Seven pounds and twenty inches. A tuft of dark hair. Tiny fingers and even tinier toes. I am sure you can imagine the sweetness of a newborn baby. Capturing those small details and freezing them in time is the joy of a photographer. You really cannot beat having a fresh baby as your subject. I know newborn sessions are one of my favorites. However, that didn't come overnight or without a TON of trial and error.
I believe there are two camps of newborn photographers. There are the ones who are talented with using newborn props, backdrops, and posing a baby into cute sleepy positions while using more of a portrait approach to the session. And there are ones who do not pose the baby and rather use the baby's family and surroundings as the backdrop and use a lifestyle approach. I happen to fall in the latter category.
Both types of photographers are talented and have studied, practiced, and honed their skills. Both the images from posed and non-posed sessions are beautiful and have a target market for clients. (*note, this post is in NO WAY intended to spark controversy! I have several friends in the posed newborn camp whose work I admire and refer to when potential clients want a more posed feel for their session.)
When I first decided I was genuinely interested in taking pictures for others, I knew wanted to photograph babies. I was lucky enough to have friends allow me to practice on their newborns. With each of those sessions I would fill up my minivan (and when I say fill up, I mean FILL UP) with props, blankets, a Pinterest inspired pvc pipe backdrop holder my husband made, bean bag, etc. If you think it could be used in a newborn session, it was probably in my van.
A very long, exhausting four hours later the session would be finished. I was left with images that were cute and *mostly* technically correct (We all start somewhere, right? ). But, I felt they lacked emotion, and that oomph I wanted to feel from my work was missing. I actually turned away some newborn clients because I just did not feel comfortable with my skills. Below are a couple images from 2012 just so you can see where I started.
It wasn't until I photographed a new mom nursing her baby boy in the fall of 2012, that an image spoke to me. (That image is below.) I knew then I wanted to focus on the emotions and connections that are present when a new baby is welcomed home. I would love to share a few tips and tricks I've learned as I have embraced my love of newborn lifestyle sessions.
First and foremost, I have learned that it is most important to be upfront about what you offer. There were a few times after I had decided on my approach that I realized I should have been more clear in my approach to photographing newborns. You do not want to show up to a session and a family not know what to expect.
I always do newborn sessions at the family's home. As you are planning the session with them, tell them the areas where you like to shoot. Many times I focus on the nursery, master bedroom, and/or family room. This always gives them the knowledge of where I will be shooting, and also gives them a chance to tidy up, if they want, prior to the session. (Cue daddy or grandma, because I know I did not want to clean my house after getting home from the hospital with a new baby!)
You will need to know how to use the indoor light to your advantage. I wrote a post describing tips for shooting indoors last year. Utilize the light to achieve the exposure and feel you want for the image without using external lighting. I often ask families to pay attention to the light in their homes and note what time the most light comes through. That time window is when I try to schedule sessions. And always remember, windows are your friend!
It is critical to have lenses and camera bodies that make shooting indoors more successful. I typically use my 35mm. And I often have to bump up my ISO to compensate for the lack of light. Shooting with your aperture wide open (lower f-stop number) and/or a slower shutter speed will also allow more light on the sensor.
Using sentimental items is totally okay during a lifestyle session, and does not make it less lifestyle. I often encourage families to bring out blankets crocheted by great-grandma, parent's old stuffed animal (or in one image below, a championship water ski), or other items they find special. It adds that personal touch in the photos. I love finding ways to incorporate them.
Family. Get the family in the pictures. I cannot tell you how much I love images with new parents, big brothers or sisters, and even grandparents. The emotions surrounding a new baby overwhelm me. Some of my favorite images come from these moments.
One of the beauties of taking a lifestyle approach with newborns is having the opportunity to document the family doing something together. I love being a fly on the wall as mom changes a diaper or dad rocks the baby to sleep. It's these moments that make the statement "a picture is worth 1000 words" come true.
A couple years ago I turned away a few potential newborn clients. I was not secure in my skills in photographing babies, nor was I 100% satisfied with my artistic outcomes. Discovering newborn lifestyle sessions was a gift to me. As an artist, newborn lifestyle sessions bring me so much joy and satisfaction, and as a mom I know families treasure these moments I am able to document.
Allison Wheeler is a lover of lifestyle photography from Norman, Oklahoma. Her eyes were opened to photography by toying with Instagram in 2010. She got a camera soon after and learned to use it by documenting her life with her husband and three young sons. She now happily does the same for others, from births to weddings and almost everything in between. To see Allison's most recent work, visit her Facebook page. She often gets on Pinterest to avoid cleaning her house.