Someone asked me the other day if I have a “specialty,” and I wasn’t quite sure how to answer. But I suppose if you base a photographer’s “specialty” on what she photographs most often, mine would certainly be babies and children.
Thanks in part to the Portrait Parties I hold three or four times a year, I’ve gotten very adept at working with little kids. My philosophy is simple: I let children do what children do, and then I photograph them doing it. Sure, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to get them to hold still and look at the camera, but a) those only work for so long, and b) regardless, I think the wee bebes are the most beautiful when they’re simply being themselves.
Newborns, on the other hand? Cheese and crackers! They’re a whole other ballgame!
I’ve reached the point in other types of photography where I no longer feel abject fear on the way to a shoot. I’m nervous, sure – in fact, I think those nerves are a good thing – but not terrified the way I used to be. But I’m still really anxious on the way to every single newborn shoot, because they’re so unpredictable. But that unpredictable nature is precisely what makes them so much fun to photograph. You can plan a newborn shoot for days and days, and depending on what mood that baby’s in when you arrive, you may have to throw all your carefully-laid plans out the window and start from scratch. And that can be difficult from a practical standpoint, but creatively, it’s exhilarating.
Unpredictability is the reason I schedule four hours for newborn shoots. Most of the time, they only take an hour or two, but other times, they take every single minute of four hours. And if I possibly can, I bring an assistant along. Many’s the time when I’ve thought to myself that even two pairs of hands aren’t nearly enough! Babies don’t do what I want them to do, or what my assistant wants them to do, or even what their mothers want them to do – they do what THEY want to do, and it’s my job to document it in the best way possible. Some babies are endlessly pliable – you can place them in any position on any surface and they’ll happily snooze away. Others want nothing to do with this “photo shoot” business and make their displeasure known to the entire neighborhood. But no matter what, babies are beautiful, and unfortunately for my husband, I leave every newborn shoot wanting 10 more babies.
Newborn photography is a HUGE subject – all you have to do is Google it to find that out for yourself. But one of the most common questions is “What gear do I need to shoot newborns?”
The short answer is you need a camera and a lens. That’s it. You don’t technically NEED any more than that. In fact, Henrietta Wildsmith, who took Harper’s newborn photos, brought nothing more than that to my house, and the results were breathtaking. But if you plan to photograph newborns on a regular basis, there are a few items that can make your life a little easier.
Here’s a copy of my Newborn Shoot Checklist, i.e., The Stuff I Make The Guy Load Into My Car the Night Before a Newborn Session.
This is the primary surface on which I photograph most newborns. Mine is an outdoor beanbag I purchased at T.J. Maxx for $25, and it has served me extremely well. I’ve never measured it, but I’d estimate that it’s probably 2.5-3′ square. It’s made of that indoor/outdoor material, so it’s water resistant (i.e., pee- and barf-resistant) and very durable. It’s not a super squishy beanbag, though – this one is firm but pliable, which is ideal. Beanbags that are too soft are hard to use for posing and can even create a suffocation risk. If you can’t find one you think will work, Dreamy Baby Props makes a great one for just this purpose.
Blankets and throws
I pick these up whenever I find one I like. Some of the ones I bring with me to shoots are ones from around my house. Obviously, throws and blankets are available practically everywhere and are usually pretty inexpensive.
Again, I just buy these as I find them.
Waterproof mattress pad(s)
Available anywhere baby supplies are sold. The ones I use are some that I received at my baby shower that we never needed for Harper’s crib. I layer them in between the blankets and throws so that a little whiz doesn’t wet the entire stack.
Backdrop stand and clamps
You can spend as much or as little on a backdrop stand as you want. I recommend B&H and Amazon.
I prefer to shoot newborns in natural light, but since I always shoot at the client’s house, I don’t have a lot of control over the lighting situation, so reflectors are essential for bouncing light into any dark corners.
Light stand, speedlight, umbrella softbox, umbrella holder
If it’s just entirely too dark, I can use a speedlight and the softbox to create a pretty light source with no risk of blinding the baby with a flash.
Heating pad, space heater
For most of the year in Louisiana, the space heater really isn’t necessary, but the heating pad turned on low is very comfy and soothing for the baby, especially if s/he is in the buff, as most babies are for their newborn portraits. Regardless, I always ask the parents to turn the thermostat up so that the baby could be comfortable even without a heating pad or heater.
Sometimes I use this, sometimes I don’t, but it’s helpful for when I want to take a shot looking straight down at the baby.
Saves me from having to kneel on the floor the entire time.
The best source of natural light in your client’s house may be nowhere near an outlet.
One for me and one for my assistant. Few things are consistent between newborn sessions, but at least 95 percent of the time, I get peed on.
Hats, headbands, crown, baskets, buckets, alphabet blocks, chalkboard/chalk, etc.
Many times, the clients have props they’d like to use, but I always bring mine in case they don’t have anything or didn’t have time to find it and get it out. They do have a newborn, after all.
Most parents would prefer their baby not have a pacifier in his photos, but if you have a baby who wails every time you take away his binky, then sometimes it’s easier to just let him have it. Clear pacifiers are a lot less noticeable, and you don’t have to worry about an orange paci clashing with the wee one’s pretty pink outfit. Of course, these are brand-new, still in the package and unused, and I leave them with the client at the end of the shoot. You have to sterilize them before use, but most new moms have either a sterilizer or those bags you use in the microwave. If not, you can always boil it for a few minutes.
Snacks and drinks
For me and my assistant. The parents of newborns have more than enough to do without having to feed the photographer.
(Photo by Henrietta Wildsmith)
I.e., Beebo, my trusty rubber-chicken dog toy. If you have a wakeful but unfussy baby, you can often get her to turn toward the sound of Beebo.
I have a white noise app on my phone that’s the electronic equivalent of Baby Valium, and the last thing I need when I finally get that baby calmed down and happy is my stupid phone going dead.
So if you’re a photographer, what do you bring to newborn shoots? If you’re not a photographer or if you’re just starting out, what intimidates you the most about photographing newborns?