3 Tips for Having a Successful Newborn Session | Minnesota Newborn Photographer

In Spring 2013 I was commissioned by the Ultimate photo guide to help create a DVD photographing children from newborns to seniors.  You’ll learn all the basics in this series.  You can purchase the DVD {HERE} .  If you’re looking for detailed teaching on posing newborns, scroll to the bottom of this post for more details!!

In addition to the DVD I was recently asked to write a blog post for the Ultimate Photo Guide on how to have a successful newborn session.  I thought I would share this post with my fellow readers and photographers and I hope it is helpful to you!  XO-Jessica


I consider myself blessed to capture one of the most precious times in a families life…welcoming a new child!  They are photos a parent will cherish and treasure for a lifetime.  However, If you’ve ever been around a newborn baby you know they can be pretty unpredictable at times. Every photographer has their own way of doing things, but my hope is these tips will give you a springboard to find your own style and way of doing things.

Before we get to all the tips for a successful session, you’ll want to consider what type of sessions you want to offer your clients.  There are two main types of newborn sessions: Lifestyle and Posed.  I think many newborn photographers first start off in the lifestyle arena because you often don’t have the funds to rent a studio space.  I myself, began my career doing newborn sessions in the home.  Lifestyle sessions in general are a little more casual.  You tend not to pose the baby as much and focus more on family photos.  A positive to this is you can photograph baby a lot older in the home, I’d say up to 8 weeks would still be acceptable.  Another plus to in home sessions is you can really utilize the home as your back drop.  I use to love using the nursery in my clients home, it allowed me to bring less props and also capture all the special details the parents put into the nursery as well.


As I grew in my newborn career I really began to love the art of posing newborns. Which brings me to the second type of newborn photography…Posing/Studio Newborn Sessions.    Posing newborns often takes place in a studio setting.  While it can be done in home, it’s often much more difficult because you need a lot more props to achieve the different set ups in the home. Hauling lots of props to someones home can be daunting and overwhelming.  Another positive about a studio setting is you can control and know the lighting situation before the session happens. Often when we go into a client’s home and we have no idea what we are walking into.  Some homes can be very challenging lighting wise and also ascetically not pleasing to the eye.  Not everyone is going to have the cutely decorated nursery and you need to be able to improvise quickly if you’re only going to offer in home newborn sessions.  Studio sessions on the other hand are a very controlled environment.  You know the lighting and and you also know exactly what type of photo set ups you can achieve with your props and studio space. Everything is already there for you so no hauling anything is a nice plus!  Studio sessions typically are done in the first two weeks of birth when the baby is still very sleepy.  The focus of these sessions are more on posing the baby on a beanbag or basket with different blankets, wraps, headbands and hats .  The family and sibling photos tend to have a more posed feel as well.  All in all, you have to decide what type of photography fits your style best!  Your clients will see your work online and book you based on what you show them.


Tip #1.  Preparation

You not only need to prepare yourself for your upcoming newborn session but also your clients as well.  Lets first discuss prepping your clients!  When a client first contacts me I book their session based off the mother’s due date.   It’s important that your client knows to contact you if the baby is born early or late.  Especially when doing studio sessions!  You want to make sure baby is under 2 weeks of age to get those sleepy posed photos.  I also send my clients a preparation list of things the need to do the day of the session.  Here are the tips I give my clients:

1. Keep baby awake for 1-2 hours before leaving for the studio.  This helps to ensure baby is nice and sleepy when he/she arrives

2. Feed baby right before you leave for the studio so he/she arrives with a full belly

3. Bring a bottle with incase we need to feed during the session.  (some moms will want to breast feed exclusively)

4. Bring a pacifier.  Some babies just love to suck as it’s a natural soothing effect for them.  If parents don’t want to use a pacifier ask if your pinky finger is ok!

5. If you are doing sibling photos, have the sibling arrive during the last 1/2 hour.  That way they don’t have to sit through the whole session quietly

While its important your client is prepared, its probably more important that you are prepared for your upcoming session. I usually arrive to my studio 1 hour a head of time to start warming it up.  I like my space to be between 75-80 degrees.  I always joke with the parents that if I’m not sweating, it’s not warm enough! I typically pick out 7 different looks or set ups for each of my studio sessions.  I don’t always get to all of them but it’s nice to have them all laid out and ready to go so I can easily change things up if one of them isn’t working out.  Here’s a list of a few items you want to have readily available to you in a studio session:

1. Newborn posing beanbag

2. Backdrop stand and clamps

3. Space heaters

4. Step stool

5. Big Blankets for layering on the bean bag

6. Props (Baskets, Crates, Swaddle Wraps, Hats & Headbands)

7. Backdrops (faux floors, different colored paper rolls)

8. Background Noise (I prefer a heart beat sounds)


Tip #2. Get it Right in Camera (Equipment)

One of the things I strive for in my newborn sessions is minimal editing to my photos.  I try my best to always set myself up to get the image right in camera, so when it comes to editing the images, I’m doing very little to the image itself.  The way you achieve this is by having the right gear and knowing how to use it!  I currently shoot using a Canon Mark III and it’s phenomenal in comparison to say a Canon Rebel with it’s ISO abilities.  Unless your shooting with studio lights, a high ISO can come in handy on a dark dreary day.  You’ll also want to make sure you have some lenses that are able to stop down to f2.8.  These lenses are going to allow more light into your camera when you need it and still produce a great image. It’s also a good idea to have flash available to you as well.  I strive to be all natural light in my newborn portraits, but there have been a few rare occasions where I’ve needed a little extra light in a really dark situation.  Better safe, than sorry!

