Maternity + Family

Tips to Photographing Your First Lifestyle Newborn Session

March 19, 2019

By Michelle Lange

© Michelle Lange Photography

I haven’t always loved photographing newborns—you can read about my 2011 start as a newborn photographer vs. my reintroduction as a 2016 newborn photographer expanding from weddings. There is a first session for every photographer, and I wanted to share some tips to help you with yours as you expand or transition your already-existing photography business into newborn photography.

Prepare the Parent(s)

When I began booking lifestyle newborn sessions in 2016, I created a newborn guide for clients to answer some frequently asked questions about how the family can prepare for their session. I keep mine short and highlight some questions and concerns that I may also address during the actual shoot.

Include tips to keep the session as comfortable as possible. It is important to let them know that babies do fuss and cry during the session, and it is completely normal. Stating this in your guide will remind parents that you know babies are babies, and it is natural for them to express their wants and needs. Stress the importance of breaks to make sure their baby’s belly is full and their diaper is clean, two of the most common reasons why a baby fusses during a session.

If a baby is fussing or crying for a few minutes, or the parents seem frazzled, I first try playing some music on my iPhone or ask if the baby has any noise machine that they love listening to. If you have never heard of Raffi, go to iTunes and learn to love his music. A fan favorite is “Baby Beluga.” If that doesn’t work, I will always state in a calm voice, “If you guys need a little breather, or need to top him off with a little milk or a fresh diaper, just let me know. I am very flexible and want to keep everyone happy, especially the new head of the household.”

Sometimes it takes a couple tries to figure out why the baby is crying. I use humor to keep the situation less stressful and I always stay calm. I also tell them stories about my family’s own sessions where my son and daughter weren’t exactly quiet little angels. I love to explain how I am still able to create beautiful pictures regardless of how fussy a baby is—some of my favorite pictures are from a mother soothing her baby.

Make outfit suggestions. You can use inspiration photos from Pinterest or send links from Instagram to clothing shops for Mom and Baby. If you are doing an in-home session, help choose their look before you begin your session. Have them lay out their favorites and pull all the pieces together for a cohesive look.

I personally love neutrals for newborn sessions. Creams, light blues, blush and lighter denim are usually my go-to’s. They are great for avoiding colorcasts on the baby’s skin when the parent is holding the baby close. Work with your families on what to wear to help create a portfolio that attracts similar clients. If color is your thing, stick with it!

Provide information on announcement cards and gallery delivery timelines. Most parents want to use their newborn session images for a birth announcement, so make sure to ask them if they plan on using these images for that purpose so that you can deliver a preview gallery with some great options. Don’t let things get lost in translation regarding how they plan to use their images and when their gallery will be ready.

For example, if a family wants to send out announcements within a couple days of their session but you don’t get your film back from your lab until a week later, you need to better communicate your timelines to them or use digital backup to meet theirs. I personally use both digital and film formats during my session so that I can send 5-7 images in an email to them 1-3 days after their session. In this email, I explain that a preview gallery with 20-25 images will be ready once I get my film scans back from my lab and that there will be even better options for their announcement in that gallery if they can wait another two weeks.

Make the Mom Feel Beautiful

New mothers can be very self-conscious about the way they look. I remember looking at a photo after having my daughter, and the first thing I noticed was how the loose hair bands I always wore around my wrist were practically cutting off the circulation in my arm. New mothers will be looking at themselves in the photograph as closely as they look at their new baby. Be conscious of this during your session, especially of a second chin and good posture.

Window light and shooting slightly from above your subjects can be your best friend. Play with different distances away from the window to find the perfect balance of light on a subject’s skin. Don’t be afraid to move to a new area if the lighting isn’t working or the way someone is sitting isn’t flattering. You don’t need to state that something isn’t working; just move on to the next one.

Just as in photographing a couple’s wedding portraits, don’t just reshoot the same pose in different locations. Use a variety of sitting, standing and laying down poses to get different angles. If a mother is absolutely glowing in a photo, tell them. Don’t go overboard with the compliments; some here or there would be just enough to make her really feel beautiful.

Step Back and Take Natural Cues

My definition of a newborn is different than that of most newborn photographers. My newborn sessions are photographed one to four months after the baby is born. They are still small, they are still squishy and their favorite thing to do is to be in their parents’ arms.

One of my favorite things to do when I first get to a session is to watch the natural chemistry between a family and to be ready with my camera to document those moments. I tell them that I will be testing the light while they get their little one ready, as I am always 10-15 minutes early to a session.

As they do this, I will watch closely to see how they gently lay their baby down. I document their reaction when the baby starts fussing over being naked—they always do. I observe how a parent calms them, rocks them, soothes them after a stressful 20 seconds of being without a shirt. Does one parent do the entire change while the other one looks on? Do they work together? Even during “breaks” where the baby may need more milk or a diaper change, my camera is still in my hand.

Two of my favorite images are from when the babies were getting fed. The first was from a set of twins being simultaneously fed by their parents, completely showing how parenthood is all about teamwork (above). The second was a father burping his daughter after the mother fed her. As soon as she burped, the baby fell asleep in a sitting burping position (below).

Ask questions such as, “What is your favorite physical feature about your baby?” They will most likely touch or kiss that feature—another natural response. Don’t force specific poses the entire time. Set up a situation and document it as it unfolds.

Michelle Lange is a wedding and newborn photographer and educator based in Albany, NY. She last wrote about some simple ways to strike a healthier balance between life and your photo business.


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