As you can see, at one time, I had no idea there was a definitive skillset to newborn photography. Google "clueless" and you'll see a photo of me. My nephew had his first son and asked me to photograph him, and I did-as best I knew how. The first few (years of) images I took make me cringe, but I was determined to figure it out. I had girl babies, boy babies, practiced on stuffed lions, and centimeter by centimeter made gains with each session. I shared the first photo because I believe until you examine where you were, you can't appreciate where you are going! The images were cute because he was a little sweetie, but man, that photographer ... clueless.
At first, like many of you, I thought newborn photography should be so SIMPLE! They sleep ALL the TIME already, just put them in something cute or lay them down and you're good! It might take an hour. Sweet!
Well, I was a dang fool.
Eventually, after seeing the gorgeous images of my contemporaries, I realized I wasn't quite doing things the way they were. (NO KIDDING?!)
I am not a newborn photographer. My clients, like me, are all over the place. I photograph children, engagements, anniversaries, seniors, weddings, families, occasionally restaurants while hanging out of a helicopter, but I do NOT specialize in newborns by ANY means. I do them on occasion, not full time. Those ladies are the Navy Seals, Green Beret's and MMA fighters of the photography world. They're tough cookies. I photograph between 20-35 weddings a year. I can spend 12 hours chasing every event between the curling irons and reception hall and still, newborn photography does to my body in 3 hours what it takes 300 guests and and a rowdy bridal party to equal. I kid you NOT.
The first time I hovered over a beanbag in a 90 degree room for 3 hours holding my 4.5 pound camera while wrangling a 8 pound firecracker who did not want to sleep and would rather cover me in their bodily fluids, I wondered what the HECK I was thinking. It took me two whole days to quiet my screaming muscles. I pre-load ibuprofen before every newborn session now! Even two year-olds, with their tantrums, endless energy and definite personality quirks do not wear me out like those sweet little bundles of joy-YET, I did not want to let them win. My ego would not let me lose to someone who couldn't sit up on their own. When I photograph a newborn, it's like a prize fight. I never know WHO is going to win. It depends on the temperature of the room, how much milk they've had, if they're sleepy or if they feel like making you cry. There's no negotiating with a newborn, you play by their rules.
Why on earth does it take me THREE HOURS? Well let me tell you. They're babies and they do what they want. I want their fingers flat, they want fists. I want their toes by their chin, they want to stretch. Forever we (gently, of course) physically argue about it until I either win or give up. I often tell my clients, when they're watching me work a pose forever and wondering if they'll ever get to leave my home, that taking photographs of a newborn is like playing Jenga. You move the wrong piece at the wrong time and you have to start all over from the beginning. Thank-you, startle reflex. For me, it's also very Zen and liberating having to focus so hard and have infinite patience. A skill I've recently developed (if my own children are reading this!)
Newborn photography is also the MOST expensive avenue (in my opinion, I'm sure there's someone out there who would argue) of photography to specialize in. Take a simple blanket, call it a "newborn backdrop" and it's immediately $30 more to buy. Take a .30 printed cotton fabric, put a $1 flower and some ribbon on it and it's a $23 "tieback." Like any industry, prop creators who make the beautiful things we love to see on babies, know we will want it because it's what our customers expect. Clients would also rather not see their baby in things the last baby on my page had, So I have to frequently shop for gorgeous props when mine get a little dated. I wish I would have paid more attention in Home Ec. I could save myself a fortune by making my own!
I'm writing this today because I'm seeing a change in my images and I'm excited about it. Part of it comes from my stupidly stubborn personality that won't let me enjoy mediocrity, and the other part, a GREAT BIG part, comes from a photographer friend and great teacher, Jeri Hoag who agreed to give me a few big girl pointers. Jeri IS a newborn photographer and birth photographer. She does a spectacular job of it as well. She's also a patient teacher, having to put up with my why? how? when? and where?
I also wanted to point out that gorgeously posed, fantastically styled newborn photos don't just happen. It's the single most challenging aspect of my job and I respect so much the artistry of those whose work I admire, and the parents who allow me to continue to hone my skill when they ask me to capture those incredible first days of their new child's life.
Till next time!