Ages and Stages for Baby’s First Year

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Baby’s first year is a special time to photograph. When you get involved in the entire first year, it really ties you to a family. I love photographing each of four “stages.” The key to being successful at it is to communicate extensively with the parents about the different stages. Even though babies all go through similar changes during the first year, all parents feel their child is special, and of course the smartest baby of all babies. Encourage them to talk about all the new things they are experiencing as parents. They will feel this way whether it’s their first baby or their fifth.

The Newborn Session

I like to photograph newborns within the first 10 days of birth. I know that sounds early, but the “fresher” they are, the better. I tell moms that I want to capture their baby as new as possible. These are days that you think you’ll remember forever, but they quickly go by. Brand-new babies are usually sleepy once fed, and are the easiest to work with. Once a baby is in position, however, use different angles and heights, and even walk around the baby to make your images different before moving her. Once you’ve got your shots, you’ll be moving the baby again and will probably wake her. Newborn sessions are all about being patient, and you want to always put the safety of the baby first.

Talk to parents about their experience in the hospital as well as first reactions. Ask them how they’ve transitioned into being at home with their baby. All parents love to talk about the miracle that has taken place, and getting them to talk with you about it all will tie them to the images you create.

Prepare new moms for what might happen during her newborn session. I like to tell moms that their baby will cry. The truth is, the newer they are, the less they will cry, but I want moms to be prepared for this because when a new baby cries, a mother’s first reaction is that something’s wrong. If they are prepared for it, they won’t panic. I also tell them that their baby will pee and poop and spit up on my things, and that I’m prepared for that. I let them know I’ll be asking them to feed the baby as soon as we are together, so they may need to stretch or do a partial feeding and then try to keep the baby awake until we are together. Mornings are usually best with newborns.

Newborn Session Equipment List


Baby wipes and wipe warmer

Hand sanitizer

Space heater

Heating pad

Puppy pads

Microwavable hand warmer



White-noise maker

4-Month Session

At four months, babies are full of expressions that can change every second. Babies are holding their heads up well, and are interacting and recognize smiles and laughter. Take advantage of this to make this session completely different from the newborn session, when babies are sleeping and eyes are closed.

The way I help parents show off all those new expressions is with a nine-image collection of baby faces. This is definitely our best-seller from this session. I talk to parents about the expressions I’m seeing, how fun their baby is, and they have to have it when they see those expressions together for the first time.

To photograph the expressions, I have Mom or Dad hold baby up on their knees, keeping hands as low as possible. With baby on Mom’s knees, he is happy and close to home. With studio lighting, Mom can even bounce the baby for giggles, and we can still get tack-on images.

At four months, babies are also great on their tummies. They are holding themselves up well, and will keep those expressions going for you. Be ready to photograph quickly—they will wear out. I’ll also capture them on their back, snuggled into a soft fabric, holding onto toes or in a cute outfit. I still prefer naked baby sessions, with accessories, but if Mom does have a special outfit, we’ll throw it in and show it off to end the session.

This session is also a great time to include some snuggly mommy moments—or daddy, too, if he’s there. I do this when Mom or Dad is holding the baby for her “head shots.” A parent is right there, so take advantage of those moments to get some snuggles and kisses, or Mommy holding baby in the air—anything that shows the connection and the fun stage the baby is in.

Make this session fun for the parents and for you, and it will result in big sales. A lot of photographers get intimidated by this session. You’ve put your best effort into the newborn session, got great images and made a nice sale. Then we talk ourselves out of the parents wanting to spend well again at four months. Remove this thinking from your mind. Continue to grow the gallery of their sweet little one by celebrating the stage the baby is in. Talk about it, ask questions about firsts and milestones, and then photograph everything they mention to you. These are the images parents will treasure and just have to have.

4-Month Milestones

Holds head up well

Makes lots of expressions

Laughs easily

Lies easily on their tummy

Grabs things

Rolls from tummy to back

8-Month Session

The eight-month session is the third session during babies’ first year, and it is my favorite to photograph.

At eight months old, baby has made many changes. Almost all are sitting really well and are very happy. They also aren’t afraid of “strangers” at this age, which makes for a great session. I love talking to moms about the baby’s milestones at each session, but at eight months, it seems that they are most excited to talk about all the firsts. When talking with Mom, take notes, as these milestones make great additions to the first-year album, as well as conversation starters during phone calls and future sessions.

By talking about these personal moments and milestones, we’re continuing the conversation and the session becomes much bigger than the photographs I’m taking. I want Mom to have a special experience with her little one that she will remember every time she looks at her portraits. If I communicate with her those special moments and memories, she will see those things when she comes to view her portraits at the order appointment. When you can capture that, and not just a photograph, those images become very powerful.

