Newborn Photography: Capturing Awww-Inspiring Photos of Infants

The first few weeks of an infant’s life are unlike any that follow. With their arrival into the world, everything changes—for them and for their parents. As they grow and develop, parents of newborn babies seek to capture those early moments in frame-worthy and awww-inspiring photographs.

In this guide, you’ll learn about the challenging and rewarding genre of portraiture known as newborn photography. We’ll cover which camera, lenses, and gear you’ll need to capture exceptional shots. And, along with a fascinating peek into where newborn photography got its start, you’ll learn tips for safely and beautifully photographing an infant in his or her earliest days.

newborn photography
Photo by Garrett Jackson on Unsplash

What is newborn photography?

As a genre of portrait photography, newborn photography is typically performed when an infant is between 5 and 14 days old. During this phase of an infant’s development, they spend most of their days sleeping. As such, many newborn photographs capture the tiny babies swaddled in cloth, sweetly sleeping atop a soft surface, or perfectly posed with adorable props. 

newborn moon
Photo by Tu Nguyen from Pexels

While the ultimate goal is to capture beautiful photos of a newborn baby, newborn photographers have the added responsibility of ensuring their subject’s safety. Many of the newborn photography images popularized in recent years depict the infant in scenarios that can be very, very dangerous if not done appropriately. 

The popular “froggy pose,” for example, can only be safely photographed in multiple images that are composited together. Another trend in newborn photography depicts the young baby sleeping peacefully in a hammock or hanging sling. In reality, this image can be shot from above, with the baby sleeping on her side. Or, it can be a composite of images where the baby is supported from below. In shots where a newborn appears to be perfectly balanced on Mom or Dad’s outstretched arm, understand that additional support and safety measures were taken and edited out of the final portrait.

Photo by K A D M I E L on Unsplash

Additionally, newborn babies are unable to hold their heads upright or in position. So, a parent or other assistant will often be needed to support a baby’s head. As a newborn photographer, the infant’s safety and well-being must be of utmost importance.

History of newborn photography

Although new parents have gazed in awe at those tiny fingers, delicate eyelashes, and perfectly plump cheeks since the dawn of time, it wasn’t until the Victorian era that photographing infants became common. Even in the 19th century, however, parents and professional photographers understood the importance of keeping their tiniest subjects safe.

Early photographers didn’t have the luxury of lightweight, handheld cameras that make it easy to shoot from a variety of angles. And, they didn’t have studio lighting or diffused flashes. So, babies had to be positioned upright and facing the camera under natural light. Without high-speed cameras and depending on available daylight during a shoot, a camera could require several seconds to several minutes of exposure time. What’s more, photography was not inexpensive, so taking multiple shots if someone blinked or moved was not an option for most clients.

Hidden Mother Photography

Photographers of the era employed gadgets like lap belts and head clamps to keep young children who were old enough to sit on their own from moving during a photoshoot, but newborn babies required a different approach. Just as they do today, 19th-century parents wanted portraits of their newborn babies separate from a group or family photo. But propping a newborn baby upright simply doesn’t work.

So, a category of Victorian-era photography known as “Hidden Mother Photography” was born. In these newborn photographs, babies were held upright by their mother (or by a nanny, photographer’s assistant, or servant). But, the mother was hidden—not always so subtly—behind a curtain or blanket. With this method, not only would the infant be comforted by being held, but his head and body could be held in a rigid pose for the lengthy exposure time required.

newborn history
19th Century Hidden Mother Portraits, Public Domain

Anne Geddes

With the invention of faster and more portable cameras, artificial lighting, and developing techniques, newborn photography became much easier (and decidedly less creepy). But it wasn’t until 1996 when then daytime talk show maven Oprah Winfrey introduced her audience to a newly published coffee-table book called Down in the Garden that newborn photography really took off. The book featured a collection of photographs by previously-unknown photographer Anne Geddes. 

Geddes was instantly launched to superstardom when her images of infants snuggled in pea pods, dressed as butterflies, napping in a bird’s nest, and sprouting from flower pots captured the hearts of millions. It wasn’t long before her best-selling books, calendars, and greeting cards inspired a new generation of photographers to meet the demands of parents that wanted similar images of their own newborn babies.

newborn nest
Newborn Photography

What’s the best camera for newborn photography?

Although Anne Geddes used a medium format digital camera to capture her iconic newborn photos two decades ago, modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are perfectly capable of capturing the high resolution, print-quality images a client is looking for at a much lower price point. Both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are versatile, allowing for a variety of lenses and exposure settings. For newborn photography, you may find the silent shutter of a mirrorless camera to be an important advantage.

What is the best lens for newborn photography?

Your choice of lenses will largely depend on the style you hope to achieve in your images and the amount of space you have to shoot. However, most newborn portraits can be achieved with two particular lenses—a primary lens and a macro lens. 

newborn bunny ears
Photo by Gigin Krishnan on Unsplash

Your primary lens will be used most of the time, to take full-body portraits and close-ups. Either a 50mm or 85mm prime lens will be an excellent choice for your primary lens. If you have enough room to back away from your subject to shoot, an 85mm lens will provide a gorgeous depth of field and dreamy bokeh that’s perfect for an ethereal newborn photoshoot.

If space is at a premium, a 50mm lens will be your better option. Don’t use a lens wider than 50mm with a full-frame camera or 35mm with an APS-C Sensor if you plan to shoot very close to your subject. Wide lenses have the potential to distort your newborn model’s appearance. 

When you’re ready to zero in on tiny toes, a delicate wisp of hair, or an itty-bitty button nose, swap your primary lens for a macro. A 100mm f/2.8 macro lens is the perfect choice for getting up close and personal shots of sweet newborn baby features.

baby feet
Photo by Daisy Laparra from Pexels

Other newborn photography gear

In newborn photography, you’ll find you may need to carry much more gear than in other types of portraiture. In addition to your typical portrait photography tools and accessories, you’ll need gear intended to ensure the safety of your subject and props to capture the style you’re going for.

