Top 10 Newborn Session Tips with Lisa Rapp
When people ask me what I do for a living, I say, “I shoot babies!”—which sounds a little harsh, but it’s what I do. Newborn photographers are a rare breed. I am one of the few professionals who literally gets shit on at my job, and I love every second of it. We are given the purest form of human life, entrusted to keep it content and safe, all the while trying to keep calm, cool and collected ourselves. Here are a few things I have picked up over the years during my newborn sessions.
- Know that you are not in control of the session—baby is!
You can’t force babies to do anything they don’t want to do. If a baby isn’t comfortable doing a certain pose, they just won’t do it. Persistently trying to force a baby into position will only make them cry, which in turn will make Mom uncomfortable and stressed, and make you look clueless. Content babies sleep. Comfortable babies hold positions and poses, and then you look like a baby whisperer. A warm environment, full belly and some white noise may also help keep a baby happy.
I try to get the baby into a pose a few times, and if it isn’t working, I move on. I may try again later if I feel they are more relaxed or sleeping better. Just go with the flow.
- Get it right in camera—wrinkles are bad, bad, bad.
For the love of your sanity, don’t say, “I can get rid of that in post.” Straighten out the wrinkles before you even press the shutter. Post-processing is a time suck. You don’t have to fix it if it isn’t there in the first place. Take a few extra minutes on these details to save you a lot of editing time. Smooth, nontextured blankets are easy to fix in post. Textured blankets are a nightmare.
- Let’s talk newborn safety—don’t drop the baby!
Baby’s safety and well-being are priority one.
I’m not going to rant or preach here. Use common sense. These babies are not toys. They need to be handled with care. Remember, you have someone’s precious little bundle of joy in your hands.
Babies’ heads are very heavy, and they have no muscle control. Always support the neck and head when handling a baby.
I prefer to do composites. While some photographers don’t do composites, I have to trust that they know how to handle babies safely and responsibly.
I always have someone sitting next to the bag or prop within arm’s reach. I tell whoever is helping me, whether it be Mom, Dad or my studio wife, “Your only job is to watch the baby. Don’t watch me, don’t turn to look at your spouse, keep your eyes on the baby. If baby stretches her legs out, she can jump like a frog and startle everyone.” I explain that the baby is on a huge beanbag that isn’t going anywhere, but that we just don’t need that kind of excitement during the session.
I don’t put a baby in/on a prop unless he is sound asleep and out cold. Fidgety babies move, and nobody’s got time for that.
- Check on Mom—she just had a baby, for heaven’s sake.
Childbirth is stressful on the body, and Mom is a hothouse of female emotions. Her body is sore and tired, even though she might not realize it. If she comes alone and my studio wife isn’t there, Mom will be the one assisting me. I ask her several times during the session if she needs a break, snack or drink.
If Mom is assisting, I help her up if she is sitting on the floor next to the bag. I never let her get up unassisted or while holding the baby. The question “Are you doing okay?” is short but sweet, and right to the point. This should be a pleasant experience. They will remember your genuine concern. Mommies have mommy friends—i.e., potential new clients.
For breastfeeding moms, I have a trifold screen for privacy. So if the mailman pops in, she feels secure.
- Patience, patience and more patience.
Every newborn is as unique as a diamond. Every newborn photographer knows that some babies are more tolerant to being handled than others. There are no “bad” babies; there are just some who are less tolerant to being handled.
This is where your inner Zen master comes into play. I don’t give up easily, and I tell my parents this up front. I take my time and don’t rush. I know when a baby isn’t going to cooperate, and I move on. Not every baby will do every pose, and that is okay. This is something I have difficulty with. I want every single pose to happen, and I want it to be perfect. This is when I have to revisit Tip No. 1 and remember that I am not in control here.
- All tied up.
Wrapping newborns is not easy when they are awake. We all have met that one newborn we call the Master Escape Artist. This is the baby that can kick, punch and squirm out of every wrap possible. My best advice is to wrap that little burrito tight. (Not too tight!)
Don’t be scared to experiment with different wrapping methods. Most babies like to be swaddled, and this is also a good way to settle some of them down.
When wrapping babies, keep a close eye on them, because you don’t want them to get too warm.
When unwrapping, don’t just yank it off. Unwrap with care so you don’t catch the umbilical stump and accidentally pull it off. Some boys who have been circumcised have a “bell,” and you need to use extra caution in this area. I have had them fall off during a session, and it isn’t a big deal, but be careful not to accidentally get it caught in the wrap.
- Shit happens.
Reassure parents that babies will pee and poop on everything, including you. They will stress and apologize repeatedly—just remind them that everything comes out in the wash.
I keep puppy training pads handy. These are a staple in the studio. When babies aren’t on the posing bag, they are wrapped up in a puppy pad. They have saved me so many times from being soiled.
It doesn’t hurt to keep a few extra t-shirts handy in case the baby has a huge explosion on Mom or Dad. That way, they don’t have to sit there covered in poo during the session.
- Know your limitations.
If you are just starting out, keep it simple. Get comfortable posing newborns before you dive into the harder poses. Discuss what the parents are expecting in the session. If they want poses that are beyond your experience level, you need to be honest with them and discuss their expectations. Honesty is always the best policy with newborns. The baby’s safety is more important than any shot, especially any shot that you don’t know how to accomplish safely.
Invest in your education. Continue to learn and grow. Learn something new with every session.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t know, ask. There are many photographers out there who are not willing to help, but there are just as many who are willing to give you advice and encouragement. Go find them.
- Presession tips.
I ask Mom to loosen the diaper a couple of hours before the session. This is to help eliminate marks on the baby for editing purposes. This is a purely selfish request—I hate editing.
I keep the studio at 80 degrees, and warn parents so they can dress accordingly. I am a hot sweaty mess during a session, and it isn’t pretty.
I ask Mom to dress the baby in a sleeper, with no onesie. The sleeper should either zip or snap up the front. This prevents me from having to pull anything over the baby’s head when they arrive.
I ask Mom to either feed the baby right before they head to the studio (if they live within a half an hour from me) or to hold off feeding the baby until they get here (for those who travel more than an hour for their session). This is not set in stone. It’s just to ensure the baby has a full belly. If it doesn’t work out this way, I tell Mom it’s okay, and explain why I am making this suggestion. Babies’ needs come first, obviously.
I photograph just one baby a day. This ensures I am not rushed in case the baby needs a little extra time, if parents are a smidge late due to poop explosions or anything else that may pop up.
I tell parents that I have everything that is needed for the session. This prevents them from bringing outfits that are not my style. But if they have something special that someone made them, I am more than happy to photograph it. I do tell them if they have a lot of things they want to bring, they should choose one or two of their favorites for me to shoot.
- Appreciate this honor.
Always remember what a blessing and honor you are being given. These parents are handing you their world. Treat the experience with the respect it deserves. You are capturing this newborn at its most vulnerable and purest, and you shouldn’t take that lightly.
What isn’t a perfect pose in your eyes will be the most perfect shot in the eyes of the parents. This family is now your extended family, and will remember the wonderful experience they had with you. You are being given access to the beginning of a wonderful relationship with this family. Don’t underestimate the power in this new connection.