The Newborn Session – How to work with a newborn – tips, tricks and ideas to make your session a success

If you want better newborn images, take our Online Newborn Photography Workshop.

First of all I want to say Thank You to Jodi for inviting me to be a guest speaker on her blog.When she asked me if I would like to talk about Newborn Photography, my answer was “of course!”Newborns have long been my favorite subject and while I find them the most challenging and longest sessions I have they are so rewarding and amazing to work with.There is nothing more beautiful than a new life and capturing those first few weeks is such an amazing gift to parents.

If you have questions after reading this post, please add them to the comment section here on the MCP Blog.  I will come check and respond to questions either in the comment section or in another post, depending how many there are.

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To start with I would like to talk about the Newborn Session itself and how to make it successful as a photographer.My first bit of advice is to approach newborn photography as a journey.It will take you several sessions to really start perfecting your skill set and style.While this can be frustrating as a photographer just be patient with yourself.I still after almost 5 years of photographing newborns feel like I am learning new skills with every session.A good way to practice is to have a casting call.Offer clients a free session and maybe a wall portrait.This will get you the practice you need and also give the parents something in return.You can structure these in many different ways. For example, if you would like more multiples or you want to practice specific poses include that in the description of the casting call.Once you have your sessions set up here are some general guidelines that will help make them more successful.

1. Get them young.

Try and encourage your clients to book their session as soon after birth as possible.I like to shoot newborns anywhere from 6-10 days.I like them sleepy and small but I would prefer them at least 6 days so that mother’s milk is in if they are breastfeeding.It also gives mom and dad a bit of time at home with their new little one.I have photographed newborns up to the age of 6 weeks and sometimes it works out.So while I can usually get them to sleep it is harder to keep them asleep as you pose them.Around 2 ½ to 3 weeks is when baby acne sets in too so it is good to try and get them before that happens.That being said I will take a newborn at any age.If the parents are game for trying so I am as long as they understand I cannot promise a lot of sleeping shots.Here is an example of some of my older babies.

6 weeks old- she really did quite well.She took a bit to get to sleep but once she was she was pretty easy to position.

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4 weeks old- while he slept fine if we moved him he would wake right up.So mom and I really had to work for every shot we got.

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2. Keep them warm.

This is crucial if you want a good sleepy baby.I always use a space heater, which doubles as a noise maker and a heating pad if the room is particularly drafty.I always put the heating pad on low and under several layers of blankets.Then once the baby is on the heating pad I turn it off so that baby doesn’t get too warm.A good rule of thumb is if you are hot then the baby is probably happy.

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3.Take control.

This was a hard lesson to learn.But I always handle the baby myself.I purposely wash my hands in front of the parents so that they know I am clean and then I take the baby from them.I start with the beanbag so that I can undress and swaddle them if I need to.If baby is asleep when I get there then carefully undress them on the bean bag and get them nice and comfortable.I find on their bellies or on their side is a good place to start.Let them settle and then position them.Don’t move too fast.Sometimes new parents are nervous holding babies and this can lead to them being startled and waking them up.As you develop your skills you will develop methods to move baby around without startling or waking them.I often tell parents to have a seat and relax.Let me do the work.They are usually grateful for the break.

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4. Have a plan.

I always go into a newborn session with a general plan of what I want to do.It doesn’t always work out but if the baby is sleepy it makes the session go so much smoother and faster.So have a list of poses to do.I start with the beanbag poses and have several I like to do there, and then add a few other props (baskets, bowls, ect) and I usually end with shots with mom, dad and sibling.If I know my goal ahead of time it really makes my session go smoothly and ensures I get the variety I want.I always let the baby run the show though.I go by their lead, if they are not tolerating a pose, I move on and try it later or skip it all together.I want them to be comfy and happy the whole time.

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5. Be prepared for everything and anything.

I always make sure I have my camera gear and blankets prepared to go the night before.My list of equipment and props are as follows.