Newborn Photography Gear

Lighting is important in newborn photography both to properly light your infant model and to avoid harsh shadows. But, because a bright flash can startle a newborn baby, use a diffuser or bounce your flash lighting. If you’re shooting under natural light, reflectors will help to create soft lighting and brighten shadows.

Because your window of time to photograph a newborn is limited to less than two weeks of their life, always have extra memory cards and batteries on hand. You may not have the opportunity for a reshoot if your camera battery dies or a memory card malfunctions.

Newborn Safety Gear

As stressed above, your number one priority as a newborn photographer—yes, even more than getting the perfect shot—is ensuring the baby is kept safe and comfortable. Your gear should include weights and clamps to secure blankets and props to prevent tipping or falling.

We recommend securing your camera to a neck or belt strap rather than simply handheld. This will make it much easier to free your hands to adjust lighting or poses and for baby’s safety. A white noise or calming sound machine can also be helpful in keeping your model sleeping peacefully through the sounds of flashbulbs and shutters.

And, you may choose to discreetly place puppy pads or waterproof mattress covers when photographing a baby sans diaper to prevent damage when accidents happen.

newborn baby
Photo by Georgia Maciel from Pexels

Newborn Photography Props

Finally, you’ll need props for newborn photography. A bean bag makes the perfect base on which to pose a newborn baby. Covered in soft material, the bean bag can be formed and shaped for the pose you prefer. Blankets, towels, scarves, and soft textured fabrics can be used for draping, covering, or swaddling.

For remaining props, consider baskets, buckets, wooden boxes, and other interesting containers that help to convey the infant’s tiny stature. And, consider adding props that give a personal touch to your photos. Baby’s first teddy bear or layette, items from the newborn baby’s room, or props that showcase the parents’ favorite sports team or hobbies can all add personality and meaning to your images.

Camera settings for newborn photography

Naturally, camera settings will vary depending on the style and location of your shoot. However, the following guidelines will get you well on your way to snapping beautiful baby photos that family will cherish. First, always shoot your images in RAW format for greater flexibility and control in post-processing. And, if you prefer to shoot using autofocus, set your camera to a single focal point, typically focusing on the infant’s eyes in face or full body shots.

Settings for beginners:

For beginning photographers, we recommend shooting in aperture priority mode, selecting your f-number according to how much detail or blur you want in your images. In this mode, your camera will automatically adjust shutter speed according to your lighting and setup. Shooting in this mode will keep a series of newborn portraits consistent in color, contrast, and amount of blur. Aperture priority mode also gives you the option to manually adjust your ISO if necessary.

If you prefer full control over exposure settings, shoot in manual mode. But remember the following:

  • A large aperture (or low f-number) will soften the background and is great for shooting in lower light. A small aperture (high f-number) will capture more background detail.
  • When photographing a sleeping newborn, you won’t need a blazing fast shutter speed. But, your shutter should always be at least as fast as the length of your lens to avoid camera shake blur. If the newborn is awake and you want to freeze movement and facial expressions, speed up your shutter. Keep in mind that you’ll then need to adjust aperture or ISO to allow in more light.
  • Set your ISO to allow for proper exposure. But, keep in mind that higher ISO settings can introduce grain and noise into your image. Always set your ISO to the lowest appropriate setting for the best image quality.
newborn photography
Photo by Tim Bish on Unsplash

Tips for newborn photographers

1. Plan Ahead

Plan newborn photo shoots for a time when the infant is well fed and sleepy. Ask parents to come armed with extra diapers, bottles, and a pacifier (if they use one). Recommend that Mom or Dad avoid putting lotion on their newborn’s skin before a shoot, as lotion can be reflected or appear oily in images. And, preplan the majority of your poses and props. You may want to practice poses and swaddle tying methods ahead of your shoot using a lifelike baby doll. Too much picking up, posing, and repositioning can quickly become uncomfortable for your tiny model. Finally, make sure your studio space is cozy and warm ahead of baby’s arrival.

2. Expect the Unexpected

When photographing newborns, always schedule more time than you think you’ll need and avoid rushing to complete your shoot. Babies, even newborns, can be unpredictable. Diaper and outfit changes, feedings, or a fussy spell can add a lot of time to your photoshoot. You can also prepare for the unexpected by stocking a few supplies at your studio. Wipes, burp cloths, and a soft baby hairbrush will often come in handy.

newborn navy
Photo by Taksh on Unsplash

Editing newborn photos

While it’s common to lightly retouch redness, splotchy skin, or baby acne on newborn models, editing should never alter the infant’s appearance. Chubby cheeks, cowlicks, birthmarks, wrinkles, and fat rolls should never be edited out of your newborn images.

Do feel free to edit your overall image according to the style you hope to achieve. Lighten or darken shadows to play with the image’s mood. Adjust hue and saturation to make a photo ethereal or soothing. Just remember when editing newborn photos, it’s essential to consider your goal of honestly and accurately capturing those special first days of an infant’s life. 

Final thoughts

With the information outlined in this guide, you’re already on your way to becoming a skilled newborn photographer. Look to other newborn photographers for inspiration and to spark ideas. Keep safety at the forefront at all times. And, take pride in capturing photos that a baby’s family will cherish for a lifetime.

Brooke Arnold

Brooke Arnold is a writer and award-winning photographer specializing in cat portraits. She is an advocate for rescue animals and is best known for dressing up her cats as famous people like Bob Ross and Evel Knievel. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is being child #2 in an orange juice ad that hung in a mall in Miami at age 8.

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