Here’s my first piece of advice when it comes to newborn photography: HIRE AN EXPERT. This is one case where you truly cannot recreate what you see on Pinterest on your own. The time, training, expense, and expertise that goes into becoming a great newborn photographer cannot be replicated with a how-to post on the internet. If really beautiful newborn photos are important to you, they are absolutely worth the money.
I’ve never hired a real photographer for my newborn photos before. All I have from when Evan was little are snapshots. A friend and I tried to take newborn photos of Caroline but they’re mostly Pinterest fails. The photographer I did hire (for so little money it doesn’t even count) was not an expert and our shoot was a disaster. With Linc, I was so confident I could do it on my own I spent an enormous amount of time and effort trying to make what I was picturing in my head a reality. I never even came close. I am very glad I have those photos and some even live on my walls, but I wasn’t (and will never be) an amazing posed newborn photographer.
Newborn photography is also physically taxing and if you’re trying to do it while you should be recovering from birth, you’re going to get tired and sore very quickly. Every time I’ve photographed a newborn I’ve ended up absolutely dripping in sweat and feeling like I’ve run 10 miles (I can’t run 10 miles). Even if you’re feeling pretty good, the bending and crouching and twisting and kneeling and physical work needed to get the results professionals do for 3+ hours is exhausting and you will definitely feel it later. Just one more reason why hiring someone is worth the expense.
So with Finnegan, my last baby, I hired a professional. A professional who isn’t me. Fellow Connecticut photographer Stefanie Cole came to my house, worked super patiently with my cranky baby, and delivered a gallery of absolutely stunning images. They are art. I want them all on my walls. I am so grateful for her and her talent.
That being said, with a newborn in the house I can’t resist taking his picture. Since he’s my fourth baby and about the 40th newborn I’ve photographed (even though I’ve moved away from posed sessions) I feel like I have some experience worth sharing. So here are my 5 tips for taking newborn photos yourself.
- Pick the right time. Here is one advantage you have over a scheduled session – you can take pictures of your baby 24 hours a day. Newborn sleep schedules change all the time. Be prepared to take your baby’s pictures the next time you’re expecting them to be sound asleep. Get them stripped down to just a diaper, then wrap them in something picture-appropriate, like a pretty swaddle blanket, a plain white onesie, a scarf or a newborn wrap you bought on Etsy while you were dreaming of newborn photos. Then feed them really well, snuggle them close, and wait for that totally-limp-arm stage where they won’t notice you snapping away.
- Pick the right spot. You want to find a corner of your house where there is a lot of light, but not direct sun shining in patches. If you have just one big window, you’ll get dramatic, directional light like I did in these photos. If you have a corner with several windows, you’ll get more even, brighter light. A room with white/light walls is even better. Turn off your electric lights and try just using the natural light from the window – your colors and shadows will look more natural.
- Pick the right background. Professional newborn photos are often posed on a beautiful seamless background that fades out in every direction. That look is about 75% skill and 25% Photoshop. I don’t recommend trying it on your own. So instead of trying to recreate it, put plain white sheets and a plain duvet on a bed and use that space. If you have a beanbag chair, throw a blanket over it and shoot from above instead of the side. If you don’t have a beanbag, make a nest of pillows. If you want something fancier than a blanket, the fur throws most photographers use are called “flokatis”. Genuine sheep ones can cost big bucks, but look at Wayfair, Overstock or Rugs USA for deals. Cream, gray or brown are beautiful colors for newborns. Don’t use fleece, don’t use anything with too many bright colors, and don’t use anything that needs to be perfectly smooth (texture is your friend). DON’T try to stuff the baby in a bucket or a basket or on a tiny chair or in crazy poses. Lay them on their back or side, curl them up a little, smooth out their hands until they are relaxed with their fingers flat. That’s all you need. Besides maybe a cute hat.
- Pick the right angle. This means don’t shoot up your baby’s nose or from their feet. You want them to look proportional and highlight just how tiny and precious they are in their first couple weeks. Shoot from above when you can, or close ups of all their precious little parts. Imagine the light and your camera is water flowing over the baby from their head down and try to follow that angle. Zoom (or move) in close, then take the same shot from as far away as you can. Turn your camera so the baby is vertical, then at an angle, then horizontal. Some photos will work and some won’t, so don’t be afraid to take a lot and look through them later. Trust me, no parent has ever said “Man, I wish I didn’t have SO MANY pictures of my newborn.”
- Pick the right equipment. In this case, the right equipment is the camera you have. It might be your phone. It might be the DSLR you got for Christmas 2 years ago. It might be your old point and shoot. The best camera to capture an important moment is the one you have. IF you have a fancy camera and lenses to choose from, a 50mm 1.8 is a great newborn choice. You can shoot in A or AP mode with your f-stop set at 2.8 or just shoot in auto with the flash turned off. If all you have is your iPhone, tap the screen on the part of the baby you want to focus on and it will adjust exposure. Editing apps like PicTapGo, Afterlight or Colorstory can help you edit. But keep it simple – remember, you’re not creating crazy effects or fake tilt-shifts or selective color. You’re just capturing your beautiful new baby as they are.
It’s also important to remember if your baby is grumpy, fussy, uncomfortable or otherwise unhappy you can call it quits and try again some other time. Do it tomorrow. Do it next week. ALL the day with a newborn are both so long and so short, you will barely remember them in a couple years. It’s not like if you don’t get these photos when your baby is exactly 2 days or 2 weeks or 2 months old you’ve failed. Just do the best you can so in 5 years when you send your tiny newborn off to kindergarten you have something to look at and cry over. That’s totally normal, right?
Good luck! Let me know if you take any newborn photos, I would love to see them!