Canon 5D Mark II- with the 50 mm 1.2 L
Canon 5D – for backup and I keep my macro lens on this camera
135mm 2.0L in case I get to go outside.This is my favorite lens and what I use 90% of the time outside.
35mm 1.4L – this is a new lens for me but will make overhead shots easier and possibly group shots in tight spaces.
Plenty of compact flash cards.I usually shoot 300-350 shots at a typical newborn session.
Canon Flash – just in case, but I never use it.
Beanbag – I got mine from www.beanbags.com.It is a small black vinyl one.Your beanbag needs to be somewhat firm so that they baby doesn’t get too deep into it but not too firm so that you can’t manipulate it.
Many blankets- I use them for layering as well as in baskets and on the beanbag.I bring one black blanket and many cream ones (as opposed to white).I prefer the light backgrounds to the black but black is nice for variety.
Hats- some cute newborn hats
Swaddling blankets
A few bowls and baskets- you can also use the client’s personal items if you are on location.Or ask them to bring anything that they might want to incorporate into the session.
Space Heater and heating pad

Accidents almost always happen.Have back up blankets, extra towels, burp cloths and wipes close by.I also bring extra clothes in case I am holding baby when they decided to go to the bathroom.It has happened to me more than once.I always assure the parents that it doesn’t matter what they do on my things.That everything is washable.This takes the worry out of their mind.And I don’t panic when accidents happen… it is just part of the session.

6. Be prepared for long sessions.

My newborn sessions often last 3 hours.With breaks for snacks, soothing to sleep and cleaning up messes it takes a while.I try to get them to sleep with pacifiers, swaddling and rocking before resorting to nursing because the more they nurse the more they poop and pee. Remember to dress nicely but comfortably.Jeans and a white T-shirt are my uniform most days.The white T-shirt allows you to be your own reflector in some cases and ensure you don’t throw odd color casts into your images.

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7. Enjoy those babies.

Only photograph newborns if you truly love them.Nothing makes a parent more comfortable than seeing that their photographer truly enjoys working with babies.Showing patience and compassion for their new little life will make them trust you and refer you to all their pregnant buddies.

Tune in next time and we will talk about Styles for Newborn Photography.

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This post was written by Alisha Robertson of AGR Photography

 The Newborn Session   How to work with a newborn   tips, tricks and ideas to make your session a success

Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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84 Comments and 2 Replies



  1. 1
    Stephanie says:

    Great post! I can’t wait for the next one and especially the lighting and posing ones. But I’m happy to know I’m on the right path. I had the opportunity to photograph my niece and another baby. I had them young. I had the beanbag, lots of blankets, a nice warm room. Only thing I lacked was good light. Plus I had an audience…our family got wind of the photoshoot and everyone showed up at my house. I was nervous enough doing something new but to add an audience to it. Ugh…

  2. 2
    Jennie says:

    Awesome post! So specific. This is just what I needed to learn and build my confidence. Do you have any advice on how to get clients? I don’t have many pregnant friends anymore! :)

  3. 3
    Vicki says:

    This is fantastic!! Thank you so much.

    And I have to grin at Stephanie’s comment (above) — there was a house full of people (kids, adults, older babies) at my first newborn photo shoot and I was SO GRATEFUL! I was able to do my thing without much interference or interruption, for the most part, while everyone else was socializing, munching, or chasing after the older kids! To each their own, eh?

    Thanks again for this series.

  4. 4
    Flo says:

    WOW!!! This is great as I have only done a couple of newborn sessions and I have a couple scheduled in the next couple of weeks so all the help I can get is much appreciated.I am looking forward to the next posts and am excited to try my new newborn shoots. Going to get a beanbag right away……

  5. 5

    Awesome post! Thank you so much for sharing your newborn secrets!! I am learning a lot and have a couple of newborn shoots coming up! One of which will be 5 weeks old so I am hoping she cooperates!

  6. 6
    Ann says:

    I am so glad to hear that I am not the only one leaving a three hour newborn session soaked in baby pee. I truly enjoy newborns and thought I was doing something wrong because they were taking so long! Thanks for this I am so excited to learn more!

  7. 7
    Tracey says:

    Thank you so much for the post! So many great tips to help me get organized.

  8. 8
    Tracy says:

    THANK YOU so much for posting this amazing info!!!!! I love working with babies and really want this to be my specialty. This makes me feel like I’m moving in the right direction. The info you shared is so helpful! I can’t wait until the next post…

  9. 9
    Tracy says:

    THANK YOU so much for posting this amazing info!!!!! I love working with babies and really want this to be my specialty. This makes me feel like I’m moving in the right direction. The info you shared is so helpful! I can’t wait until the next post…

    Question: The first few images have a beautiful softness to them. Would you mind sharing your post processing info? Also, what camera lens and settings are you using? Thnaks!

  10. 10
    Silvina says:

    Great post! I just had my third newborn session today and have another one tomorrow, so this is all very timely. I can use help and ideas on different poses and how to achieve them. Can’t wait for the next one!

  11. 11
    Jeri H says:

    Thanks for the great tutorial Angela. Great tips!

