The mindset of ‘newborn should be sleeping during the session’.
When I started my newborn photography journey 10 years ago, I had a perception that newborns should be asleep to get great newborn photos. If babies are fussy you either wait a couple of hours until they tire themself out or you reschedule the session.
I would occasionally take some awake newborn photos, but these would be simple headshots. Mainly during the newborn session, I would sit around and wait till baby goes to sleep.
I was photographing newborns like this for a couple of years until I started to notice that even if parents were expecting newborn to be asleep, they actually prefered wide awake newborn photos instead. That big open eye newborn photo always ended up on the wall.
I started to explore the possibilities of taking newborn photos while they are awake. Try new awake baby poses, how to work with a newborn and expand the gallery with a variety of newborn portraits. These days I would have a large chunk of baby portraits awake. Sometimes newborn gallery would be even 50/50 awake and asleep newborn photos.
You can see in the above image that the newborn was awake a lot. It was one of that tricky session with a very hungry baby and unsure mum. You can see I took awake photos first, then we fed and did half the wrap in the floral crown. After that, I did full wrap and newborn fell asleep. Took the wraps off and finished the session with some sleep images.
Newborn session routine to achieve the best sleep or awake photos.
Prior to the photo session, I would send parents a preparation guide email. It would talk about what to pack and how to prep a newborn baby before the session.
If the baby is exclusively breastfed, I would ask if feeding is established and the baby is not losing weight dramatically. A hungry baby is not a happy baby. This would mean that I might put off a newborn session till around 2 weeks mark until this part is sorted.
Once parents arrive I would see if the baby is awake or asleep. Normally by the time when we take the clothes off and wrap up baby in the blanket, they are awake.
If a newborn is awake but pretty chilled, I would start the session with a few simple portraits. Headshot and few full-body photos. These would be either wrapped or I have small rompers for them to wear.
If the baby is not happy and straight away wants a feed, I feed the baby. After the feed, I see how things have progressed. Normally while a baby is settling I can manage couple awake portraits. If the baby is asleep, I start with sleep poses.
If we started a session with awake portraits, probably 30 minutes into the session baby will start giving signs of wanting milk. I would keep taking awake portraits as long as I can until they get really upset and unmanageable. We feed then.
The reason I do that is I want them to be as tired as possible and hoping that after the feed they go down for a deep sleep.
During the session, there will be awake and asleep points. You have to know what kind of poses you can do during each of these stages.
How to manage fussy newborn baby during photoshoot.
Not always everything goes as planned. Parents can’t keep baby awake before the session or baby is having a growth spurt and it is not much you can do. Here are some tips on how you could manage the situation.
First of all asses the problem. Ask parents questions. How is feeding going, how often? How many days is baby? Does baby has any issues like mouth trush, this sometimes could cause some feeding issues. Does baby has any constipations, poo hasn’t come for a day or so. Try to figure out where is the problem.
Play out a few scenarios.
Mum is breastfeeding and newborn baby wants to be constantly fed.
In this situation, I would ask mum if she has a dummy/pacifier. If she has it, use it. You will be able to get slowly through the poses. Pose the baby with a pacifier in and just before photo will be taken, remove it. I normally ask dad to remove it as I’m already composed and ready to take a shot. The downside here is that baby would have pacifier marks around the mouth and you would need to fix it in photoshop.
TIP: Never pull dummy/pacifier. Always twist it as you are removing it.
If parents don’t have or don’t want to use dummy, as them to clean hands and use little pinkie to suck on instead.
If parents point blank refuse to use any of these techniques then I would recommend swaddling baby (pretty tight but within safety guideline of being able to place two fingers behind it) and do breastfeeding.
After the feed, I would family photos and then move baby to prop like a bucket, basket for photos. Still wrapped up. Take these portraits and slowly remove wraps so you can see feet and hands.
Take more shots like this. Normally babies are ok being wrapped and feeling cosy.
A newborn baby is awake and fed but upset.
This could be due to soar tummy or baby has a wind.
First thing I do, I make sure I wind baby very well. Use different techniques to do it. On the shoulder, place baby on your knees and do some good back massaging.
If the problem still persists, do a little tummy massage and riding the bike exercise. Move babies legs as if they would be riding the bike. Sometimes air is better passed through lower end :)
TIP: I find that if I change babies position every time they start to make some noises or move about, they settle quicker. Don’t keep crying baby in the same position. Change it.
Baby is having a growth spurt.
It is not much you can do about this apart of doing more feeding. Sometimes parents would be reluctant to give extra food, but you have to make sure they trust you and your experience.
Pretty much always babies would behave differently at my studio then home. At home, they would not be touched during asleep or undressed and posed. Parents very often are surprised how awake their baby is during photoshoot.
Tips for photographing the awake newborn baby.
Make sure the room is very warm
Stock some newborn size outfits. I have knitted ones for boys and girls. Tiny tutus are great too.
Make sure you angle baby so when you point the camera at them, the face is the closes to the camera. Newborns are always in a slight angle and head tilted back.
If you see the baby is getting upset, swaddle the baby. Normally they feel safer and calm down.
Make sure wherever you are posing newborn baby, SAFETY is first. They are awake and can wriggle about.
Do both close-ups and full-body shots. Different angles.
When you do full-body newborn photos, ask one of the parents to be next to the bay as a spotter.
When I do side positions, I try to get babies feet up in kicking positions. Looks nicer when you see both feet and hands too.