This darling boy just killed me! He was not sure of his life when he was sitting on his own, but with mom and dad he was the sweetest, happiest little boy you ever saw. We did their session at Memorial Park and lucked out with this tiny little bluebonnet patch. It was perfect for a picture of Langston by himself!
We had so much fun strawberry picking at Blessington Farms! They grow strawberries hydroponically, which was so interesting to see. It was such a beautiful spring morning in Houston. We got so lucky!
Years ago I did a tutorial for natural light newborn photography, but I use studio light now so I thought I’d make a tutorial for that as well! If you’d like to see my first tutorial you can see that here. Also, so that this post wouldn’t be too overwhelming, I have a separate post on the studio lighting I use and how to set it up. You can see that post here!
If you’re interested in knowing where I got certain props or blankets just ask! Some came from destash groups or antique sales, but I do have a temporary destash page on facebook if you want to see if there’s anything you want. I plan to take it down once I’ve gotten rid of most of the things posted! I can ship in the US for the cost of shipping.
*Disclaimer: I am not the best newborn photographer out there and I am well aware of that, haha. If you have a different lighting setup and you’re happy with it, that’s great! I used to be a natural light only newborn photographer and I still use natural light at times in the homes of clients, but I am happy with my current setup. I’m sure I will adjust and adapt at the years go on, but I know that this can help someone who is starting out or unsure of just how to use studio lighting. I hope this will help anyone who looks at it! Oh, and I’ve linked many of the items I use or mention below. I don’t get any kickbacks from any of the companies, I’m just doing it so you know what I’m talking about.
Every newborn will be different, but the usual sweet spot in newborn photography is 7-10 days. I don’t recommend photographing a baby that is exclusively nursing (not taking a bottle at all) before about 5 days or before the mother’s milk fully comes in and they have a well established nursing relationship. Breastfeeding is often a stressful part of new motherhood and the mother and baby will be better off if you wait a few days to make sure things are going well and the baby can go at least 2 hours between feedings. In the first days many newborns will cluster feed while they try to get the milk to come in and that can make a newborn session difficult. Tongue ties have become more common and sometimes need to be taken care of before a newborn session if the baby is nursing. Right around the 12-14 day mark is when many newborns will start getting baby acne and flaky skin, which is another reason to try and get the baby in a few days sooner. That said, the little girl in this post was 2 weeks 6 days for her newborn session and one of the best newborns I’ve ever had! She had beautiful skin, though I did have several babies recently between 2-3 weeks that had very bad baby acne or peeling. The little boy in this post was one month old, but was also born a bit early. For preemies I do recommend waiting to do the session until the baby is home from the hospital (obviously) and about 6 lbs. They seem to do a little better with a little more chub on their bodies.
One thing I often use to calm a baby or help them to get sleep is a yoga ball! I sit on the yoga ball, hold the (often) swaddled baby close to my chest with their head by my heart, and bounce. It mimics the motion in the womb when the mom walks around and the baby bounces in the amniotic fluid. Babies love this. I think I’ve only ever met one or two babies that didn’t seem to like it or didn’t calm down immediately.
Oh, and one thing you’ll notice in the behind the scenes pictures is that I’m wearing an anti-viral face mask. I started doing that this last year as a precaution due to how bad flu and RSV have been. One of my clients had to reschedule their session because their baby contracted RSV and was hospitalized. I wear the mask because when I handle the babies they’re often very close to my face and I’m paranoid about breathing germs on them that I may not know I have as I know you can spread germs without even showing symptoms of illness. I obviously take other precautions as well, such as hand washing and disinfecting things with natural cleaners, as I don’t want to use harsh chemicals around babies. This is a personal preference and I did newborn photography for years without using a mask and to my knowledge I never got any clients sick, so I don’t judge anyone who doesn’t do this :). I’m just becoming a little bit of a germaphobe in my old age ;).