  12. 12
    johnna says:

    Fantastic! This makes me want to be a newborn photographer!

  13. 13
    Lori M. says:

    Excellent post! I can’t wait for the rest! Thank you both Alisha and Jodi for this wonderful information!

  14. 14
    Matt says:

    Very good post. Thank you. I have only done two newborn sessions, but hope to do more. I would love to hear specifics on how to do the poses, particularly how to get them to “curl” properly. I’ve also found it’s hard to get good light in some client’s homes. Thanks again for this great series!

  15. 15
    Stacy says:

    Really great information. Newborn photography is something I’m so fascinated and inspired by. This is so helpful. Thanks!

  16. 16

    I really had given up on newborn shoots after my first one. I was sweating like a cow when I was done because I was nervous and so was the mom. She was a first time mom and she was very awkward holding the baby. You have some great tips in here and I am really looking forward to reading thru the rest of your postings.

  17. 17
    Kristi says:

    Thanks so much for this post! It is great info. I’m also wondering about lighting – what kind of lighting do you use if you aren’t able to position next to a good natural light source? Do you usually do newborn sessions in the mornings?

  18. 18
    kate in OH says:

    WOW! that was an awesome post. So much information. Your images are wonderful.
    I am JSO and think I really want to concentrate on newborns.
    I will be anxiously awaiting post number 2.
    thanks!

    • I find that making things comfortable for mom and dad is helkpful to the photography too. After all, a happy. relaxed mom and dad usually helps create a happy, relaxed (sleepy) baby.

  19. 19

    Great post! I learned a lot!!!. Thank you for the information. Looking forward to the next post.

  20. 20
    Amy Mann says:

    Awesome post…so clear and specific…thanks for sharing your secrets! I cannot wait to read your next one.

  21. 21
    Shannon says:

    Great article — you are right you always learn something new at each session!

  22. 22
    Rose says:

    wow, that is all great advice!!

  23. 23

    As I am breaking into the newborn market, your information was invaluable to me! I mainly concentrate on children and families until a few newborn sessions ago, now this is the area I really love and want to concentrate on….so, thank you so much for posting this! I can’t wait to read the next post!

  24. 24

    Thanks so much! You mentioned you bring your flash but never use it— do you bring studio lighting to any shoots or is it all natural? Sorry if im rushing the lighting question, I know it will be covered on a later post… I cant wait!

  25. 25

    i am LOVING this post! thank you so much for teaching us and encouraging us, and thank you, jodi, for hosting!!

  26. 26

    Thanks for sharing. These are great tips. Any suggestions for where to get hats?

  27. 27
    Briony says:

    this was so helpful. i’ve never done newborn photography before and i have a mother at my church that is asking me to take pregnant mommy pics and newborn baby pics. i am excited but nervous because both are very new to me. i appreciate all your tips and advice :)

  28. 28
    Catherine says:

    Wow! Thank you so much for the insight on working with newborns. I can’t wait to get more comfortable with them. I had my third “itty-bitty” session today and it went okay, but your tips are wonderful and so helpful that I’m sure next week will be even better! Lighting seems to be my biggest problem with newborns.

  29. 29

    such beautiful photos. any tips on shooting older babes….2 month olds?

  30. 30
    Abby says:

    Great post! Newborns are quickly becoming a favorite for me. I LOVE the entire experience. I hadn’t thought of wearing a white t-shirt to be my own reflector, though… what a great tip!

  31. 31
    Pam Breese says:

    Very nice!
    My question is about sleeping vs awake babies. I photographed a 6 week old and the mother was clearly wanting awake baby photos. From this post it appears that having an awake baby is not even an option for you. Do you ever photograph babies when awake, and how do you explain to parents that sleeping babies are preferred?

  32. 32
    JenW says:

    THANK YOU! Love this post, now I just need to find a newborn!

  33. 33
    Missy says:

    This is so great! So many good tips!! I’ve never thought about what I’m wearing could affect the picture. Maybe it’s a “duh” for most photographers but it’s new to me! I can’t wait for more!

  34. 34
    Shaila says:

    Oh, I love all these beautiful pictures! Newborns are my absolute favorite. Such great advise and ideas. Thanks for much for all that you shared!

  35. 35
    desi says:

    thanx so much for this – it was a very informative post indeed.

  36. 36
    ally says:

    great post! Thanks for sharing.. The pictures are just beautiful.. Gives me baby fever…

  37. 37
    Tira J says:

    Thank you. This is wonderful advice.

