If you've considered expanding your photography business to include newborn portraiture, I'm sure you've seen that newborn photography props and gear can lead to a never-ending black hole of supplies to buy. When I began my newborn photography studio, I felt the same way and had a hard time knowing how to prioritize what I actually needed for a successful newborn session. Now on the other side of things, I'm ready to share what I've found to be the most essential newborn photography tips.
Camera, Lens, and SD card
If you're already a photographer, chances are you have a camera that will work well for newborn photography. I currently use the Canon R6 and this 24-70 Canon Lens. The 24-70 is perfect because you can stay nice and close to baby, which is essential for baby's safety unless you have someone else to help during the session. It also allows you to use a nice, open aperture. I typically shoot around F3.2 or F3.5. Use an SD card with a good amount of memory and a decent write speed. I really love these 64 GB Sandisk cards.
Take some time to understand newborn safety before you begin photographing newborns. These little ones are so new and it's imperative that they stay safe throughout the session. Never leave baby unattended, support baby's neck and head at all times, and if in doubt during any pose, don't do it. There are many newborn safety courses out there, so if you need to brush up on your baby safety skills please do so before you begin any newborn portrait sessions.
Something to Swaddle Baby
Babies love to be warm and snug. This is what I feel is the BIGGEST secret to newborn photography. There are so many wraps out there, but to start out, all you need is 3/4 yard of stretchy knit fabric from any fabric store. Start out with a neutral color that you can use for either gender. Cut the fabric in half, making two strips around 46" wide and 12" tall.
There are also so many wrapping tutorials out there. Watch a few and practice before your first session. I highly recommend Kelly Brown's Newborn Wrapping Tutorials if you want to learn quickly. In a given session, I'll wrap baby in the first wrap, then the second, and then often I'll wrap a pretty layer on top. Another great reason to use neutral colored knit is that you never have to fully unwrap baby-you can always layer a different pretty layer on top, and baby stays nice and settled.
I always recommend parents bring one in their diaper bag, but I have a few brand new backup pacis just in case. Even if baby "doesn't take a paci" I find that 90% of the time it will help them soothe once they're wrapped.
Somewhere to Place Baby
If you're doing a lifestyle session, you can use a clean bed or couch. These are still wonderful places to set baby if you're using a blanket (start out with an extra two yards of matching knit to your wrap above). Or a nice fur blanket or rug.
Posing Beanbag and Pillows
These posing pillows from Amazon are so amazing I ended up ordering two sets! You can also use a beanbag to make little nests for baby, either underneath your blanket layer or inside a basket to prop baby up and keep baby secure. I use hand towels and cloth baby diapers to stuff around baby as well.
Use these to keep your background fabric nice and tight! The fewer wrinkles you have, the less time you're going to spend in photoshop later.
Great Lighting / Sheer Curtains
When I was just starting out, I timed my sessions so that I had the perfect light from my studio windows. If you're doing a lifestyle newborn session, take some sheer curtains in case you need to filter light. If you have a backdrop stand, you can even hang those curtains from the stand and place it in front of a window. Not only does this filter light on the baby, but also you can use it for some pretty backlit shots as well.
Scheduling a newborn photoshoot for the optimal age will do wonders for your newborn session. Typically, newborn pictures are scheduled to take place between when the new baby is 5-15 days old. Earlier than 5 days, baby will still be nursing quite frequently and you won't get the long, sleepy stretch you're hoping for. Later than this and baby will start doing longer wakeful stretches.
Bring your A-game when it comes to keeping calm. Babies are very attuned to the emotions of those around them, and if you're nervous or agitated it will cause baby to be stressed as well. Take your time when moving baby into any position- soothe and wait, and soothe and wait. Always prep Mom beforehand to expect this, and remind her during these moments that this is completely normal.
Begin with these basic items related to soothing baby and setting baby up in a flattering way. I would recommend getting your wraps, blankets and a few minimal props in 3 cohesive color palettes-choose a neutral color and a color for each gender. Making your portraits look well planned is far more important than starting out with a huge variety for clients to choose from.
MOVING FROM THE BASICS
These diaper covers, or "baby spanx" as I like to call them, are amazing! I use them on every single baby. They do a great job of hiding baby's diaper and helping it blend in under blankets or sheer outfits. I buy mine from No 2 Willow Lane, but you can find several similar types on Etsy
White Noise Machine / App
I always start out with this white noise machine going during the session. This one, in particular, is great because it has an internal timer, allowing it to turn off after 1, 2, or 3 hours, which helps me keep track of time during my session as well. If baby is having a hard time settling, I'll also use this Baby Shusher App on my phone.
Buckets / Baskets
Parents tend to really love these basket and bucket portraits. Once again, you don't need to start out with a huge amount of variety. One up and down basket and one wider basket can give you all the variety you need in a given session. I put a small 5-10 lb weight in the bottom of the basket, and always make sure to line the basket well with blankets so baby doesn't get poked with any rough edges.
Backdrop for Family Portraits
Large seamless papers are AMAZING for family portraits or maternity session. I also love using my sheer curtain in front of a window or my studio light for some pretty backlit shots.
There are about a million types of backgrounds you can use for a newborn photography session. Some of the non-paper backgrounds I love are floor mats like this. They're so easy to transport and store, and they look really great under baskets or buckets. I'll also use knit fabric stretched tight or pretty upholstery fabric.
This is where you can spend SO much money, but I suggest buying things that work well with the colors and textures you already have. Complete large sets in a particular theme before moving on to purchase something in a new style or color. I find most of my vendors on Etsy or in Facebook groups. Purchasing props from vendors who sell particularly for portrait or newborn sessions is worth the investment!
If you're really serious about newborn photography, studio lighting will help you get beautiful, consistent photos. Use a strobe light with as large a modifier as you can fit in your space. I love this 7-foot umbrella and purchased the removable black cover to go with it. My typical setup is the black cover and two of these diffusers on the umbrella, although I'll sometimes remove the black cover and let light bounce around a bit more.
Flash Trigger and Sync
I use a brand-specific flash receiver and transmitter, but I've heard wonderful things about the Pocket Wizard series. Using a good flash receiver and transmitter is a MUST with any flash setup.
A few of my favorite newborn photoshoot courses are Kelly Brown's and The Milky Way Newborn Retreats. Both of these websites offer multiple courses from lighting to posing and wrapping, and anything else you need to know about taking your newborn photo to the next level.
Once you have your newborn stash, it's time to get out there and make it happen! Every newborn photographer finds their own workflow and style, and so set out to discover and embrace yours! I'd love to hear how it goes for you, and feel free to ask me any questions along the way. Best of luck in your new photography adventure!
Get to know Rebecca:
Rebecca Kayne is a Newborn and Maternity Photographer in Provo, Utah. She’s been a professional photographer for 7 years and loves photographing all things related to family and motherhood. She has her own family with her husband and six beautiful children who keep her life full of fun and laughter.
Find out more about Rebecca and her photography through her website or on Instagram.