Newborn babies. So squishy. So adorable. So willing to be put in silly outfits and cute poses for our enjoyment. This magical age is the shortest-lived of all the stages of childhood, so it's no wonder many parents want professional photos of their littles. But how do you ensure that you get the kind of pictures you want? Romper talked to photographer Kathy Hoos, who has been taking pictures of infants for more than 10 years, about things your newborn photographer wants you to know so that you can get the most out of this experience.
Many people might not know the best way to go about a full newborn photoshoot, largely because the kind we are used to seeing today (whimsical, creative, personalized) are pretty new. Throughout the history of family photography, professional portraits were pretty much the same for everyone, regardless of age. You go to the photographer's studio — probably wearing your nicest outfit — you sit in front of a blank background, maybe you put your hand under your chin, and that's it.
But around 1996, something magical happened: a whimsical kind of magic that stirs warmth and tenderness in even the most cynical of hearts. Anne Geddes published Down in the Garden, launching her to fame and acclaim as an exciting new childhood photographer. Suddenly the public was seeing infants and children as photography subjects in a new light (no pun intended) — babies dressed as fairies! Flowers! Butterflies! ITTY BITTY BABY SLUGS!
Certainly one photographer alone cannot be credited with everything that has come since, but there can be no doubt of her influence on the medium. Of course, back then, unless you could afford a session with the Flower-Baby queen herself, chances are you were going to stick with the more traditional shoots, poses, and outfits. Most photographers could not do what she did. In time, however, the cost of high-end photography equipment and software went down, giving more people the opportunity and means to get more creative in their baby photos.
Kathy Hoos began professionally photographing infants 10 years ago, and her continued passion for her work is immediately obvious "I love my job," she sighed over the phone, and, looking at her work, it shows. Based in Ottawa, she has worked as both an in-home and studio photographer. Her insight on issues ranging from technique to etiquette, to the inevitable occurrence of bodily functions, is useful for anyone seeking to get a newborn session in before their baby is no longer a newborn, which brings us to the subject of scheduling and timing.
"Don't say we're doing a newborn shoot and come in with a 3 month old," Hoos joked. But isn't that still pretty newborn in the grand scheme of things? Hoos clarified:
"If you want the kind of squishy baby shots that you've probably seen, you're going to want to get them done ideally within 2 weeks. Even a month is pushing it ... After that, babies start to want to stretch and move more when you put them down... and they're not staying asleep."
That's not to say, of course, that a good baby photographer won't be able to capture some gorgeous images of your 3-month-old baby, but they will likely not get the "sleeping and cuddled up" newborn shots you might be expecting. The baby below, for example, is only 1-month-old. But as you can see, the difference between her picture and images of the new newborns is already clear. (*sniff sniff* They grow up so fast!)
The best way to ensure you're getting newborn photos done while your baby is still a newborn (photographically speaking, anyway) is to set a date with a photographer while you're pregnant. This is also a good idea because, for real, who wants to deal with researching and hiring someone when you're juggling a newborn? Besides, contacting a photographer within two weeks of a desired shoot might mean they're already booked up — by the time they have an opening it might be too late.
Hoos also discussed the importance of light in capturing a desired image. "If I'm in a studio with fixed light, I'm not going to be able to get the same kind of shots as if I were in your home or a natural-light studio," she said. "Some images will be impossible depending on the light." In other words, light is clutch, studios might be limited, and freedom versus limitation will likely be reflected in how much you can be expected to pay for your session.
Prices for a session with a photographer run the gamut from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand, depending on the photographer, what you want, and what is involved. "Look at what the price includes," suggested Hoos. "Some people are surprised when they set a price but learn that doesn't include the digital images or proofs." Canvases, photo books, and/or prints will almost always cost extra.
And please, don't haggle. For the love of babies dressed up as flowers, don't haggle. "The prices are set that way for a reason," Hoos explained. "I could break it down and say, 'I was only with you for two hours, but I spent this much time making props for the shoot, which cost this much. I spent this much time editing the photos. My insurance is this much. My camera is this much." She then added, "Most photographers [who do newborn photography] are women. You know what we do? We undervalue ourselves." So, seriously, let's not add to the narrative of women settling for less than they are worth. If it a photographer's price is out of your range, a simple, "Thank you, but that's out of my price range." will suffice.
So OK, you've selected your photographer, you know what you want and what it will cost. What now? What can you expect? How should you prepare?
"I tell people not to feed their baby until they get to the space." Hoos told Romper via phone that many times a parent will feed their baby before they put them in the car and then head over. This seems logical, but often, by the time they reach the destination and get set up the baby is awake and possibly ready to eat again. Depending on the length of the shoot, "you will probably have to feed the bay a few times; we want the baby asleep," she said. A full tummy is a good way to achieve that goal. So, too, is warmth.
"The room will be heated to make the baby get or stay sleepy. Sometimes it will seem like overkill, but if I'm not sweating, I don't know if the baby will stay asleep."
When it comes to what you should bring to a shoot, Hoos encourages people to bring any props that might be special to them. "Any photographer worth her salt can incorporate anything ... and it's nice to have something meaningful in the photo." But if you're short on ideas (or that's just not your cup of tea), chances are your photographer will have a number of their own items you will be able to work with. "It's an addiction," Hoos admitted. "I spend $30 to $80 on props per shoot. It's expensive, but it's worth it."
As for what you should definitely bring with you, the one word answer is "extras." Extra diapers ("I keep a diaper on a baby while I position them and then I may have to rip it off in a way that might not be salvageable"), wipes, and even outfits... because babies do not give a crap where they take a crap, and it may well be on the snowy white blanket ("do you know how hard it is to get baby poop out of mohair?"), their charming and carefully selected outfit, your charmingly selected outfit, or the photographer. But don't worry about bringing any embarrassment. "Parents are always mortified. Don't be," Hoos laughed. "I get peed, pooped, and barfed on. If I cared about that I wouldn't be in my line of work."
You also don't have to worry about other little imperfections your newborn may bring to the table (insofar as a newborn can have "imperfections" at all), such as an umbilical stump, skin flaking, or baby acne. "We can work around it," Hoos said, either simply by using lighting and poses or later in digital editing programs. Hoos did, however, suggest not bringing your baby within a few days of either shots (including a Vitamin K show that they will likely get in the hospital) or a circumcision. Shots may make them cranky for a day or two, and positioning a child while they're healing from a circumcision might be painful.
Other than that? It's a matter of the same photography rules that apply to any kind of portraiture you'd do and a good amount of patience, which is needed for newborns in literally any situation. For as parents know, even brand new parents, babies can be total divas. But when you keep them warm, fed, and take your time.
The results are well worth the effort.
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