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A professional newborn photo session is a luxury and a treat, and as photographers naturally we appreciate the value. But we know realistically you can’t employ a professional photographer every other week, and your baby is changing and growing every other day!
So if you want to take your own newborn photos, we’ve got you covered with these 7 essential tips designed specifically for amateur photographers. All you need is a DSLR or a camera you can use in manual mode, and you can DIY a newborn photo session to be proud of!
You don’t need fancy lights to take newborn photos. Moreover, natural light is free, abundant (hopefully!) and easy to use!
Look for a good amount of soft natural light, which you can find near windows and doorways. Soft light wraps gently around your subject, flattering their features. You can recognise soft light by the absence of harsh shadows which have sharply defined lines between the light and shade.
The best way to position newborns is with their head nearest the light source, so that it washes down their body rather than up-lighting them and illuminating the inside of their nose! Look for a little shadow under the nose to confirm you’ve positioned your baby correctly.
Depending on the strength of your light, start by placing your newborn around 2m from the source.
Try and create some soft shadows on one side by placing baby at a 45-90 degree angle to the light source, and this will add depth and interest to your photos. Look for a gently graduating line between light and shade, rather than a sharply defined line which indicates harsh, unflattering light.
I encourage you to experiment with the position and distance, whilst keeping your eye on the way light and shadow falls on baby’s face and ask yourself these questions:
An indoor newborn photo session usually calls for a wide angle lens to compensate for small spaces, and enables you to be physically close to baby so you can ensure her safety at all times.
Anything from around 35-50mm with the ability to use wide apertures (low f stop value) will be perfect. However if your only gear is a kit lens, the 18-55mm will be fine.
We highly recommend the ‘nifty fifty’ when you’re looking to upgrade your kit lenses. The nifty fifty is a 50mm f/1.8 lens, available in both Canon and Nikon, and it’s a very inexpensive lens but quite good quality for its price. The fact it’s f/1.8 means you can capture more of the ambient light than your kit lenses allow, and it’s also sharper.
Related: The Nifty Fifty Lens
Any camera you can use in manual mode is essential, as it is the only way to control your exposure and effect.
If you’re not shooting in manual mode, check out our intro to manual mode.
Related: Introduction to Manual Mode
Use apertures of around f/2.8 to f/3.5 – this will give you a nice shallow depth of field and let you capture lots of ambient light.
Set your shutter speed to minimum 1/250 (preferably faster) to freeze baby’s motion, then balance your exposure by increasing your ISO if needed. If the shot is too bright, increase your shutter speed instead.
If you have a kit lens that doesn’t open up wider than f/3.5, try using it at 24mm and that should give you the ability to shoot at around f/3.5 to f4, and you’ll need to step in closer for a tighter frame (zoom with your feet!).
Keep it simple.
Avoid a newborn photo session Pinterest fail and keep additional elements to a minimum. The more elements you add to the shot, the more you distract from your subject.
A wrap and/or hat or simple headband can look gorgeous, and the easiest way to make it work is to ensure they’re from the same colour family, and only vary the tones.
Alternatively use one colour and add only neutral tones.
If you like the more posed style newborn photos, a beanbag is the way to go.
Most importantly, make sure it’s well filled with beans so that it’s firmer than you’d normally have it when using it for seating. Then drape a throw over the bag, and pull it up at the back and drape it or clip it to something than sits a good metre higher than the bean bag.
Professional photographers attach it to a backdrop stand, however a clothes horse works really well too.
Attach it in way that you avoid any wrinkles – you don’t want to be trying to fix that in every single photo later when you’re editing.
This pose is a nice easy and safe one – baby on her belly, knees gently up and hands under her chin.
This pose is simply baby on her side, hands folded as if in prayer, and placed under her cheek, feet crossed at the ankles.
Note in both of these shots the throw matches the wrap/clothing. It’s a seemingly small detail but it makes the difference between professional photo and Pinterest fail.
Vary your shots by trying different locations. Think bed, bath, beanbag, bassinet… (we really weren’t trying for only B locations I promise!).
Why not try a milk bath? Add a little milk to a very shallow bath so baby can lay on their back unassisted and safely. The water should be shallow enough that it only reaches just up to her armpits. You may need to hike the heating up to keep her asleep and comfortable.
The neutrality of the bassinet, the timber floor working as a backdrop, and the white sheet is the perfect canvas for this beautiful floral wrap and creates a striking contrast of elements.
Don’t forget wide shots, and when photographing a cot/crib in this way, leave some negative space at the top for balance.
Shoot from multiple angles and perspectives for a variety of newborn photos without even needing to move your baby.
If your baby’s bed isn’t near a good source of natural light, and you can’t move it, shoot with the widest aperture your lens allows (lowest f stop value) and high ISO.
Your own bed is a lovely big space which will give you opportunity to shoot wide frames and still fill the frame with the bed. Secondly, including all this negative space is a great way to highlight your baby’s size.
Step back for a wide shot and take away any surrounding elements that don’t need to be there and could clutter up your photos.
Related: Clear the Clutter
The beauty of a bassinet for your newborn photo session is the ability to place it wherever the good light lives. Winning!
Casually drape a wrap diagonally across the bassinet and flowing over the floor to add interest – additionally this will connect the bassinet and baby to the negative space, and bring balance to the photo. Notice what a big difference this one small change makes?
There’s only so many ways to pose a newborn, however you can get variety in your newborn photo session by taking lots of shots of the same set up:
So with those compositions in mind, use them on one or more of the following ideas.
With baby wrapped and on their back, rather than moving baby, move yourself around and try these suggestions for different angles and perspectives:
Get in close and capture those sweet details… I’m talking feet, toes, fingers hands, wisps of hair, ears, lips.
For these shots use a narrower aperture (higher f stop value, eg. f/4.5) as you’ll have less depth of focus when you get in this close.
Don’t forget to grab a traditional close up head shot!
If you want to include older children in your photos, one of the best pieces of advice we can give (especially when the older sibling is a toddler) is to get your location ready, get your settings sorted, then bring in baby and big brother or sister.
Choose a comfortable location near good light. For example, the family bed is a great place to pose them as it’s big enough to place them in the middle of the bed and keep baby safe at the same time.
Check out our fantastic toddler and newborn photography guide, which includes loads of prompts to for gorgeous photos. It also includes a downloadable cheat sheet to make it super easy!
Newborn skin is fine and delicate, and if you use dramatic contrast or colour in your editing this can really enhance any skin imperfections, and make more work for yourself.
If you’re not confident in your editing skills, keep it simple and flattering with a subtle hand. The process will be helped if you shoot in soft, gentle light such as in the image below.
For those new to editing, we have a free Lightroom Class which is the perfect first step to learning the fundamentals of clean hand editing.
Related: Free Lightroom Class
We hope you enjoyed our DIY newborn photo tips! We’d love it if you share your photos to Instagram and tag us #clicklovegrow