Hello, Erica! Tell us a little bit about yourself. What was your road like to becoming a photographer?
Hi, I'm Erica! I am the mother to four beautiful babes, and have been married to my college sweetheart for almost 12 years now. We live in a cute little town in Northwest Arkansas where we love to get out and explore our little town. I adore all things home design, and dream of one day owning a little cottage on the coast. I bake but hate doing the dishes afterward, and I like to pretend I have a green thumb. I have been in business as a photographer since 2007 and have loved (just about) every minute of it!
Looking back, my road to becoming a photographer was very natural to me, everything kind of fell into place. Growing up, I was always that annoying friend who would make everyone stop for a picture. I was the one with the countless photo albums and the one that would bring my video camera (remember those?) when we'd go walk the pier in San Francisco. I was always the memory keeper. I started to form a real interest in photography when I was a senior in high school and was able to learn and work in a dark room for the first time. In college, I studied advertising and was lucky enough to receive an apprenticeship by my photojournalism professor, working in the studio on campus. That opportunity opened up many doors and encouraged me to start my own photography business. I started out with portrait work, moving into weddings and families, and then after a few years, and after having my own babies, I decided that honing in on newborn and motherhood photography was exactly where I wanted to be.
I feel like every step along the way has lead me to where I am at today as a photographer and I couldn't be more grateful for the path that chose me.
What made you want to pursue newborn/baby photography? Why are you passionate about this genre of photography?
I am infatuated with motherhood and the beauty and peace that you feel in welcoming a new baby earthside. It is one of the most beautiful and heavenly things I have ever experienced as a mother myself, and I know those first fews weeks, though hard and tiring, are some of the most special. Those are the times I wish would have gone on forever and I remember photographing every perfect detail of my own tiny babies so that I wouldn't dare forget. I truly love being able to create these photographs for my families so they can go back to those first moments and remember just how perfectly imperfect they were.
When I decided to pursue newborn and motherhood photography (and nothing else), I knew in my heart that it was where I was being called. I feel so much joy seeing these new families with their precious little babes and it makes me feel all of the feels for my own babies all over again. I mean if I can't have 100 of my own babies, I can at least bask in the love they have for theirs and steal a few snuggles here and there :)
How would you describe your style?
My style is simple and timeless. I really shy away from props and themes, and prefer to make the baby and all of their tiny details the star of the images. I stick to soft neutrals, muted tones, and even simple florals and textures when I style each session and I feel like that's one thing that my clients are really drawn to. I've been told that my images all feel so peaceful and sweet and I take that as such a compliment!
What do you recommend for a family going in for their first ever newborn photo shoot? How should they prepare? What should they avoid?
My biggest pieces of advice for new families and their first newborn session is to first, do you research and make sure you find the best photographer for your family. Someone that you trust with your most precious little person and trust to create beautiful photographs, and someone that will put even more care and love into your session as you would hope for. My second bit of advice is to just relax and enjoy the moment. Enjoy watching your sweet baby being so sweetly posed and just take some time to not worry about anything. It's likely the first time in weeks that you won't have to worry about a single thing because your photographer has got it all taken care of for you.
Where do you find inspiration? How do you make each photo shoot unique to each family/baby?
I am inspired by my clients and by their stories. Often times, before their newborn session I will hear a little about their love stories, I'll spend the evening with them during a maternity shoot, I'll hear about trials in infertility and the miracles that brought their babies here, or even just chatting together at the beginning of their session. I love hearing about how special their families are and how each one is so different. I feel like the love I develop for each of my clients translates into the beautiful photographs we are able to create during their newborn sessions.
With each session I also encourage my clients to tell me about their favorite tones or if they have any special requests when I style their session. So even though I am choosing props and accessories and styling each session myself, I have their family and their sweet baby in mind and each setup is carefully chosen just for them.
Babies and children can be tricky to photograph, after all, you can’t give them direction (and their attention spans can be quite short!)... What are your top 3 tips for photographing babies and children?
Babies, toddlers, and even older children can definitely be tricky! There are a few things I've learned over the years that definitely help and I think most of it has to do with your own attitude and mindset. Number one would definitely be, be patient! I don't think you could really excel at newborn and baby photography without an abundance of patience. Whether you are trying to get those tiny fingers to stop curling in a certain newborn pose or waiting for a a stoic 6 month old to let her guard down and give you a little smile, you just can't rush babies.
