Pro tips for better newborn images
One of Australia’s leading newborn photographers is calling for the industry to be regulated. Sandra Moffatt believes the lack of checks and balances is putting lives at risk and that it’s only a matter of time before a newborn is seriously injured as a result of negligence or carelessness by a newborn photographer in Australia.
Moffatt is a known expert in handling and working with newborns, and for her creative style that has garnered fans around the world. But it wasn’t until she had to employ the services of an inexperienced newborn photography assistant in 2014 that she realised how unsafe the newborn photography learning process really is. Horrified at the thought of her new assistants practising on precious babies, she instantly set to work on changing industry practices.
Passionate about changing the industry for the better, Moffat shares five pearls of wisdom below to help you shoot better images of newborns
Stop over-touching the baby
Newborn babies have an immature nervous system and are hypersensitive to stroking which can cause overstimulation and distress to your baby. Physical reactions to overstimulation include twisting, arching, or scowling. Instead, try placing your baby down when they are drowsy and allow them to settle on their own. If they are not settling on their own, lean in and cradle them using resting hands/still touch – do not rock, rub, or stroke them. Containment holds such as cupping the feet and head are favoured by newborns and have shown to produce less behavioural stress and more quiet sleep, as well as providing stability for the infant. If you are not comfortable with your hand on their head, you can also choose to place your hand gently on their back.
Start with the basics
Posing newborns is an art form in itself. Knowing where the under blanket supports go and the intricate steps required to safely achieve each pose takes both time and patience, and you aren’t expected to be able to perform every pose right away. Rushing into a pose that you are not 100 per cent comfortable with, or do not know how to perform correctly, is dangerous and could have irreversible repercussions. So, take your time. Start out with the basics like back and side poses while experimenting with lighting and camera angles, and don’t be afraid to say no to your clients. If you are not ready to tackle the advanced poses like Froggy or Taco, it is far better to be upfront with your client as this will help reinforce your studio’s approach to safe newborn practices.
Watch for cues
Understanding and paying close attention to your baby cues could not only prevent the baby from unsettling mid-pose but also have you ready to capture that “wind” smile as it happens. Look for little noises that say, ‘I'm working up to a cry’. If these signals are ignored, they will yell. Look for squirming and wiggling that says, ‘I’m not comfortable in this pose’. Making small adjustments to their comfort early on will help them relax, but if it continues, it might also mean they have a tummy ache, or worse, and this pose just isn’t for them.
Lastly, look for when they start to breathe a bit heavier as their eyes move back and forth behind their closed eyelids as this is a good indication that a smile could potentially follow, so have your camera ready.
Learn how to do composites in Photoshop
A lot of the amazing newborn imagery we see today is actually composites, meaning that two or more images have been combined in Photoshop to create the final image. Never put a baby in any position that requires them to hold or prop themselves up. This includes the Froggy pose and Potato Sack pose as well as many others. If the image looks impossible, it probably is. There are heaps of free Photoshop tutorials on YouTube. Do your research first and don’t take any chances with the health or safety of your newborn client.
Calm photographers create calm babies. We place so much pressure on ourselves to create the perfect shot, which can be overwhelming and stressful, particularly when you’re just starting out. It is important that photographers leave any stress at the front door, focus all their energy on the baby, and just breathe. Be in that moment. Taking deep calming breaths will help you and your tiny client relax, and create a far easier session for everyone involved.
About Sandra Moffatt
Discovering the wonders of Photoshop at the early age of 13, editing and creating digital art pieces instantly became Sandra Moffatt’s artistic passion, along with painting, and drawing. She studied film photography in high school and continued these passions, though the Commercial Arts and Training College at night while working full-time as a graphic designer. As opportunities continued to open, Moffat ended up pursuing a 12-year career in graphic design and marketing. But her passion for photography never wavered, taking photos every chance she got
In 2008, Moffatt took the leap of finally pursuing a career in photography by opening her own photography business, Moffatt Photography. In 2011, she decided to focus her efforts by opening a fully equipped studio and becoming a newborn photography specialist, ultimately allowing her to photograph more than 200 beautiful bundles of joy every year and winning several photography awards for her work with babies.