The Complete Guide to Newborn Photography

Newborn photography is extremely popular. You are in the right place to learn the ins and outs of how to photograph a newborn.

A successful newborn photography session is not just about the images. You want to focus on the process. As a newborn photographer, you will find there are more people involved and guarantee success, everyone has to be happy and well-taken care of, including the newborn.

It is up to you, the photographer, to make sure the process stays enjoyable. The important thing to remember is to keep the baby safe and warm. A cold and unhappy baby is not conducive to a successful newborn photography session.

Below, we explore the nuances of newborn photography and offer a guide to planning and creating newborn photography.

Planning the Session

As I mentioned, a lot goes into a successful newborn photography session. To guarantee success, a well-crafted plan is imperative. Spend some time and draft a plan that can be followed for every newborn photography session.

The Contract

It starts with a contract. Be sure to send it over to the parents a week or two ahead of the scheduled photography session. This gives them plenty of time to read it over, sign it, and get it back to you. It also allows time for questions to be answered should they arise.

Here is a concise list of what should be on the contract:

  • Full contact info and names for client and business
  • Start date of contract/photo date
  • Summary of what you and the client (parents) will deliver
  • Cancellation policy
  • Payment schedule
  • Copyright ownership and transfer of use rights
  • Property or model release
  • Liability limitations
  • Post-production and editing
  • Extra fees (if any)

Getting the model releases signed and out of the way ahead of time means as soon as you arrive you can focus on image creation. Model releases are imperative when photographing people. They protect both the photographer and the subject. These are necessary if you plan to use any of your newborn photography as stock photography.

To Be on Location or Not to Be on Location

Choosing a location boils down to whether you have a studio or not. Newborns are so new they do not have location preferences and typically go with the flow of mom and dad. This means the location can be anywhere that is safe, comfortable, and warm.

If you do not have a studio, do not fret, it is not necessary. Many newborn photographers simply pack up equipment and head to the baby’s home. This is often the preferred choice for mom and dad as it is easy for them. Packing a newborn up for a several-hour outing requires planning and foresight, especially for first-time parents.

Create a packing list that has everything on it you need for a successful newborn photography session. Further below, I will talk about equipment needs for a session. Be sure your equipment is packed in a way that is easy to move around by yourself.

Working With Mom and Dad

Soon after the parents book a session with you, and have a conversation about the baby’s routine if they know. Chances are the booking is happening before the baby is born. But be mindful that births are not always on time. Build flexibility into your scheduling with the parents.

Be sure to go over what outfits the baby will be in and if the parents want more than one outfit in the images. Also, be sure to discuss any themes or colors mom and dad may want in the images.

This is also a good time to mention the contract and send it over. Talk with the parents about their role in the process. They will be helping you get the baby to smile, they will be in the images, and potentially helping you hold lights.

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The Equipment

Having the correct equipment is essential. It can make the difference between a successful or a failed newborn photography session. I will not focus too much on camera equipment as there are other non-photography items that are more important than the camera.

Photography Equipment

A camera that can interchange lenses is necessary. You will most likely be swapping out lenses during a newborn photography session. Most DSLR and mirrorless cameras on the market today are well-suited for newborn photography.

I recommend a full-frame sensor because it has a greater resolution and often renders low light with less digital noise.

You will want a good portrait lens. This is usually a prime 85 mm or 105 mm focal length lens. The aperture should open up to at least f/2.8. This will help create the soft focus and shallow depth of field common with newborn photography.

Detail Newborn Photograph A parent holding a babys foot The details are important in newborn photography
Detail Newborn Photograph: A parent holding a baby’s foot. The details are important in newborn photography.

Having a macro lens can help you get up and close to tiny feet and hands. These features of a newborn are must-have images. While a macro lens is not necessary, it allows for an extremely shallow depth-of-field to highlight the tiny features. A zoom lens can achieve the same feel, however, there may not be enough room to get the distance required between the baby and the camera.

A flash with a couple of modifiers is the next important piece of equipment. Modifiers such as this one help soften the light and reduce harsh shadow lines. You can also use reflectors and colored lights. Remember, mom and dad will be around, do not hesitate to ask one of them to hold a light for you.

Most of the time you will not be using a tripod but it is good to bring one along in your kit. There may be a situation that necessitates the use of one and it is better to have it than be without a tripod. Here is a list of essential newborn photography equipment.

Non-Photography Equipment

If you are not a parent or have not been around kids, these next items may seem odd. But they are essential.

