This morning a friend of mine messaged me. She was sad she wouldn't be able to have professional newborn photos taken due to social isolation during the global Pandemic. Don't worry, you can still document those beautiful details during those first few weeks of life. Don't let this take the place of your portrait session, when this is all over you will still be able to have professional portraits. Until then, you can embrace the situation by having your own session at home.
Below are my tips to make your DIY newborn session as successful and stress free as possible.
1. A Sleepy Newborn
I recommend photographing your baby in the first two weeks of your baby’s life (although great photos can be captured at any age). When babies are this young they are generally very sleepy, which is a good thing for photos. Why? Because a sleeping baby isn’t crying, doesn’t have crossed eyes, doesn’t have a huge pacifier in her mouth, and isn’t flailing her arms about uncontrollably. Sleeping newborns look sweet and peaceful, while awake newborns can look a little awkward. If you start your photoshoot while the baby is asleep you can get lots of sweet sleepy pictures, and then a few more when she wakes up.
2. Pace yourself
One of the benefits of photographing your own newborn is that time is on your side. Unlike shooting a newborn session for a client and having a 3-4 hour window in which to work and create a varied gallery, you have days, weeks even, at your disposal.
3. Happy Baby
There are a few simple things you can do that will ensure a happy baby and a productive photo session. The first is to keep your shooting area really warm. A space heater or cranking the thermostat while you are shooting will do.
In addition to having a warm shooting area, white noise does wonders for keeping baby asleep. You can download an app to your phone or if you have Alexa there is plenty of white noise options to choose from.
The third trick probably goes without saying but make sure baby has a nice, full belly and is not hungry during your shoot.
4. safety first!
I can't emphasize this enough. Your babies safety is the number one priority! Just remember that you are not a trained newborn photographer and that just because you saw a pose on Pinterest doesn't mean you should try it. Leave the more complicated poses to the pros :) If you are trying a more difficult pose or working with props, have someone there to help you and to spot baby.
For good portraits you must turn off your flash. Your camera’s pop-up flash does more harm than good in most photography situations, so make sure you aren’t using it when you try to photograph your newborn. Instead, find a good source of natural light, like a large window or glass door, and set up close to it. If you have enough light coming in you won’t need either your flash or your overhead lights (which are also not a good plan when taking portraits). Natural light is always best.
Always have the light coming down your babies head. You do not want to uplight your baby. A person or baby who is lit from below is very unnatural looking. A good rule of thumb for nice soft shadows and highlights is to have your baby angled such that the light flows from the top of baby’s head on down their body at approximately a 45 degree angle. Look for a soft shadow underneath baby’s nose to verify that you have this right.
Baby is of course the star of the photoshoot but adding in a few props can really make your newborn pictures shine. Need some ideas? Most people have things around their house they can use, household baskets work well as a prop for your baby. Make sure to put lots of padding on top so baby is comfortable! Baby’s safety and comfort are always the most important things to consider.
Another handy prop to have is a breastfeeding pillow, like the Boppy. Whether your little one is asleep or awake, it’ll keep your hands free and baby upright with their neck protected. Placing a blanket or swaddle over the Boppy will help hide the prop - just avoid big, bright patterns that could get distracting. Your baby should be the focus of the image and the props are just there to compliment your newborn.
Swaddle baby tightly! When you think of classic newborn pictures, you probably imagine images of tiny, swaddled babies. But how do newborn photographers get such perfect swaddles? Don't be afraid to get baby swaddled tight. Babies like it, and it’s the only way to ensure they won’t escape. Babies can be so wiggly! Start with a basic wrap or the base wrap that makes sure baby is contained. Then, take a second swaddle blanket and experiment with different wraps. That way you’re not struggling to get a pretty wrap with baby’s arms and legs flailing!
Keep the poses simple! It takes the pros years of training and fine tuning to accomplish the complicated poses like froggy and taco. Stick to very simple poses that work with baby’s natural positions. For example, take a sleeping baby and gently raise their arms above their head. It’s an easy, adorable pose that a parent can do. Add a cute hat (or not) and you’re good to go.
Another great pose for a DIY newborn photoshoot is putting a sleepy baby on their side. You can then play with the positioning of baby’s hands to find the cutest pose. Of course, if baby isn’t in the mood to sleep, open-eyed pics are gorgeous too.
While plenty of newborn pictures feature baby in the buff, it can get messy fast so be prepared. Keep babies in diapers when possible, and only remove them for a few minutes of naked baby posing. The key to posing newborns is to take your time. Really take your time and make small movements. Patience is key!
Once you have the baby posed, step back and look at the whole picture for a few minutes, checking for details that need fixing. If her hand is visible, make sure you can see all her fingers are visible – sometimes one or two get tucked into a fist and then if the photo it looks like the baby only has three fingers. Also, be sure baby’s eyes are closed completely. A simple stroke down the bridge of her nose will cause her to close her eyes all the way. Make sure the headband is positioned how you’d like, and the background blanket is free of wrinkles, etc. Above all, make sure the baby looks comfortable and peaceful.
Once the scene looks as good as you can make it, it’s time to start photographing. Start by sitting right in front of the baby and get a few full-body shots, then start zooming in. I take lots of shots for each pose. I take photos from different angles, standing up and moving around.
You always want to make sure you are not shooting up the nose. Shoot down the nose so that you see very little of the inside of the nostrils in your images.
Don’t forget to document all of those sweet little details that make your baby unique! Capturing close ups of baby’s tiny hands, feet, mouth and eyes are musts—but you’ll also want to document baby’s arm and leg rolls, double chin, umbilical cord and peach fuzz on their shoulders and ears, she says.
10. Sibling shots
If you intend to involve baby’s siblings in your newborn photoshoot, consider doing those group shots first. That way they can take a break and go play. Need some ideas of how to photograph your kids together? If the sibling is young and not quite ready to hold baby by themselves, try having them lie on the bed next to your newborn. To get them to interact with baby, give them prompts, like “can you touch baby’s nose?” or “what does baby’s hair smell like?” If the sibling is a older and can confidently hold baby in their lap. If baby’s sibling is a little reluctant to participate, consider having them hold a comfort item, like a specific blanket, doll or figurine. If that fails, there’s always bribery! Sometimes it just takes a sweet treat to get that sibling portrait that mom will cherish forever.
11. Keep Calm
The key to a successful newborn photoshoot is patience and keeping calm. Babies can sense your energy, so getting yourself into a calm state of mind is key. Have fun with it, and if it doesn’t work the first time, the beautiful thing is that when you’re doing DIY newborn photos, baby is in your house to photograph anytime you’d like! I hope you found these tips helpful for photographing your newborn at home. Have fun and be creative! And most importantly, stay healthy and safe!
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