Babies, babies, babies...
Babies posed, babies candid, babies sleeping, babies awake. Who doesn't love a beautiful baby picture?
Most pregnant women spend a significant amount of time daydreaming about that precious bundle that will soon be coming into their lives. Part of my daydream was the beautiful newborn photos I was going to take of my second child. Being an experienced mom and a professional photographer, I felt confident that moving my newborn setup to my home and ordering the outfits and accessories I wanted would be easier than going into the studio. Here are 5 reasons I realized that I had it all wrong:
1. Safety - When a client comes into my studio or I work with them in their home, safety is the #1 priority. With newborn babies, we typically photograph them between 3 and 14 days old, which means that safety is paramount. I won't do a shoot without having at least two other adults present. Prior to the photo session, I explain that someone will have at least one hand on the baby at all times unless they are in a completely secure position where I have multiple safety checks in place to make sure the baby does not roll if he or she startles. My parents were both staying in our home, so in addition to my husband, I had three capable adults to help.
Safety first. Always.
So...the rule is, don't take your eyes or hands off of the baby. Sounds simple enough right? In theory, yes...in reality, my child was born on Thanksgiving weekend. I loved seeing that my dad and my husband were bonding over the steady stream of football that airs at the time of year, but it also meant that I had to keep asking my dad to get up and move so I could set up the portable studio. It also meant that my husband was keeping his eyes on the TV more than on the baby. Fortunately, nothing bad happened, but I do feel bad that I snapped at the father of my child and told him that all the other fathers I work with do a much better job of watching their children than him (see note on effect of hormones on rationality below).
2. Time - Normally, I have three or four concepts in mind prior to the newborn shoot and I plan 2-3 hours for a family to be in the studio so we have time to settle the baby and feed them. Can you guess how long it took to do my own daughter's newborn photos? 5 DAYS!!! Not 2-3 hours like I routinely do for another family portrait session. 5 DAYS!!! Yes, that is 5 days of backdrops, beanbags, and a whole host of other props being set up in my kitchen. While the set-ups look clean and minimal in the photos, behind the scenes is another story. There is a lot of equipment that goes into creating the minimal backdrops and once the baby is settled, you want all accessories and camera gear within arms reach. When you have extra people in your home, visitors dropping by and a whole host of other baby gear now cluttering up your living space, this extra mess does not contribute to the calm and peaceful environment that you need during those first weeks home with baby. When you hire a professional, you ask someone to help you clean up before they arrive in your home...the photographer brings in their gear and sets up while you are feeding and settling the baby and staying relaxed...completes the shoot in a few hours...picks up all their gear and gets out of your way. If you are going to the studio, you have zero mess in your own home. The professional newborn photographer is picking the best of the best, retouching the photos and creating photo albums and wall art while you are bonding with your baby and sharing this special time with your loved ones. Take it from someone who had a computer mouse in one hand while holding a nursing baby in the other and having my back to my older daughter and her grandparents because I was sitting at the computer trying to choose the best photos for the birth announcement. Multi-tasking at its worst.
Kick back and relax.
Hire a professional newborn photographer.
3. What about ME? - You know those pieces of advice that you get from other mom's that just stick with you? Before we left the hospital with our daughter, she had a test which had inconclusive results. Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, there was a skeleton crew working at the hospital and I was convinced that she wasn't getting the care she needed. I took it upon myself to call every 'mover and shaker' I knew that could put a fire under the hospital staff whom I was convinced needed to be woken up from a collective Thanksgiving turkey coma to actually pay attention to my precious two-day old baby (again, see note on effect of hormones on rationality below). My favorite nurse walked in while I was leaving an urgent voice mail and gently said: "The best thing you can do right now is just be her mom." ....just be her mom... I realized that being her mom WAS the best I could do for her, and that it was only me that could fulfill that role. Now, looking back I wish I had used that advice when it came to her baby photos as well. ...just be her mom...
Being in photographs WITH my children, not just taking photos OF MY CHILDREN is a gift that I am determined to give them now and throughout their lives. This is next to impossible to do on your own. Even if you are a professional.
4. Hormones & healing - The pregnancy hormones are powerful enough to give you that glow that no amount of makeup has before or ever will outside of the nine month journey required to create a new human being. When those hormones start to make a mass exodus out of your body you barely have time to prepare for your newest guests...the milk-producing hormones. Compound that with sleep deprivation (has there ever been another time in your life when it was 'normal' to get more than a cat nap for 24-48 hours)? Oh wait...and has anyone ever asked you to run a marathon while getting no sleep for 24-48 hours...because that is what some people liken labor and delivery to. Did you have an emergency C-section? Who heads into major surgery without at least trying to get a good nights sleep? A planned C-section? That's six weeks of lifting nothing heavier than your baby. Don't forget that with all of your newly acquired baby paraphernalia there is a good chance that your purse is heavier than your baby.
Take it from someone with experience...it is impossible to do a good job of photographing a baby without squatting at least 20 times and getting up and down from the floor at least 2 dozen. This is a recipe for a serious delay in healing if you have ANY stitches. With baby #1, I was doing too much and almost landed myself in the hospital with a breast abscess. Post-partum healing is no joke. Take it seriously.
5. Are we having fun yet? - One of the hardest things about being a new mom is trying not to be too bossy to your husband or other adults who are helping you in those first post-partum weeks. Yes, you need help lifting and having someone watch the baby while you get rest...but let's be honest, everyone else is tired and they start getting a little grouchy if you become too much of a mommy diva. And if you have an older child who you want to be in that perfectly adoring older sibling pose? Leave it to a professional who is not related to your older child. This is a rough time for the older sibs...lots of adjustment and the last thing they need is mommy yelling at them to 'Hold the baby like this...no not like that...like this. Ugh, can you stop making that bratty face? PLEASE. I'll give you a candy...fine, no candy then. I'm NOT YELLING AT YOU...now just sit here, turn towards that window, put your feet like this...DON'T LET GO...now kiss the baby and LOOK HAPPY!!!"
They'll be 'big kids' before you know it.
As I promised, this story does have a happy ending. After 5 days of having my main living area completely turned upside down, seeing my older daughter run to her bedroom in tears, and spending all of my free time (whatever that is when you have a newborn in the house) editing photos on my computer...I was happy to share her newborn photos with my loved ones by the time she was two months old. And in case you were wondering about my pregnancy daydreams...they did come true. I do love the photos of my baby girl. However, I cannot in good conscience recommend that anyone attempt to do a formal portrait session of their own newborn. Not even a professional newborn photographer.
About the author:
Jennine Coosaia is the owner and principle photographer at Sky 9 Studio, a professional photo studio located in Benicia, California. Sky 9 Studio specializes in newborn photography and family photos. The photo studio serves the San Francisco Bay area, including Walnut Creek, Alamo, Danville, San Ramon, Pleasanton, Dublin, and Livermore as well as Alameda County. Before having two daughters of her own and taking on the title of 'Mom,' Jennine received her formal photographic training at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California. Upon relocating to the East Bay, Jennine was privileged to be an employee of Cantrell Portrait Design and now to share studio space with Bambi Cantrell, a Nikon Ambassador and one of the most respected wedding and portrait photographers in the world.