A small space-heater should be the first thing you pack. Do not forget it. The baby will be naked for part of the session. Keeping the baby warm is imperative to creating the images mom and dad have requested.

I have also used a heating pad placed under a blanket to create a warm and cozy surface for the baby.

Props. You will need to have a box full of a basket or two. Blankets of different colors and textures. Headdresses. Fake flowers. Small boxes. The idea is to have a kit of times that can be added to the image to bring focus to the newborn.

Using Props. A baby sleeping on a pillow around stuffed animals Having props around add to the theme of newborn photography
Using Props. A baby sleeping on a pillow around stuffed animals. Having props around add to the theme of newborn photography.

Finally, here is a short list of items that will make a newborn photography session easy.

  • A few loud and funny baby toys
  • Newborn posing beanbag
  • Backdrop stand and clamps
  • Space heater
  • Step stool
  • A Boppy pillow (for baby posing)
  • Waterproof pads (to catch messes)
  • A change of clothes for you, in case of a mess.
  • Props (baskets, crates, etc.)
  • Big blankets for backgrounds
  • Small swaddle blankets
  • Baby Hats or headbands
  • Loud enough music or a noise machine to hide the startling sound of the shutter – mom and dad may have a white noise machine already

Timing is Key

Knowing when to schedule newborn photography sessions is crucial to the success of the images you make. Typically, the session should take place within 14 days of birth.

The baby has not had time to develop a solid daily schedule. What this means is the baby will be more flexible in what time of day you can photograph.

Secondly, after two weeks, a newborn begins to look and act like an infant. After two weeks, they begin to put on more weight and the small delicate features that newborn photography is known for, begin to go away.

Simple Compositions. A newborn baby enveloped in a blue scarf sleeps on a white pillow Keep the compositions simple in order to keep the focus on the newborn
Simple Compositions. A newborn baby enveloped in a blue scarf sleeps on a white pillow. Keep the compositions simple in order to keep the focus on the newborn.

Lastly, they are most sleepy during this time and will be easier to pose.

Knowing a Newborn’s Routine

Deciding what time of day to photograph a newborn can be tricky. You most likely will have to work with the parent’s schedule and the session could last several hours. Be sure to establish these expectations with mom and dad.

The best time to start a newborn photography session is immediately after a feeding when the baby is heading towards a nap. With a full tummy, newborns are more cuddly and tend to go with the flow a little easier.

When they fall asleep, it will be the perfect opportunity to create detailed images like the one below.

Detail Image An image of a babys feet nestled in a knitted blanket
Detail Image. An image of a baby’s feet nestled in a knitted blanket.

During Your Photography Session

You are standing in a nursery, your equipment is set up, and your camera is in hand. Mom just finished feeding and is placing the baby down on the warm blanket. Dad is eagerly watching. What do you do next?

Posing a baby is different than posing adults. They lack any form of communication beyond responding to smiles and coos.

Move slowly. You do not want to startle the baby. Be confident and this goes without saying, keep the safety of the baby on your mind at all times. Working on the floor is the safe bet. Be sure to keep tabs on the temperature. You do not want the baby to get too warm or cold.

Begin with the back pose. This is a comfortable position for the newborn. It will allow you to create images from above, remember the step stool, and from ground level. In addition, if the baby relaxes their fists will open up, giving you the perfect opportunity to create those macro shots of tiny fingers and toes.

Every baby has a unique feature. Be sure to talk with the parents about what it is and then create images of this feature. For me, my oldest had big eyes that I created images of.

A baby holding a moms finger
A baby holding a mom’s finger.

Other features include fat rolls, expressions, hair, etc. Knowing these details ahead of time will make the newborn photography session go smoother. Here is a list of over 40 posing and composition ideas. Spend some time on Pinterest as well to gain a sense of what images are worth creating.

Setting the Camera

While newborn photography is not a fast-paced endeavor, you must be on your toes. Having complete command of your camera is essential. You will most often be using a wide aperture in order to create a shallow depth-of-field and separation of subject and background.

The shutter speed should be equal to the focal length. This helps reduce camera shake and will help create tack-sharp focus points. If you are using a 50 mm lens, the shutter speed would be 1/60th a second. If using a longer lens, the shutter speed becomes faster.

The lighting will often be lower than ideal. I recommend setting your ISO to auto to allow you to maintain a wide aperture and fast shutter speed. Be sure to read the article I wrote about ISO photography.

For newborn photography, set the auto ISO limit to around 800 or 1200. Chances are you will not have to go above 400 but it is good to have the assurance of not going above a certain threshold. This will help minimize digital noise. 

