5 Tips to a Stress Free Newborn Photo Session
As a newborn photographer, one of the things I learned over time was that a session with a brand new baby can be fraught with extreme stress. Stress can be on both the side of the photographer as well as the parents, and the only way to address this is by meticulous planning.
Planning for a session should not only involve the shots you’ll take and the number of times you’ll change your sets and props, but it should also involve foresight about how the session could possibly go wrong and then preparing a backup plan; but don’t worry, it will all come with experience and learning from others. And because I’m paranoid, I have a backup for a backup! This way I know that I’m completely covered should something not work the way it was visualized.
I’m not into photographing the daring newborn poses that we often see, but a good part of my time goes in creating beautiful images of babies with their parents – what I call the bonding series. The stress develops from the fact that the parents haven’t even learned to hold their babies without fearing they might break them, simply because my newborns come into my studio when they are less than two weeks old! And if a baby is fussing and won’t quieten down, that makes it even harder.
Add to that pot of stress some sleep deprivation, adjusting to a new life with demands that are hugely disproportional to the size and age of that tiny, new human being, the chaos of a day without schedule, amongst many other physiological changes that the new mother is going through. If you can’t keep a handle over it all, you’ll probably end up having one of the most challenging times you could have ever imagined!
Here are five things I always keep in mind and plan for that help to make the experience a lot more pleasant for the parents and for me:
1. Educate the parents!
I don’t mean that about parenting, no way! What I really mean is that no amount of preparation beats the value of informing the parents about the session, especially with first time parents! They have no idea what to expect from moment to moment, leave alone a photo session to capture the precious memories of their newborn, when all they possibly want to do is eat a bite and catch up on some lost sleep!
No matter how many books they have read on parenting, the reality is very different. It really pays to keep this in mind and to prepare them with more than enough information on how you plan to do the session, what they should wear, what they need to bring, how they need to prepare their baby, and what they can expect from you as the expert in conducting a newborn photo session.
A phone consultation really helps to take care of this! Remember to schedule at least 15 minutes for this conversation to happen in advance. Be sure to run through the entire session during your consultation and reassure the parents that you will take adequate measures to ensure a smooth and hassle-free photo shoot.
However, the education shouldn’t stop there! When the parents come in to the studio for the session, make sure to spend a few minutes even before you pick up the camera to go through the entire shoot again and explain how they could expect the session to proceed.
Education should also happen on the topic of safety for the baby. Make sure they understand that they need to be extremely vigilant and mindful of the baby’s safety, should you call upon the parents to help with or partake in a shot. And at no cost should you, as the photographer, engage in any kind of setup that might pose a risk to the baby, parents or yourself!
2. Make sure you have warmed up the studio, the wraps and blankets.
The best way to upset a newborn is to lay them down on a cold blanket or floor drop! Babies, especially newborns, are not yet used to their environment after leaving their cozy place in their mother’s womb.
The least we can do to ensure they’re happy is to warm up the little fabric wraps, blankets and floor drops. If you live in a cold country like I do, you might want to get a heater and place it a few feet away from your set. Safety, above all else! Make sure the heater doesn’t pose a threat to personal safety and be careful not to place any flammable items close to it, either!
If you’re lucky enough to reside in warmer climes, you could opt to shut the doors and windows to prevent drafts from blowing through your shooting space, thereby exposing the baby to risks of catching cold or causing discomfort.
Another great way to warm up the props is by using a heating pad or hot water bottle. However, before putting the baby down on the blanket or whatever else you’re using to lay the baby on, touch it and make sure it hasn’t overheated. That could also be a potential problem. And of course, make sure the surface is perfectly clean and soft.
I always encourage parents to pick up their babies every few minutes between shots and snuggle them in their arms to keep them warm. Prolonged periods of shooting with bare-bodied babies are definitely unadvisable.
3. Have cleaning supplies, rags and hand sanitizer handy at all times for quick cleanups.
When you have a newborn in your studio, the best practice to cleanliness is to keep cleaning supplies like disinfectant wipes and baby wipes handy. Make sure you have plenty of rags you can use in case of little accidents, especially if you photograph naked babies. Having the cleaning stuff can save you your session!
I always reserve the naked shots right until the end of the session so that in case the baby does have an accident on the parents or on the backdrop, no one is uncomfortable from the wetness. And should you need to clean up, disinfect your hands so you know you’re not passing anything on to either baby or parents.
I also photograph naked babies in the parents’ arms and I make sure I tell the parents that in case the baby starts to go, to just hold them out over the drop cloth and rag I always lay down at the parents’ feet. This is an important point to mention to parents right at the onset of the session.
4. Keep some snacks and water at hand for the parents.
Being a new parent is possibly one of the hardest responsibilities that is ever bestowed on anyone. Being a new parent for the first time is even harder – it seems like the concept of “firsts” is taken to a whole new level with the birth of that first baby!
As a newborn photographer, it is our responsibility to make sure that not only is the baby comfortable in the studio, but the parents are too. Even though they are tiny, the babies somehow instinctively feel the stress of the parents and their environment.
When the parents come for the newborn sessions, they have probably not slept enough the night before or even had the chance to eat before the session. It’s always a nice gesture to make sure that there are a few snacks and a supply of juice and water for the parents, in case they are in need of some nourishment. Hungry and sleep deprived parents will be stressed out and will communicate that stress to their baby despite every effort to do otherwise. But before putting out the snacks, make sure you ask about allergies. The last thing you want is someone reacting to something you fed them!
5. Reserve enough time for the session.
Newborn sessions, if not planned down to the last shot, can turn out to be really stressful especially, if you’re trying to rush through it when a baby starts to fuss and cannot be calmed down.
Needless to say, newborns have no routine, and neither do the parents at this point as they get used to the new family situation. Typically, I reserve about 4 hours for the session because I keep taking breaks allowing the baby to be nursed, comforted and changed. I change sets a minimum of three times, and therefore, need to reserve a little extra time for the changes. You might do a few more or less changes to sets, and that would require different timeframes. Use this as a ball park, since you might need to keep some buffer for unpredictable circumstances.
I hope this has been helpful and if you have any tips that you might want to share, I would love to hear them! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask and I’ll be really happy to help!
Toni Chowdhury is a technical writer by profession but has been doing professional photography in the evenings and weekends. She’s passionate about her art and strives to capture beauty through her lens while creating a wonderful experience for her clients.