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.