There is nothing sweeter or more ephemeral than a newborn baby. Those sweet milk drunk smiles and three hour naps don’t last long. All parents will, at one point or another, find themselves astonished to look down at their child and realize that little baby has turned into a child.
Lifestyle photography is one of two main forms of newborn photography. The other is a posed newborn photography which often involves complicated posing, backdrops, and a menagerie of props. Those types of sessions typically only feature the child and require that the newborn be asleep. Lifestyle photography turns the traditional newborn photography model on its head by ditching the props and photographing a newborn in its natural habitat.
Here are some tips, tricks, and recommendations to make your lifestyle newborn session go as smoothly as possible.
Be Prepared and Flexible
It is important to come with a plan but also to remain flexible. Every baby is different and every day is different. If something doesn’t work move on to the next idea and come back to your original plan if the rest of the session allows it. Try not to be disappointed if you don’t get every shot you want. Save your ideas for the next session and really focus on what you loved about this particular experience.
Get Them Young
Newborn sessions are usually done before a newborn hits two weeks old. Mostly, this is because at a young age babies just eat, sleep, and poop. Their schedules are uncomplicated and they sleep a lot. Not all in one go, but a full tummy and a clean diaper are usually enough to send them into nap mode for a couple of hours. Most of the time it’s nearly impossible to wake them so you can move them around without disturbing them too much.
The other reason is because babies start to lose what is affectionately known as their curl. Babies retain their adorable folded up position for about two weeks before they learn the beauty of a nice good stretch. Once they are out of that truly newborn stage they start to lose the newborn look and hit their first growth spurt somewhere between four to six weeks. If possible, take the photos before that growth spurt.
Calm Your Nerves
Babies make a lot of people nervous because they seem so small and fragile. One bonus of doing a lifestyle session is your won’t ever have to pose or even pick up a baby if you don’t want to. The family is going to look for you for direction and feed off your energy so take a couple deep breaths and collect yourself, your entire session will go more smoothly if you do.
Start in the nursery
The nursery is a great place to start because it screams baby. Everything in the room has something to do with the child’s life so far and the dreams and aspirations his or her parents have for the kiddo’s future. Plus, they are usually clean because a newborn is too young to dump out a toy box. Don’t forget the iconic shoots of the baby sleeping in the crib. It’s one photo every parent wants to have when their child has grown past the baby stage.
Just Mom and Just Dad
Sometimes when you a focusing on the baby and the family dynamic, you forget to get photographs of the individual relationships occurring. Don’t forget to get some photos of just mom and baby and just dad and baby. While they might not be thinking of it now, they will appreciate having them as their child grows and changes.
Don’t Forget Siblings and Pets
The first time I did a lifestyle photography session I completely forgot to get any pictures of the newborn’s older brother alone with the baby. I didn’t even notice until I got home and went through the pictures. I was so focused on this poor little boy’s new sister that I completely forgot about how important it was capture those first tentative moments when lifelong bonds are being forged. I ended up going back the next day just to do a special session focusing just on the two of them, which made mom and dad happy, but could have been avoided if I had paid more attention while I was there. Likewise, a lot of people consider their pets to be part of the family so ask if the family would like them included in the portraits. Nine times out of ten, the answer is going to be yes.
Don’t be afraid to take five minutes before you session starts to move things around and hide distracting elements in dark closets or home offices where they won’t detract from the emotion of the photos. Often new parents are struggling to juggle all the responsibilities of home, work, and baby but that reality is temporary and not to be immortalized in their portraits.
Look for Natural Light
When you arrive in someone’s home look for natural light. What blinds can be opened? What room has the best natural light? How does opening the front door change the light in the living room? Do any of the rooms have white walls that can bounce window light around to create a nice bright yet diffused light? I’ve done many a portrait in bathrooms because all that white porcelain bounces light around beautifully. Maybe you’ll even be lucky enough to capture baby’s first bath.
And ditch the flash. That kind of light can be both startling and disorienting to a newborn baby whose eyes are still adjusting to the world outside. Additionally, harsh light, even the light from a diffused flash makes delicate baby skin look sallow.
Pack Gear that Performs in Low Light
Since you’ll be primarily using natural light, pack gear that performs well in low-light situation. If you have a full-frame camera body that is the one to bring as the larger internal sensor will allow the camera to shoot at a higher ISO without having too much noticeable grain. Lenses that open up to wide apertures also let more light in. If you are in a situation where you really need to shoot wide open think about stocking up on prime lenses which are typically capable of opening up wider than zoom ones can.
Tiny diapers and tiny clothes will soon be a thing of the past. Newborns aren’t newborns for long. In just a few weeks they’ll be in bigger clothes and up a size in diapers. I love to get photos of rows of size 0 diapers and onesies hung in the closet or over the crib railing as a reminder of just how much a child has grown. Likewise, don’t forget to capture little pouty lips, little fingers, and ten wiggly toes.
Use Props with Meaning
I don’t recommend bringing your own props. Instead, ask Mom and Dad what items they have that are important to their own family history. A stuffed toy that’s been passed down from generation to generation or a hand-knitted blanket from grandma will mean way more to the family in the long run than any generic prop you use for every session you possibly can.
Don’t just look for the smiles or the peaceful sleepy faces. Sometimes the crying baby being soothed by his dad or a yawning baby stretching post naps end up being the most treasured and visually interesting. Also, pay attention to how the baby’s family members are reacting to each other. I love a photo of a bored older sibling waiting for their turn for solo photos.
Keep Your Camera On
During a non-lifestyle portrait session everything comes to a standstill when a baby needs to eat or have their diaper changed but I recommend you keep shooting. Not too long ago I had a client email me to thank me for a photo she didn’t even know I was taking. While she changed her son’s diaper I took a few tasteful shots and when she was done changing him, she leaned down and touched her forehead to his. Since then I’ve done multiple sessions for them as their child has grown and not one has passed without her mentioning that stolen moment.
Don’t Forget Moments between Mom and Dad
When you have a baby, your entire life changes to some extent. Priorities get turned upside down. The equilibrium you have pre-baby spins and tilts and will eventually re-establish is self. Still, that kind of spinning and shaking leaves parents feeling disconnected from each other. When the baby is asleep or at least content, steal the parents away, as in six feet away and get a couple snaps of them together. It’s a nice reminder of their relationship to each other.
Bring a Change of Clothes
At some point an adorable baby is going to do one of the following onto your person: poop, pee, or puke. It is an occupational hazard. Bringing a change of clothes will help you smell better and ease any of the family’s embarrassment. Bringing an extra change of clothes lets them know baby barf is just part of the territory and a regular occurrence.
Use Black and White Conversions
Sometimes, regardless of your tidy-up abilities and your strategic guidance cannot prevent you from having some beautiful photographs with really awful backgrounds. Using a black and white conversion can neutralize distracting elements. Plus they are iconic and timeless. No one looks at a black and white photograph and thinks it looks dated.
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