The emotional impact of a newborn image creates both a lasting memory for the family, nice sales for the photographer and returning clients as the children grow and you get to capture their other milestones.
N ewborns require extra care. If you work with new babies, you already know they require special handling. To prep for my newborn studio sessions, I sync my camera to my metered lights so I’m ready to start working as soon as the baby is ready. If I’m on location in the newborn’s environment, I’m doing the same thing. While mom is getting the newborn relaxed, and to sleep if possible, I’m setting everything up so that when I have the baby, I can focus on just my little subject. That means the ZEISS lenses in my bag are sitting ready to use right next to my camera. My choice for newborn sessions is the ZEISS Milvus 1.4/85 and the Milvus 1.4/50. I also make sure my working space is nice and warm, I have a small space heater to use right near where the baby will be so that their space is very cozy. A swooshing sound is also helpful so my iPad loaded with womb sounds is always close by. At some point it almost always ends up under the baby so that the soothing sound of the white noise helps keeps them in a very sound slumber.
Setup the Setup. I have found that I can usually get three good setups in with almost any baby. I go ahead and talk to the mom upon arrival about what we are going to do and what kind of shots I’m looking to acheive. If there is an heirloom or special item, I try to make sure it is part of my plan. I’m not one for fussy or overly faddish images – my trend is more towards classical baby and children’s portraiture – so I keep my setups very simple. I might coordinate a baby wrap, cocoon or diaper cover with a small cap or blanket and a basket or box. I love texture so I do drift towards high texture for the baby to be on. I am also a big practitioner of color theory – I start with the parent’s palette and then coordinate my palette from that. Color images that are both classic, pleasing and to the parents choice help sell bigger pieces for walls. I try to at least have three sets ready to go, one setup in place and the other two all compiled and handy. If there are other images the parent thinks they want – I prioritize with them first so we have those decisions already made – and then I will keep the other items close by if we have time and the baby remains happy.
Baby is ready and it’s go time. If we are going to wrap a baby in fabric, I try to go ahead and have the parent or I wrap first before they are soothed. Once you start changing the baby, you always have the threat of a changing mood. Just the process of wrapping a baby is soothing for many. I also try not to touch the baby if possible. Mom’s touch is always more calming than mine, but I will manipulate to some degree to get my shot. When baby is sleeping or soothed, we are ready to go. Once you have the hang of shooting with a manual lens, you can work fairly fast. I go ahead and spend a moment to make sure I have really dialed in my focus. I depend on the Rangefinder system on my Nikon to help with that initially – but once I get going – the Milvus lenses are very easy to spot a good focus on my tiny subject. Once your eyes adjust to seeing the focus, it’s like riding a bike. It comes smoothly and easily and I can focus on the baby. My particular camera is very slow, more like a medium format, so I take my time on my images. I’m not one to click away – each baby is going to have their own little personalities start to emerge through their images, you don’t want to get so hung up on a particular image you have in mind that you miss being able to really portray something special. I’d rather have better well composed images than create a lot of work for myself later.
If you get hung up on making them look like a frog, you might miss those really special images. Look for those beautiful little lips to curl, fingers to grab a blanket, the way twins seem to drift into the same position. When I’m working on these compositions, I’m shooting fairly close with a Zeiss Milvus 85mm. I want to see their translucent skin, that perfect texture, the fine hair and fingernails – all of the things that make a newborn a newborn. I want the parents to be able to look back and not just see that newborn, but to inhale the memory of those moments. This lens will allow me to capture all of that and give me beautiful skin tonality and quality. And if those big eyes open up – I can capture that beautiful detail of those newborn baby blues.
For every set up, I want to pull back and get some more environmental shots as well. If the customer has a beautiful floor, or in my studio where I have antique heart pine floors, putting those boxes and baskets on the wood floor makes a gorgeous shot. I’m rather small in stature and I can’t do this with an 85mm without a stool, so for these overhead shots, I depend on my Zeiss Milvus 50mm. I can keep that beautiful skin tonality consistent with the 85mm images and those can later be composited to create special pieces for the parents and in many cases, become the basis for my one of a kind paintings that I do for the parents.
When I’m done, I’m done. When the baby is tired and starting to get cranky, and when I know I have the images I came for, I’m almost done. The quality of the images in camera with the ZEISS Milvus lens is so wonderful, that when I get back to my office I have very little work to do. That frees me up to pick an image or two to really focus on. There is very little correcting skin tones, white balances, contrasts needed. I’m able to pull the images out and make decisions fairly quickly about what to show the parents and then my image prep is a very simple process. My workflow with the ZEISS Milvus lens leads to more creative time and less correction. And that in itself is worth the weight of the lens.
About the Author
Tracy Page is the photographer behind successful headshot business Tracy Bosworth Page and the portrait studio Katherine Page Portraits.com. She is a graduate of the University of Georgia with her degree in advertising and fine art. She has focused on creating memorable images of actors and entertainers for over 10 years and beautiful portraits in homes throughout the southeast. She is a Certified Professional Photographer and is very active with the Professional Photographers of America and the American Society of Photographers and counts among her awards the 2017 Best Portrait from the Southeast Professional Photographers Association.