What's in my photography bag? How to create light and airy photos in any home for newborn portraits

Happy summer, friends! I've been enjoying some Q&A in photography mentoring sessions, and though every photographer has their own style, I thought I'd share what's in MY bag to illuminate any home, whether they have beautiful natural light or not. I travel light and carry all of this on my back (not including newborn props, etc). To perfectly illustrate an example of all of these items used, I'm featuring beautiful baby K and her amazing parents, Ramsey and Laura. Questions? Feel free to ask in the comments. I'm all about helping and contributing to the village! 

  1. Find the windows. Windows are your best friend. They provide the most natural light for beautiful photos, and it is best to position your client’s faces evenly toward this natural light. 
     
  2. Bring your diffuser and reflector. Sometimes window light can be harsh, especially if the sun is out in full force. Some diffusers are sheer white curtains if the client already has them, or you can use the diffuser that comes with your 5-in-1 reflector. Alternatively, shoot just outside of the sunshine line and use a white or silver reflector behind baby. 
     
  3. Bring a speed light flash, especially if you have not assessed a home prior to the shoot. Sometimes windows can be covered by foliage and you’ll need to rely on more than high ISO and can't compensate with lowering shutter speed with toddler siblings around. 😃 When using your strong speedlight in a poorly lit but essential room (i.e. nursery), always use bounce light on the walls behind you or on a standard height ceiling; never blow direct flash into your subject’s eyeballs. Bounce light will light your subject & rooms beautifully, and will fill in harsh shadows in rooms that have a single small window.
     
  4. Soft umbrella light with a 5500K CFL bulb (or similar. 5500K is the correct temperature for proper color). If you’ll need to shoot in an iconic place such as the nursery or mom & dad’s bed, the scene must be softly lit. For close-ups of baby (or baby solos), setting up a quick umbrella light with a CFL bulb will do the trick. Sometimes you’ll need to use bounce flash for lighting the whole family, but try to use as little flash on an alert baby’s eyes as possible. 
     
  5. Don’t forget extra batteries for both your camera and your speedlight flash! 
     
  6. Bedroom decor. Encourage white, cream or neutral colored sheets for beds. It adds to the light & airy look, bringing more focus to the people, and brings light back up to the under-eye area for the faux well-rested look (everyone is tired when babies are involved!).

Additional tips: 

  • Keep your subjects from looking into direct sun (especially baby, who lays down looking up) unless you’re using a diffuser or putting together a backlit shot.
  • For family scenes, you’ll need a larger space. The more people in the photo = the more light you will need for proper focus. This is a case for using your flash and bouncing off walls for softer lighting, or simply have the family face the window with a clean background.
  • Not sure of the right position for flash? Set up and test shoot while baby is being fed or changed. Use stuffed animals if you really need subject. 😃 

Hideo: From Newborn to 100 Days

Ahhh, baby Hideo. He's special to me. Not only have I had the honor of photographing his parents over the past few years on their own, but I've also documented their maternity journey, newborn session with this perfect little boy, and most recently his 100 day milestone. The "fourth trimester" is a real challenge, and it is a huge reason to celebrate! Congrats to Edymeesh, proud parents who are on my "no sleep team". :) 

Check out a few photos from newborn Hideo with his big dog sis, Kimchee. And fast forward below to him being a cute, strong baby boy at 100 days old. 

How do newborn photoshoots change as baby grows? Meet 7 Week Old Baby Parker

A common question I hear when talking to new parents who wish to have family photos with their newborn is: "Is it too late? Have I missed the window for newborn photos?" Often times, mommies and babies need extra time to settle in and recover (dads and siblings, too!). It's a huge life event to have a new person rock your world, so taking some extra time for yourself is really reasonable.

In short, the answer is it's never "too late" to have photos of your little one. Though sessions are designed for younger newborns (somewhere between 1 week and 1 month old), I work with newborns over a month old all the time. Simply put, we adjust the styling and pacing of the photo shoot to match baby's growth, and his/her wants/needs/opinions (yes, these babes have strong opinions!). 

