Newborn Photoshoot – Baby Madeleine

Two of my best friends Sarah & Jay welcomed a new baby girl Madeleine into the world on October 7th. I’ve been excited about Madeleine’s arrival not only for personal but also for photographic purposes – I’ve been desperate to practice newborn photography and what better subject than a friend’s new baby?

I went CRAZY overboard on buying all the supplies you need to do newborns  and even creating some of my own – I stayed up until 1am several nights before the shoot knitting hats and cocoons with the knifty knitter (subject of a future post!).  I even had to switch cars with Jeff so I could have the SUV to take all the crap with me. And of course, ran around the house gathering and packing things for hours which meant I didn’t get to Brooklyn until so late that I only had about an hour and a half of actual shooting time – and it wasn’t nearly enough.

Somehow, continuing the tradition of flakiness that seems to be my hallmark I had everything in the world I could possibly need except… guess what I left in the back of my car that Jeff now had at work 30 miles away in the opposite direction of Brooklyn?

My camera.

Yep, I actually one upped my self from the last time simply forgetting my camera CARD to now forgetting (or misplacing) my entire camera.

Fortunately for me, Jay (the dad) is a professional photographer and so my mistake actually became a blessing because instead shooting with my Canon Rebel Xsi I got to shoot with his Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 50mm 1.4 lens.  For me this was a little bit like Christmas (if at the end of Christmas day you had to return all your gifts!) as this is my DREAM camera… I’ve been thinking about and lusting after this camera since it came out and now I want it even more.

This post could turn into a novel about what NOT to do when shooting newborns  (and probably will) but for those of you not interested in the photography tips part of it all, I’ll start with the few good images I DID manage to shoot and continue with the rest after.

Without further ado, baby Madeleine!







Shot with the Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 50mm 1.4 lens. Variable shutter speed, aperture at either 1.8 or 2.2.

(See these images bigger and beter on my photo  blog!)

Ok, so now the photog stuff..

First, words cannot describe how awesome this camera is… this is actually an almost 100% crop:

And yet it’s just as sharp and smooth as if not cropped at all. This is one of the advantages of a full frame camera. Other things I noticed were that the images didn’t need any saturation, and barely needed any contrast or sharpening, which is certainly not the case with images from my rebel! The noise level was almost non existent.  It is truly an amazing piece of equipment.. even if it was like being a stranger in a strange land – almost nothing was the same as on my rebel, Jay had to show me how to do pretty much everything which made things a bit more difficult.

Speaking of difficult, I thought that shooting a newborn would be so much easier than a toddler – after all they can’t run away! But it’s challenging in a whole other way. I think I was actually SCARED of the baby! Yes, I know that seems weird but even though I’m a mom and Jasper was obviously that tiny once it seems like it was a million years ago.. and it’s not so much scared as in I’m going to hurt her or anything, but scared of waking her up. So for example, I didn’t put on any of the hats I spent so long making because I didn’t want to disturb her and possibly jeopardize any of the hatless shots  I COULD take while she was snoozing.

I also brought waaaaay too many props, backdrops etc. In typical libra fashion I had SO many different ideas and things I wanted to do that I couldn’t FOCUS and take charge and plan for the next set up.  Next time I will have 3 or 4 ideas and concentrate on only getting those shots, I am too prone to indecision paralysis otherwise – the infinite options are too much for my brain to handle.

So just in case you have a newborn and want to practice on him or her, or are planning on doing a newborn shoot soon, here are the essentials that I gleaned from other newborn photographers:

A Bean bag – this is what you drape your fabric over and place baby on (I got mine at target for $19.99)

A boppy on top of the bean bag but under the fabric helps position baby.

Lap pads or waterproof something to go over bean bag.

Backdrop stand (this is the one I have) to drape the back of fabric over (you CAN use chairs or something similar) and clamps to hold fabric in place

A small cheap blow heater like this one

Blankets like this throw from Ikea


A noise machine

A microwaveable neck bean thingy to put on the blankets just before you place baby so it’s nice and warm.

A lifesize baby doll to determine best position and to meter off of before you place baby. I didn’t have one of these but Sarah & Jay did and it helped so much! I plan on trying to find one for myself .

Props props and more props.. knitted hats, baskets, fluffy wool rugs etc!

One of my BEST discoveries was (of all things) this juniors faux fur vest from Target that is the Perfect size for baskets and such (some of the other blankets are too big and bulky for little props):


This is what I used in the basket shots:


And if you are curious what a typical pro photographer’s newborn set up is, there is a great flickr group that shows pullbacks:

Mine looked like this one: though I wish the results were as good :)

Aside from the mistakes I already mentioned, one of the other things I will work on next time is seeing EVERY detail before shooting. For example the baby in the basket shots I shot a slew of images before I realized (because dad mentioed it) that baby was spread eagle! She didn’t want to close her legs so we puffed up the blanket in between them, but several shots were ruined because of my oversight.

Another big commandment in newborn photography is that you have AT MOST a 2 week window in which the baby is still sleepy enough to get all of those posed shots. Madeleine was exactly 2 weeks old and definitely was waking up to the world already. It would have been much better to do the photos the week before.

