In this episode of Capture The Chaos: Grow Your Newborn & Family Photography Business I’m sharing a few of the mistakes I made when I first started lifestyle newborn photography. We will talk about how to prepare the clients for a successful newborn session, lighting mistakes to avoid, and how to soothe a baby for a smooth session.
Join the waitlist for Calm The Chaos: A Lifestyle Photographers Guide to Newborn Sessions for freebies, sneak peek at course content, and an exclusive offer.
Thank you for being here mama.
Paul C. Buff lighting: https://www.paulcbuff.com/
Brand Photographer: https://arccreativecompany.com/
Hey friends, today we are gonna be talking about mistakes to avoid when shooting in-home newborn sessions or lifestyle newborn sessions. I love this topic because I assure you, I was not always a very good newborn photographer. Many mistakes were made when I first started and I really wanted to share those with you in hopes that you can avoid the mistakes that I made and become a better photographer faster than I did.
I think newborn photography is one of the most challenging genres of photography. It’s not like with family photography where you can call up a friend and ask them to meet you in a field at sunset so you can practice shooting. Not only do you have to know a baby, but there is a specific window for the age that the baby needs to be that’s optimal for photographing them. There’s so many things to know and not an abundance of opportunity to practice. So I wanted to share a few mistakes that I made when I first started photographing newborns. I made a lot of mistakes, so we’re just gonna keep it at three today.
The first mistake to avoid is not preparing your clients ahead of time. I like to send a prep guide before the newborn session that gives the parents as much information as possible. We do this all the time; they do not. So they don’t know what to expect coming into a session. If we want our sessions to go smoothly, preparing is the best thing that we can do.
A few things that I include in my prep guide are; having them tidy up areas of the home that I’m gonna be shooting in and I will ask them to send me photos of like the living room and the bedroom and the nursery (so that way I can decide ahead of time which areas I’m probably going to be using) I am still gonna go around and take down a few things like an alarm clock or, you know, random chargers and things like that, but for the most part I don’t need to be cleaning their whole house before we start photographing.
I’ll also give them tips like when to feed baby, which is usually about 30 minutes before I get there. I also want them to keep baby awake for about 45 minutes. Newborn wake times aren’t very long, so if they’re keeping them up for two hours, that’s too long, but if they’re letting them sleep all morning, then they’re probably not gonna be sleepy for the newborn session. So I want the baby to be up just for a little bit that way I have an easier time putting them to sleep. Sometimes I’ll also tell them to bump the heat up in the house a little bit.
I also send a style guide for in-home newborn sessions and give them lots of different options. If they want to go cozy or maybe they want to go a little bit more dressed up. I also give them my number so they can text me to see what I think about their outfit outfits.
If you’re running into the same issues every time you go into a house, for example if every time you go in the baby’s not fed or mom’s not ready or whatever the issue is that is something you put in your prep guide. You also want to send your prep guide to them more than one time. They are preparing to have a baby, then they have just had a baby so their sleep is not great, they’re tired, their brains aren’t working properly. So you can’t just send it one time and expect them to read it. You can send it once, maybe twice. And then a couple of days before the session, maybe shoot them a text saying, “Hey, did you have any questions about the prep guide I sent you?” If they didn’t read it, then that prompts them to go and read it.
The second big mistake I made when I first started photographing newborns was not using light properly. Oh boy, this is a big one, right? I used to face the family away from the window. I guess my thought process was that’s what I do outside when I’m taking photos, so that’s what I do inside. You want to turn them towards the light. Usually, that’s going to be your window light if you’re not using any flashes or strobes. I also go around and turn off all of the overhead lights and lamps, because it has a strange orange weird light that casts onto the family and brings out weird under-eye shadows and things like that, that we just generally want to avoid.
I’ll open up every blind that I can possibly open. That way I have as much light in the house as possible. When I first started, I used, well, I didn’t even use window light, but then once I figured that out, I did start using window light and sometimes it would still be dark. So, I started adding lights. The first type of light I added was continuous lights. They were these really cheap lights from Amazon and they basically stayed on the whole time, which was super nifty. They helped me out whenever I was in a darker home that usually I would’ve had to bump my ISO up way too high. Then everything would’ve been really gritty and grainy. Now I use a strobe and I’m not a lover of flash.