  38. 38
    amy little says:

    I LOVE this post! I just posted a question about this on thebschool forum. So I’m so glad to find this post. I do have two additional questions:

    -do you ever place anything underneath them to catch any accidents?
    and
    -would you mind posting the specifics of the bean bag? I went to that website and I must be blind. I could only really see charis. Is that what you use, or do you have something smaller?

    Thanks again for your selflessness in being willing to teaching the rest of us.

  39. 39
    Casey Cooper says:

    Great tutorial! For the 6th photo, what lighting setup did you use? I love the lighting contrast (black background photo)!

  40. 40
    Keri Jackson says:

    Great pictures and awesome tips! Thanks!!

  41. 41
    Heidi says:

    Wow! That was such a great, informative post! Thank you so much for sharing your talent and knowledge with the internet world. It really is about encouraging one another, isn’t it!? I am not in photography for business, but love learning more to help me in my passion. I appreciate you, and others like you, who are willing to share freely. Your examples were amazing. The parents and those children will love what you have captured for many generations.

  42. 42
    Kate says:

    Great post! I wondered why my baby sessions were tough to get a sleeping shot. they were all too old!

    can’t wait until the next post.

  43. 43
    cyndi says:

    Awesome post! Lots of wonderful information, than you so much for sharing! Your images are just beautiful.

  44. 44

    I have only done a few newborn shoots and they can be a bit terrifying until you get into the swing of things. I have one this weekend and I feel so much better about going into it…prepared! Thank you for sharing your tips with us! What a treat!

  45. 45
    Sherri says:

    Oh wow this is awesome – I cant thank you enough – I have my first newborn
    shoot this weekend (weather permitting) – these tips were very helpful

  46. 46
    Michelle says:

    You have tons of great info. I would love to see some images of your set up from a distance. To see how you position the baby on the beanbag in relation to your light source. I have done many newborns but I have never used a beanbag. Also do you use a reflector or any other help for shawdows. Thanks

  47. 47

    [...] Alisha is headed to WPPI so there will not be a Newborn series post this week but she has answered the questions you left from the part 1 of her newborn series.  [...]

  48. 48
    Lydia says:

    I love that you use available light, only. So much simpler than the other setups I’ve read about! What about photos with the family/parents hands, etc. included? Do you still use the 50mm? I only have two lenses so far, and the 50mm is by far the best one, but I have trouble including family in tight spaces.

  49. 49
    DawnS says:

    Your post is so exciting for me to read. I just recently started to learn to use my Canon SLR and I really want to photograph babies. I just had my first baby and absolutely love taking pictures of him. I hope to find time between work and mommyhood to pursue this dream. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and adorable pictures.

  50. 50
    Heather says:

    What a wonderful post…what I have been looking on the internet for. I have a 7 week old baby and have been shooting to my heart’s content…I also convienced the hubby to buy me a new canon 50d with two lenses so I can shoot my third little boy. Thank you for the advise here !!!!

  51. 51
    Paige says:

    Wow, that was so helpful! Thank you for sharing your tips!

  52. 52
    Amanda says:

    Had my first newborn shoot this morning, and I didn’t come across this blog till this afternoon…it’s a shame I missed it, but it will definitely help me out before my next session. Thanks!!

  53. 53
    emily s. says:

    also wanted to add my thanks for sharing tips and tricks! LOVE your shots!!!

  54. 54
    Sarrah says:

    I would also love to know how you get those creamy looking photos. Beautiful!

  55. 55

    Awesome! I can’t wait for the next one, my studio and a friends’ have really been trying to get into newborns and it can be kind of overwhelming, babies are so precious, I just love them!!!!

  56. 56

    [...] part 2 in a series about newborn photography from guest blogger Alisha Robertson.  If you missed part 1, you can find it here. And to learn more about Alisha, what lessons she will be teaching and her [...]

  57. 57

    Great tips and great photos!

  58. 58
    Emmma says:

    I saved this post to read again when I need a good piece of advice! I learned a lot from it. Thank you very much!

  59. 59
    Fir says:

    Great info, thank you SO much for sharing :)

  60. 60
    Nicole says:

    Thanks so much for sharing. This was so informative. What size beanbag did you buy? I am assuming the youth???

  61. 61
    Nicole says:

    Sorry, just saw your responce to another post!

  62. 62
    vanessa salas says:

    what do you mean by flash cards? do they have poses for you to go by tips?
    Thanks!

  63. 63

    Great post! I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said. Newborn sessions are some of my absolute favorites…what a joyful, incredible time of life to capture! Thanks for sharing your tips!

