As professional photographers and parents, the safety of your newborn is our most important consideration during a photography session. Here we describe some of the steps we take to illustrate how we ensure the safety of your baby is never compromised. Newborn safety should be everyone’s number one priority and no photograph is ever worth putting a baby at risk!
Babies can be much stronger than they appear and it does not take much to push themselves forward or roll off a beanbag. For newborn photography both Gary and Susie work together to create a safe shooting environment, including safe posing, preventing falls and to ensure the baby is never left alone. While a parent can be used as an assistant or spotter, we personally prefer not to do this as they may not be aware of the physiological limitations of young babies and the specific requirements to pose babies safely.
Newborn babies cannot regulate their body temperatures and rapidly lose heat, especially if they are being photographed unclothed, even in the warmer Australian weather. The room should be toasty warm (even if this means if it uncomfortable for the adults) and while fan heaters can be used to ensure a suitable ambient temperature (20 to 24’C is a good starting range but you still need to take cues from the baby for the most ideal temperature), they should always be at a safe distance.
A typical newborn photography session can take on average up to three to four hours. Only a small proportion of this time is spent taking photographs, the rest of the time is spent feeding and comforting the baby. At seven to 10 days old, the baby will usually require feeding every two hours but there is the advantage that, once fed, the baby is likely to sleep. Bonding is also very important, especially during the first few weeks, and cuddles should not be neglected just for a few photographs – no matter how memorable they will be!
We prefer to undertake newborn photography using diffused natural light as it complements the soft, gentle skin of the newborn. The other advantage is that there are no light stands or cables to create a potential trip hazard or fall over. When photographing in the home environment, if we need extra light due to poor quality natural light, we use constant daylight balanced lights rather than high powered flash units. To prevent the camera from falling on the baby, especially when photographing from above, the camera strap is always around the photographer’s neck. We also don’t allow hot drinks in the same room to eliminate the potential for scalds from hot liquids.
Cleanliness is essential to project the baby. In addition to the blankets, wraps and the purposely designed newborn photography bean bags being disinfected before and after each photography session, hands are regularly sanitised with antiseptic gel throughout the photographic sessions.
A large proportion of newborn photography is undertaken when babies are between seven and 10 days old but if you want more relaxed and sleeping poses then photographing them between two and seven days old may be recommended (but feeding breaks will need to be increased as the mother’s milk may not increased in volume by then). While some of the posed photographs can be taken after 10 days, it is important to realise that some may not be achievable, as the baby adapts to life outside the womb (more awake, less curly and less tolerable of being naked). Don’t worry if you are unable to schedule photographs within the first couple of weeks, babies can be photographed at any age!
It is also important to realise that, regardless of age, not all babies can achieve all of the cute, curly poses that have become very popular recently, some babies just don’t like to bend and love stretching their legs, others love to be curled up. Either way, babies should never be forced into poses. Babies should also not be kept in the same pose for long to ensure that blood circulation in the limbs is never compromised.
Newborns do not have the neck or wrist strength to support their head by their arms, cute photographs of the head posed on their arms are actually – and should only be – a composite of two or more photographs. Photographs are taken of the baby’s head and arms and these are merged into one photograph, removing the supporting assistant’s fingers, in the process. Likewise, babies are never photographed just supported by slings, for example from branches, or positioned on shelves – ideally there should always be at least three points of contact between the baby and supports.
We prefer to celebrate the beauty that is your newborn baby through modern images of the baby and their features and environment, rather than using gimmicky poses or elaborate props. If props, such as baskets, bowels or boxes, are used, then they are lined with sufficient soft padding to cushion the baby – babies should never be placed directly on hard surfaces. In addition, glass objects are never used due to the risk of injury from the glass shattering. If the props do not sit securely on a flat surface, then weights (and assistants) are used to prevent movement, such as rolling or toppling.
Recognising the baby’s needs is also essential, for example picking up their subtle actions which indicate they are uncomfortable, hungry, cold or just simply want a cuddle. Our experience as photographers, parents (four children, two of which were NICU babies) and registered health care professionals (we have both delivered numerous babies and treated sick and injured infants – Susie is also a certified infant massage instructor) help us identify the baby’s little signs.
Always remember that the baby is not a prop to photography as the photographer or parent wishes, but a fragile human being that needs to be nurtured.
While risk assessment and good preparation can reduce the likelihood of accidents, sometimes they still occur. Colouring Light Studios has, as all professional photographers should have, a public safety and indemnity insurance policy in the event of an injury or accident. Due to the risks of Pertussis (Whooping Cough) when working with newborn babies it is important that photographers receive the pertussis vaccine (and booster as required. Both Gary and Susie received their latest pertussis booster in August 2015. Booster doses are recommended if it has been more than 10 years since the previous dose.
Always remember that the baby is not a prop to photography as the photographer or parent wishes, but a fragile human being that needs to be nurtured. If a parent requests a pose that is unsafe we politely decline and suggest safer alternatives. We welcome parents taking an active role during the shoot, not only in posing and comforting your baby, but including you in some of the photographs.
This article was first published in July 2015 on the Gary Wilson Photography blog – due to the importance of safety during newborn photography we have published here.