January 18th, 2012 by ariana
Right after my insanely busy fall season I wanted nothing more than to take at least a month-long break from photography. But, I had two newborns due in early December that I had booked months earlier. As fate would have it, they were both born just days apart so I needed to squeeze them into the same week of shooting. Then I got a call from a family whose photographer had canceled on them due to a family emergency and they begged me to fit them in.
I have a terrible time saying no, so I shot three newborns in one week. To give you an idea, I usually do one maybe two per month, so this was quite unusual for me and a little bit terrifying.
I have a confession – I don’t really LOVE newborn photography. There, I said it! Partly though I think it’s because I’m just not that GOOD at it. I mean I’m good at lighting and shooting them, but the posing and handling part I just don’t feel 100% confident in. In fact, after EVERY newborn session I swear that I’m not going too book another one until I take a newborn workshop! But then, some time passes and I get a little amnesia and get excited about the challenge again and I cave.
So, there I was with three newborn sessions, each more difficult than the one before. But then I realized I was using the same techniques to try to salvage what I could from the shoots and that those techniques might be useful/helpful to anyone else who is photographing a less than perfect sleeper!
First, what follows is assuming you are employing all the BASIC techniques of newborn photography including keeping the room as close to 90 degrees as possible, using some sort of white noise app, making sure blankets and surfaces are warm before placing baby on them etc. What I’m talking about here is when you are doing everything “by the book” and it’s STILL not going well -what can you do to make sure you get enough variety for a gallery?
1) Swaddle. Duh, you knew this already right? But, there’s a twist.. I find that the types of fabrics that I was using to swaddle sleeping newborns to be completely inadequate for swaddling awake babies that are moving their arms and legs and tend to break free much too easily from any fabric with slip.. so I went out recently to BRU and bought some semi-attractive looking regular type of receiving blankets for this purpose. Before my next session, I’m going to order these stretchy knit scarves from Van Klee instead.
2) Move to the parent shots. I find that even fussy babies are usually OK with doing parent shots for at least as long as it takes to fire off a few frames!
And, if not, see #1! During the session above, I only BRIEFLY shot this image before baby lost it. So we fed him, tried to come back later but he still wasn’t having any of it, so as a last resort we swaddled him for the family shot:
3) Staying on the topic of parent shots for a second, there is one pose in particular that I find can usually be achieved even when baby is not sleeping or even that calm, partly because you can’t see baby’s face that well, but also because the frog-like leg position and hand around baby’s head like this keeps the baby well contained even when awake. Plus, often the interest of looking into their parents’ faces will hold their attention long enough to get them to calm down a bit:
This baby was also pretty fussy when this shot was taken:
4) Enlist one of the parents to help you hold the blanket up vs. having it clipped to a stand. This is something I recently started doing and it has made a world of difference in how free I am to rotate the beanbag’s angle towards the window to get my lighting just how I want it. But as it pertains to a difficult session, this will also allow you more freedom to shoot the same pose from different angles. For example, after this shot:
I tried pulling him up over the “bump” I had created in the blankets expecting him to keep his head angled the same way, but then he turned it. Instead of trying to make his head turn the way it had been (and risking him waking up in protest!) I rotated my whole beanbag so that his body was no longer at a 45 degree angle but instead at a 90 degree angle from the window.
I can’t tell you how much this freedom from “blanket clipping” has helped me with getting more optimal light and angles throughout my newborn shoots!
5) Shoot the details. When you REALLY are struggling to get the requisite number of shots, details shots will add some much needed variety:
It’s not just a gimmick either, parents LOVE these shots! The mom told me that this smooshy lip thing he’s doing is his signature move, so you can BET that’s something the parents want to remember!
6) Accessorize Accessorize Accessorize. Often, I end up getting 90% of the shots from a session during one 15 minute stretch of REALLY deep sleep. When that happens, I will literally switch out hats and bows like a mad woman trying to get some variety before I risk a bigger move like changing blankets. This little guy REALLY gave us a run for our money until literally the LAST 10 minutes of the shoot when he finally feel into a super deep sleep.. so once we got him in the bucket I just changed up the hats and kept shooting!
7) Prioritize. I always set expectations with the parents that we may not get through all the shots they want, so I ask them what is MOST important to them and shoot that first. I had one client that REALLY wanted a swaddled shot. Normally I swaddle when baby isn’t cooperating as a plan B, but it was so important to her that we actually swaddled this little girl even though she was deeply sleeping:
If left to me, I always assume that baby on blanket and baby with parents are most important, but sometimes the parents have other ideas (they might want that prop shot more!) so it’s ALWAYS a good idea to ask!
8) Don’t be too hard on yourself, you probably have more than enough. The second to last newborn I did was my hardest one EVER. I seriously could not move her fingers without her waking up screaming. By the end of the session we were all a little stressed out and I was just really down about it. But then I realized that the shots we did get were great. In fact, this is one of my favorite newborn images I’ve ever taken:
And in the end, even though we didn’t have enough variety for say a huge album, we had covered all our bases. We had some beautiful wide awake swaddled shots, a few full body shots as above, a shot of the whole family and a shot of mom with baby and dad with baby. Honestly, that’s plenty to choose from when it comes to the parents ordering products.. often times parents order multiple copies of their favorite one or two shots anyway, and all it takes is ONE great shot printed on a large canvas to make an impressive statement:
Or just the three parent/family shots to make a fantastic grouping:
And two are all you really need for a beautiful birth announcement!
So while you may be beating yourself up about the lack of variety, you are probably the only one. The parents were there -they KNOW how difficult the session was and they are most likely just incredibly grateful that you were able to get ANY wonderful shots and will be pleasantly surprised! That’s how this family was – in the end we laughed about it, they got what they needed and everyone was happy.
Hopefully all your newborns are good sleepers and you won’t ever need any of the tips above. If so, you are luckier and probably better at handling babies than I am :)
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