There was a time when newborn photography simply wasn’t a thing. But when the genre began to rise in popularity 15-20 years ago, it was all about elaborately posed babies with a range of cute and quirky props (the seed probably planted by Anne Geddes famous portraiture in the 90s).
Back when I first started on my journey as a newborn photographer, I thought this was the way that you “had to” photograph a newborn in a professional capacity. I was on my first maternity leave and I started learning in earnest everything there was to know about the art of newborn photography, as prescribed by the industry. Through a mix of in-person workshops, online courses and the university of YouTube, I learned everything I could about how to soothe a baby to sleep, how to wrap a baby, how to pose a baby – and all the “necessary” props, i.e. buckets, baskets, backdrops, outfits, hats, hairbands, you name it. I really thought this was the only way a professional should do it.
With my earliest clients, the session was focused primarily on getting the baby to sleep and trying to achieve that “perfect” pose. (Rather than simply capturing all the obvious love and connection in the room). On my second maternity leave I thought it would be great to have my very own little model to practice with, to improve my craft. But, as a mother, these photos did nothing for me. They were missing context and emotion and authenticity. I very soon dropped the artificial lights, generic backdrop and random props, realising there had to be a different, more meaningful way to do it.
By the time my third baby arrived and I had finally made the leap to full-time professional photography, not only was I becoming a seasoned mother, I was also becoming more aware of the kinds of photos that really make my heart sing – photos that evoke emotion or connection when I look back on them. And they’re always the ones taken in a natural setting, that capture a precious moment, or tell a story.
Of course, beautiful individual portraits are still a must, as those precious newborn features are all too fleeting! But for me, natural elegance and simplicity are the key ingredients. A natural pose and wearing a simple wrap or vest is all that’s needed. Babies are so pure, perfect and beautiful, just exactly as they are. No elaborate props, outfits or poses necessary!
There’s a wonderful art and skill involved in carefully styled, posed and polished newborn portraiture, when done safely and well – it’s understandably popular. But once learned and perfected, it’s easily replicated. But what can never be replicated is your real moments with your newborn at home, the magic and the emotion. And all of that comes flooding back when you look at photos that you recognise as uniquely yours. They are the ones that will be truly timeless.
Photography means different things to different people, and there are as many approaches as there are photographers. For me, photography has always been about making time stand still – capturing real people, places, emotions, moments, memories, stories. And as I’ve evolved as a professional photographer (and as a mother) I’ve slowly found the courage to start dropping all of the constraints around the idea of how a newborn “should” be photographed according to the industry of old, and to find my way back to my own true style. But it has been a process to get there. To learn there’s not just one right way of doing things.
Simply put, if the genre of “newborn photography” never existed, this is how I would want to photograph my new baby.
How about you?