So you’re ready to dive into the world of newborn portraiture? I’m sure, like me, you started out photographing everything under the sun … weddings, seniors, families and babies. After a few newborns you were hooked, right? That’s great! It’s a good idea to find your niche and specialize in one or two areas of photography. Otherwise you might become overwhelmed and quickly spread yourself too thin. Newborn portraiture is growing in popularity, so it’s not surprising there are more photographers who specialize in it. Amid a sea of photographers, it’s critical you have a plan in place that sets you apart from the rest. It’s critical for your business’s survival. Also consider that working with newborns is much different than other types of portraiture. Newborns are fragile – simply put. This post covers tips for newborn photographers that will prepare you for a successful photography shoot.
A newborn photographer’s two biggest priorities should be safety and proper posing techniques when working with newborns. Do your research before your first newborn session and be cautious when attempting trendy and challenging poses, such “chin in hands” or “stork’s nest.” Educate yourself by participating in online forums. They are a great way to connect with peers and mentors and you will find invaluable information. I manage a great community specific to newborns and I would love to have you participate. Take an online or in-person workshop. Learning from an established and experienced newborn photographer is the best way to put yourself on the fast track to success. Find a mentor whose style and work is consistent and speaks to you. You are investing in your business, so keep your expectations high.
After you’ve made the initial leap, taken a workshop and practiced on newborns of friends and family, you likely will be ready to establish yourself as a professional newborn photographer. Yay! Paying clients! But not so fast … Before you search for new clients there are a few more small details you must consider first. First and foremost, liability insurance and contractual documents are necessary due to the nature of working with newborns.
“Liability insurance is a part of a general insurance system to protect the photographer against liabilities placed on the photographer through lawsuits and other legal claims. This will protect the photographer for claims that arise under the terms of the insurance policy. This insurance is in addition to equipment and property insurance needed for the business. Contracts are the most straightforward way to keep liabilities in check and inform clients of the policies that guide the business relationship. These documents act to inform both parties of legally required duties, as well as an enforcement ground for the business policies as necessitated due to the demands of newborn photography. Important contractual provisions for newborn photographers include payment amount, method of payment, indemnification, cancellation/late policy, and copyright law.”
– Rachel Brenke, Legal basics for newborn photographers
When you’ve covered all your bases it’s time to reel in the paying clients! Obviously your target market is expectant mothers and families, and mothers and families with small children. The question is where are you going to find them and how are you going to connect with these potential clients? My advice is to start local, network and focus on building business relationships. Go online and research local businesses and communities that also target your target market. Check your local chamber of commerce, log on to community discussion boards on Facebook, zero in on the most common Google searches, or pop open the old-fashioned phone book. Making personal connections is key because potential clients are more likely to use a photographer suggested to them by someone they trust. Ideas for finding newborn photography clients include:
- Mom cafes
- Local mom groups (e.g., MOPS, toddler groups)
- Maternity and baby boutiques
- Pediatric offices
- Midwife practices
- Obstetrics offices
- Online social communities for moms (i.e. Café Mom, Mamapedia, Mother’s Click, etc.).
Small businesses like to support one another, so reach out to businesses and communities like yours and start a conversation. How can your businesses help and benefit each other? Discuss opportunities for working together to reach more customers in your area. A few suggestions might include:
- Displaying their pamphlets in your studio, and vice versa
- Joint giveaways
- Hosting monthly events with mom-targeted businesses
- Joint promotions – If the customer shops with their business, they get 10% off at your business, and vice versa
Planning a Newborn Session
Your hard work has paid off and you’ve booked a few newborn clients. … It’s showtime! Keep in mind newborn portraiture sessions are much different than portrait sessions for 6-month-olds, 1-year-olds or family groups. Newborn portraiture takes even more careful planning and preparation. This should start with properly preparing the newborn’s parents for their session.
I can’t stress enough the importance of educating and prepping the parents.
Failing to do so can be detrimental to your session and can cause frustration during the session itself. Ideally your client will book the newborn session with you before the mother gives birth. At the initial booking, remember to mention the importance of scheduling the session within 5 to 10 days after birth. Babies are very sleepy and easier to pose during these first days.
After the 14-day mark, babies spend more time awake and are not comfortable in “womb-like” poses.
Twelve to 14 days after birth is still doable, but I will only wait that long if the baby or mother had to spend additional time in the hospital. It’s helpful to get in touch with your client about a week before her due date to check in and remind the expectant parents to get in touch with you as soon as the baby arrives. Suggest to clients that they designate someone (e.g., husband, mother, sister ) to get in touch with you as soon as the baby arrives so that you can start the process of scheduling the session during that delicate window of time. Remind your clients:
Newborns change dramatically just a week after birth and the sooner the better to capture the baby’s newness and delicate features.