Another thing that is also great for calming fussy babies during a newborn session is a pacifier. I highly recommend allowing the use of a pacifier during the session, even if you don’t usually allow one. Letting the baby suck on one for a minute or two at a time during the session is unlikely to cause any harm to the baby or breastfeeding relationship and you can easily just never use it again if that’s your preference. Newborns find sucking to be a very soothing thing to do and often prefer to do so even if they’re not hungry. I recommend the soothie kind of paci as they’re made of hospital-grade silicone, sized and shaped for baby’s mouth, and will not leave hard plastic lines on the baby’s face. They should give one of these to you in the hospital if you ask so you don’t need to purchase one if you don’t plan to use it further. I do not recommend hard plastic pacis during a newborn session because of the lines it may leave on the cheeks. A pacifier is often the key to calming a baby during difficult poses. You’ll see a hard plastic pacifier in many of the pictures; just be aware that’s not what I typically recommend. This baby was a little older and that’s what he was used to and what the parents had on hand.
I keep the room around 80 degrees and have a white noise machine blasting at full volume. This is the one I’ve been using for the last 8-10 years and it’s still going strong. Babies are used to a lot of noise in the womb and sleep more deeply with white noise going. Often, when I want to get some awake pictures at the end of the session and the baby is still sleeping I’ll just turn the white noise machine off and the baby often wakes up! Newborns don’t have active sweat glands in the all places you would think just yet, so if you’re worried about baby being too hot check the forehead for sweat, which will indicate that the baby is trying to cool down its body. They’re used to very warm temperatures inside mom, though, so they’ll probably be pretty comfortable in the heat! It’s usually mom and dad’s sweat that wipes off on baby during family pictures :). Another thing I use is this soother. It vibrates and plays white noise and a heart beat sound (among other noises), though the white noise is not loud enough and will turn off after a time so I don’t rely on that alone. I’ll usually wrap it up in a burp cloth and put it inside a basket or next to the baby’s bottom to help them relax. You can see it in some of the images below, like this one. Most babies enjoy this.
When I begin the session I usually start with family pictures. Since it’s so warm I like to do these first so mom and dad can relax and change into something cooler and more comfortable. Dad or grandma can also then take any older children out (home, to the park, out to lunch, etc). Most siblings won’t be thrilled about spending the next 2 hours hanging out at the studio. I usually do swaddled pictures, but will do naked poses if the parents request it. Before each session I have a phone consult and discuss the types of images, poses, colors, etc that the parents want.
In case you’re interested, this is how the back of my Einstein looks!
I always get up on a stool to get above the parents as this is a much more flattering angle. I’m super short so it’s even more important for me. Notice where mom is in relation to the edge of the umbrella.
When the baby is naked I put a puppy pad or two (or 4) underneath the baby/parent so if she pees the parent has a safe spot to direct the pee, haha. You can actually see a few pee spots that I haven’t edited out yet on the mom’s shirt ;). The pee pad came in handy this time, but it might not protect mom and dad’s clothes entirely! When you start taking off the baby’s diaper, try blowing on the baby genitals before you take the diaper all the way off. Sometimes that will stimulate the baby to pee right then and not a few minutes later :). You can also see my background stand in the background. I use the white paper (or gray) depending on what the parents want and what they’re wearing.
Here’s an example of a family picture on the white background. Depending on how close or far away I place them the background could look more white or more gray. In this image the little boy is standing on a kitchen stool.
There are many ways to do this. Some people use a dog bed in place of a beanbag, some people use posers specifically designed for newborn photography. There are many companies that sell these. I bought a regular medium sized beanbag online years ago, bought more stuffing to put inside, and it’s what I still use. It works for me, but some day I may upgrade. The pvc pipe background stand is fantastic. I bought mine off another photographer, but you can easily make your own using PVC pipes, elbows and T’s. I got metal clamps at Home Depot/Lowe’s and recently heard that the plastic ones can be a bit of a safety hazard so I’ll be replacing those. You want to get your background nice and tight to make sure there are no wrinkles. Try to do everything as best you can in real life so you don’t have to do as much photoshopping afterwards :).
