How do you ensure your beautiful baby remains calm and settled during a photoshoot?
Mothers ask me all the time how to ensure their baby is settled during the shoot to help get the best images. Photos where their baby is posed perfectly, resting peacefully and oh so calm. While babies might be known for mainly crying, sleeping and eating, there are many things we can both do to ensure a successful newborn photography session.
> Deal with all the NEEDS first
Before you try any of the below settling tips, you should always ensure that they don’t need anything first. Are they fed? Are they dry? Are they too hot/cold? Have they been burped? Simple but effective. Babies need very few things when they are so young. A full tummy and dry nappy go a long way in making sure they are content during the session.
After you’ve dealt with all the physical reasons for your baby to be upset, now you can focus on things you can do to reassure and calm them.
> Top ways to keep your baby calm and settled
Just like adults, all babies are different. They will respond to different things. But here are some settling tips to try if you’ve checked all the NEEDS and they’re crying or upset:
1. White noise
Inside the womb is quite noisy, in fact, some experts say it is as loud as a vacuum cleaner. White noise and shushing sounds help babies feel calmer because it is closer to the natural state they have been in for 9 months. During sessions I have white noise in the background to distract them from the sound of my camera shutter and to help keep them calm. At home, you might like to try any number of White Noise Youtube Clips or Itunes tracks. I have used Natural Womb Sounds by Joe Baker for the last 7 years – both for my own babies and also during my sessions.
When babies become unsettled during a shoot, swaddling them tight is often an effective way to calm them. Again, in the womb they are a set temperature and curled up tight. When a baby becomes unsettled during a photo session, I wrap them up so they feel secure (and also to prevent them waking themselves with their Startle Reflex). Often it’s enough to calm them to sleep.
3. Swinging and swaying
Gently rocking your baby is a great way to soothe them. They spent months inside you moving around gently, swinging them slightly in a similar way is soothing. A great trick I’ve learned is to lie them down already swaddled on my lap and to rock my legs side to side. It’s a great back saver!
While I would never want to push a dummy on a baby, if families use one already, the sucking motion can help your newborn calm down. Alternatively, a quick feed with either breast or bottle, with that same sucking motion can soothe them as well. You might notice that your baby seems to want to feed when they are getting sleepy and tired even though they might have already had a full feed only a short time ago. This is often due to the soothing effect of sucking which can often help nod them off to sleep.
Many babies calm down when being placed on their side. I’m not really sure why this is but it’s worth a try!
Swaddling newborns is one way to settle an unsettled baby. Often I can take beautiful awake images your newborn when they’re wrapped and calm
6. Calm parents
Being calm yourself is one of the biggest things you can do to help ensure your newborn is calm too. They can sense when you are stressed which can cause them to cry and be unsettled. Of course, hearing your baby cry is probably the most stressful sound in the world for new parents. I guess we’re biologically programmed that way for the survival of our little ones! If your baby is crying and you find yourself getting upset or frustrated, be sure to put your baby down in a safe place and step outside the room for a couple of minutes to regain your calm. Taking some long deep breaths can be really helpful in allowing you to calm down. Your baby will stop crying eventually!
If your baby is really upset, try a combination of the above techniques. (I used to swaddle my babies with a dummy in a swing for their daytime naps with some white noise playing – it worked a treat!).
Keeping Your Baby Calm During Their Newborn Photo Shoot
Over the last 6.5 years of photographing babies, I can safely say I’ve seen it all. I’ve had really calm babies who have slept through their entire session and not made a peep, through to very unsettled babies who have been very wakeful and needed a lot of the above techniques to keep them as calm as possible. Many times, parents of more unsettled babies will arrive feeling stressed or worried about how their baby will “behave” for their session with me.
Please don’t worry!
In all my years as a baby photographer, I have never had to do a re-shoot. We always work with your baby and their unique needs on the day. If that means that all we get are awake photos of your baby wrapped to keep them happy, then that’s what we will do. If they need more cuddles with Mum or Dad to feel secure – we have lots of time for that too.
I use the above settling tips to try to make the most of every session regardless of how settled your baby is on the day. We always get enough images for your gallery. Here’s some more information about how I work with photographing tricky newborns
Have any more baby settling tips that I missed? I’d love to hear about them!
Photographing Tricky NewbornsEdit
The truth of babies is that some babies are just tricky. There’s no apparent rhyme or reason. Just like we all have different personalities – some adults are more sensitive, or fussy; others are easy-going and relaxed. The same is true for newborns. While the vast majority of babies co-operate for their newborn photography session. Every now and then you come across a baby that’s just tricky.
