Photographing newborns is truly a niche profession. It takes loads of practice and training to be able to safely and effectively work with these tiny humans and create precious images of their first few days of life. I've learned countless lessons and techniques over the last decade. Here are my top 7 tips to help a photographer have a successful in-home newborn session:
1. Timing of Session
Industry standard recommends holding Newborn Sessions within the first two weeks after birth. This is a great rule to go by. Its during this time that baby is the sleepiest. On average, its around the two week mark that baby begins to have longer awake periods throughout the day. Its been my experience that even if my client tells me that their baby still sleeps a lot, after the two week mark it becomes less and less likely that baby will remain asleep for me during a Newborn Session as I wrap and pose my tiny client. If baby is awake, it can be almost impossible to get some of those adorable shots of baby posed with their tushie in the air and hands tucked under the chin. My favorite time period is actually days 5-10. Whenever possible, I aim for holding the session during this time.
2. Warm-ish Room Temperature
Having a comfortably warm room can help keep baby comfortable during the session. The actual temperature will vary from home to home so I tell my clients to turn up the heat but remain comfortable. I bring along a space heater as well in case I feel the room is too chilly. This warmer temp will really come in handy as you work on unwrapped poses.
IMPORTANT: Its super important to remember that babies cannot regulate their body temperature as well as us adults so preventing overheating is something to keep at the forefront of your mind! While working with baby keep an eye out for signs of overheating such as sweating along the nape of the neck, an indented fontanelle, and mottled skin. Additionally, never point a space heater directly at baby, but rather use it to warm the general area.
3. Bring a Noise Machine
Whether is a shusher, a noise machine, or a phone app, having some way of playing noise throughout your session is a huge help. White noise acts like a sleeping mask, shielding baby from startling sounds occurring in or around the home. I currently use the White Noise Deep Sleep Sounds app. My favorite sound is "Womb".
Since in-home sessions are done in your client's home and not in a studio, the lighting available to you is a big variable to deal with. Years ago I would advise clients to only book an in-home session with me if their home provided adequate natural light. If you are strictly a natural light photographer and new to the field, I would recommend sticking to this recommendation until you gain more experience working in clients' homes. Over the years I've become comfortable shooting in really any setting, but I've picked up some important tips in regards to lighting. Whenever possible, I set up my work area near a source of natural light. This is most often near a sliding glass door or a window. I like the natural light to hit my work space perpendicular or almost perpendicular but slightly from the top. Play around with what you like best, although I do not recommend having your light source come from below your workspace. I also bring along backup lighting just in case my client's home is too dark. Since I travel around, I bring a medium sized light, nothing too big. I bounce the light off the ceiling or wall to give my workspace soft light, rather than aiming the light directly at the newborn.
5. Find Your Workflow
Find a workflow that works best for you. This will help you utilize your time with baby wisely and allow you to get in several different settings and images. I prefer to begin the session with prop shots where baby is mostly all wrapped. For example it might be a bucket shot with baby completely wrapped except her tiny hands folded under her chin. I then move to other prop shots and begin to work on poses where baby is a bit more unwrapped. I then move to bean bag shots where baby is hardly wrapped or completely naked. For me, this workflow typically lets me easily get in several different props and different poses within a reasonable time frame.
6. Client Prep Checklist
Well before the session is scheduled to take place, give your client a short checklist to help them prepare for the session. I include the following items:
a. Set home temperature to 75-80 degrees about 30 minutes before the session begins.
b. Keep baby awake for a while so he is ready to snooze during the session.
c. Plan to feed baby right before the session begins.
d. If older siblings are around, plan to have an extra adult present to care for them.
e. Stay calm and flexible - your vibe will rub off on baby!
7. Be Flexible
You've probably read this on each and every article and blog post written on Newborn Photography. And that's because its so important! You are working with a newborn baby. She will wake, cry, need to be fed, diaper changed, rocked and soothed, you name it. As a newborn photographer you must go with baby's flow. All of the tips above will help influence baby, but ultimately its her world and you're just livin' in it! Take as many breaks as needed to feed and change baby. Wrap baby in a soft and cuddly blanket and rock her. Hand her over to mama and let them spend time together as needed. I always take the approach of listening to what baby needs and adjusting my workflow around those needs.