Here are some key shifts between an older newborn shoot (over a month old) vs. a super-fresh newborn shoot (under 2 weeks). We will see with older newborns:

  • More more wake time!
    We will see more of those beautiful bright eyes in an older newborn.
  • A wider range of emotions.
    Because they're getting used to being in the outside world, and learning how adults will react if they cry or coo, we'll see more emotions that range from happy and silly to downright hungry and mad. And their mad faces are pretty cute, too.
  • A growing physique including weight and flexibility changes.
    This one is important to consider. A fresh baby is used to being swaddled up tight with their knees up (hey, mom's belly was pretty snug), and it's really calming for them to be wrapped up. Thus, younger newborns will often receive the photography tiny swaddle treatment. Older newborns past 1 month old may still enjoy being wrapped up tight and being styled as so, but more often than not, they'll want to stretch out their growing muscles and may prefer a different kind of wrap (looser, blanket overlays, etc). Newborns who have matured over several weeks will find it comforting to be in mom & dad's arms, so we will see more of that as they grow. This is really beautiful, considering that they are still so tiny and will not always be this small in your hands. :)

    If you have a preemie baby who has grown toward their original due date, their adjusted age will reflect a varied amount of muscle strength, emotions/wake time, and comfort in styling. We will let baby and mom provide feedback on what's comfortable in terms of posing and wrapping. Above all, I make sure baby is safe and takes breaks for eating, changing, and cuddles.

With that said, meet 7 week old newborn, Parker! He is so handsome; a perfect blend of his mom, Elizabeth and dad, Peter. We used props and scenes from his very first home -- all very unique to his family. Check out his solo pics in his beautiful crib and his incredible bassinet! White on white could be my new favorite. 

Thanks, Elizabeth and Peter for inviting me into your home to spend time with you and Parker! xo

5 At-Home Props & Backgrounds You Already Own for Newborn Photo Shoots

Looking for newborn props and backgrounds that you already own? If you don't have time to shop for props to use during your upcoming newborn shoot, have no fear, because you shouldn't have to.

Although I travel with a full box of wraps, baskets, blankets and wardrobes for my newborns, I always encourage mom & dads to include items that are sentimental and scenes that showcase baby's first home. Sure, we can always use photographer-supplied fuzzy white rug and cute hats, but something I like to do for at-home props/backgrounds are the following for each unique family shoot (photo gallery below): 

1) Your awesome couch and home-made blankets
Baby's going to be spending a ton of time on this couch. Whether it's grey, brown, teal, or deep blue like Maceo's, we just need a small, clean area to use as a background. When the photo ends up on the wall, it will match the decor. :) Another popular background for your baby's solo portraits include knitted blankets made by someone important in baby's life, often grandparents or aunties and uncles. These photos end up being wonderful for gifts to said family member, and the blankets may even end up being very special to baby as she/he grows. 

2) Nursery decor
Example -- grab a decorated upper-case letter to place next to baby. Their initials stick with them for life, and also work wonders for a size comparison. How big will Maceo be next to his big "M" in a year?

3) Stuffed animal that can do tummy time
The best stuffed animals for baby photos are ones that can lay flat and be positioned with loose limbs, since baby will be on his/her back. If you can prop the stuffed animal to do tummy time alongside baby doing the same pose, you'll be able to get a cute picture with the same stuffed animal you used in the newborn shoot! Baby should be strong enough for this somewhere between 2-4 months. Example:

4) Your favorite childhood book
If you have a book that meant something to you when you were a child, read it to your baby during photos. It's a unique and easy way to showcase your family's latest generation. If you don't have any of your own childhood books, pick something you'd love to introduce to baby one day. During our shoot, you'll really read the book, and it will be so special. I often get the most genuine photos from this time. Example: 

5) Play a music instrument
If mom or dad plays the piano, ukulele, guitar, this can double as an amazing prop AND a soothing sound for a fussy baby. Even if you only know a few chords, this will end up being really special. If you don't have any music instruments, putting on some tunes during the shoot will help the mood, give your baby bouncing some rhythm, and provide some smiles when mom & dad sing along.

Thanks for reading! Here are some excellent shots of baby Maceo and his parents using special props, blankets and backgrounds that showcase textures from his first home in San Francisco.