As a first time mom, and a professional photographer, I thought I could take my own child’s newborn photos. I regret it. You may not, but here are the four things you should consider to be confident in your choice to hire a professional newborn photographer or not.
My story starts on that day when I changed from being just a professional photographer to being that AND a mom of a newborn. Olive’s birth two and a half years ago is best described as the kind of experience where overwhelming emotion and exhaustion turns your memory into a fleeting mess. The first few weeks after my daughter was born, my mental focus interfered with my own professional high standards, and I wish I had prepared for it better before she was born. I wish I would have had someone that really knew what to do, and help me achieve my goals. Instead, I let this fall to the side as a priority during the critical first 10 days of life.
What can I say? She was the most amazing thing to ever happen to me. I lost all focus, and didn’t take the first rule of newborn photography seriously enough: always do a newborn shoot in the first ten days of life.
Why is it important to shoot newborns in the first 10 days of life?
The short story is, while your little one is under 10 days old, they are the most cooperative to get the poses you want, so the window is small. Plus, your entire world starts to revolve around your newborn, and once that happened for me, I forgot about what photos I wanted and just melted into my little girl’s world. Basically just trying to assimilate our new feeding schedule. I wouldn’t trade a second, but now think if I had someone else come to me and do them I would have been more likely to get it done.
But before she was born, as a photographer, I was sure I would make it happen. Even if it was after the first ten days, I was sure I had the patience and time to get my child to cooperate. I mean, they sleep all the time, right? Plus, we were broke from setting up her room and stockpiling diapers. I figured this was an easy way to save us a few bucks. So I decided to be super-mom early, and do this myself.
Well, I blew it. I didn’t get to her newborn photos until after 2 weeks had passed. So her arms would not stay still. I tried, over the course of the whole day to make the 10 days of life rule bow to my will. It did not happen. They all looked like this.
Needless to say, I’ve been making up for it her whole life, as little Olive is frequently the star of our photoshoots. In fact, my little love bug was recently the star of our Valentine’s Day Photoshoot blog.
I am sure some people can overcome this hurdle, just by getting the shoot in during the first ten days of life. Maybe just getting your mom or a friend to come over is all the push you will need to make sure the photoshoot even happens. But I can’t stress how much I wish I delegated this responsibility beforehand. 10 days in newborn-land is such a short window to do a do-over, it’s worth taking an extra thought to gut check that you are sure you are ok with the very serious possibility that you will take your eye off this ball during that time.
Why I needed someone else to be in charge
Simply put, it would’ve been one more thing off my plate. If you think pregnancy brain was bad, wait until you look into that tractor beam your newborn puts out and then become sleep deprived! I think I lost track of what day it was for a whole month. Nothing mattered besides feeding her, snuggling her to bits, changing diapers, and sleep. It was a very primal period for me. Having someone else tell me it’s time to do a photoshoot would have made me do it. I was on auto-pilot.
Also, having someone else in charge of photography is better for your baby’s safety. I learned the hard way that having someone else focus on the photography, and me on the baby was not just good practice, but a rule in itself. I underestimated the value that parents bring to the shoot when I first had Olive. Case in point, my husband is a musician, so I knew I had to get a picture of Olive on his guitar. Of course, during the first shot she took her first tumble! (I’m totally getting mom of the year award for this post.)
She didn’t fall all the way off, but it was her first near-accident and my heart almost stopped. And my idea for this newborn shot was done. I never got another.
For those that haven’t done any studio photography, a professional photographer also has seen lots of different babies in lots of different inventive poses, so they’ll have an arsenal of tricks to help get any baby to cooperate and stay safe. Now, when I shoot newborns, I have the parents hold their little one in multiple positions, and use multiple images to create a composite, removing the parent’s hands. This is a common trick employed by professional newborn photographers that does create a lot more work on editing, but is so much safer, and opens up newborn photography to be a lot more creative and daring. Take a look at some of my outcomes since learning this fun fact.
I also missed having someone else in charge of the photographer’s eye. Since I was caring for my child, I was oblivious to that outside perspective for chance moments with me and my baby. Good newborn photographers will just watch you with your baby and can help you compose newborn photos you may not have dreamt up yourselves. Often enough, it’s these authentic moments that end up as one of your framed photos with mommy picking up her infant when they are restless, or that moment when she wraps herself around daddy’s finger instinctively. I missed out completely on capturing those types of fleeting moments.
Don’t underestimate professional photographer’s equipment and know-how
As a professional photographer, I recognize immediately the differences between using my Canon 5D Mark II and your mom’s Canon. The gulf between your smartphone and a pro camera is even wider. That said, pros bring even more to the table than a camera. They also have a variety of lenses, lights, backdrops, and props to immediately expand the possibilities of your shoot. You get all of this for free with the photographer. They’ll also bring things you may not of heard of like bounce cards and fill cards to correct lighting in any environment, and they will know how to use it.
I had all of this already since I worked for a big photo studio. I had rent-free access to an enormous amount of specialized lenses, backdrops and props. I was armed with a warehouse of equipment most newborn photographers would drool over, in fact. But again, once she was born, I wasn’t my organized professional photographer self—I was the disorganized new mom drunk on falling in love with my newborn. I thought I was still on track for my mom-of-the-year award, and my only focus was her.
