Newborn Photography StartUp Guide
Several years ago, I put together a session checklist to help newborn photographers. I’ve been overwhelmed by how popular it’s become. I’ve now updated it and re-branded it as this webpage, the Newborn Photography StartUp Guide. Yes, it’s still free and now in an easier-to-use format. Bookmark the page for quick and easy reference.
If you have never used it, here’s what it includes:
- Advice on getting started in newborn photography.
- A session checklist to make sure you’ve got all you need.
- Myriad links to helpful resources, prop vendors, and the like.
- Links to helpful and inspirational articles.
The idea is to help you get your head around the little things, so that you can focus on your art.
Why the Newborn Photography StartUp Guide?
It may cover the basics, but as they say, the devil is in the details. As I’ve run workshops around the country and mentored photographers from near and far, I realise again and again how much there is to absorb when you first start. It can be utterly bewildering. In fact, even when you’ve been at it for a little while, sometimes you just need to regain your bearings, or step back to get some fresh perspective. In other words, the Newborn Photography StartUp Guide can get you going, help you regain your bearings or simply serve as refresher for you.
Welcome! Hi, I’m Lorna.
I’m a newborn photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. I’ve been a photographer for over ten years now and I’ve photographed families, children, babies, pregnant mums, weddings, events, products and pets. Somewhere along the journey, I stumbled upon an image on the Internet: an image of a beautiful newborn. A work of art. It took my breath away. I literally gasped (I’m not kidding!), and I realised that THIS was IT. This was what I wanted to capture. This was what I could see myself doing for many years to come. (Maybe you’ve had a similar “awakening”? Wonderful isn’t it?)
It’s been a long road since that first ‘awakening’ and I’ve had my ups and downs. I quickly learnt that newborn photography requires a great deal of skill and understanding. I had my “not so good sessions”, ending in tears (my tears that is), and sessions where I felt I could fly.
I would search for hours on the Internet, YouTube and forums trying to find the simplest answers like, “What on earth do newborn photographers use under their blankets to keep baby looking just right?” I learnt a lot that way, but eventually decided I needed to “see” it for myself. So I attended mentoring and workshops to develop my skills and reassure myself that I was on the right track.
My aim in putting together this information is to aid those who are perhaps very new and just starting out in the newborn photography industry. In this resource, I outline a session checklist to help you start collecting your “stash” and to know what’s important to have to make your session run smoothly. This may be basic information for some, but I hope that some of you will benefit from reading this.
I would love your feedback, so please feel free to contact me.
It’s important to have certain things on hand during your session to ensure it runs smoothly. This allows you to concentrate on photographing the baby and keeping the newborn happy (and sleepy!). I am going to go through what I use at my sessions and also include some links to find the items if applicable. You will find your own system and what works for you in time.
Beanbag (Posing Pod) • Backdrop Stand • Heavy Blankets for Layering • Waterproof Layer
Clamps • Heater • Propping (Stuffing) Blankets
White Noise • Sanitiser & Wipes • Weights • Equipment
Props • Checklist • Resources • Ts & Cs
Beanbag (Posing Pod)
I would recommend a durable, soft-touch PU leather or soft-faux leather beanbag filled quite firmly with polystyrene beans. You’re looking for a round, flat-topped posing pod, and there are a number of outlets from which you can order these, including ShootBaby.
Typically, you’ll need to purchase the beans separately and fill the pod yourself. For this reason, make sure you purchase a posing pod that has a filling sleeve—or else you’ll battle to fill the pod and end covered in beans! (Beans can be purchased from many places, including Kmart.)
A backdrop stand is used for clamping your blankets or fabrics to when draped over your posing pod for beanbag posing. I bought mine (just a regular one) many years ago, and it still works perfectly fine for me. You can get them anywhere.
If you are unable to afford one right now, simply clamp your blankets to chair backs.
Heavy Blankets for Layering
It is advisable to layer around 3 to 4 firm, heavy blankets (towels work too) on top of your posing pod before you add and clamp the blanket or fabric you’re using under baby. This is to ensure that when you are stuffing things under baby in order to pose them, you’re not left with big, unsightly lumps. Instead, you’ll achieve smooth lines where you’ve used blankets for propping.
My layering blankets are truly hideous and old. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, no one is going to see it!
A waterproof layer under your posing blanket is critical so that should baby have an accident, it won’t seep through to all your layers. Less washing for you!
Shoot Babysupply perfect round ones that fit over your posing pod.
I wish I could say I’ve purchased “pro” clamps to attach my fabric to the backdrop stand, but after all this time, I still haven’t. I walked myself down to the $2 store and bought myself a fine set of plastic clamps. And they work too good to be true!
But if you’re looking for something a little more “civilised”, head on over to Shoot Baby and grab some there. I would suggest that you get 3 to attach your blanket to the stand, and then a few more for each side, to pull your blanket nice and tight. Purchase 6 or 7 and you should be good to go.
We all know that having the room nicely hot is essential to keeping a baby asleep. I have central heating in my home-based studio as well as a fan heater, which stays near to the baby. I put these both on about half an hour before the parents arrive to get the room nice and toasty. How hot? It should be warm enough that you’re sweating!
If it is a particularly hot day, I may just use the fan heater or maybe nothing at all, as I have direct sunlight in the morning that heats up things rather quickly. Just be sure that the fan heater is not too close to the baby and that you check it regularly to ensure that baby is not getting too hot.