At eight months, it’s a great time to have Mom bring the baby’s favorite stuffed animal, blocks or other toys or heirloom pieces. Her baby will have a great grip. Be aware that everything goes into the mouth, and comment on how cute that is. When you have a mom who tries to stop her baby doing what she’s doing, the momentum of the session gets lost. Typically it’s something very normal, so capture it and talk about it. I will say to a mom, “I love her hands in her mouth—so cute.” And Mom suddenly sees what her baby is doing as a treasured memory instead of something that won’t look good in a photo.

Another way to use those milestone memories is in the first-year album. As soon as the client leaves, take notes about the session, how it went, what was important and what was discussed. All of these things are tools you can use in the future when communicating with your client and when selling and making suggestions for purchase. You will not be “selling.” You are remembering what’s most important to this family and helping them celebrate it.

8-Month Milestones

Sits up


Crawls (some)

Plays with toys

Stands while holding onto something (some)

Waves good-bye

Plays patty-cake

Likes music

1-Year Session

By the time the one-year mark rolls around, the baby that toddles into your studio will be a completely different little person than the one who first came. The first year of life is the time of the most growth and change. Babies will more than double their weight, sprout hair and teeth, begin babbling sounds and start to walk. It all happens so fast, and you get to document it.

During a one-year session, I will start with the baby’s “traditional” portrait. Typically a one-year-old will have about a 10- to 15-minute time span where he will be willing to interact. During this time, I’ll need a ball or a toy, dancing and singing, peek-a-boo and a number of other tricks in my arsenal. If the baby has started to walk, it’s often a game of chase and place. I use Mom or Dad a lot during this session. They will need to be the baby handler, chasing after baby and then placing him again in the scene. I also want a parent close by since baby is now on the go, and usually not completely steady yet. We don’t want tumbles during the session, so I have Mom stay very close anytime we have a child on a chair, a step or anything else that they might fall down from.

After 10 to 15 minutes of shooting, I want to make a change. It’s time for a new outfit and new background or location. With one-year-olds, I’ve found that a good 15 minutes is about all I can expect. Let Mom know this during your consultation call so that she doesn’t feel you are rushing through the session. Reassure her that you will be able to get everything you need in that amount of time. We only change clothes/background if the client wants her portraits in more than one room. I tell clients that we will be designing each clothing choice based on what room the portraits will hang in. This has completely changed the flow of sessions for me.

Have on hand soft balls to throw and roll. You can quickly retouch them off of a background if needed. The balls get the attention of the baby. Toys that make a noise are also great to have. Ask Mom during the consultation call if there is anything her baby has become attached to. Whether it’s a blanket, a stuffed animal or doll, I want to photograph the child with that special item.

The birthday cake is the best part of the session. It’s easy to make this happen in a short amount of time. Have a parent place the baby behind the cake, and get ready to snap away. Discuss with your client the different options for showing off all those great images.

Have fun with your one-year sessions, and embrace all the new things that the baby is doing. This is an exciting time for parents as their baby is becoming a little person.

1-Year Milestones

Plays patty-cake and peek-a-boo

Waves bye-bye and blows kisses

Starts walking

Crawls quickly

Starts drinking from a cup

Starts learning to feed himself

Recognizes humor

Begins using sound words

Shows definite understanding of certain words

Imitates behaviors


Gets easily distracted

Client for Life

During each session, I talk about all the new things that baby is doing right now, and then photograph those milestones. These changes and new beginnings turn into memories because we’ve talked about them and then focused on them during the session. The goal for most photography businesses is a “client for life.” Building a relationship through baby’s first year lays the foundation for that client for life. Even though our Baby’s First Year program is profitable, the best part is that these clients now feel like family. We’ve been a part of one of their most important year, which leads to a client for life.

With the first-year babies, I like to get parents in to view and order images as soon as possible—I even allow them to view their images immediately after the session. The sooner the better during the first year. And if I can show them their images right away, it’s really great for workflow. When the client chooses images right after the session, the only images I ever have to touch are the images they ordered. Beautiful.

However you choose to photograph and then present the images to your client, remember that the more personal you can make the session—the more you make it about them and what’s important to them—the more that client will be tied to you and excited about the product and service you are offering.

The more you discuss with your client about what is going on in the life of her child, the more special the photographs you take will become, and the more you will ultimately sell.

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To read the full article, launch the digital version of the June 2015 magazine.

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