Behind the Scenes of a Newborn Session

Newborn sessions are really special. When new babies arrive, it's typically only friends and family that are invited into an infant's new home to meet them in those first few days of life. First time parents can be especially cautious, sometimes hibernating for weeks and months at a time. Being invited into a clients home during that time is especially humbling and not something I take for granted. 

This post has been a long time coming, as I've been eager to share my tips and tricks for a successful newborn session, for both clients and photographers to learn from. Plus, behind the scenes posts are some of my favorite to both read and write!

Tip #1 - I bring very few, but very important items!

When packing up for a newborn session, I typically travel light. As a lifestyle photographer, I leave behind props, blankets, lights, and backdrops that a prop or studio photographer might use. Instead, I bring a few of my favorite wraps, one or two neutral blankets, rice heat packs (which make great risers/posers for sleeping babies to give them extra lift in some areas) and other essentials.

I recommend to my newborn parents before the session to turn down the A/C or turn up the heat in their home. In addition, I bring my own space heater to create a little sauna for our baby. Parents may wonder why it needs to be so hot, or perhaps it's so hot that the baby might be uncomfortable. It's actually quite the opposite. A warm baby is a happy baby! It's easy to forget that inside mommy's tummy it was a warm and snuggly 98.7 degrees. The 72 degree A/C is pretty chilly for a baby fully dressed, but just imagine how cold that is when you're in your birthday suit. 

If parents are using plugs or pacifiers, we'll use them in between shots to help calm the baby. When it's time to shoot, I'll ask mom or dad to "pull the plug"

One of my other great resources is a white noise app. I can't sleep without it myself, and it really helps babies eliminate background distractions. Even just simple talking or laughing between myself and the clients can jar a baby awake, starting over the "get the baby to sleep" process. I find that the heater and the white noise lend most to a successful newborn session.

Tip #2 - I ask Mom to step out during the session

When beginning a newborn session, I like to start with the family images on the bed. Mom and Dad holding the baby is a great way to ease into the session and allow parents to get more comfortable with me before they allow me to start handling the baby on my own. I only like to work with babies as long as they allow me to, so starting with important family images is key to my workflow.

Once it's time to work one on one with the baby, parents are welcome to stay and watch. Other parents love to have a break (many have had sleepless nights) and some even take a nap! However, there are times when I may ask Mom to step out.

Especially with nursing mothers, babies can smell a mother when she's near. After 9 months in her belly, they can also identify her voice and can become uneasy or stressed. Only when parents are okay with this, do I work alone with a baby. It's amazing how quickly I can put a baby to sleep when it's just me, the white noise, and a warm room. Once the baby has settled down, it's not uncommon for mom and dad to sneak back in and enjoy the rest of the session.

Tip #3 - I bust out The Kelli Swaddle™ and the Soothing Trifecta™

When babies are in the womb, they're used to being in very tight and confined quarters. Their new found freedom with their limbs can be stressful and dare I even say scary? A lot of prop and studio photographers prefer to have babies come in within 14 days because their "reflex" or something hasn't developed yet. Regardless of whether or not that is actually true, I find even the newest of babies relax much better when they are swaddled. 

Secondly, sometimes after mom has left the room, I used the Soothing Trifecta™ to get babies to sleep. Once they can't smell mom and there's no feeling of tension from me (sometimes parents can get flustered when their baby isn't "performing") I turn on the Trifecta: dipping with my legs, rotating my waist from side to side and patting the bum. As Rachel Greene would say, "Every. Time."

Tip #4 - Baby safety always comes first!

In addition to simple things like being up to date on all my boosters and vaccinations, washing my hands before we begin and asking permission to handle an infant, one thing a lot of new photographers don't understand is that many of the images produced by veteran photographers are composites, meaning they've taken more than one image and cut and pasted into one image. For example, Dad may be holding baby's head up or Mom is acting as a "spotter" on the side of a chair or basket, but in the final image you don't see either. CLIENTS: If a photographer ever puts your baby on the edge of a bed, a bucket, chair, etc. they should ALWAYS ask you or an assistant to be nearby. It only takes a second for a baby to jerk awake or pick their head up enough to shift their weight in such a way that would cause them to fall. It is absolutely okay to tell a photographer you are not comfortable with something. More often than not, in lifestyle photography, I'm able to avoid situations like this altogether by keeping babies in the center of the bed and with mom and dad for almost the entirety of the session.

Tip #5 - I take my time. The baby is my boss!

Babies really dictate a newborn session. They poop and eat around the clock, sporadically. Because they're so new, many don't really have a schedule yet. The world outside the womb is new and scary, so it's not uncommon for babies to be unhappy. Newborn sessions are always longer do to the breaks that are needed and the time it can take for a baby to fall asleep. I spend a lot of time just simply holding a baby in place until they settle, or getting them to hold a position long enough for me to snap the shot. I find that being a mom has helped me immensely in dealing with newborns - not only handling them but I don't get flustered or frustrated when they cry. I simply wait, because with great patience comes great results.

*Special thanks to Chance and Jenny Hammock for not only letting me photograph their gorgeous little girl, but also thanks to Chance for capturing these behind the scenes images for me!

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