My second bit of advice would be to be flexible. I plan out every studio session before my clients arrive. I know exactly which accessories are going with which backdrops and have a certain posing workflow that I move through every time. But I also know that every baby is different and not every baby will sleep soundly through their session. I always have a plan B & C in my back pocket and follow the baby's lead.
Lastly, learn as much as you can about the technical side of photography and lighting and master that so you can focus ALL of your attention is on your subject and the genuine interaction you have with them. If you are stressing about your camera and lighting, you won't be able to relax during your session and these tiny humans will totally pick up on that.
You also provide workshops for fellow photographers. What made you want to start educating other photographers?
I do provide small group and personalized 1:1 mentoring for fellow photographers and I love it! Before photography, I actually thought I was going to pursue teaching, so once again, it just seemed like a natural fit for me. It wasn't really something I had anticipated doing when I started out, but after enough inquiries I decided to go for it and it has been such a joy getting to know photographers from all over the country through mentoring. There is so much I wish I could have asked someone when I was starting out, and so many things I have learned along the way that I am so happy to pass on to other photographers. I love being their biggest cheerleader and watching them perfect their craft.
What’s your workflow like? Take us through your whole process from start to finish.
Like I said before, I have a game plan going into (and out of) every session. I feel like this really helps me make the most of my time spent working. It's like they say, "work smarter, not harder."
With each session I like to start with my family posing while mom and dad are nice and fresh and they are all done up, then I move to beanbag posing, and finish with prop posing. I am also super flexible though, so if baby decides he wants to be wrapped after family poses then we'll switch and head to wrapped prop shots, or if dad can only popover on him lunch break midway through the session, we switch it up. Each part of the session has its own flow through so that baby is able to settle into each pose easily without being startled from being moved around too much.
Once my families leave my studio, their files get uploaded straight into Lightroom and I cull immediately after their session while their images are fresh in my mind. After some simple adjustments in Lightroom I bring them into Photoshop in groups by pose, finely edit any skin imperfections with Totally Rad Pro Retouch actions (keeping everything very natural looking), and then batch edit the group to put my signature style on the images. After that, I export, put them into a beautiful slideshow, and they are ready for the family's first glimpse!
As a successful photographer, you must be selling products. Tell us how you prep clients for an investment in your products. What are your bestsellers?
I offer the most beautiful heirloom products to my clients and I really feel that by having them on display in my studio, they do most of the speaking themselves. I encourage my clients to flip through my sample albums during their session and am eager to tell them about how much I love them. I am a little different in that most of my sample albums showcase my own family's images but I feel like that puts even more weight in the fact that I love these products and cherish them for my own family. I also have canvas and framed prints on the walls throughout my studio and I feel like they make such a statement and are so easy to fall in love with when they are right there in front of you and you can experience their quality first-hand.
What advice do you have for photographers who are new to the baby market? How should they go about finding clients?
My advice to photographers that want to break into the baby market is to take it slow, don't try to go from 0 to 100 in a month. Learn everything you can about posing, and safety, and lighting, perfect everything you've learned, and then seek after the perfect clients. Don't worry about all of the props and big expensive tools that you might think you need. Keep it simple and learn, learn, learn.
I have a mentoring student that asked this same question and following her small group workshop, she took on model sessions (complimentary) for months and months so that she could practice what she had learned in a stress-free environment. She told her moms, who she met through baby groups and through friends, that she was still learning so even if the poses weren't perfect in the beginning, she was getting the time she need to perfect her flow before taking on paying sessions. Once she got to the point where she felt confident in her workflow and the work she was offering, she opened her schedule up to paying clients. Those clients who started out as model sessions have since told their friends and other moms. She is now, not only creating the most beautiful work, but she also has a steady flow of clients who are now seeking her out because her images are so polished and the experiences from former model clients were so wonderful.
Anything else to add?
One thing I learned over the past 9 years is to stay true to yourself. I feel like trends and fads will come and go, but if you are doing you, that is where you will really find your best self and others be drawn to your confidence and drive. Take time for yourself and run your business the way you want to, don't let it run you. And lastly, choose community over competition. Some of my greatest confidants are fellow photographers, local and thousands of miles away. We lean on each other, we share stories, and cheer for each other. Find love and joy and you will exude the same.
Erica Kirby is a newborn & motherhood photographer in Northwest Arkansas. A California girl living in the charming South, she's a lover of the sun and sea and spends her free time binge watching Fixer Upper. She's a mother of four, the wife to one handsome man, and is notorious for over-using smiley faces and exclamation points. See more of her work on her website, Facebook, and Instagram.