What to look for in a newborn photographer

Newborn photography is pretty new to the UK but has become one of the fastest-growing areas of photography, and it’s easy to see why.  Who wouldn’t love beautiful portraits of their tiny little one up on the wall?  Those first few weeks pass by in a blur and can be hard to recall. 

Photographing newborn babies takes a good deal of training and patience, and is a skill that takes time to develop and hone.  At the moment, however, it’s an unregulated industry, which means that anyone can call themselves a newborn photographer, whether they have undergone training or not.  So how can parents be sure that they’re making the right choice when selecting a photographer for their new baby?  Here are some things to ask when looking for a newborn photographer:

1. Portfolio
Browse through different photographers’ portfolios and find a style that speaks to you.  Newborn photography can be either documentary (where the photographer comes to your home and photographs you and your baby as you go about your day) or a posed session in the studio with beautiful fabrics and props, and people tend to prefer one style or the other.  Looking through a portfolio can also give you an idea of the kind of photographs that you can expect from your shoot.

Newborn baby photo session

2. Location
Lifestyle sessions take place in your own surroundings but posed sessions aren’t necessarily held in a high street studio.  Some studio newborn photographers are fully mobile, meaning that they always travel to the baby’s home for the session, and some offer the choice of parents travelling to the photographer or of the photographer taking the studio to the baby. There are advantages to either – it can be easier for new parents to not have to leave their home in the early days; however, a mobile studio takes time to set up and take down, plus the number of props and images available may be limited to what the photographer can transport. Equally, it may make a nice change for the parents to leave the house and get out for a few hours!

3. Training, training and more training!
The newborn photography industry isn’t currently regulated…that means that there’s no formal qualification necessary, no official register of newborn photographers, and no checks on safe practice. Anyone with a camera is potentially able to set themselves up as a newborn photographer, without any training or knowledge of safe practice.  However, while there’s no formal qualification, a photographer who takes newborn work seriously will have sought out training from an already-established photographer (and preferably more than once), and will be happy to tell you about it. Training needs to be hands-on, and so while there may be some excellent videos and webinars available, that’s not really sufficient for when it comes to handling and posing a newborn baby safely. A photographer who has had hands-on training will be comfortable and confident in handling and soothing even an unsettled newborn. 

4. Safety
Safety should be at the heart of every newborn photography experience.  Newborns can’t move out of positions that are uncomfortable.  A well-trained newborn photographer will know not only how to pose your baby safely (so that airways aren’t constricted and little limbs aren’t squished), but will also what to look out for to check that the baby’s circulation is ok.  Swaddling babies in a wrap is a common practice in newborn photography…the wrap soothes and comforts the baby as it mimics the closeness of the womb, and helps to lull the baby to sleep, but it must be done safely so that the baby is snug though not constricted, and doesn’t overheat.

Newborn photographer Newport, Gwent

5. Posing
All is not what it seems in the newborn photography world, as some images are created through clever trickery in Photoshop. There are some poses that should only ever be photographed with the baby supported by an assistant’s hands, with two or more images then “stitched” together afterwards. Unfortunately, because the work of experienced photographers is so good, it’s not possible to spot where a final image is a composite and this is most often where unsafe practice creeps in, with new and inexperienced photographers believing that the portraits are straight photographs and not manipulated.  No baby should ever be expected to support the weight of its own head, be suspended from a height or placed in a prop which could potentially topple over.  Don’t be afraid to ask your photographer how they create images in which a baby is in a position that they would not naturally be able to hold on their own. Some photographers simply don’t offer those poses (I don’t, as I want my newborn images to have a natural feel to them), but those who do should be able to reassure you that such poses are done in a safe manner, with the baby supported by a second pair of hands at all times.

This pose isn’t a composite, but it is created safely. The baby is actually lying on his side on a special posing beanbag that’s covered in black fabric. Dad is kneeling down in front of the beanbag so that his hands can wrap around the baby, and the whole setup is lit carefully and photographed from above. The photo is then retouched in Photoshop so that it looks like the baby is being held up.

This pose isn’t a composite, but it is created safely. The baby is actually lying on his side on a special posing beanbag that’s covered in black fabric. Dad is kneeling down in front of the beanbag so that his hands can wrap around the baby, and the whole setup is lit carefully and photographed from above. The photo is then retouched in Photoshop so that it looks like the baby is being held up.

6. What age of baby do they work with?
“Curly” poses are best achieved when your baby is between 5 and 14 days old, as he or she hasn’t fully stretched out after birth, and for this reason, some photographers prefer to work only with babies of this age.  Other photographers will photograph babies who are older and will work with alternative poses and setups when curled-up poses aren’t possible.  Because sessions take place so soon after your baby’s arrival, most mothers book during pregnancy, usually just after the 20 week scan.  Do call me if you haven't booked early...I'm more than happy to photograph babies who are older than two weeks as there are many beautiful images that can be created.

7. Products
It’s worthwhile thinking beforehand about what you might like as a finished product, and ask the photographer if they offer it.  Don’t be afraid to ask the photographer’s advice on products and the ranges that he or she offers - the photographer will have access to beautiful products that aren't available on the high street.  In my studio, I have a variety of samples on view and am always happy to show people around before they book a shoot with me - just give me a call or drop me an email.  Check too whether there is a minimum spend, and whether products are available individually or as packages.  If you want digitals, be sure that they are available to buy but please note that digitals are not an archival product, and that good quality wall art and albums will outlast digital products (just think about the family movies on VHS tape, gathering dust!).  What’s more, a print produced by a professional lab will be far, far better than one printed from a USB on the high street.  

8.  How much does it cost?
The all-important question!  We all love a bargain but in this case, a low price should set alarm bells ringing.  A lot goes into newborn photography – training, insurance, studio kit, props – and your photographer is running a business.  Don’t be tempted by an offer for a session and photos for £50 or thereabouts…chances are high that someone offering regular sessions at this level isn’t trained and probably doesn’t have insurance either.  Be reassured by a price that reflects professionalism and specialism.

Newborn fine art portrait