By Roger (3 July 2014)
A new baby is like the beginning of all things-wonder, hope, a dream of possibilities. – Eda J. Le Shan
Who isn't thrilled with newborns? They're pure innocents. They bring such a flood of good emotions into a home. I love to be around them. And, if you're lucky, you get to photograph them.
For your best results, prior planning is vital in one of these shoots. I always try to meet with the parents a few weeks before the baby is born. Talk to them about what they have in mind. There are so many things to discuss. What kind of shots do they have in mind? What does the shooting location look like? Indoors or outdoors? How much room will I have if we're inside? I prefer to use continuous lights, so the flash doesn't disturb the little one. The lightstands require more room, and the lights need power. Do they have special props they want included? I want to get these things figured out before we get to the day of the shoot, so everything is ready to go.
Ideally, you'll get to do your session in the first week of the baby's life. They sleep sounder that week and haven't started squirming too much. You need to get your photographs quickly because it seems newborns change every day. Also, parents and family members are going to be all over you to get the photos done, so they can share something other than their phone/camera shots. You're going to want some time for post-processing away distractions, like flaky skin and blemishes.
Everything sounds rushed, but your session shouldn't be. You should plan for 3-4 hours. Nobody wants photos of crying babies, so you are on the baby's schedule. I call the parents a day or two before the shoot to review our plans. You want the baby fed, changed, and warm, so they will be at their best. You can't reason with a newborn – though I do admit I've tried. Always use low, calm tones. This is definitely one of those times you want everyone near the baby to be calm and cheerful. The baby may be only days old, but she can smell the fear in the room. ;-)
If you're going into someone's home, ask if they have or can borrow an ottoman. Cover it with a nice soft blanket and use it like a baby stage. It's better than a couch, although that can work, too, if it's wide enough. Since the baby isn't moving on it's own, this is perfectly safe. Talk the parents through the set up so they understand you aren't putting their baby in danger of falling. The parent can put their hand under the blanket for their peace of mind, and it won't be in your shot. You can also use a blanketed baby seat. You can now sit on the floor, instead of crawling on your belly. Wherever you pose the baby, make sure there is plenty of soft support all around.
The newborns have no control over their bodies. yet, so they don't purposely smile. You'll need to keep the camera ready to catch the expressions as they go through them. Again, this can take some time. Just as you take the camera away from your eye to explain to parents why you're just sitting there, the baby will smile, and you'll miss it. Be patient, and you'll catch one. Digital film is free.
The props can be cliché, at times, but very few people are going to let you be too creative or artsy with their brand new baby. Deal with it. The most frequent props I've seen are baskets, sports paraphernalia, and, since many of my acquaintances are current or former military, uniform items. All the props need to be clean and free of sharp edges. Although you, probably, won't need to tell the mother that, make sure you check. Your attention to these details will give them additional confidence that they can trust what you are doing with their newborn.
Everybody wants little feet and hands photos, so make sure to bring a macro lens. Remember, your depth of field will be narrower on the macro lens. Make sure you set the lens to capture the softness you like best. For scale and contrast, it's nice to put in a father's hand. The best time for these photos is when the baby is sleeping to keep everything as still as possible.
I like to get family members into the photos. Usually, when we do the pre-meeting, the family doesn't ask for this, but everyone is there for the session, so why not. I always shoot one or two with the parents. I do this after I've gotten the baby's shots. By then, the parents have are less nervous about the whole procedure and are ready to participate. If the newborn has a sibling, make sure to get a photo with them. They are going to be as excited as the parents.
Finally, don't be afraid to try some monochrome post-processing. It gives the family some different looks to consider. Most folks today don't even think about black and white because they're used to seeing what comes from their phone/camera. Try some different toning techniques, and show them how good they can look.
My thanks to last weekend's model, Hannah, for a fun time behind the camera. She was a champ, with only minor outbursts that Mom quickly quieted. Although my favorite child models are 2-5 year olds, I don't get to photograph newborns often enough. With planning and plenty of time scheduled, they make for a fun session.