  64. 64
    Dionna says:

    Thank you so much for these pointers.My sister just had a baby and I was trying out my amateur abilities with my Canon Rebel xsi. I was getting a little frustrated on getting the shots I wanted when I came upon your blog. I feel ready to try again with our little angel and look forward to seeing the end results thanks to you. I will be following you regularly…

  65. 65
    Christina says:

    Thank you so much for the wonderful tips!!! This is so helpful. I’m looking to start newborn photography this year :)
    Is this the beanbag you have? http://www.beanbags.com/bean-bag-chairs/small/smallroundclassicvinylbeanbag.cfm

  66. 66
    Tina Louise Kelly-Nerelli says:

    I also was wondering is this the bean bag you have:
    http://www.beanbags.com/bean-bag-chairs/small/smallroundclassicvinylbeanbag.cfm
    I was considering the newborn nest but thinking it might be too firm?

    Also what macro lens do you have, I also shoot with a 5D markII and I am looking to get another lens…right now I only have the nifty fifty and the 24-105.

    Your advise is wonerful…I just want to thank you for sharing!!!

  67. 67
    Vana says:

    Loved this post! Can’t wait for the next one..

  68. 68
    Albert says:

    Great article, I believe the photograph skills can be learn and practiced but is there anywhere you can suggest to learn how to carefully handle newborns.

    Thanks

  69. 69

    Those baby pictures are stunning, love all the shots, great job, it’s like a work of art.

  70. 70

    Thanks for the tips! These are perfect! :)

  71. 71
    Vanessa says:

    Love the ideas…so helpful for someone starting out such as myself. I just purchased my black vinyl bean bag from beanbags.com. Thank you for taking the time to write these tips, they are great!!!

  72. 72
    acne says:

    Woah this blog is wonderful i really like reading your articles. Keep up the good paintings! You understand, lots of individuals are hunting round for this information, you can aid them greatly.

  73. 73
    Kelly says:

    Hello,
    Thanks for the great tips! How do you hold up the background?
    Thanks!

  74. 74
    Lena says:

    I now have a few babies under my belt. Most parents are confused as of the why shoot early. I explain it but have had not much luck photographing babies under 10 days. The ones that were under ten days, have been my best sessions. The ones 2 weeks and above, have been awake and cranky b/c mommy wants them to sleep. Advice to those who have 1 month olds and want that sleepy time, use your best position first, the one that you can take the most photos with. (feet, hands, etc) Baby may just wake up and not want to go back to sleep once moved! And each of those one monthers, did not want to lay on their bellies at all! :(

  75. 75
    Jennifer Conard says:

    I LOVE this article. I have been struggling with newborn shoots. I always go to the shoot fully prepared with ideas and props. But, I never get what I want from the shoot. Thanks for the tips! I am going to use them well :)

  76. 76
    andrew says:

    Im sorry but I would not hire you.
    1:You should never ever have a heating pad near a baby.
    2:You can, will, and probably have cause distress in breastfeeding mothers by offering soothers to newborns. They shouldn’t have those things because it causes confusion
    3:sleeping photos aren’t everything, if that’s all you got shots of you would find that the check would be cancelled.

  77. 77

    [...] Newborn Tips and Tricks to Make Your Session a Success [...]

  78. 78
    Sophie says:

    Great post, and it’s reassuring to hear that sessions usually last 3 hours. Your images are gorgeous!!

  79. 79
    Kurt Harrison says:

    I enjoyed this post very much. The tips are great! I hope to read more!

  80. 80

    The hospital that you delivered at we are come to your room for a session. Our photographer was great with our newborn and the pictures were beautiful!

  81. 81
    Emily W. says:

    Thank you for the fantastic post. I’m gearing up for my first newborn shoot, and this is very helpful and REAL! Thanks again.

  82. 82
    Dionna says:

    I am fairly new to photography and have only done one newborn shoot (my sister’s last year). I loved it so much but had no idea what I was doing. Thanks for all the tips. I hope I get to use them sometime soon. I love your pictures! Stunning!!

  83. 83
    April says:

    Seriously, thank you! My friend and I recently started our own photography business and there are some amazing tips on here! The one about wearing a white shirt, so simple yet I never thought of it! Thanks again!

  84. 84
    Lizelle says:

    Thank you so much. Great Post!!! I’ve done newborn photography for a while, but it’s always good to get another point of view, especially the part of handling baby yourself…I find that parents sometimes get a little over enthusiastic and then you struggle getting baby to rest…



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