I Tried Newborn Photography and Quickly Realized How Hard It Is!

I Tried Newborn Photography and Quickly Realized How Hard It Is!

Having seen many beautiful images of newborns in the past, when I recently became a father for the first time I was keen to get some images of my newborn daughter. Unfortunately, the photographers I wanted to use had no availability, so I thought I'd try it myself. It was an interesting experience.

In August 2022 I became a father for the first time, like most new fathers I absolutely adore my tiny baby daughter, named Poppy, and spend a great deal of time just looking at her. As parents we're very aware that they don't stay small and cute forever, so we had always wanted to capture those early moments to remind us how tiny she once was. There's a local newborn photographer who I was keen to use, sadly our daughter arrived a little later than expected, and required a few days stay in hospital before coming home. Glad to say that mother and baby came home in excellent health. Sadly the photographer we had planned to use no longer had availability during those first few weeks, so I thought I'd give it a try myself.

How Hard Can It Be?

I've got a fair amount of experience in portraiture, as well as product and food photography, I have portable studio lighting. How hard could it be? Very hard, it would turn out.

We watched plenty of videos online showing experienced newborn photographers carefully posing tiny babies, who would then sit or lay as required while the photographer took as many images as they liked without baby flinching. Only one tutorial suggested that there's around 20-second window to shoot in before the baby will need some comforting. Armed with all the information we thought we needed, I set up the studio lights in our bedroom and made a small nest with blankets and pillows to place baby Poppy on. Myself and Tasha have been very fortunate that we have a baby who doesn't scream or cry very much, she also sleeps quite well for a newborn. Taking her photo would be super easy, barely an inconvenience. Or so we thought.

Despite having a very warm room, a comfy bed, a well-fed, and sleepy baby, Poppy did not want to be photographed, and was not enjoying being posed at all. I immediately had a newfound respect for newborn photographers, they must be some kind of baby-whisperer to get such lovely, calm poses from newborn babies. The videos online made it look so easy!

We'd planned to get some classic curled-up, sleepy baby photos, but these poses simply weren't happening. Poppy was moving around and becoming more distressed, so we stopped, calmed her down, then tried again a little later after another nap and a big feed.

The second time Poppy did stay calm and looked very cute for some photos, but she didn't like being posed, so we ended up with some nice shots of the poses that our baby daughter chose herself but none of the poses we set out to get.

I like these shots, but they weren't what we wanted. Tasha really had her heart set on some bunched-up shots of our baby daughter, laying on her tummy, but it just wasn't going to happen today. I started to think about what other classic newborn shots could we get at home without stressing out our baby girl?

Daddy and Daughter Shots

I had always quite liked images of parents and babies almost in silhouette against a fully blown-out background. This type of shot was fairly easy to set up, and I could comfort Poppy throughout the whole shoot. I set up a 100cm octabox immediately behind me with a 120cm silver reflector next to the camera. The camera was placed on a tripod level with the middle of the octabox. I had started off with a 10-second self-timer for the shutter, but Poppy was unpredictable so I asked my partner to press the shutter for me. I was happier with these images than the previous ones, but I still didn't have the cute bunched-up newborn shot I wanted.

Hidden Mother Photography

As I'm on paternal leave, I am home with Tasha and our daughter all day every day for a few weeks. This gave us plenty of thinking time now about how we could set up a newborn photoshoot and get the cute images we wanted. Poppy sleeps very comfortably on her mother's chest in the super cute bunched-up position we wanted to capture, but she won't hold that position anywhere else.

I remembered an article about Hidden Mother Photography in Victorian times. Family photos were becoming more popular in the 1800s, but exposure times were still quite long by today's standards, which is one reason for so many photographs of people on chairs looking sternly at the camera as they try their best to hold still until the photographer says they can relax. You can imagine how hard it would be to get babies and children to stay still for the duration of a long exposure, so mothers would often disguise themselves so as not to be in the photograph, but be able to hold the children still for the duration of the exposure. Some of these images are just comical with mothers disguised as furniture, or hiding in curtains, as silly as this is they did give me an idea.

We used Tasha as a pillow for the baby with a blanket over her, and did a modern version of Hidden Mother photography to keep Poppy in position and comfortable while I take the photos. I was fairly certain that we could disguise the mother in our images more effectively than the mothers in Victorian family portraits. Tasha laid on our bed, with a blanket on top of her, and Poppy on top of the blanket. As long as Tasha stayed under the blanket and I considered the angles I could shoot from, this might just work.

Using a single octabox behind mother and baby with a second light pointed at the ceiling for some bounced fill light, we carefully posed our subject and tried to keep her as calm and comfortable as possible. Tasha was able to give Poppy lots of cuddles during the shoot and make small adjustments to pose our baby and keep them both comfortable.

Finally, we had the cute newborn shots we originally set out to capture. Poppy stayed happy throughout, she even had a little nap during the shoot. 

I never would have thought I'd find a place for techniques used over 100 years ago when trying to take some images of my own newborn baby. Tasha was absolutely delighted with the images, we're both happy to have captured some pictures of our daughter in those precious first few weeks. And what kind of proud father would I be if I didn't share some of them with you?

