Tell me, would you take your baby to an orthopedic surgeon for a tummy ache? Just as with medical specialties, not all photography professions are appropriate for your new baby's portrait. So why is it that we expect to find a one size fits all photographer?
I never really understood this until it “clicked” (no pun intended) during my recent workshop experience with world renowned newborn photographer, Kelly Brown. I realized as we all sat in that New York City penthouse watching infants sleep, that the reason I am so drawn to newborn photography is not just because of the pure innocence these newbies embody and the attention to detail that the job requires, but because I feel a deep connection to the babies themselves. Kelly unwittingly helped me recognize that this special attachment is what separates newborn photographers from “quick shoot" sessions with your average portrait photographer.
The genuine caring and patient approach Kelly demonstrates with newborns and their families stands out among those who simply just squeeze in a baby here and there among many persons on their schedules. I felt her pain when she spoke of how long it had taken before she was respected by her peers, and wondered how it could be that her effort and talent was not immediately recognized! Babies are different. Just imagine for a moment how difficult it would be to work with adults who can't express their likes and dislikes, call for food when they're hungry, or shift positions to get comfortable. A newborn photographer has to be willing to work effectively in “one-way” relationships while loving their subject despite their helplessness and lack of response. Like Florence Nightingale, the true newborn photographer is ignited by a passion to give comfort and sees beauty in those that sometimes smell and leak fluids when they least expect it! Kelly, like the rest of us in this field, works in a very quiet baby-friendly space, without a big oak desk, without a water cooler, without a conference room full of other adults trying to move up on the corporate ladder. Instead, we are more likely to be hunched awkwardly over a beanbag waiting for just the right moment.
Newborn Baby Photo | Maryland DC VA by Michele Jeanine Photography Perfect sweetness from Kelly Brown NYC Workshop
Of course it takes technical skill to do this job – to choose the best in-camera settings for achieving spot on focus and beautiful, buttery background blur. Newborn photographers want to call the viewer's eyes to the subject to make the baby stand out, crisp and clear from the soft background bokeh. An understanding of manual camera settings goes without saying, but newborn art also requires deliberate, well planned movements and an acceptance that the baby will ultimately determine your time schedule and routine. Fingers, toes, even the edges of frilly wraps and blankets are the details to be accounted for during each and every pose. With superb technical capability ready, but taking a back seat most of the time to warm caresses and artistic development, the newborn photographer moves through each session comforting babies for hours and coaxing their bodies into position with a gentle nudge or fold. While sometimes keeping rowdy toddlers at bay and making sure everyone is comfortable during the session, we slowly shape drama with available natural light and colors reflected around the room.
Beautiful Baby | Kelly Brown Posing Workshop in NYC | MD DC VA Newborn Portraits by Michele Jeanine PhotographyIn Home Photos of New Baby MD DC VA by Michele Jeanine Photography | Kelly Brown Workshop in NYC
Newborn photography is a unique craft that clearly can only be developed through lots of practice and experience touching and handling. But the number of babies a photographer has handled and posed doesn't necessarily earn them a badge in this field. There is no degree to be awarded to a student of photography when they master “baby posing.” It's simply a genre in which love and patience is the guide, and potential is the motivator for composing priceless keepsake wall art.
My friends who shoot weddings will powder the faces of fresh, well-prepared young brides during their post processing workflow, but I spend my evenings retouching red and purple hands or feet, softening the edges of a delicate blanket backdrop and smoothing fabric lines to create a piece of art. Wedding photographers document an event while I focus instead on precious eyelashes, lips and wrinkled folds of skin. Their goal is to tell a chronological story of true love unfolding, planning, and then a period of celebration. My very different tale (but born out of the same celebration of love) has to evoke feelings of serenity, calm and hope.
It must be a dramatic change for photographers who shoot lifestyle portraits or weddings to switch to photographing a newborn in their studios every now and then. Their regular mode of activity involves catching the moments that they can't always plan for. Posing their models requires a lot of verbal direction; they use their own body language and facial expressions to cajole a smile or just the right glance from their models. While many of my photographer friends create angles and spaces between their subjects, we tuck and layer blankets and then fold sweet arms and feet over one another in just the right way to capture a peaceful slumber or an angelic expression.
Two weeks ago, ten other photographers and I watched Kelly demonstrate this painstaking but lovely process as she completed three partial newborn sessions during a span of about eight hours of posing and shooting. Some of us were in awe of her knack for moving the baby without waking him, but there were a few who became impatient that enough wasn't "happening," and some may have even drifted into slumber along with the babies. (You know who you are!) How could one help it, though – the room was extra warm, white noise and heartbeats were drumming in the background and Kelly was shushing us into dreamland like our angelic subjects!
As an adult, it's difficult to wait and wait ...and keep waiting .... for the most perfect deep sleep patterns from a baby, indicating it's okay to start the posing. Kelly wasn't doing anything magical, but she was without a doubt one of the most patient, caring photographers I have observed in this business and I learned a lot from her. As I watched her and my comrades carefully, I realized this job isn't necessarily for everyone and may be best suited to a specialist who focuses solely on baby art, kind of like I thought from the beginning.
Soft Baby Love from Kelly Brown Workshop in NYCIn home newborn photos by Michele Jeanine Photography in MD DC VA | Kelly Brown Workshop NYC
As baby photographers, we don't have the worry of changing mental tracks but we do worry about creating breathtaking images. In my newborn sessions, I kneel silently, rocking back and forth, sometimes shushing or humming, gently comforting my models with rhythmic pats on the back or caressing their foreheads with gliding finger movements. Kelly embodies the motto I have carried to my client homes, that new babies aren't “fussy,” and all can be soothed during those early weeks if you're willing to meet their needs first, and wait until they settle before posing the shoot. If the photographer's schedule is hopping from one shoot to another, babies might seem like a burden because their shoots can take several hours -- be sure to notice ... they won't be rushed!
My advice? Be cautious as you select the person who will spend the morning or afternoon with your precious little one; look for a photographer who specializes in newborn art and make that session only about your baby!