If you’re a baby photographer, no doubt you follow your photography idols. You know the ones – you look at their Instagram feed and you can feel your confidence shrinking with every image. “HOW can their photos be so perfect?” “They make it look so EASY!” “Do they ever get tricky babies?!” “Is it me? It is something I’m doing wrong”. We’ve all had those questions (or at least I know I certainly have!). Tricky babies do rattle your confidence. You’re feeling good about your photography and have a run of “good” babies, then suddenly you get just one baby who won’t sleep, who doesn’t like to be touched, who cries a lot. It can be deflating!
The good news is that with time and practise, you will gain confidence in sessions with babies who don’t want to go with the flow. Sure, it might not be your best session ever, but if you follow these tips you’re sure to get a gallery of images the parents will be happy with.
Tip #1: Tricky babies follow their own rules
Babies (and particularly) tricky babies, run to their own rules. As adults this can be a hard lesson to learn. We are independent beings that are used to being able to have control over our lives. This goes out of the window (somewhat) with newborn photography sessions. If you go in to a session with concrete ideas about what images you will get and in what order, you’re set to fail. Newborns don’t follow your plan – particularly the tricky ones. They’re going to do what they want, when they want and they’ll be vocal about it if they’re not happy (and this doesn’t make for a pretty picture! haha). It’s important to follow baby’s lead. If they need a cuddle to feel safe, give them that opportunity. If they’re hungry, they need to have a feed. Follow their cues and they will cooperate with you much better. Making your session flexible might mean that you go in with a rough idea that you’re going to start with beanbag shots, and then move on to a basket shot. If you have a tricky baby that won’t sleep, this might be reversed. Don’t let it phase you. Remember to go with the flow.
Sometimes you will come across a baby who will be trickier to photograph. Don’t worry! It happens to every newborn photographer. Even your idols!
Tip #2: Find out what they like
Just about every newborn has something that they like. You can usually figure it out pretty quickly (but if not, don’t forget to ask the baby’s experts – their parents!). Some are “sucky” babies – they love to suck their fingers or a dummy. Others hate feeling exposed and just want to be wrapped up. In cases like these you need to find out what their “thing” is, and try to use it to your advantage. In the case of sucky babies, I encourage parents to bring along a dummy if they’re using one. It can really help to settle them down. I set them up for a shot, and quickly whip out the dummy with one hand whilst taking the shot with my other hand. Then I replace it before they get the total cranks with me taking their beloved dummy.For babies that like to be wrapped, you just have to be imaginative with your wrapping. I have come across babies who will not let me unwrap them at all for any shots at all. In these cases, I tend to get a lot of variety in galleries. Basically, when you have a tricky baby you need to find their thing and stick with it! For some great tips on settling upset babies, be sure to check out Dr Harvey Karp’s ‘Happiest Baby on the Block’
Tip #3: Get as much as you can
When you have a tricky baby you’ll need to get creative. Moving them around too much and fussing with them will make them upset. You’ll need to think on your feet to get lots of variety for their gallery. You can achieve this by using different colours (try adding additional colours over the top instead of completely re-wrapping to save upsetting them), using different textures, different angles, macro shots and wide shots. You’ll be surprised at just how much you can get! 99% of the time when I have a difficult session, the parents are overjoyed when they see their gallery. Often they are worried that their baby isn’t cooperating and don’t think we can get much for them at all.
Tip #4: Don’t get disheartened. It happens to all of us!
I get a lot of emails from beginner newborn photographers looking for reassurance after a difficult newborn session. We’ve all been there. When you have a difficult session it can really rattle your confidence. I remember in my first couple of years as a newborn photographer I would get home and cry and be too scared to look at my images for fear that I hadn’t got anything at all. The good news is that if you are creative during your session you will almost always get enough. In the 5 years that I’ve been a newborn photographer, I’ve yet to have to re-shoot a tricky session as the parents have always been happy with the variety of images I managed to capture. Remember that despite our best efforts, babies are their own little people and sometimes they just don’t want to go along with what we want to do. This can be a hard lesson for new parents too who desperately want to capture a particular pose or image. It’s good practise to prepare parents before their session that their baby will lead the session and that some babies just won’t be happy to do certain poses. That way you can feel less pressure to get particular images for your clients.
I hope this helps you! I’d love to hear what you think
Amy Tong is a multi award-winning newborn and baby photographer in the Sydney Inner West suburb of Balmain. She has been specialising in newborn and baby photography since 2012. Amy is an accredited member of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) and holds a Certificate of Newborn Photography from the Academy of Newborn Photography.