During my second pregnancy last year, I did a great deal of dreamy planning. It is easier now than ever to access thousands of ideas to prettily celebrate our pregnancies and births and newborn babies. I pored over the baby shower boards on Pinterest, the pastel images of perfect cakes and table tutus and gender reveals. I clicked through black and white galleries of unassisted water births and watched them on YouTube and read All The Things about cord clamping, skin to skin, attachment parenting and midwifery. But I spent more time looking through newborn photos than all the rest combined.
In the seventeen years since my last baby, newborn photography has come a long way. Digital cameras have given wings to this art form, and we are no longer limited to the harshly lit gamble of department store photos. Instead, we are treated to rosy cheeks and tiny bonnets, floral and flokati props, brand new life in poetic posed perfection to be liked and shared all over social media.
As soon as I cleared the first trimester hurdle, I booked a newborn shoot with one of the nation’s most prestigious newborn photographers AND began buying extra props to take my own newborn photos. I wanted to make sure I didn’t take a single squishy moment for granted, because I knew from experience that those early days fly.
You know what they say about best laid plans? It’s true. A placental abruption resulting in a severe hemorrhage put the damper on almost all of my newborn photo plans. I would no longer be able to drive out of state in the first couple weeks of my baby’s life. I was not well enough to move all around and pose my baby and position props. In fact, for the first two weeks, I couldn’t even hold my baby while standing upright. I had to adjust my expectations, as many of us do.
DIY Newborn Photography Tips
I am seeing more and more DIY newborn photo attempts in mommy groups online, and you know what? Some of them are excellent. I am here to tell you that you don’t need a full studio setup to take beautiful photos of your own baby. You don’t even need an expensive camera. Most new smart phones come equipped with cameras that will take decent photographs, good enough to make prints if you pay attention to your lighting. What you need to set up a makeshift newborn photo studio in your own home:
- A window
- A large beanbag or armchair
- Solid color bed sheets or a few yards of solid color fabrics from a fabric store
- Binder clips or clothespins
- Receiving blankets
Heat the place up.
Newborns cooperate best if the room is womb temperature. Turn the heat up to 85 degrees. You will be sweating, but you aren’t 8 pounds of naked squish. If the baby is cold, he or she will likely be wriggly and unhappy and hungry more often.
Full bellies = Sleepy babies
Whether you nurse or bottle feed, you will want to make sure that your baby has a full belly. If you nurse, you may want to have an assistant to help move the baby while you take the photos. In my personal experience, a breastfeeding baby will wake up and root around more often if Mama is nearby. Your baby will smell you and wake up to eat. It’s instinct.
Many photographers also run white noise in the background, whether it be a white noise machine specifically designed for babies or static on a TV.
Other children make things chaotic.
Do yourself a favor and make arrangements to have your other kids in another room, if you can. Littles and not-so-littles often want to interfere with photo shoot proceedings and you will stand a better chance of getting good photos and remaining sane if you do not have to fight other children off your baby while trying to achieve lighting, posing and shooting.
Light is very important.
You want to wait until the light is good, and you want to shoot in indirect light. When you open your shades and blinds, you will see on the floor where the direct light stops and the shadow starts. You will want to position the chair facing the open window but just within the shadow, not in the direct sunlight. This natural light will be very flattering and will make sure that there are no harsh shadows on your baby’s face or body. If it is an overcast day, all of the light will likely be the same and there will be no visible shadow. That is okay! Just make sure the drapes or curtains are open and your chair is facing the light.
Make an oval out of rolled up receiving blankets. This goes right on the seat of the chair or on the beanbag. Cover this with your bedsheet (make sure it is not all wrinkly first), and cover the arms and back of the chair, too. White is a good color to use. You can use binder clips or clothespins to clip the fabric in place so that it is stretched smooth and there aren’t any wrinkles or folds. Put them behind the chair or on the sides so they aren’t visible in the photo and your background will have a much more polished look. The seat, arms and back of the chair should all be covered with this one color. You can add other details and blankets if you like, but this gives you a starting point.
Choose outfits that are simple and fit well. Floofy dresses do not photograph well on tiny babies, nor do too-big special occasion three-piece newborn suits. In fact, you will notice that many newborns are wearing almost nothing or absolutely nothing in high end professional photos. There’s a reason for that. Simplicity rules when it comes to newborn photos. There are tons of teeny tiny newborn outfits on Etsy for use as photo props, and if you want your babies clothed in their photos, this is the place to buy them. Those clothes are tiny enough for most babies and are designed to look good in photos.
Examples of Fairly Easy Newborn Poses you can Manage Yourself
This photo was taken using the setup described above. For the background, I used a solid white throw blanket. You can see the baby is posed with one arm under his head and the other arm out of the way of his face. He is posed diagonally so that his head and tucked arm are on top of the ring of receiving blankets, which is underneath the white throw. He is naked, so there’s nothing showing but sweet new baby. I pulled a little of the blanket over his bum.
This photo was taken in an armchair facing a window on a rainy day. In these photos, baby is on his belly. In order to do this pose, you put his chest on the front of the ring of receiving blankets and just lay him down first. Then, carefully so as not to wake him, you can cross his arms over each other and lift his chin to rest on his forearm. In this photo, I draped a brown blanket across the back of the armchair and a green swaddle over his head. I love this pose because baby lips and cheeks are always so deliciously squishy and this really shows them off.
A lot of times their head will tip to one side or another to rest against the crook of their arms (see the photo above), and that’s okay. That makes for a cute photo, too. Make sure to take plenty of shots of each pose from several different angles. Move your camera around and take some close-ups and some from further away.
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, newborns defy the ‘sleepy and squishy’ stereotype and just won’t go to sleep. Although a lot of awake newborn photos are unflattering, if you shoot a lot of pictures, you will definitely get a few that are beautiful rather than cross-eyed or confused. Again, natural light is flattering. Don’t use a flash on a newborn if you can help it.
It’s good to take a few open-eyed pictures, anyway, just so you can remember the way your baby looked when he or she was gazing on the world with a brand new set of eyes.
Last but not least, don’t forget the importance of candids. Take well-lit pictures of your baby just doing baby things. Little yawns, scrunchy noses, peeling brand-new hands and feet, first baths and baby belly buttons are all things you might take for granted while you are healing and sleep-deprived, but you will cherish them later.