Propping (Stuffing) Blankets
You will need something to use to help “pose” baby, whether on the pod or in a prop. I use toweling nappies. I bought a pack of 20 from Kmart. Some people use receiving (swaddle) blankets. The important thing is that it’s firm, as you don’t want it to “sink” when baby is posed on top of it. It needs to provide adequate support (which is why you’ve stuffed it there in the first place). I keep mine in a bag close at hand during my session because I ALWAYS need one somewhere.
Sometimes you just need a little piece to fill in a spot somewhere. Grab a small wrap from your stash or anything else nearby. Otherwise cut your blankets in half or in quarters for those smaller fits.
This is an absolute must for your session. White noise has been proven to work very effectively to get a baby to sleep and keep them dreaming. I have this playing LOUD during the entire session. It may seem noisy in the first few minutes, but after that you don’t seem to notice it anymore—until you switch it off again and realise just how loud it actually was!
When I started, I simply used an app on my phone. It was a free download and you can find heaps of them for both iPhone and Android (search for “white noise” in the app store). There are different sounds you can set it on too, for instance, water, fan, rain, hairdryer (oh yes!) and lots more. Just pick one that you like. If baby is unsettled, try a different one.
Now, I use the Baby Shusher. You’ve no doubt heard about it. Just a brilliant little tool.
Sanitiser & Wipes
Yep, this is a must have. Make sure you sanitise your hands before a session and let the parents SEE you do it. Not only is it hygienic, of course, but you’ll also score brownie points for that!
I have wet wipes on hand to wipe up little “accidents” … which usually end up on me! I try not to use a cold wet wipe on baby when they are sleeping, as I don’t want to wake them up. In this case, I’ll use a towelling nappy. Or if it’s not too noticeable and baby is happy, I let them sit in “it” (oh yes, I do!) for a few shots until I’m ready to move on. Then I take that opportunity to clean them up a little. I also keep a small bin nearby to throw all dirty wipes and nappies into so they’re not lying around during the session. Hygienic and neat … and professional.
As safety is number one priority in a newborn session, I do advise that you purchase a weight or two to place in props such as baskets. Again, you can get these at Kmart, Big W, and the likes.
This helps to secure the prop as baby can be top heavy. Place the weight near the back of the prop to even out and balance the weight of the baby. Cover with a blanket or stuffer. You can also simply use rice bags as weights.
I’m not going to cover cameras and lenses here, as everyone will have something different. What I will say here is that you need something to set your custom white balance. This helps to get colours spot on in different lighting situations and cut down your post-production time. I have recently been introduced to the Digital Calibration Target (say that fast 10 times!) and it has worked so well for me. I purchased mine from Adorama in the United States, as I couldn’t find a supplier in Australia. It takes a little getting used to, but it’s pretty simple once you know what you’re doing. Also don’t forget extra SD/CF cards.
This is a huge topic to cover. Everyone has their own unique style and look that they prefer. And our props tend to reflect our preferences. However, I do have a few thoughts on choosing the right props.
- Buy well-fitting props. Hats, pants and headbands should fit baby properly, without gaping and looking too big or too small.
- Baskets, buckets and bowls should be large enough to comfortably fit baby in. I have seen too many “squished” babies and they look horribly uncomfortable. And remember, “look” is what an image is all about. The prop should also be secure with a firm base and not on the verge of toppling over.
- Look around at Op Shops and garage sales to see what you can find for a steal. You can often find treasures that will not break the bank.
- A lot of photographers have a de-stash and sell some of their props for reasonable prices.
Over time you’ll develop the style you like and your prop choices will probably evolve and change. Just remember that it’s not the prop that makes the image, but the subject, the beautiful newborn baby. Some of the most amazing images I have seen have had no props at all, just a little bub on a blanket. With that being said, with the right choice of prop and the right colour combinations, you can take an ordinary image and make it spectacular. Start off small and develop over time. You don’t need everything all at once (although that’s tempting). I have seen a lot of photographers (myself included) “over-buy” and never get to use half the stuff because their taste changes in just a few short months.
Suggested Reading:Newborn Photo Props: The Story Counts
One final thought on props. Find a way to keep your props organised. Use shelving and hangers for this purpose. If your props are organised, they’re not only more accessible to you in the session, but you won’t forget what props you have at your disposal.
Okay, here’s the whole shebang!
NEWBORN PHOTOGRAPHY STARTUP GUIDE CHECKLIST
- BEANBAG/POSING POD
- BACKDROP STAND
- HEAVY LAYERING BLANKETS
- WATERPROOF LAYER
- POSING BLANKETS FOR STUFFING
- WHITE NOISE
- SANITIZER & WET WIPES
- WHITE BALANCE DEVICE
- SD/CF CARDS
- CLIENT CONTRACT
(Posing fabric/blankets, hats, headbands, pants, wraps, mini blankets, layering blankets/flokati rugs, furs, floors, baskets, bowls and anything else you want!)
Check out these helpful must-read articles:
Interested in workshops or one-on-one mentoring? Check out Lorna’s mentoring page. You may also want to consider the value in doing Lorna’s 4-month Business Mentoring Program in which she walks with you over a four-month period and teaches you the ropes (and you get a custom, fully-functional website geared for SEO, too). Otherwise, see all she offers at Lorna Kirkby Photography.
*Sigh* Some Ts & Cs
For obvious reasons, the Newborn Photography StartUp Guide is under copyright. That’s the official term for asking you nicely to respect the hardwork and time that it took to put together. If you’d like to share it with others, by all means! Please share this page far and wide. If you’d like to link to this page as a resource on your own site, that’s perfectly fine. Please add the hyperlink to the phrase “Newborn Photography StartUp Guide”. If you have any questions, please drop me a line via the contact form.