The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to do some of the special things we like to do to celebrate our babies born after loss. Due to social distancing, photographers aren’t able to come into homes and take those precious newborn photos that we treasure. So, I asked my sister-in-law, Betsy Curtis Winters, who is a gifted photographer, to share some tips for taking your own stunning newborn photos.
Hi! My name is Betsy and I’m a photographer with my very own 5-month-old at present. I worked as a newborn photographer in the hospital for about five years, and I’ve also done quite a bit of on-location lifestyle shoots for families. Here are some of my tips for getting good photos of your newborn.
Babies do not follow instructions (or sleep schedules!). This means that you need to work around them and also sometimes use some tricks to get the shot you want (more info on soothing babies below below, in the Posing section). As I mentioned, some of my work is documentary in nature, so I like to capture some genuinely unplanned moments, but I also want to get some clear shots of a peaceful baby. This is most likely to happen if you can catch the baby shortly after a feeding, when they are calm and content. Don’t worry if the baby is sleeping. Sleeping babies are adorable and often more amenable to posing if they are in a deep sleep. Also, they often will wake up part way through the shoot, so you will likely get at least a few shots with open eyes. On the subject of timing, it’s also important to note that if you want photos that look really, really newborn, you should plan to shoot within the first two weeks of life.
While your baby will look cute no matter what, unless you have a professional lighting set-up, I recommend using natural light exclusively. Whether you are shooting newborn images in the hospital or at home, turn off the overhead lights. Pose baby near a window that lets in a lot of diffused natural light (not direct, harsh, sunlight). Think about the soft light on a cloudy day – that’s the intensity you’re looking for. As this light spills in over one side of the baby, it will create soft shadows on the other side. Pay attention to where the light falls and position yourself and baby accordingly. If you are shooting outdoors, it’s best to shoot in either the early morning or later in the day when you won’t get harsh shadows from the sun. Evenly shaded areas (not dappled) can also work well.
This photo taken with an iPhone in the hospital uses only natural light from the window to the left. In this case, the rolling cart made it really easy to get nice lighting on baby’s face. If you’re taking photos of baby in bed with mom, look for the way the light falls on them from the window and you can ask mom to turn just a bit for the light if needed.
While you don’t need anything fancy to create some beautiful photos, it can be nice to include some personal items. I love including any special swaddles or accessories that the parents have picked out or any items that have sentimental meaning to the family. Examples of such items might include a blanket made by a family member or flowers that were sent to the hospital in celebration of the birth. This is also the perfect opportunity to take incorporate a Molly Bear or another item that represents your baby who died. Some families also like to include rainbow-themed items.
Poses & Composition
I usually start a newborn shoot with the baby swaddled and lying on a bed or couch, slightly propped up, but not sitting. (In this case, I propped baby up in a basket on the floor.) I like them to be at a level where I can both shoot from above and also get down low enough to shoot from the side. (If you are using a window as your light source, remember to be aware of the light and reposition the baby if needed so that the light spills onto their face.) Be aware of what will show in the background of your shots, and adjust accordingly. This may mean that you will need to move any distracting objects out of view, or that you will just need to control the angle of the photo so that they can’t be seen.
Swaddled babies are generally content and warm, so you are likely to get some nice calm photos in this state.
Change your point of view from shot to shot, taking some photos of the baby’s face close up, some from the side, and some that show the whole baby. If needed, tap your screen or adjust your camera lens to make sure that the focus is on the baby’s eyes. Then, unwrap them a bit and try to get some nice shots showing their little hands, curled up near their chest or face. I usually take a close shot with baby holding mom or dad’s finger, and a shot of their tiny toes. Next, I take some photos with baby in Mom or Dad’s arms, and then (with baby still in mom or dad’s arms) I bring in everyone for a family photo. If there are siblings, I try to get a few shots of them with baby as well. These may or may not turn out looking “beautiful,” depending on the age and cooperation of the sibling, but they will be cherished nonetheless. When I work in this order, I can usually get these basic shots in about 15 minutes. This is especially important if the baby is only partially clothed, so that they don’t get cold.
Baby is slightly propped up in the basket, wrapped in a blanket crocheted by her aunt. The photographer should move around to find different compositions, while baby stays comfortably in one place. It can help to include Mom or Dad’s hands as stabilizers (and to show scale) when you’re trying to photograph baby’s hands or feet.
If baby is getting fussy as you shoot, I highly recommend using Dr. Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s for Soothing Babies.
My go-to’s when I’m working are the Shush and the Swing. They work almost every time. Sometimes, I will even ask the parent who is holding the baby to do these moves, and then I ask them to pause for me to get the shots.
For these photos, I had dad shush and gently swing baby to calm her. Dad is holding the baby for all of these shots and the photographer (who also happens to be Mom – me!) does the majority of the moving in order minimize annoyances for the baby. All light is natural light from the windows in our living room. Grandma stepped in to take the family photo when it was time.
After I know that I have some basic good shots captured, I start to get more creative.
You can look on the internet for inspiration and then try to re-create any poses that you like. I often like to try getting photos of the baby sleeping with their legs curled up underneath and their head resting on a hand. You won’t be able to get this shot if the baby is awake, so you’ll have to start this one with a sleeping baby and try to keep them asleep by making a shushing noise (or using a white noise app) and softly stroking their back. Make sure you have the scene set as you’d like it and then gently move baby into position. If it’s a little chilly in the room, I suggest keeping baby covered until you’re ready to take the shot and then quickly re-covering them after you make the image. If you have something like a rice or buckwheat heating pad, it can help to heat it to a warm (NOT HOT – ALWAYS TEST IT AGAINST YOUR OWN SKIN FIRST) temperature and put it underneath the blanket that the baby is resting upon.
If baby is sleeping soundly, you can change out any props and gently reposition her without waking her.
So there you have it! Hope these tips help you to take some beautiful photos of your newborn. The time sure does fly by, so I know you’ll be glad to have captured these moments!
P.S. – A Note on Self-Timers
Due to the current COVID-19 precautions, you may find yourself without a visitor to help you take a family photograph. Most cameras and phones will have a self-timer option that you can set to take the photo several seconds after you push the button, allowing time for you to get into position. If you’re not sure how to find/use your self-timer, a quick google search will almost always prove fruitful. If you don’t have a tripod to hold your camera/phone, you can make an improvised stand using something like books or boxes piled up on the coffee table. Position family members as you want them and frame the shot to allow room for you to take your place after pushing the button.