I always have 3 lenses in my camera bag during my newborn sessions:

Canon 50mm f1:2  This is my go-to portrait lens, be careful not to stop down too low though, it’s rare baby’s eyes will be on the same plane.  I mostly shoot between 2-2.8


Canon 24mm f1:4  A great lens for family shots or where you want more of the background included, again I shoot around 2.8 with this lens.


Canon 100mm f2.8 Macro  This lens is great for capturing the tiniest of details of baby! Play with your f stop to get the depth of field you like.  I generally shoot between f2.8-f5 for Macro shots.


One of the number one aspects to achieving a great image in camera is knowing how to shoot in full manual mode.  This is going to allow you to adjust your camera to the specific lighting situation your in.  It often changes frequently, especially if you’re shooting in someone’s home or an all natural light studio, like me.  Overcast and rainy days can severely impact the amount of available light, so having the knowledge on how to change my ISO or adjust the shutter speed is important.

You’ll also want to have a grey card handy!  A grey card will allow you to take a custom white balance.  It’s basically going to tell your camera the temperature of the light your shooting in and adjust your camera’s white balance so your subjects look as though your see them in front of you.  For example, in photo below, it was a cloudy morning in my studio.  If I had not done a custom white balance the babies skin tones would appear much cooler looking than what she appeared in real life.  And vice versa, if it’s a bright sunny day, the skin tones appear much warmer than they are in person. Using a grey card will dramatically reduce your editing time because you won’t have to change your color balance in each photo.  It’s a simple step that can be done in a matter of seconds!

custom white balance copy

 Here is the grey card that i use:  Lastolite Ezy Balance Gray card- $29.90 www.bhphotovideo.com

Another handy tool to have on hand is a reflector.  A reflector is a great way to add a little fill light in when the shadows can be getting dark on one side of the subject.

Here is the reflector I have in my studio: Impact 5-in1 collapsible Circular Reflector Disk www.bhphotovideo.com


Tip #3. Posing & Lighting

Before you even being to consider starting to pose your subject, you want to take into consideration your available light.  This is especially important when shooting natural light.  My preference is to have my light source on the side of the subject.  I like to have the light flow over the subjects face leaving a slight shadow on the opposite side.  So when I’m setting up my bean bag or props, the window is always to the right or left of the subject, rather than directly in front.  I feel like placing the subject directly right in front gives an overall flat lighting appearance.  Try it out both ways though, and see what you prefer.  There is no real right or wrong answer in this instance.  It’s more of a personal preference.



When it comes to posing baby in studio, I have four main set ups I try to achieve a nice variety in my sessions:  Bean Bag Poses, Basket/Crate Poses, Wrap Poses and Family & Sibling photos.

One of the main ways I offer variety in my galleries to my clients is to offer a variety of bean bag and basket/crate shots.  I always try to do 3-4 different colors of fabric, accessorized with coordinating hats and headbands.  I also try to offer a variety of poses. It can be difficult to figure out how to pose babies on bean bags and can be a lot of trial and error.  The main thing to remember is baby’s safety is always #1.  This shot below on the pink fabric is a composite shot.  My assistant is holding baby’s head in one photo and her hands in the next photo.  I combine the two photos together in photoshop to get the resulting image.  A baby’s head should never be “propped” up on it’s own or ever left un attended on a bean bag.  A great way to learn how to better pose babies is to watch videos online or attend a newborn workshop.  I attended a newborn workshop over 3 years ago and it was the best investment I ever made.  There are many teachers across the country, myself included, who strive to teach great poses but also safety as a key component.


Wrap shots are some of my favorites.  I love them because they can work safely for a baby that is awake or asleep.  Sometimes babies do not sleep the whole time during a session.  So you can still offer some variety by doing a wrap shot while waiting for baby to fall back asleep again!


The key to family and sibling photos is to really go with the flow, especially in the sibling arena.  When you have young children involved and posing a newborn, things can get tricky.  Get down on the siblings level and talk to them about being the big brother or sister and I often keep treats like fruit snacks and crackers readily available for bribing!  Hey whatever works right 🙂  One of the easiest ways to pose siblings is to have the older sibling lay on a rug or blanket by the baby.   Prep your clients a head of time to bring outfits with for family photos.  Even if you don’t end up doing them, at least the option is always there!



In conclusion, remember that newborn photography isn’t just something you start off great at.  If I posted some of the first photos I took, you may laugh me off this blog post.  I want to encourage you to keep at it!  Be flexible when working with babies.  They are each so unique and will have different needs.  If baby doesn’t want to sleep do some family photos or macro shots.  The session may not always go as planned but sometimes thats how we capture life’s most precious moments!

 If you’re looking to improve your newborn photography, think about signing up for one of my mentorship weekends!  Its great fun and you’ll learn a lot!
(please note you must live/work 100 miles outside of the Minneapolis area 55413)

Newborn Mentorship Feb2014_Blog