Unique Angles. Photo of a parent looking at the newborn Various angles are a great way to make your work unique
Unique Angles. Photo of a parent looking at the newborn. Various angles are a great way to make your work unique.

If you are using an external flash unit, it is best to bounce the flash off the ceiling. This will soften the light. Be aware that nurseries are often colorful. Any light that bounces off a colorful wall will land on the subject with a bit of that color.

Though newborn photography is not like sports photography, it will benefit you to think like a sports photographer, but a lazy one. You will be moving more like a sloth to avoid startling the baby. Set your camera to burst mode in order to get images of the subtle moments of a newborn.

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The Business Side of Newborn Photography

Creating a business as a photographer is one of the most rewarding things you can do as an image creator. It is challenging, you will learn a lot, and the adventure will keep you on your toes.

Read a few business books or take a class or two. You need to know how to manage your budget and pay your taxes. Marketing your business will bring in new clients. However, word of mouth is powerful marketing, Be sure to ask mom and dad to tell their friends.

Budgeting An image of someone working on a budget Establishing a budget with goals is an important part of newborn photography
Budgeting. An image of someone working on a budget. Establishing a budget with goals is an important part of newborn photography.

Review your contract every couple of months to keep it up-to-date. Invest in a solid set of equipment early on. Having the right tools is paramount to success. Having these early in your newborn photography business will help you build a strong portfolio and land more clients. 

While you do not need an MBA in business, knowing how to balance a budget, project your revenue, and plan for growth is just as important as keeping a newborn warm and cozy.

Consider offering packages that build the value of your photography. Photographers often combine a maternity session with a newborn photography session. This builds trust with the client and if you create excellent images, mom will more likely to talk about you to her friends. 

Post Processing

A successful newborn photography session yields a lot of photographs. Develop a quick method to review your images and select the best. Rating them and applying a color label works well. Just be sure to use the same method every time.

If your images are well-lit when you create them in the camera, there will not be a lot of editing required. This allows for building out presets that you can apply to all images at once, saving a lot of time.

Adjusting the clarity and texture sliders will probably be where you need to take your time with each image. This is how you soften skin tones and add a dreamy look to images.

Detail image A newborns feet poking through a knitted blanket This image is a perfect example of using props and details together
Detail image. A newborn’s feet poking through a knitted blanket. This image is a perfect example of using props and details together.

At least a third or more of the images I deliver to the client, are in black and white. With that said, there are duplicates. This redundancy gives the client a choice and a sense of being part of the editing decisions. Something I find is valuable to the client.

Do not shy away from cropping your images. Oftentimes, newborn photography just needs a tighter framing. Consider using the crop overlays in Lightroom to guide your cropping choices.

After a few sessions of newborn photography, you will develop an efficient workflow. Build presets after you land on a style and look that stands out. Most newborns are the same and are the only variable in your images. The props, lighting, and compositions will mostly be the same.

Putting It Together

Crafting a style that is unique takes time and practice. Spend a few hours reviewing online portfolios of other newborn photographers and take notes. Find styles and compositions you like and note the ones you do not like. Then write down the reasons why. This exercise will help you create a personal style that appeals to clients.

Newborn photography is about preserving what is so special about a newborn. It is best done within the first two weeks of age. Focus on the details of the baby. Create images of both parents and siblings. Most of all, have fun and remember to avoid putting too much pressure on yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is newborn photography?

Newborn photography is creating images of a baby when they are less than two weeks old. The goal is to highlight the unique features of the baby while documenting the new family. Focus on detailed images and the features that go away after a few weeks of birth.

What equipment do I need?

You can create great newborn images with only a camera and a window for light. However, having a tripod and external flash will allow you to create stronger images. You will also want to invest in non-photography equipment like a space heater, a heating pad, a step stool, etc.

Do I need a studio?

Not if you do not want one. Many newborn photographers will go to the baby’s home and create the images in the nursery. However, a studio could be handy to have if newborn photography is your main source of income.

What is the best age for newborn photography?

The best newborn photography images are created when the baby is less than two weeks old. Features such as tiny fingers, ears, and toes begin to lose their appeal after this, and fat rolls are not as delicate and cute.

What is the best time of day for a newborn?

The best time to start a session is immediately after feeding. The baby will have a full tummy and be sleepy, which is perfect for newborn photography.

How do I keep parents involved but not act like photo directors?

Involve them in the process and have a conversation. If you have kids, relate to them by sharing stories. Ask dad to be your photo assistant.

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