Am I Happy With The Shots?

I am delighted to have captured some cute photos of my newborn baby daughter in her first weeks, I am pleased to have captured the poses that my partner really wanted us to get. The images we got are purely for family albums and probably some Instagram flexing, and for those purposes, these images are perfectly fine. We didn't have the props, the experience, or the setup of a professional newborn studio, but these are better than photos of our baby taken on a phone and they didn't cost us anything other than our time.

It does make me further appreciate the work of professional newborn photographers, some of the images we've seen are simply stunning, more so when you consider how hard it is to get a newborn to pose for the camera. My newborn images are nowhere near the standard of full-time professional newborn photographers, but we had a lot of fun getting them.

Have you tried newborn photography? How did you get on? Have you ever successfully tried something like Hidden Mother photography? Let me know in the comments.

Brad Wendes's picture

Brad Wendes is a British photographer and travel lover.
He began photographing parkour and acrobatics in 2010 and has since taken to portraiture and fitness photography.
Brad is a self-confessed geek, Star Wars fan, tech enthusiast, cat lover and recently converted Apple Fanboy.

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Isn't it just! When my nephew was born, I was asked to do a newborn shoot and I agreed. He was tiny and screaming in front of me when I realised that the camera settings and lighting were about 10% of newborn photography and I had no idea how to handle the other 90%! Your shots are great though, congrats on the little one, Brad!

When I had my son I confidently brought him into my studio and then immediate realized that if he didn't want to be photographed, it wasn't going to happen. Good infant photographers have so many tips for wrangling a baby.

Baby-wrangling is definitely a specialist skill!

Lol. This article is cracking me up all the guys trying out newborn. Sports photography is a breeze compared to newborn. You both didn't even have the challenge of the hyper nervous new mom that you only know as a client hovering over the shoot!

Tried it earlier this year. Not as easy-peasy as I thought. I thought she was just going lay there as I shoot. Umm, no.

Absolutely agree. Even more respect for those serene baby photographs that newborn photographers can produce now

Omg These comments are cracking me up. Brad Wendes this article made my day!

I have a lot of experience in just about genre and figured I'd do our own newborn shots too. After that attempt, I realized it's one of the hardest things to shoot really well. Easy to do average but almost impossible to do well.

From this experience I’d definitely agree. This is a specialist field that I’ll leave to the experts in future

There's a reason that most of the time babies are photographed before they "wake up". During those first few weeks when they will sleep no matter what Anne Geddes pose you put them up it's much easier. Once they are old enough to realize what's going on... ouf. Next challenge for you guys- the toddler photoshoot. You thought a baby was hard... buckle up!

I can’t imagine how anyone could tame toddlers for photographs. I’m sure they do, but I’d rather take my chances with something predictable like lions 😂

"During those first few weeks when they sleep no matter what" didn't apply to my kids! Or my grandkids.

I've only done it for family or friends. Tough gig! Those of you that do it as part of your business, I tip my hat.

Ha this hits a little too close to home for me. I just got back from helping my sister with her newborn twins. Of course she asked me to take some photos and instantly it was like a circus. It seems the trick is to feed them, change them, and let them fall back asleep and try to make something happen while they are hardly moving. I wound up with a few cool images but they were nothing like the mood board she shared with me.

The one on the left is going to be an opera singer! This might be my favorite article of the year Brad Wendes !!!

Those twins do look rather dramatic! We should start a new thread of the most dramatic newborn images!

That is nothing...here is the dramatic attempt I made 2 years ago of my niece. Looks like something out of Rosemary's Baby!

If you're happy 😊 that's all that matters, b/c these moments are once in a lifetime.

As photographers, I think, we are at fault where we see something and often feel that we can do it... I've been in photography/wedding industry for over 25yrs now and when 12yrs ago, my wife and I opened our studio, we also began incorporating kids/families. I had to ReLearn photography with approach to children and my wife started learning Newborn photography.
Today, 95+% of my clients are kids/families (60%+ of those are newborns). I've been assisting her on the newborn sessions and 12yrs into it, I know I would NOT be able to do the session my self. The lighting & photographing is the easy part, it's setting up the pose, proping into the pose and actually posing the newborn - that is something that is an art form in it's self.
I've had many clients who, in the middle of the session, tell us how they have a "professional camera", couldn't get the results they wanted and came to us for these images. Newborn photography, is a nich, very specific field, and requires education/mentoring even and of course lots AND LOTS of patience :)

Congratulations 🎉 on the family addition, your bundle of joy 😊

Congrats Brad! I also became a father in August, but unlike you I didn't have the experience (or confidence) to do the photoshoot myself. We hired a local photographer whom my wife chose on Instagram, and I'm really glad we did. The care that this photographer used when dressing, posing, and photographing the baby was fascinating to watch. I learned a lot that day. I don't have professional gear or lighting, but I have taken a few snaps along the way with my little APSC camera to document the milestones. Cheers!