I use these rolled up towels underneath the blankets to get the shape I want. Sometime I give a little more padding under the one where the baby’s head will be.
As you can see there are several layers of blankets on the beanbag. This is to make sure it’s nice and smooth. I’ll make sure to use a thick, smooth blanket (like the gray one below) right underneath the top layer, especially if the top layer is thin or has no texture.
If the baby is naked I’ll put a puppy pad under the second layer. If the pad is directly underneath the top layer the wrinkles from the will show through. I will layer all the blankets I want to use on the beanbag before we start so that all I have to do is lift the baby gently, have someone strip the top layers, and then place the baby back down on the blanket I want to use next.
This next picture has very little editing done. In this situation I haven’t done anything to blur or lighten the background. 135mm 2.0 lens, ISO 160, 1/200th second, f2.8
This pose is commonly called the froggy pose or the hands in chin pose. One thing I do differently from many people is that I don’t generally bring the feet up by the arms. That’s just a preference thing. I like using different textures, but I love the monochromatic look like in this image. Safety first with poses like this! I’ll have someone responsible hold the baby’s head in one picture and hands in another picture and then I’ll photoshop the two together. I do know some photographers who do this themselves and shoot with a wide angle lens so they can be close enough to the baby to hold it.
Please forgive that mess in the background! I love doing backlit photos, especially with this pose. I know a lot of people use fancy beans underneath babies, but I just use rolled up towels. I’m sure the beans are better, so I’ll probably get some someday, but my system does work as well :). You can see the outline of the large towels on either side of the baby here. I have smaller towels rolled up under her head and bum as well to keep her in place where I want her.
Sometimes during this pose diapers will look too big and bulky, so I will take it off and use disposable nursing pads in its place. When I took off this wrap the nursing pad was soaked, but the wrap and backdrop were dry!
50mm 1.2 lens, ISO 200, 1/200th sec, f2.8
85mm 1.8 lens, ISO 200, 1/200th sec, f2.8
This is the picture above, but completely unedited, otherwise known as SOOC (straight out of camera). This is so that you can see that it’s best to do as much as possible in camera so you’re not spending too much time editing in post processing. We all make mistakes or have to deal with bad baby acne, so some pictures will take more editing than others, but it’s best to get the lighting, exposure, and posing right in camera when possible!
This is the same setup as above, but in blue. Baby was starting to get a little squirmy so I had mom hold her legs to add a little variation! I still love this shot! 50mm 1.2 lens, ISO 250, 1/200th sec, f2.8
Blues and greens are great colors to use if you want to be able to change the color later because those are colors not found in human skin. As you can see below I was able to alter the colors of the blanket and headband in Lightroom only using the Hue and Saturation sliders. No other editing has been done, but if I was doing this for a client I would probably take it into Photoshop and do a little fine-tuning as well so make sure the color is uniform.
This is one of my favorite poses! I love this little tucked-in look. I always wrap the baby in the same wrap or a coordinating color underneath the top layer to help baby feel secure. You can also see the soother at her bum set to vibrate.
I’m much happier with this angle (below). This is where I was in the behind the scenes picture. You can sort of see how the blanket is clamped on either side to the pvc pipe. This make sure it’s nice and tight.
Another thing to pay attention to is angles. You generally don’t want to look up baby’s nose. This picture is still cute and isn’t the best example, but you can see the difference for yourself between the two images.Here’s one last beanbag shot.
I love prop shots! I have way too many props, haha, but it’s a great way to add a lot of variety to a session. I usually do about 3-4 prop shots per session, depending on what the parents want and how the baby does.
You can see here that the boards I use are reversible! When I want to switch I just flip them over. I just got four 8-foot boards at Home Depot and had them cut in half. I painted one side white and stained one side dark walnut. Make sure you use a stain primer if you do this yourself! I’d like to get more boards to use against the wall as well.