I’m a lover of flash, but I’m not a lover of things looking like it was taken with a flash. And I know your first thought when you heard me say that is, “oh, I hate flash. I’m a natural light photographer.” This is gonna be a hard truth, but you’re only a natural light photographer because you haven’t figured out how to use light properly. And I say that because I was you. I was a natural light photographer. I was only a natural light photographer because I was terrified of flash. But then I did it and now I will not go anywhere without my strobe. Now I can walk into the darkest dang house and be like, “well, this sucks, but I can make it work because I got my trustee strobe.”
If you have seen most of my newborn photography, you probably can’t tell that I’m using a flash. My secret is I put it on the opposite side of the window. This way I’m actually using window light and I’m using the strobe. So I get lots of bright, natural light. Now I’m a bright and bold photographer. I would say I’m not moody. I don’t really love shadows. If you love shadows, you wouldn’t want to do what I do. I want you to learn the rules of light. I want you to learn how you should use light and then that way, if you want to break the light rule, then you can do so intentionally.
Like I said, you’re not really supposed to back light images in an in-home newborn session, but a backlit image can be beautiful and that’s okay. As long as you’re doing it with intention and you’re not expecting it to be a very perfectly well lit image. I am going to link the Amazon lights that I started with. They’re continuous lights and they’re only about $50 to $75. So if you’re on a budget, highly recommend. If you have a little bit extra, and I do mean a lot of extra money to spend, I’ll also link my Paul buff lights that I use. It’s a strobe or flash. I can walk into any home and just not be afraid of what I’m going to find because I got my lights.
The third mistake I made when I first started photographing newborns was not knowing how to soothe a fussy baby. I would mostly just let mom swaddle and do all the calming and soothing which would just take a really long time. I learned through my own kids how to soothe a newborn and that was a huge game changer. A lot of times when a parent has just had their first kid, they have no idea what they’re doing. Do you remember your first baby? Like you were completely lost, right? The more you practice with other people’s babies, the easier it’s going to get. So don’t hand that baby off to mom, you do the soothing. A fussy baby is not fun to photograph. It stresses everyone out. You’re going to amaze mom if you come in and you can soothe her baby.
I use the five S rule and if you had a baby who would not sleep, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s shush, swaddle, side, swing, and suck. Before I start, I make sure baby is in a clean diaper because I don’t want to have to unwrap baby to change their dirty diaper and babies generally don’t like getting their diaper changed. I have a white noise on my phone that I just turn on while I swaddle the baby up. It works as the shush part of this.
I really believe that most babies love to be swaddled. I’ve only met one or two who really truly seem to be mad when they are swaddled. Some babies are going to fight it because they don’t like being laid flat. If you’re taller, you can lay them across your knees. To do this you will sit down and prop your knees up and you can lay them across your knees so that they’re not laying flat.
I’m too short for this, so I have to lay them on the bed. Then once they’re swaddled I don’t wanna pick them up if I don’t have to. So I’m going to lay them on their side and pat their back or their booty. If a baby uses a pacifier, I’ll give them one. Then, I’m going to resort to picking them up and rocking them and patting them until they fall asleep. Then slowly put them on the bed and continue to pat them until they seem like they’re fully out. I keep the white noise machine on for the entirety of the session.
Once you get that baby to sleep, things are just going to fly through, but if you don’t take the time to get them soothed, it’s going to be stressful. I also like to bring a space heater to my newborn sessions. Babies love to be warm and snuggly and they don’t like to be cold. So having that space heater really helps get them nice and sleepy and it makes for a super smooth newborn session. I know some people don’t love that look of the swaddled baby, so sometimes I will not swaddle a baby for some photos, because you can really see all of their features.
The space heater really helps in this situation because it keeps them warm. What I do whenever I’m trying to sooth a baby who’s not swaddled is I do the exact same thing without the swaddle. I put my hands on their feet to kind of make them feel like they’re constricted and with the other hand I’ll pat their booty. If I have to I’ll get mom in there to help pat.
If you have any questions about any of these things that I mentioned, or if I didn’t explain something and you want me to go a little bit deeper, feel free to shoot me a message on Instagram. I would love to chat with you.
Listen to more episodes of the Capture the Chaos podcast!