“Oh what a wonderful job you have, to cuddle babies all day long!”
Why yes it is! Most newborn photographers will agree, but not without a few disclaimers! Being a top rated, successful newborn photographer--like with any specialization--takes time, dedication, patience, skill, and a bit of investment. Oh, and did we say patience? Patience!
A typical session:
15 minutes intro and gossip
15 minutes figuring out whether we can lay down the baby without crying
3 minutes of shooting
40-50 minutes of feeding, pooping, changing, shushing, feeding, shushing, peeing
3 minutes of shooting
10 minutes of shushing
20 minutes of shooting
10 minutes of pack up and chat
SAFETY: Without a doubt, one of the most important qualifications and criteria for being a successful newborn photographer is the ability to handle a newborn in a way that ALWAYS guarantees their safety. There really is no room for debate here. Professional newborn photographers understand that many shots require a second pair of hands for support, or that they need to create a composite (the blending of two images). Photographs such as hanging swaddled babies on a tree branch are breathtaking--but the ”˜behind the scenes' should always involve a second pair of hands, a baby suspended just inches above a bean bag and a composite shot of the branch itself. A professional photographer should never place a baby in something like a glass vessel that could break, or rest them on a shelf without support or other safety measures in place. Even walking away from a baby asleep on a bean bag should not happen unless mom, dad or an assistant is within arms reach.
SKILL: With that out of the way, the next key to producing beautiful images comes down to skill. Some newborn photographers specialize in posed bean bag or prop images where a [usually] sleepy baby is curled up and propped either on the soft surface or tucked into a container or basket with beautiful blankets, wraps, hats and perhaps other props. Others focus on a more interactive feel where the shots are either more lifestyle, or posed with parents and siblings. Regardless of the style, it's critical that the photographer understand flattering lighting, correct exposure, skin and color correction, as well as posing and compositional beauty. Of course, style plays a role here and it's wonderful to see both whimsical and creative sessions as well as those that are timeless and traditional. It can take years of practice and portfolio building to really master the newborn session and all the components that can truly differentiate a newborn photographer from his/her peers--and those years aren't replaced by a photographer that simply attends a workshop. It's hands on, experience, practice, and many, many sessions!
AN INVESTMENT: For almost all newborn photographers, building a stash takes time and... you guessed it, money. Unless a photographer shoots completely bare bones and lifestyle only, almost all newborn photographers come prepared with some level of props. This can include a favorite blanket or mat, or a few cute hats. At the other end of the spectrum, those shooting more posed or bean bag sessions entail a significant outflow of cash to purchase backdrop stands, faux flooring, bean bags, blankets, hats, wraps, diaper covers, baskets and whatever else their prop set up requires. And it's not a one time investment, because all of these items need to be cycled out as they can become soiled beyond cleaning, or worn out, or just generally appear too often in a portfolio.
PATIENCE: Newborn photographers have to have patience. Even the fastest of lifestyle shoots rarely wraps in an hour and some more posed sessions can last upward of three to four hours. That said, only about 30-40 minutes of that is shooting, the rest is waiting, shushing, changing, and feeding--even for those sessions where sleep is not a requirement! Add on to that the back-end work after the session. Whether it be at a studio or a client's home, what you bring in must come out, often with items requiring a wash or scrub, then an iron--blankets folded, props stored, backdrop rolled. And then there is the editing. Editing newborn sessions can be incredibly time intensive if the baby has newborn acne, jaundice or excessive peeling, so whereas a family gallery might be completed in a snap, not so much for a newborn session.
All of these factors speak to why superior newborn photographers are often priced higher than an average family photographer, or request an increase in session fee for newborn sessions. Which brings us full circle: while newborn sessions are a tremendous amount of work, they reward photographers that are up to the challenge with the privilege of capturing the fleeting first weeks of life. Newborn portraits, much like images from a wedding, take pride of place on a family's walls and become heirloom treasures (“Mom, that was really me?”).
And yes, there are all those sweet newborn snuggles, which, as they say, are priceless.
*Special thanks to the following photographers for the precious sample images: (first row, left to right) Oh, Hello! Photo, E.E.Smith Photography, Natalja Katsaga Photography, (second row, left to right) Laura Veno Photography, Kristen Elizabeth Photography, Kristle Leigh Photography, (third row, left to right) studiofotografie, Lynsey Peterson & Lindsay Lee Photography.
~ The F Stops Here is an exclusive collection of articles by Design Aglow, designed to be used and shared by photographers. Look for this column twice monthly here on the Design Aglow Blog and feel free to grab & share on your site, blog and/or social media pages with a byline and link to DesignAglow.com.