Photographing Your Child’s First Year | Part I: Newborn

This is the first part of a seven part series on photographing your child’s first year. This series is meant to be a guideline and give you suggestions. Keep your child’s safety a top priority throughout any photo session.

You’ve just brought your bundle of joy home and are completely exhausted. Not only are you trying to care for the little baby guy or gal, you have visitors over often, and your house might be a mess. We’ve all been there, but these first few days of your baby’s life are a sight never seen again. Your newborn is growing at such a rapid pace that it’s easy to miss the opportunity to capture amazing moments you’ll cherish forever.

While it’s usually best (and easier) to hire a professional with experience photographing newborns, with all the changes in your life you might forget to contact one, or it might be outside of your budget with a growing family. My goal is to give you some tips, tricks, and ideas to shoot your own newborn portraits when you find a little time that first week of your newborn’s life.

Get to know your camera.
They say the camera doesn’t matter so much as the photographer, and I wholeheartedly believe that’s true. No matter what you’re shooting your newborn’s photos with, from iPhone to Canon 5D Mark III, you’ll be able to make amazing images to print and share with family.

Before having your little one, get to know your camera better. I cannot stress enough how important it is to read the manual cover to cover. With a mobile device, play with the settings, editing options, or camera apps that are available. My personal favorites are Camera Awesome (free) and Camera+ ($2). Also, the built-in camera apps work wonders these days.

Shoot mid-morning and look for natural light.
Once you’ve gotten a hold of your camera settings and options, shooting the little one will be far easier. The key is using a lot of natural light. Flashes bother newborn eyes and might make them fussy. I use my flash sparingly, if only I am unable to secure enough natural light for my sessions.

Since newborns aren’t very active, you’ll get to know what hours are best for baby. It takes a few days, but you’ll grasp an idea of their sleeping cues, hunger cues, and cuddle cues. My newborn sessions usually take place in the mid-morning hours, first because newborns are usually a bit sleepier at this time, and second it gives mom and dad a chance to wake-up, get dressed, and start their day.

In addition, the morning hours usually let a LOT of natural light in the windows without fear that I’ll lose light as the session continues. The best thing to have on your side when shooting a newborn is time.

Best space in the house: your bedroom.
I often find that some master bedrooms offer the best light, comfort, and space. Look around your master bedroom, do you have large windows? Is the bed cushy and comfy? It’s usually where your little one has already spent a few days and is familiar with the sights, sounds, and scents.

Place a few large blankets over your pillows and down your bed to create the backdrop for your images. Before bringing baby in to work with, capture a few images with a doll to grasp your settings and how much light you have to work with.

If your bedroom is too dark and there is a brighter area of your home, you can always work there. Remember to use caution, lots of blankets, and not place the baby in direct sunlight. A few feet back from where the sun hits the floor adds a nice reflective quality, or you can always angle the light with sheet pans to diffuse it onto the baby.

Add heat.
Newborns don’t like to be cold, period. Do you? I sure don’t! If you’re planning to take their photos almost nude, or with their bum happily showing, make sure to turn the heat up in your house to where you might be a little uncomfortably warm. I bring along a space heater to warm up the area where we’ll be shooting, so if you have one, turn it on low.

Take your time, let the newborn dictate.
Your newborn calls the shots in every other area right now, taking their portraits is no different. They decide when they’ll go to sleep, want to cuddle, need to be changed, or want to eat. Often times, I have mothers feed their little ones right before our session. This is a time when a little cluster feeding may work to your advantage to keep them calm and relaxed.

Give yourself enough time to take a few great images, you don’t need hundreds. Usually my newborn sessions takes up to 3 hours. When you decide you’re going to take their images, make sure no visitors are on their way. Keep the house quiet, calm, and keep yourself relaxed.

You can position your newborn on the blankets on their back or on their belly. Whichever is most comfortable for you. A professional will be able to work with a newborn to get them to do a multitude of positions safely, but don’t try to emulate someone else’s work. Your baby is your focus and their safety should be your top priority. Make sure their face is never covered, and if they don’t like one way, try another.

Once they are comfortable, you’ll have a little more time to play with camera settings, light angles, or backdrops.

My common camera settings.
Newborns are soft, sweet, and fresh faced. Make sure to keep your ISO as low as possible (around 100) so there is no noise grain on your images. You want to capture that innocent soft skin as best as possible.

You don’t need a super fast shutter speed, since the newborn won’t be running around. If you’re shooting handheld, a shutter speed of 60 seconds will be high enough. If you’re using a tripod, you can go even lower if you need to.

Aperture (depth-of-field) is a personal preference. If you have control over it, most times I prefer a f/2.8 for newborns or as low as f/1.2 for certain images. You may have to set it low to keep your ISO low. To get a creamy background, the lower the better. Also, make sure to focus on the eyes or eyelids, unless shooting hands or feet.

Add special touches.
Did your mom hand-make your newborn their own blanket? Place the newborn on that, or wrap them up for a sweet shot to keep that memory. Did you buy a special present for them when you first found out? Place that in the foreground, next to baby, or in the background.

Often times I’ll talk with the parents to find out what’s special to them. Some dads love cars, so we’ll work that into the session. Some moms love the seasonal items from their child’s birth month, so we’ll add those. Add what is most important to you, keeping an eye on how it looks or works within the session.

If your newborn is cooperative, then you’ll have more time to play with ideas or images. If they aren’t loving their first time in front of the camera, take a break, rest, and relax. Try again another day. No one says a newborn’s images must be the first week, it’s just usually easier at that time since your little one is going to be their sleepiest and most pliable.

Do you have any questions? 
Send me an email kate[at]

While professionals know the ins-and-outs of newborn photography, there isn’t any reason you cannot have amazing personal images of your newborn to keep forever. Photos are all about one thing: capturing light. Keep that in mind and take your time.

Professional Photographers usually charge more for newborn sessions because it takes more work, time, knowledge of newborns needs and safety, and post-editing to create the images you see often. Don’t count a photographer out based on price, always inquire and it’s possible they’ll work with you for a few less images or time to meet your budget.


Photographing Your Child’s First Year Series:
Part I: Newborn to First Month
Part II: 2-3 Months
Part III: 4-5 Months
Part IV: 6-7 Months
Part V: 8-9 Months
Part VI: 10-11 Months
Part VII: 12 Months + Cake Smash