With the start of fall, it’s always exciting because it’s a season of change with new colors – and not to mention a new wardrobe . This makes a great time to stop and appreciate the wonders around us, so I think it’s perfect to feature our latest expert spotlight with photographer Vivian Chen to share her baby photography tips. As a parent, you want to capture all the precious moments of your little ones growing up, so today’s post explains the baby photography types to choose from, steps to take in planning your baby photography session and overall key tips.
Can you share your story on how you got to be where you are today?
Whether arts and crafts, drawing or oil painting, I was always creating art ever since I could remember. When I got to high school, I picked up the camera and haven’t looked back since. I started taking photography seriously in 2005 when I worked for a local hip-hop magazine as their main staff photographer. That was the first time I realized that I could actually do this for a living and not just a side hobby. That job lead me to start working with a couple Bay Area wedding photographers and I was able to gain valuable experience through assisting them on shoots and in working in their studios doing post-production. I launched my own photography business shortly after with a focus on weddings and portraiture but continue to challenge myself creatively with my personal street photography.
How would you describe your photography style?
In three words: clean, crisp and classic. I love using natural light. I strive to keep my images as real and genuine as the moments I capture.
What are a few of your favorite photo shoots to date?
I have a few favorite shots from this past year.
The first one is a wedding I shot this past summer in Napa. Everything about it was just simple and effortlessly beautiful. It was a morning wedding and we had gorgeous sunlight. The couple was very sweet and you could see just how much fun they were having on their wedding day. From the simple outdoor ceremony to the relaxed brunch reception, it was hard not to take a picture of someone smiling. And the day ended with a spirited second line parade led by a New Orleans jazz trio featured the guests dancing around with umbrellas and handkerchiefs as a nod to the bride’s Southern roots. It was the perfect example of the kind of wedding I love shooting: a relaxed wedding filled with genuine emotions.
My other favorite shoot this year has been a series of shots. Last November, I was asked to do a monthly baby shoot to document the growth of a little boy, Marcelo. Our first shoot was when he was only nine days old! It’s been truly an honor to watch him grow up each month. I really got to know his personality and he’s such a sweetheart. It’s going to be sad to say goodbye to him and his family once we’re done the whole year!
You mention baby and family photos being your favorite to shoot. Why is that?
What I love about shooting babies and families is just how relaxed everyone is. Getting your photo take can be an awkward situation, unless you’re a professional model. It takes some time for me to make my subjects feel comfortable in front of the camera. (And comfort is very important to me, as a comfortable subject is a happy subject and happy subjects make for beautiful photos!) But with babies, there are no nerves. It’s easier to relax and capture sweet moments because babies are naturals.
When it comes to newborn photography, there are different types of baby photography sessions. Can you share what they are?
Posed Studio Sessions
Posed studio sessions usually occur within the first two weeks of birth. The newborn is generally sleeping the majority of the time (or can be easily put to sleep with a feeding and warm environment. Once the baby is asleep, they are much more moldable and easily posed. Newborns are usually photographed against a simple backdrop or blanket with a few props (clothes, hats, toys). The amount of props and how you chose to pose your newborn is up to the photographer and the client.
Lifestyle Candid Sessions
Lifestyle photography shoots are less staged and feature the babies and their families interacting in a more natural setting. This means shooting within the family’s home or at a nearby park. “Poses” may include cuddling with the child, feeding, and playing. These images are more reminiscent of magazine/editorial shoots where the subjects are unaware of the camera and are looking at each other instead of at the camera. I love these types of shoots as they feel like a more accurate representation of who the families are. I like to encourage my families to use meaningful “props” for these shoots such as reading a favorite book or a child’s favorite toy to tell a complete family story with the photos.
What is your recommendation when it comes to timing of when to photograph a newborn?
With brand new-newborns, within the first two weeks would be the best time to photograph the child. However, it should be noted that newborns aren’t really doing much so parents shouldn’t expect many facial expressions or eye contact. But you can get really cute sleeping pictures and pose them without too much fuss. The other thing to keep in mind is that some babies can have skin flakes and/or baby acne that will add a bit of a challenge for photographers. Some babies have acne at birth and other times it can show up after a few weeks. Most photographers should be able to retouch the images to clear up the acne, just ask. I would say the best time after “newborn” is about 3-4 months, when they can sit up on their own. That’s when they start growing into their own skin and looking more plump and baby-like (because honestly, newborns can look a bit funny and have way less control over their body) and there is more eye contact and facial expressions.
KEY TIP: Know these are just general guidelines but every baby is different, so do what’s best for you!
What should parents look for when finding a photographer?
My top things to look for when picking a baby photographer are:
Comfort: Like I mentioned before, comfort is key. You’ll want to find a photographer who you trust and feel comfortable around. But make sure to communicate with your photographer any concerns and preferences you may have before your session. Have an idea of what you want out of the photo session before meeting with you photographer so you can see if you are a good fit for each other.
Style: Do you want posed studio photos or more lifestyle shots? Knowing which style you are looking for will insure that the photographer will be able to provide what you are looking forward.
Portfolio: Once you decide what style you want for your family photos, looking at a photographer’s portfolio will be the deciding factor for choosing a photographer. It also doesn’t hurt to email the photographer and ask if they can shoot in the style that you are looking for.
To help parents prepare for their newborn photo shoots, we’ve created a checklist for parents. Can you walk us through it?
Communicate your style and preferences.
Think about what you want to avoid and communicate them early on – expectations between client and photographer is very important. Making sure everyone is on the same page is critical. There are many things (especially details!) to cover, but the immediate areas to cover will include the following:
- Learn from your photographer what’s the best way to work together
- Communicate how you’ll be using these photos.
