If you’ve ever tried photographing a newborn, you can appreciate how important it is to have a sleepy baby for your session. Some well-known tricks to encourage a baby to fall asleep include keeping the room very warm, playing white noise, and making sure the baby has a full belly. Newborns operate on a schedule of their own, and sometimes no matter what you do, they are wide awake and not overly happy with being placed in any sort of prop you have on hand. Thankfully there are a few things that you can do to salvage a session with an unhappy newborn.
Newborns are among the most unpredictable subjects to photograph, and the success of a session largely depends on how long and how deeply the baby sleeps. A session is typically scheduled for around three hours to give the baby a chance to fall asleep and to allow for breaks to be fed, changed, and comforted. If the baby refuses to sleep, one of the first things I do is to get the parents involved in a few photos. This way they can comfort their little one while also having beautiful portraits taken of their new family. I do recommend waiting until the baby is calm for family photos. If the baby is upset, even if this is not obvious from the baby’s face in the portrait, when the parents see the photos afterwards, all they will remember is how their little one had felt so distressed.
Another favorite set of photos I like to take for wide-awake newborns are the close-up shots of the baby’s hands, feet, and other little parts. These can work well by themselves, but have greater impact when grouped together in a collage. Practically speaking, these are among the easiest photos to take, since the baby can be moving around while you take them. I often take these while the baby is positioned on either a very dark or very light blanket, to contrast against the baby’s skin. They can even be taken while the baby is held in the arms of the mother or father. If you want to avoid the tedious task of correcting skin tones on these photos, opt for conversion to black and white.
If the baby is calm but is still wide awake, you don’t need to wait for them to fall asleep. Although newborns do not typically like being on their stomach when awake, placing them on their back or side can keep them happy. Trying varying the lighting angles for these photos. You might also choose to wrap the baby up for these photos, as many newborns find comfort in being swaddled or tightly wrapped.
While an awake and unhappy newborn can be frustrating, the most important thing you can do as a photographer is to stay calm and reassure the parents that their photos are coming out beautifully. They are likely feeling a lot of the same frustration, and part of the goal for these photos is to help them remember not just how their little baby looked, but also what a great experience they had during their session. Babies can sense frustration in the room, so try your best to keep everyone relaxed no matter how well the session seems to be going.
Although having an uncooperative newborn can make you swear to never agree to photograph a baby ever again, these tips will help you to make sure that you get something out of your session every time. If you have any nuggets of advice or have experienced a particularly tough newborn session, feel free to share in the comments section!