How to Prepare for A Newborn Portrait Session

Mother holding newborn baby over shoulder for an article on how to prepare for a newborn portrait session

Get out and vote!  With all the chaos that will be happening today, I figured we could all use the distraction of photos of precious, little wee ones.  I recently had the pleasure of photographing Leah and Steve’s precious family, including their newest family member. A photo shoot is always something of a stressful situation, but a new parent’s anxiety can hit the roof when it comes to planning a baby’s first portrait. I always want my clients to have an easy time in front of my camera, and so in today’s blog post is full of tips for how to prepare for a newborn portrait session. And don’t worry; it’s actually not a long list.

 

What to Have Ready When the Photographer Arrives

Reflection in mirror of parents looking at newborn baby for an article on how to prepare for a newborn portrait session

Little ones are a lot to handle, and most importantly, they come with a lot of stuff. Here is my quick and easy list of the things to have ready when the photographer arrives for your newborn portrait session.

 

Identify the most well lit location of your home. The first order of business is to find the spot in your home with the most light. A large window with plenty of natural light would be the ideal situation, but not everyone has this – especially in New York City. Check out your home at the same time of day as your portrait session and let your photographer know which room works best. This helps your photographer narrow down the location scope of your portrait session and also limits your cleaning chores to only one room of the house. And if your apartment lacks the airy, wide-open spaces that you always find in magazines, then fear not! I always have it covered and bring with me extra lighting equipment to brighten even the darkest of basement apartments.

 

The temperature of the room matters. Babies are very sensitive to the temperature of the room. You would be too if you were expected to take naked photos on a lambskin rug. As such, make sure the house is warm and toasty.

 

Schedule your newborn’s naps.  If you want the classic ‘sleeping baby’ photos, then keep your newborn awake for one to two hours prior to the shoot.  That way they will pretty much sleep through the entire session.  Personally, a little bit of napping goes a long way and I want your newborn to be awake and alert during most of the session.

 

Have the baby’s outfits prepared in advance. I usually start with photos of the baby swaddled and then launch into cute naked baby photos. After that, it’s time for adorable outfits. I always recommend that you try your portrait outfits on your child before the session, so you know how comfortable – or uncomfortable – the clothes are on the child. Outfit changes can upset a newborn, so try to select an outfit that is easy to put on the baby.

Close up on hands holding newborn baby's toes

Have a table or bed cleared off for detail shots of the baby. Everyone wants close up photos of little fingers and toes. For these detail shots, a solid table set up in front of a window works best, but a bed or even the floor works great too. I always come prepared with a big gray blanket to blur out any thing in the background, plus a lambs wool rug as a soft landing pad for the little one.

 

Things to have on hand. It goes without saying that a pacifier should be close at hand throughout the shoot. Also, if you have any props, favorite toys, or gifts from the grandparents that you want included in the session, make sure these props are clean and ready to go. If you want any thing specifically photographed in the nursery, by all means let your photographer know.

 

How to Prepare for A Newborn Portrait Session —
Tidiness Matters (in Limited Quantity)

Parents playing with two young children for an article on how to prepare for a newborn portrait session

How clean does my apartment need to be?  I find that the tidiness of one’s apartment is the main concern of parents before any newborn session. Well, the answer depends on what you’re going to see in the background. In the case of Leah and Steve, they wanted a lot of wide shots showing the nursery and their home. But if all you want are photos of your newborn in a specific location, then you don’t need to worry about picking up everything in the house. I am going to be concentrating my camera on you and your family, not taking sweeping shots of your apartment. If you only had time to clean one room, that is where we will take all the photos. Don’t worry about the dishes in the sink, I’m not judging. (And by the way, I’ve also got dishes in my own sink — the last time I cleaned was at the start of the pandemic.)

 

One spot that works particularly well for family portraits is the sofa in the living room or the family bed. So if you feel the need to clean, I would concentrate your efforts on these two areas. It is great to pile the whole family on the sofa or bed and let everyone just have fun. For these areas, I would pick up everything surrounding the bed or sofa so that you don’t have a cluttered space. Anything on your nightstand that looks too personal, or too many magazines on the coffee table should go. Everything else doesn’t matter.

 

How to Prepare for A Newborn Portrait Session —
Plan to Step Outdoors

Parents holding two young sons walking down NYC sidewalk for an article on how to prepare for a newborn portrait session

Plan for some outdoor time, no matter how brief.  Unless you have a lot of natural sunlight in your apartment, your best bet, lighting-wise, is to try to take some of your family portraits outside. With most families, this means just a quick stop outdoors. In the case of Leah and Steve, we stepped outside for just a minute to walk the baby around the block to quiet him down. I kept in front of them and took some wide shots of the family in their neighborhood. They stopped for a quick minute at the park at the end of their street, and we then spent a second on their neighbor’s beautiful stoop. The total time to take all of these family photos was 15 minutes. While it is great if you have the time or patience to go to a park for your portrait session, you don’t have to invest that much effort. Parenting is exhausting, and a trip to the park can wipe everyone out mentally and physically. Rather, take a moment to get outside and breath in some fresh air. You have plenty of trips to the park ahead of you when your child gets older.

 

How to Prepare for A Newborn Portrait Session —
A Final Word of Advice

Young toddler with feet on cabinet and father looking at phone for an article on how to prepare for a newborn portrait session

Remember that perfection is overrated. The days of having a Sears family portrait where everyone is looking perfect for five seconds is, frankly, outdated. These days it means more to have a series of photos of you and your family being yourselves and relaxed in front of the camera. Did the baby spontaneously spit up? Don’t worry! An outfit change is a great little photo op. Does the baby need a bottle, and can a sibling help with this task? And just like that…a fantastic photo moment is born.

 

While it is great to get a photo of everyone smiling into the camera, those aren’t the photos you remember. The photos of your little one giving the newborn his pacifier, or the other little one throwing a tantrum — these are the very real moments to hold onto and that you have a story to tell others about when they look at the photo. So leave the awkward family moments behind and go for the real. You will be rewarded.


Thinking about scheduling a family portrait session for the holidays? Now is the time before it gets too cold outside. Drop me a line, and let’s chat about your photography needs!

If you would like to see more images from my family portrait portfolio, then please visit my website — KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com

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