- Do you need them for baby announcements?
- How quickly do you need them “turned-around” (the time between the shoot and image delivery)?
- Do you want them to be easily shared with family that may live far away?
- Do you want them for holiday cards?
KEY TIP: It’s best to plan for holiday cards starting in September instead of waiting until November when it’s more likely to rain.
- Determine what they need from you before the photo shoot.
- Start to think about the below and share it with your photographer.
- What type of photo session do you want?
- Do you want just baby photos or family photos?
- Are there siblings you want just with the baby?
- Do you have household pets you want to include?
- Are there any specific shots you want your photographer to take?
- Do you have special outfits you want to feature? Special toys/heirloom objects to include?
- When does your photographer need content from you before the photo shoot?
- How long is the photo shoot?
- How soon after the photo shoot will the photos be shared?
- How will the photos be shared?
It sounds simple, but I want to make sure I am making the most of our time together… and so should you! Knowing all these factors beforehand helps me better focus (pun intended) on what to capture.
Plan your outfits.
I would suggest wearing clothes that aren’t too busy with large logos or crazy patterns. Outfits should coordinate but not match identically.
- Do’s: everyone wearing neutrals with jeans, shades of similar colors, a pattern with a solid that matches, etc.
- Don’ts: everyone wearing white sweaters and jeans (too matchy), one person wearing bright pink while everyone else wears neutrals (too distracting).
If you want to do some outfit changes, chose them wisely. Some babies do not like the process of constantly changing clothes and too many outfit changes will really test their patience. Accessories are a good way to switch up a look without spending too much time changing. Just be mindful that the accessories/clothes are comfortable for the child (no scratchy/itchy parts.)
KEY TIP: Be comfortable. Comfortable babies are happy babies.
When it comes to seasons of the year, the spring and summer are always best in the Bay Area as we have such great natural light during that time of year. Winter is tough, especially with the unexpected rain, which can cause shoots to be rescheduled.
KEY TIP: Think about your local weather when planning timing.
Schedule photo shoots around the baby’s nap schedule. Right after naptime is good as a photo shoot can be tiring for everyone involved, and we want to make sure the baby is as happy as possible.
If you have a larger family, it’s recommended to start with whole group photos and switch up into different pairings and individuals, letting the kids take breaks when needed.
KEY TIP: Morning is great after the baby had a night of rest because the baby is more alert, in which naptimes aren’t always guaranteed or predictable. However, know that you as a parent will know when is best for your child!
Prepping your home.
If your photographer is like me and enjoys shooting in client’s homes, it’s great to have a few locations in mind. Either a backyard (perhaps under a tree), front yard (it’s nice to shoot the front of a home especially if it’s the first one for you and you family), or a nice clean and tidy spot in the living room. (Clearing up clutter beforehand is extremely helpful!) I usually will take sometime to scout locations once I arrive to see which rooms have the best light.
With babies, I like using bedrooms as beds make great “studio backdrops.” I would have a few plain/neutral colored bed sheets ready as well as pillows that can help prop up babies that aren’t fully able to sit up by themselves.
KEY TIP: Your home is a part of the baby photo shoot too, so make sure it’s in a condition that you’ll be happy to see in photos as well!
Including your “furbabies” aka household pets.
Know in advance what will make your pet more comfortable and engaged as needed during the photo shoot, and be sure to communicate this in advance with your photographer.
How to prepare your kids for photos and keeping them engaged during the shoot.
Some children may be shy and/or easily overwhelmed so talking to your child before the shoot is important. Like any new experience, it may take some time to coax the child to feel comfortable with a stranger who’s holding a big camera.
You know your child best and it’s helpful to let your photographer know how to approach the shoot. Sometimes arriving early to allow the photographer to have some pressure-free play time with the child is helpful in gaining trust. You always want to help your child feel more comfortable during a photo shoot and provide a distraction to help your photographer get the most authentic looking photos. To achieve this, I recommend that parents bring their child’s favorite book, toy, and stuffed animal, as well as a ball, bubbles, and mess-free snacks such as grapes, bananas, and fish crackers.
KEY TIP: If your child is older and one that can’t sit still (and you know this!), bring toys that can have him seated and engaged, e.g. train sets.
To get laughing baby photos, parents should be prepared to act silly behind me and my camera by making a lot of silly noises and funny faces! If possible a third-party (nanny, grandparents, good friend) is also helpful with getting the child’s attention during shoots, especially if the parents are also in the shot.
KEY TIP: When it comes to getting the kids attention during a shoot, food can work well but may end up being distracting and/or you will end up with a bunch of shots where the kid will be eating. I recommend using food as a last resort if toys don’t work.
While it may seem like a lot is going with everyone trying to get the child’s attention, have faith that your photographer knows what she’s doing. Trying to direct and fuss with the child too much can cause them to feel overwhelmed on top of everything else. Let the photographer do the directing. There are always good sweet shots that are captured between the moments of chaos. Also, always be mindful of your child’s comfort. If they start looking overwhelmed or cranky, don’t push the shoot. Let them take a break and try again. (And if they are just done, then let them be done.) Taking the pressure off the obsession of “the perfect shot” will relax everyone and insure happy photos.
KEY TIP: Have fun with it!
Do you have a funny photo session stories to share?
As for lessons learned, the funniest shoot I did was with a one year old and we chose the Botanical Gardens in San Francisco as our shoot location. I didn’t realize that hungry squirrels would overrun the gardens, and I spent a good chunk of the photo shoot chasing the little boy who was chasing the squirrels. We got some cute photos, but it was a lot of work!
KEY TIP: It’s best to choose locations that the child is familiar with, this way they can relax and ease into the shoot and not be distracted by the environment (or squirrels.)