When you and your client have determined a time and day for the session, send an email or verbally go over the preparations and instructions with your client. This pre-briefing helps set the expectations and tone for the session. Don’t assume your client understands the importance of the preparations – they often do not. Remind them the instructions must be followed as closely as possible to ensure a successful photo shoot. Otherwise, you both will spend too much time trying to soothe the baby to sleep and not enough time taking their portraits. Preparation Suggestions:
- Mothers who are nursing should try to avoid eating anything spicy (i.e., pizza, hot sauce, etc.) that might upset the baby’s tummy for 24 hours preceding the scheduled session.
- Encourage parents to keep their baby awake for 1 to 2 hours before the session to ensure he or she is sleepy for the session. This is very important: without this, too much time will be spent getting them to sleep and there won’t be as much time for photographing them.
- Ask that the baby has a full belly for the session. Parents should feed their baby immediately before they leave for the studio.
- Dress the baby in loose clothes to avoid any lines on their skin – a simple sleeper is best. Avoid “onesies” or anything else that must be pulled off over the baby’s head.
- Bring a pacifier – they can be very helpful during the session.
- The studio should be kept at 85 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the baby warm while in their birthday suit. Parents also should dress in layers that can be removed easily if it’s too warm.
- During the session, remind parents to sit back, relax and take advantage of this time to rest. Suggest they bring their laptops to catch up on some work, write thank-you notes … or just take a NAP! :)
- Have your clients carry their baby into the studio in their car seat. I like to remove the baby from the seat because I know how to do it without waking them!
- Parents should let you know ahead of time if they would like family or sibling portraits taken during the newborn session. After sibling portraits are finished, I ask the spouse to take the older sibling out of the studio for the remainder of the session. Having antsy toddlers in the room can make it difficult to finish up the individual newborn portraits.
Newborn Session Checklist
It’s go time! Parents have been prepped and have followed your instructions. Is your studio ready and equipped? It helps to have a session checklist handy to make sure you have everything you need. There’s nothing like getting halfway through the session and having a blowout with no wipes handy or seeing your PocketWizard battery die.
- A large puck-style beanbag for posing – the firmer the better
- A backdrop stand for attaching fabric/blankets to
- 10 to 12 folded receiving blankets for posing
- Space heaters (affiliate)
- Heavy-duty clamps for clamping fabrics
- White noise machine (aSleep is a great app for iPhones and iPads)
- Hand sanitizer
- Weights for weighing down props to keep the baby safe
- Nursing pillow
- Changing table pad
- Extra blankets
- Extra change of clothes – just in case ;)
Pick Props Ahead of Time
In addition to the necessities listed above, it’s helpful to have the props picked out and ready to go in advance. I don’t recommend having clients pick them out upon arrival because this can take up precious sleepy time and the prop choices likely will overwhelm your clients. They are not only paying you to take great portraits of their newborn; they are paying you for your expertise and styling too. They should know what to expect from your style based on your portfolio. Although I don’t recommend having parents pick out the props, before the shoot I do ask them if they prefer a color scheme (nursery colors) or dislike any colors in particular. Use their preferences in selecting your props ahead of time and have them ready to go upon their arrival. Planning and preparation always helps the session run more smoothly.
Use a Workflow
Finally, have a planned workflow in your head. If it helps to write it down, then by all means write it down! Babies don’t always cooperate, but it helps to be organized and have a general idea of what poses you are going to start and end with. Just remember that simplicity goes a long way. Don’t try to do too much. Stick to a few different colors and select a couple of blankets and 2 to 4 props (i.e., buckets, baskets, stools, etc.) that coordinate. I recommend starting with beanbag poses and then progressing into your prop setups. When deciding on which poses to do and in what order, it helps to transition between poses that require the least amount of movement. The more you move the newborn, the more likely he or she will wake up – your goal is to keep the baby asleep as long as possible! There you have it, friends. Those are the basics you need to know for successful newborn portraiture. It can be a challenge and requires a great deal of patience. Newborn portraiture isn’t for everyone. But it’s a pretty awesome job, if you ask me. We get to capture babies in their first few days of life and provide keepsakes and memories that are passed down from generation to generation. Bringing a newborn baby into the world is one of the most amazing experiences in life and to be trusted with these delicate little humans is a big job. A great job.