Familiarizing yourself with the biggest mistakes newborn photographers make will help you avoid these common mistakes and achieve the greatest professional success as a newborn photographer.
1. Neglecting safety
The most important element of newborn photography is keeping the babies safe at all times. I have an entire post about safety considerations for newborn photography props, which also includes general newborn photography safety tips. Parents should have peace of mind about the well-being of their infants throughout their entire sessions.
Plan two-three hour sessions to give yourself ample time to keep the newborns safe and soothed with multiple feeding and diaper change breaks. When you hold or pose babies, make sure that their necks are always well supported. If you’re not sure about a pose or feel that anything about the situation is unsafe, stop what you’re doing immediately. It’s never worth compromising a baby’s safety to get a shot you really want.
2. Not keeping the babies warm
Newborn babies don’t regulate their temperatures as well as kids and adults. When babies get cold, they expend large amounts of energy to stay warm. [Source] It’s imperative that they stay warm during photo sessions.
Keep the studio a few degrees warmer than normal when you have a newborn session scheduled. Plan to use a space heater to provide additional heat in close proximity as well. It’s easier to keep a space heater positioned safely for a baby than a heating pad. It’s still important to keep the space heater at least a couple of feet away at all times to avoid burning the baby’s skin.
3. Not practicing basic handling and posing techniques enough
Newborn photography is really different from other types of lifestyle photography. It requires a lot of practice to get comfortable handling newborns and posing them safely and efficiently. There are a few key techniques that will help you ramp up your skills early in your newborn photography career.
- Assist a seasoned newborn photographer. One of the best ways to master any field is to learn from the best. Newborn photography is no exception. Reach out to experienced newborn photographers in the area and offer your skills as an assistant.
- Use a StandInBaby. StandInBaby (SIB) is the first and only newborn training aid with joints engineered to mirror the range of movements of a real newborn baby. It’s an invaluable tool for anyone who works closely with newborns, including photographers. StandInBaby offers a wide range of free and paid resources for newborn photographers, covering everything from mastering different poses to editing in Lightroom and Photoshop.
- Offer to shoot newborn photos for family and friends at a reduced rate. I don’t believe that you should ever give away your photography services for free, even as a brand new photographer. However, shooting sessions at a reduced rate for people you know can be a good way to build your experience and portfolio without the pressure of shooting fully paid sessions with strangers.
- Watch videos or take an online course. There is a wealth of great online resources for mastering newborn photography. In addition to the StandInBaby resource mentioned above, I highly recommend checking out Kelly Brown, The Milky Way, and The Academy of Newborn Photography.
4. Not telling your clients what to expect
As a newborn photographer, it’s easy to assume that everyone understands what a newborn photography session involves. In reality, most people have never watched a newborn photographer in action and have no idea what to expect during a newborn photography session.
I recommend putting together a one-two page document to send out to clients prior to their newborn photography sessions that covers the following topics.
- How long the session will last
- What they should bring for the baby (i.e., diapers, feeding supplies)
- What they should plan to wear
- How you will involve them in the session (i.e., the types of shots you get of parents with baby, assistance with certain poses)
- General guidelines for your studio (i.e., directions to the studio, where to park, if food and drink are allowed)
5. Scheduling sessions shorter than is required
You should always block out a minimum of two hours for newborn photography shoots. I recommend giving yourself at least three hours between back-to-back sessions. Working with newborns is a time-intensive process. Infant babies require regular diaper changes and feedings. It takes time to get them positioned and keep them warm. You don’t ever want to feel rushed. It will stress out the baby (and potentially the parents) and result in you not getting as many of the shots that you want to get.
6. Using poor lighting techniques
One of the most common newborn lighting mistakes is ghost lighting. Ghost lighting is when you place the light source below a subject’s eyes, which gives the eyes severe shadows with deep sockets. Ghost lighting is unflattering to any subject, especially a newborn baby who has such tiny delicate features.
When you’re using natural or artificial lighting, check the direction of the light before you start shooting. When the light is coming up on a face instead of shining from the top down, you’ll see a little butterfly shadow under the nose. With practice, it will become second nature to check the light direction and look for the shadow.
The more you can do to nail your lighting and in-camera exposure, the better photos you’ll produce. While you can adjust exposure post-process, it’s tough to correct skin tone properly when it’s significantly underexposed or overexposed.
7. Forcing shots that aren’t working
Even with a well-paced newborn photography session in a comfortable, warm studio, shots won’t always go as expected. Sometimes babies just don’t like certain poses or props. Other times they’re ready for a feeding break or diaper change by the time you get to a certain pose. When things aren’t going well, don’t force it. Give Mom a chance to sooth her newborn, and if necessary, take a break for food or a new diaper, before moving on to the next pose.
8. Not having an adequate supply of towels handy
Many newborn photographers take a lot of pictures with the baby not wearing a diaper. With no diaper, inevitably, babies will pee or poop during their session. Even with a diaper on, you never know when you’ll get a leak or blowout. Keep lots of towels handy to wipe up pee or poop as well as spit up and droll quickly without having to stop the entire session. Have disinfecting wipes or other cleaning solution on hand as well to keep your studio space sanitary.
9. Not charging enough
Don’t ever sell yourself short or believe that you don’t need to be charging full rates because you’re a new photographer. Setting your prices properly right from the start lets clients know that you’re a professional, and as such, that they can expect beautiful, high-quality images from you.
As of writing this article, the average price for a newborn photography session is $200, with sessions ranging from $100 to $300. Prices can vary significantly from one region to another. It’s important to research local rates and charge competitively. Trying to undercut your competition is not a good idea. You won’t make enough to sustain a business and will burn out quickly.
10. Working without contracts
Again, right from the start as a newborn photographer, you want to put your best professional foot forward and run your business properly. You should have your clients sign a contract before every session you shoot. A solid contract covers both you and your clients. It should include contact information for both parties, a basic outline of your policies, how and when you will deliver their images, and the rights for your images.
Finally, don’t try to do it all at once when you start out in newborn photography. You don’t have to master every single pose or editing technique or own every prop you’ve ever dreamed of to take great newborn photos. Start small, and focus on learning new skills every week, or even every month. Over time, you’ll gain the confidence to incorporate more elements into your sessions. As your business grows, you can also expand your props collection.
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