I love my job. I am a very lucky lady. It is an honour to be able to photograph a baby, to capture all their perfect newness – before it goes by far too quickly – in images that will be treasured forever. However, no matter how super cute and adorable those images may be, it is essential that baby safety remains #1 factor during a photoshoot. These new little people are beyond precious, and nothing is more important than their wellbeing. But fear not dear reader, there are ways in which us photographers can create those enchanting images AND keep baby safety paramount.
The topic might be one that you have not given much thought to, but I have wanted to blog about baby safety in newborn photography for a while now, and when I read an old article in the Huffington Post it made me think it’s too important not to write about, especially now with newborn photography really taking off in the UK but the industry here is currently unregulated. We are one of the most photographed generations in history, people want the latest, cutest trend in popular newborn images. However they, be they parents, photographers, even established photographers new to newborn photography, may be unaware of how some of these more complex poses are safely achieved. And that is where the potential danger lies. Anyone can attempt to pose a baby. Anyone can pick up a camera. But if you’re not experienced in both of these then there is a chance that baby’s safety will not be number one priority. And that is not acceptable.
So, the basics: Newborn babies cannot regulate their own body temperature, they cannot shiver to keep warm and seeing as a high percentage of newborn photography is done with naked babies it is imperative to keep the studio at a toasty temperature so baby does not get cold. Put it this way, if Mum & Dad do not need to remove a least one layer of clothing then it’s probably not warm enough. At the same time, the heater needs to be at a safe distance from baby’s delicate skin.
Newborn babies are surprisingly strong, their primitive newborn reflexes can make them startle and jolt, perhaps at a change in temperature, a sudden noise or movement. Those little legs can propel them unusually far so it is imperative that babies are not left unattended whilst posed, in case they decide to launch themselves without warning. Your newborn photographer needs to be experienced in understanding babies and how they ‘work’, ready to anticipate their movements, to keep them safe.
Newborn babies have little or no head control. Those precious heads are heavy, those newborn necks are weak. Babies must be supported at all times, during poses, between poses, whilst changing outfits and wraps. This is especially true when creating more complex poses. Those delicate necks and little wrists are absolutely not strong enough to support the baby’s head for this image to be created without assistance, and that is where a few photography tricks come into play. These sorts of poses that newborn photographers attempt to accomplish are composite images, where two or more digital images that are merged into one. The posing is done with the help of additional support (eg another pair of adult hands or extra padding & cushioning under the baby) to ensure that the baby is never put at risk; then later in the editing process, the helping hands are photoshopped out et voilà! A beautiful final image created safely with ‘invisible’ support.
Whilst posing baby, it’s imperative your newborn photographer is constantly checking baby’s comfort. Each tiny human is an individual and has their own preferences; some love to be curled up, others prefer to stretch out. Never put a baby in a pose they struggle against, don’t force a ‘stretcher’ to curl up like a hedgehog. If baby is uncomfortable or fretful it will not achieve a gorgeous photograph. If baby is comfortable and content that will translate in the images. If a certain planned pose is not working then the newborn photographer should know to be flexible and move on to another, not doggedly persist if baby is not willing. Also, with each pose, with each bended limb, the photographer should be checking that baby’s arms and legs look nice and pink, not pinched and preventing good circulation.
Personally, I do love to photograph my newborns in gentle, soft wraps, layers, blankets and bonnets but these beautiful materials can sometimes shed fibres, fluff and fuzz. Stray ones can be edited out of the images at a later date but more importantly the baby should be constantly checked during the photoshoot to ensure there are no threads caught around fingers and toes. A thread tourniquet can damage a digit and it’s good for Mum & Dad to check baby’s toes again when they get them dressed at the end of the session.
I recently wrote a blog about points to consider when choosing a newborn photographer. One of them was whether the flash is harmful to a baby’s eyes. Newborn photography should ALWAYS be carried out with the baby’s welfare as priority as we know. The flash used to light the images is not harmful to a baby’s eyes because it is a diffused light, too unfocussed and of low-intensity.
Creating beautiful newborns portraits isn’t just about knowing how to operate a camera, you also need to know how to safely handle a precious, strong yet wobbly, newborn baby. As a parent watching someone photograph your darling newborn baby, trust your instincts. If you feel unsure, ask questions, voice your opinion and if need be, ask them to move on to a more natural and comfortable pose for baby. When booking the session you might have asked your newborn photographer if they have attended any seminars on newborn photography and safety. There are several available that teach photographers how to safely handle and photograph your newborn.
An excellent resource for parents is the BANPAS website. The Baby & Newborn Photography Association carefully screen their members and have a strong code of guidelines for them to adhere to. We are expected to have proper insurance, have undertaken effective training and are required to have a knowledge of safe working practices. BANPAS have useful information for parents and a search tool to locate your nearest registered members. I’m proud to say you’ll find me there.
If you were thinking of undertaking any form of newborn photography, never attempt to balance a baby on a prop, be it a cushion, swing or rocking horse. They can startle and jolt without warning and you cannot reach them in time to prevent falling and serious injury. Bowls and buckets make fabulous props for a newborn photograph, but never ever use one made from glass, and ensure that a metal one is free from rust. Don’t expect baby to support the weight of their own head. Don’t let baby get cold. Baby’s comfort is essential to achieve a relaxed, contented pose. Baby safety comes first at all times