So those are some of the things I learned, I hope I can apply them the next time – I need to find another newborn to practice on and none of my other friends are pregnant! :)

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Ashley says:

Gorgeous pics! thank you so much for posting this! I have my first newborn shoot tomorrow! I a soo nervous & I am also a LIBRA!!! Everything you said & did sounds EXACTLY like me! I need to reign myself in & focus!!! I am dying for the 5d Mark II!!! I spoke with hubby & he said soon so I can’t wait!!! Thank you sooo much for sharing! You rock!

ariana says:

Thanks Rachel – it’s not mine – I WISH!

Rachel says:

Love the pics! I am so jealous of your new camera! my 50d was a huge jump from the rebel, but I don’t think your new cam is in my immediate future!

Sherean says:

OMG, these are AMAZING! Holy crap!

Kate says:

That picture of her smiling with her eyes closed in the basket just makes my heart melt! What a look of utter contentment!

ariana says:

Yes, I wondered if it was subconsciously on purpose too!

To answer your question, all the lenses I currently have are in the “in my camera bag” list in my first right sidebar (under my flickr stream pics). It’s up to date..I’ve been using the Tammy the most lately, but with winter coming and indoor shoots I will probably use the sigma more again. We’ll see, still working out my winter strategy. I have a bunch of people who want pictures so I need to maybe invest in a good lighting system.

jason says:

That was my little girl in the basket and I just wanted to thank Ari for such wonderful pictures. Despite her criticisms of her setup, she was a very competent and professional photographer. I agree that it is a good idea to walk into a shoot with an idea of what you will be doing, but it’s also important to walk away from something that isn’t working and move to a new idea. It amazing how many people try to muscle through a setup that isn’t coming together.
Thank you again Ariana, from us and all the grandparents that are flipping out right now:)

Ava says:

Amazing!!! But I expected nothing less from ya’ (except for the whole camera thing — that must have been mortifying… although are you sure it wasn’t on purpose just so you can use that Mark II?) ;p

Side note question for ya’: at this point what lenses do you have in your camera bag?

jbhat says:

What a lovely baby. The photography shop talk is somewhat lost on me. But the first shot, to my untrained eye, is my very favorite of them all. The parents are lucky to have it and the others.

ariana says:

Thanks guys!
@Shane, yes – I definitely need a list for this and will do this for the next shoot.

@Fiona, I’m afraid I’m not a great source of information on how to best use a point and shoot, but I would most definitely avoid flash at all costs (read this old post of mine:

Nanette says:

I love, love, love this post. Gorgeous pics, as always, and that’s a stunning baby. We waited too long for pics with our little gal – she was a month old and cranky as hell. Next time we’re doing it within 10 days, as our photographer pals recommended.

Shane says:

Pics really are beautiful!

as you can tell, i’m a bit anal/organized – pick your preferred term. Sometimes organization can free you — I think you should create a photo shoot check list on your iPhone. Then the night before you can go through your check list for prep. And then you can go through it 10 mins before you leave the house. Think of it as the checklist for a pilot before take off. As you get more props, accessories, etc you can add/update your list and maybe have 2 sections for MustHave and Optional items.

Fiona says:

Hi Ariana

Beautiful, beautiful photos. I envy your talent!!!!

I am about to have my first baby any day now….I am 38 Weeks tomorrow!!!

I would LOVE to be able to take a few really nice shots when our baby is tiny, but I don’t have then kind of equipment that you do. I have a cheap 8 megapixel standard digital camera and that’s it…..oh and a travel tripod. I know that it is possible to get some decent images from these types of camera….my friend does…. but I usually don’t!!!!

Could you give me some tips about how to achieve the best possible shots with my cheap camera? Should I have the lights on or off in my house? Should I put the camera on Auto and hope for the best or should I fiddle with the flash? What time of day is best for lighting?

I know this is really basic stuff, but I’m rubbish….help would be much appreciated! Like you said, there is only a few weeks where it is possible to get photos like this….I want to get them right,

Thanks so much. I love your blog….

Fiona x

Thank you for saying exactly what I think as I go to new shoots wondering if my brain will recall what I already know but nerves and inexperience get in the way. It’s Karma that I saw your sight on my old friend Michelle R.’s FB page and I have a newborn shoot in the morning with my brand new equipment. My 50D, 50mm 1.4 don’t match up to your borrowed Mark II but we’ll see what I can conjure up.
Thanks again a fellow creative Libra mom!

Keri says:

The pics are amazing, Ariana! I think they rival most “professional” newborn portraits I’ve seen. I can’t wait to try some of your tricks on baby #2:-)!

ariana says:

Thanks guys!

Alicia, yeah – it’s not easy on the ovaries that’s for sure :)
I kept the cocoon, I don’t think there’s much use for them other than photographic purposes!

Alicia says:

Thanks a lot! Now I REALLY want to have another baby!

You invest soooo much time and money and yourself in each of your shoots – and the payoff is amazing. Love that cocoon you knitted – so adorable. Did you keep it – or did Madeline keep it?

k says:

thank you so very much ariana!!! i have my first newborn shoot coming up soon! i am waiting for the little man to arrive! REALLY appreciate all the tips and tricks! (and first hand blog post!)

Ali says:

Wow. These are amazing! I think you found yourself a new gig. If I lived anywhere close to you, I would be knocking down your door for preggo and newborn shots!

Angie says:

OMG these pictures are amazing! I’m 4 months prego and can’t wait to shoot my newborn. You really gave me some great ideas, thanks!

Justina says:

The pics look fantastic!! Thks for sharing all the tips!