese," click here!