What Newborn Photography is not.
Everyone likes photos. We especially like newborn photos. We are inundated with memes and "cute stuff" pictures all day. For the most part, what we see everyday are really just snapshots. A shot that "just happened". And while they are entertaining and fun, from a technical and/or artistic point of view, they are sub par. Let me tell you right off: studio newborn photography is not a collection of snapshots.
Because of this digital world of media beyond media, we are conned. We think that photography is "no big deal", that we can just "show up" and have great images made. Let me state the main best practice for successful newborn photography: Plan weeks in advance and prepare your baby properly for the shoot.
Why Plan My Newborn Photos So Far Ahead?
There are 3 main reasons why newborn photo sessions need to be planned. 1. Newborns are only really able to be posed in the cute poses you probably want for about 2 weeks. 2. The decrease in mom's ability to remember things and function for the first weeks after birth. 3.. Newborn photographers are sought after. They book up fast.
If you wait until AFTER your newborn is born to find a photographer, you are increasing the risk of getting very disappointing images. This is a problem I come across in my studio almost daily. Newborns arrive in a very underdeveloped state. This is especially true of the first 2-3 weeks of life. During this time, they sleep more easily than they will at 3-4 weeks, their bodies can "fold" for safe and cute poses, they are not yet as "aware" of their surroundings and are less sensitive to what is going on. Thus, if you call a photographer, and your baby is already 2 weeks old, you will be lucky to find a reputable newborn photographer who has an opening. And if you are lucky enough to find one, your baby is already "aging out" out of the newborn time frame for pictures.
But that is ridiculous. How can a 3-week-old baby be "too old". C'mon.
Of course, photographs can be taken of your baby at 3 weeks. But they probably will not be the photos you saw on Pinterest or on your photographer's website that you liked. Some babies are still very "newborn like". But I would say that a good number of them are not. By three weeks, the number and variety of images than can be taken of your baby are most likely dramatically reduced, compared with having them in the studio by days 7-10. Your baby will be awake, which is fine. But an awake baby at 3 weeks can usually only be photographed while they are on their back. This makes side view shots, or shots with a variety of angles harder. Not impossible. Just harder and less likely. Why risk losing amazing images? Plan ahead.
Further, by 3 weeks, babies already are more sensitive to new environments and wake themselves up faster and more often. So even if your 3 week old sleeps in the studio, it will likely be a lighter sleep for a shorter time making getting into position fast enough to take photos harder.
Whady'a mean a new mom does not function so well?
Giving birth is a phenomenal physical feat. The chemical changes in a woman's body are tremendous. Most people will say that they notice a decrease in the ability to remember things and learn. Because preparing for a newborn shoot involves learning a lot of new things as well as remembering them, if a mom waits until her baby is already born, she is probably not going to remember a lot. And when she and the baby get to the session, they both will be unprepared. When you make your newborn photo appointment, your photographer will spend a fair amount of time explaining how to prepare the baby to come to the studio. From eating and clothing restrictions, to timing, to diapering and feeding, there is a literal science to helping your baby be calm and asleep for the entire newborn photography session.
Newborn Studio Scheduling
A newborn shoot is not something that can be taken lightly by the photographer. We have to consider safety, and provide AMPLE time. Newborn photography sessions go at a baby's pace. That pace can be pretty slow. Feeding alone can take 45 minutes. And if a session has 2 feedings, well, that is 90 minutes just waiting around for the baby to eat. So, most photographers cannot schedule two newborn sessions in one day (unless they are a huge studio with a lot of room and assistants and extra photographers). Further, newborn photographers have to give clients a "window". Just because a baby is due on a certain date, does not mean they arrive exactly on time. They may come early, or late. The newborn photographer has to prepare and be ready for this occurrence. Generally, the newborn photographer is contacted within 24 hours of the baby's birth, and the shoot scheduled. Normally, mom is in no shape to do this mundane thing. It is a friend or family member who has been given the newborn photographer's phone number and instructions to call and get the baby's photo session scheduled. All retainers were paid well in advance. Literally, it takes a village to plan and prepare.
There is no reason so sabotage your baby's newborn photos. Plan, prepare, done.
Katherine Katsenis is a newborn photographer in Los Angeles.