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Everything You Need to Know About Newborn Photography

Newborn photography— those adorable photos of infants posed in baskets and buckets— was not on my radar when I was pregnant with my first child. And, I later found out, if you don’t book while you are pregnant, you are out of luck because the poses you see in those pictures can only happen within the first couple of weeks.

With my second child, I booked a newborn session in the middle of my second trimester, I called the photographer right after Harlow was born along with my friends and family, and then had our photo session when my baby was just ten days old. (You can see my photos here.)

I found the whole experience fascinating so I asked our photographer, the wonderfully talented Rebecca Yale, if she could answer some questions about how she works with new parents to get them the photos they will no doubt treasure forever.

Below are 12 questions and answers accompanied by Rebecca’s newborn portraits all taken in her NYC-based studio.

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  • 1. What is the ideal age for a newborn studio session? 1 of 12
    1. What is the ideal age for a newborn studio session?
    For studio photography the ideal age is between 5-12 days. When babies are that tiny they spend a lot of time sleeping and still curl up into very sweet poses similar to the positions they were in when they were in the womb. After two weeks babies go through a growth spurt and will start stretching their arms and legs and will not be as amenable to curling up for a picture or sleeping as soundly, which is needed for some of the poses and photographs in props like the buckets.
  • 2. How far in advance should you book your session? 2 of 12
    2. How far in advance should you book your session?
    You should book your session as far out as possible, as early as your second trimester. I usually book sessions 3-4 months in advance and for busy photography seasons, it can even be 5-6 months out. I've received hundreds of phone calls from parents who have just given birth who want to book an appointment and I have no availability left. Then they get very sad because its such a short window of time to take those special portraits and they missed it.
  • 3. What is babies don’t arrive on their due dates? 3 of 12
    3. What is babies don't arrive on their due dates?
    I hold time before and after so the parents are guaranteed a space no matter when their baby arrives.
  • 4. How long does a session take? 4 of 12
    4. How long does a session take?
    Studio sessions typically last 3-4 hours which includes portraits of the baby on his or her own and then with each parent and then the whole family together. That may seem like a long time, but usually about half of that time is spent feeding and comforting the baby to get him or her as sleepy and happy as possible for the portraits.
  • 5. What should your baby wear to a newborn session? 5 of 12
    5. What should your baby wear to a newborn session?
    Most studio newborn photography is done naked to capture the tininess of being a newborn so something that is easy to take on and off. If you'd rather have your baby clothed in the pictures something that fits them very well is important. Big clothes never look good on anyone in photos, but on babies it really looks terrible.
  • 6. What else should you bring? 6 of 12
    6. What else should you bring?
    Some good things to bring are pacifiers, a change of clothes for yourself (if you're going to be in the photos holding a naked baby you might get pooped on), some extra diapers and wipes, extra formula or bottles if you are not breastfeeding, and any special blankets or toys that you want included in the photos.
  • 7. What do you do to make sure the baby is comfortable? 7 of 12
    7. What do you do to make sure the baby is comfortable?
    One of the most important things is to make sure the room is very warm. I keep the heat turned way up and have a space heater next to the baby. I also will play white sound or soft music depending on what the baby responds to better. This keeps babies calm and asleep (sometimes parents too— I have had many a father fall asleep on my couch). I also never force a baby into a pose he or she is uncomfortable in and let the baby indicate to me which poses he or she is most happy curled up in.
  • 8. How should you choose a photographer? 8 of 12
    8. How should you choose a photographer?
    There are a lot of photographers out there with different levels of experience and different styles so first I would see if you like the photographers style- their props, poses, lighting, positions, etc. Then I would make sure they have done a good number of newborn sessions. I have heard horror stories of inexperienced photographers or moms picking up a camera thinking it looks easy and then having a bucket tip over or a baby topple off a pillow. Always ask for a reference.
  • 9. What are the safety precautions used during a session? 9 of 12
    9. What are the safety precautions used during a session?
    Weighting the buckets and props is a big one so a baby doesn't tip over and get hurt. Another is the pose itself- newborn necks are very delicate so you want to be very careful with positioning. If the pose comes undone, you don't want the baby to fall or hurt his neck. I use a very large beanbag that was designed specifically for newborn photography so if the baby does tip to one side they are very protected and are on a soft surface. Also, everything used from the blankets to the hair bows are all washed between every session to keep everything very clean and germ free.
  • 10. How do you handle pee and poop when you take off that diaper? 10 of 12
    10. How do you handle pee and poop when you take off that diaper?
    There's no way to sugar coat this one- newborn photographers get peed and pooped on a lot. Blankets and props get peed on frequently. That's why everything is 100% washable and it's no big deal. You just keep going and throw it in the wash after the session is over. Parents need to be prepared as well. If you are going to be in the pictures, I don't recommend wearing your favorite shirt or expensive clothing.
  • 11. Which poses are your favorite? 11 of 12
    11. Which poses are your favorite?
    I always love the photos of a baby in a bucket sleeping soundly with her head resting on her hands, it's very sweet and makes for a cute birth announcement shot. I also love a baby curled up on his belly with his hands tucked under the side of his head and feet tucked under his butt. Most babies love to be in that pose because it reminds them of the womb. My favorite though is a baby curled up in his parents' arms with his head resting on one of his parents hands. There is something so wonderful about the scale of seeing a tiny newborn in a huge hand that just makes for a magical and very special image.
  • 12. What’s the worst thing a parent can do during a session? 12 of 12
    12. What's the worst thing a parent can do during a session?
    The worst thing a parent can do is be nervous. If your baby is crying, you have to trust the photographer to be able to comfort her. Continuously swooping in and handing the baby back and forth can make an infant even more distressed. My advice is to take a deep breath and relax. I know its easy to be nervous, especially when it's your first, but the best thing a parent can do is sit back and take a couple hours to check their email, listen to music or just enjoy watching their newborn in all these adorable poses.

All photos were created by Rebecca Yale, who gave me permission to use them here.

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Read more of Ilana’s writing at Mommy Shorts.
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