For those who have access to a decent camera and a willing, amatuer photographer, maybe just doing the shoot is enough. It will certainly be something, and that is better than what I got relying on myself. But, when considering who to rope in for this project, the type of equipment they use—and how efficiently they can use it, is where your sliding scale of trade-offs come in.
For example, lenses make a huge difference. I wouldn’t do a newborn photo without my 50mm 1.8 fixed lens today. Backdrop and lighting rigs also make a huge difference for bringing the newborn photo shoot to you, in the hospital or in your home. Setting up your baby for the right lighting the first time—every time—makes the shoot go a lot quicker.
There is also a cheaper option to bring your baby to a photo studio. You likely can bring him to the mall or some local bulk photography studio and get a shoot there for less than half of an in-home pro. But, I know I didn’t want to bring Olive out into the world unnecessarily those first two weeks for fear of illness. Also, frankly, I felt like I got hit by a truck after the birth. I was sore everywhere and couch-bound, focused on my recovery and constant feedings. I couldn’t imagine if I had a c-section, it would’ve been even worse. I know now that getting to the mall would’ve been too much of an effort, and wouldn’t have worked for me. It didn’t fit my artistic style anyway, so it was very easily dismissed.
Certainly though, having someone else bring all of that equipment, set it up and tear it down would’ve helped me to take on the task of newborn photography on time. I can’t stress how much it is worth having someone come to you. Plus, having the shoot in your home lends itself to scenes that are more personal and meaningful. I definitely recommend this.
Why photo editing newborn photos is such a big deal
When Olive was born she was absolutely perfect in my new-mom eyes. But to a photographer, she very naturally had some issues that no amount of lighting could avoid. She had a few little red bumps on her face and some patches of flaky skin that marred her complexion. Babies also frequently show jaundice and classically purple hands and feet when photographed. Slapping a filter on these newborn photos may mask these imperfections to various degrees, but they can never fix these issues properly.
Photo editing is something that can be done well after the first 10 days, so this wasn’t really an urgent factor for me. Also, I pride myself on being a photo editing jedi, so I wasn’t worried about this. I also thought I could compensate for any rushed photoshoot job I did with editing. Of course, my editing couldn’t compensate for not doing it at all, so in the end, this didn’t really matter.
It is one of the biggest values of a professional photographer that I think people miss, so I think it is critical advice to consider when deciding to hire a professional newborn photographer.
For any of my photoshoots, I do three levels of photo editing on final images. I edit for color, I retouch photos, and I do photo enhancing, including composites (I am big on safety now). You can see in this slideshow some before and after photos. In these, I’ve done things like completely remove background artifacts and transform it to look like a studio shot. I removed strings from props, so the baby is resting on a carrot pillow versus a single piece of a larger garland. Fixing the baby’s skin tone to be uniform is so important, I now have a photoshop action titled “Purple Baby Hand” to correct it. Fixing jaundice, spots, nicks from new fingernails, flaky skin, and patchy skin make for those flattering pictures you really want to remember. I even have specific backdrops which can change from blue to green to purple easily, giving a lot more versatility in the photo results.
Color correcting is something you may be safe playing with filters or using rudimentary photoshop skills, but there is an art to editing the photos you really want. Taking the hands of safety out, covering up a crusty umbilical cord, and pairing the right set of open eyes on the right pose or smile are all parts of this art. The good news is, if you have enough sets of photos on the same scene, you can hire photo editors to make polished composites for you. But by the time you do that, you probably should have had them help take the photos, as the post-production photo editing is actually the bulk of the price you pay for in any photo package. This level of detail, time and photo editing expertise is what you are sacrificing when you hire budget $150 photographers on Thumbtack or Craigslist.
As a rule, I wouldn’t trust the editing on anyone that charges under $300 without a super judgemental look at their work. To give you an idea, our newborn photo shoots start at $350. We should probably charge $500 for the level of quality delivered, but I’m very fast. So, that lowers the level of effort to edit the photos, and we are nice and pass that savings onto our customers.
Recap: Four questions to ask when deciding to hire a newborn photographer or not
You’ve heard my story, now it is time to think of what yours will be. It’s a personal decision, and a financial decision as well. But you really only have a 10 day window to take action on it, so before you let this one slide by, ask yourself:
- How certain am I that I will get this done in the first 10 days of life?
- Do I really want to take my focus off my infant’s safety?
- Do I have the right equipment and props, and the right knowledge to use them, to get what I want?
- If I’ve gotten this far, how important is it that the edited results reflect the best possible version of the photos?
Answer that, and you’ll know if you should hire a professional newborn photographer, and what price range and standards you should seek.
For those looking in the Atlanta, Georgia area, you are welcome to contact us for your newborn needs. For the rest of the world, asking friends and family for recommendations is a great way to get you a referral discount. Alternatively, check out top rated results on big search engine tools like Yelp or Google, paying close attention to photo galleries and reviews. Best of luck!