For this next shot I used a flokati as a background and I like to use a bowl like this underneath to keep the baby in place. You can also put padding around the outside of the bowl, like towels or blankets to keep the flokati on the same level.
And the final image! 35mm 1.4, ISO 160, 1/200th sec, f2.8
These two shots are also on the floor and baby is laying in a bowl, but it’s the white bowl in the images below.
This is a much better angle!
Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to answer them! Happy posing!
A post for the photographers! This is for anyone who is new to studio lighting and needs a little help getting setup. It’s a step-by-step guide in picture form of how to setup your Paul C Buff Einstein and PLM umbrella! This is the lighting system I use and I love it (along with many other newborn photographers). First, though, one of the most important things you need to be aware of is the sync speed for your camera. I currently shoot with a Canon 5DMKIII and I know that I can shoot up to 1/200th second with no problems, but if I shoot at 1/250th second you’ll see a black box at the bottom of my pictures. The black part will get bigger the faster your shutter speed gets. I generally shoot at 1/200th of a second, or sometimes at 1/160th in case I accidentally bump the shutter speed during a session.
Now, to get started, you’ll need a light stand, of course! I’ve had this one for so many years I don’t know where I got it anymore, but if I was to get a new one I would get this with these wheels. You need to have your light stand weighted down. This is not optional. You can get specific bags for this. I’m using my scuba weights because they might as well be used somehow. Just make sure you’re using enough weight, the stand is safe, and it cannot tip over.
I love this case! If you ever have a need to take down your light or moving it this is great for keeping it safe.
Behold the Einstein.
This is important! You’ll need to take this back cover off before you put the umbrella or any other modifier on and before turn the power on. If you don’t take it off the modeling light will heat up and burn a hole in the plastic. Lift the little lever (there’s one on each side, use two hands for this) and carefully remove the black cover. Keep in the carrying case.
I keep the black cover on at all times. The picture below shows how you secure it to the edges.
Next is the diffuser. I have this one. Put it around the middle and then pull it over the edges a little at a time until you get it around the whole thing.
To put the umbrella on the light make sure the top screw is loose so there’s room to fit the pole in and then slide it in! After you do that tighten the screw on top so it stays in place and pull and tighten the diffuser around the Einstein so the light doesn’t burn it.
I recommend getting these instead, though! A cord is a pain because it gets tangled in things, kids trip over it and can damage the cord or pull down your light or camera. Unless you’re photographing products or something that never moves, get these. The transmitter is on the left and goes on your camera and the transceiver is on the right and goes on the Einstein.
Put the transceiver in that spot on top of the Einstein.
This transmitter goes on your camera’s hot shoe.
But first you’ll need to take the cover off and insert the CR2032 Lithium coin cell battery that should come with it. You can get extras anywhere (like these). Then put the cover back on.
To turn on the light hit the power button. The modeling light is what is always on, and is much dimmer than the actual flash, which only flashes when you take a picture. To adjust both at the same time hit the adjust button while that top box is blue.
If you want to adjust the modeling light and make it stronger, but leave the flash dim so you can use a shallow depth of field, hit the function button until the box that is blue is the one shown below. While that box is blue you can hit the adjust button and it will only adjust the modeling light while leaving the flash at a lower power. You can see in this image that the modeling light (the yellow line) is at a higher power.
Hit function again several times until the box that says READY is blue (like below) and then you can turn on and off the beep and whether or not the modeling light powers down between shots. I keep this set at off.
Last thing to note, eventually your modeling light and flash tube will burn out, just like any other light. I keep extras on hand for when that happens! You can get the modeling light here and the flash tube here.
Now you’re ready to experiment! Have fun! If you need some tips on how to light a newborn session you can look at this post!
Comprehensive list of everything I linked above:
Einstein Flash unit
Black outer cover
Modeling lamp (extra)