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Let a professional photographer capture baby's first week of life

This incredible period in a child's life can result in shots that are artistic, stunning and, in many cases, also humorous. We run through what's involved in a newborn photo shoot.
This baby was photographed at 14 days old. Courtesy Ana Severance
This baby was photographed at 14 days old. Courtesy Ana Severance

The first few weeks of a baby's life are extremely precious; the immensity of the miracle of birth coupled with the perfection and innocence of a newborn makes this a very special time for parents - a time they do not wish to forget. An increasing number of new mums and dads are now opting to have a professional photographer capture this incredible period in their baby's life, resulting in shots that are artistic, stunning and, in many cases, also humorous.

Why do parents choose to have professional photo shoots?

In a world where digital photography equipment is constantly becoming cheaper and easier to use, you would be forgiven for wondering whether or not it is worth spending a lot of money on a photo shoot. However, while the standard shots of your precious one in the baby bath may be perfect for sticking on the fridge or sharing on Facebook, nothing quite matches the quality of a professional shoot.

"Yes, it is true that almost every person has access to a DSLR and can snap pictures," explains Ana Severance, a Dubai-based photographer who specialises in kids' photography. "Professional photographers, however, bring a number of significant benefits to this equation that transform a simple snap into a piece of art. Ultimately, newborn photography is an art form and every photographer is an artist."

Johanna McGrath, an Icelandic expat living in Abu Dhabi, had her daughter Kara Amber photographed by Severance at 10 days of age. She decided on a newborn photo session after stumbling across some of the photographer's work on the internet. "There is only a very small window when you can take this type of photo and it's not something I could have done myself, so they're very precious," she says. "I'm a keen photographer myself, but my photos are never this good. The props, the background and attention to detail is not something I do when I snap away photos on a day-to-day basis."

Artistic merit aside, there are also practical benefits to having a professional shoot. "One of the main differences is the quality of the photo," says Sarah Clemence, a lifestyle photographer based in Dubai who regularly does newborn photography shoots. "This depends on the type of camera the parents have, of course, but generally speaking, the quality will be higher from a photographer's camera. The image will be sharper and printing will be clearer, which will allow you to make large canvases for the walls of your house."

Lisa Martin, a British lawyer by trade and currently a stay-at-home mum, had both her children - Finlay, who is now two years old and Gabriel, now one - photographed by Clemence as babies. She says the shots are far superior to anything she would have been able to take herself. "A good photographer catches the moments between photos when the real family life is happening. Plus, no one is stuck behind the camera, so the photos are all of you. Having regular shoots like we do also means that you have a fab record of your kids growing up and they make great gifts for grandparents."

What is the ideal age to photograph a newborn?

If you've considered a newborn photography session, you may have noticed how most photographers advise that the shoot should take place as early after birth as possible. "I conduct all newborn sessions during the baby's first seven days of life," says Severance. "The reason we encourage parents to photograph their newborn during his/her first week of life is primarily due to their sleepiness. Once they get older - even at four weeks of age - they are much more alert, stay awake for longer amounts of time and become more restless and less manageable. But since we really want to capture them all curled up and sleepy, we must photograph them as soon as possible after birth," she explains.

Tricks of the trade

Parents of newborns know the drill - babies are the world's most demanding individuals. So it's no wonder that photographers are armed with a bag full of tricks to ensure the shoots go as smoothly as possible. "The best trick is to keep them awake for a while before the shoot and fill them up with milk, so they are happy to sleep comfortably while we move and position them into super cute poses," muses Clemence.

Severance says it is important to learn how to interact with babies and soothe them in times of distress. "I follow the 'Five Ss' technique when working with newborns: swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing sounds, swinging and sucking," she says.

Always be prepared for the worst

The life of a newborn photographer is not exactly full of glamour - being pooped and vomited on is part of the daily job description. "I smell disgusting by the time we finish the session," laughs Severance. "The first time a baby pooped on me I was completely unprepared. I left my client's home wearing mum's clothes, as mine were drenched in poop and vomit! Now I bring two to three outfits with me in case situations like that happen again."

Despite tales of nappy disasters and baby sick, what is evident is that photographers are truly in love with their profession. "I love the innocence and perfection of a newborn," says Clemence. "Everything is so perfect and tiny. It's also so refreshing to get a little glimpse into the happiest time in a family's life. With newborns, it's all about the new parents and their new addition to the family - how they interact, and being able to capture that emotion in their eyes as they look down at their beautiful new baby."

Worth the price tag?

Newborn photo shoots aren't cheap. However, the photographers emphasise how it isn't a mere case of picking up a camera and snapping away; behind the scenes there is a lot of editing work, equipment maintenance and other extras that build up the cost. Considering all of this, the prices begin to seem more than reasonable. Clemence, for example, offers a package for Dh2,000, which includes approximately 50 high-resolution digital images, an 8x10 framed image, a slideshow of the photographs and a unique website that enables parents to share the photos online with family and friends. A Dh1,600 package is also available, which includes approximately 40 high-resolution photos and a website.

"A photo shoot doesn't just consist of the time spent behind the camera during the session. There is also the time involved editing the large number of images and making the website, as they are unique for each client," explains Clemence. "People don't see this happening so they forget that it is there. On top of the time put into each session, there is the cost involved with maintaining equipment - such as the camera, lens, studio lights, backdrops, props, desktop, editing and screen calibration software, and purchasing appropriate methods for backing up images to ensure they are safe from computer viruses," she continues.

On the other hand, Severance explains how the cost reflects the luxury nature of this unique service, as well as the creative design of the shoot and the one-of-a-kind fine art pieces that your artist - the photographer - will create just for you. "The session is ultimately about you and what your family needs are and not about the next person in line waiting to take your seat in front of the same black and white background. The other part of the answer should enumerate the years of photographic training the photographer undertook, the huge investment in equipment and the laborious process to transform your images into true pieces of art," she explains.

Creative ways to photograph a newborn

The photographer Ana Severance offers an insight into how she captures those precious first few days of a newborn's life:

"I always start with the baby lying on a beanbag with a simple neutral or black background. I place them on their bellies with their bottoms up in the air and feet tucked under. I take a few shots in this position while also adding a hat or headband.

"The next shot is always a macro on their face, feet, little fingers and eyes.

"Next, I move the baby on his/her side with their head resting on their hands. I take a few shots using different shooting angles: standing above, tilting the camera and using macro again on the baby's bubbled lips.

"After a nice variety of images on the beanbag, I involve the parents and capture those amazing shots of the baby in his/her father's arms, little feet in mum's hand, etc.

"I then use artistic props - by this time the baby is so deeply asleep that I can easily start placing him/her in a beautiful bucket, vintage baby scale, wagon or anything our creative minds think of.

"I always conclude the session with a nice collection of family portraits, including siblings and grandparents if they are present."


Contact details for newborn photographers:

• Sarah Clemence Photography - 055 540 6031 or visit www.sarahc.me

• Ana Severance Photography - 055 350 3851 or visit www.anaseverance.com

• Kirsty Larmour Photography - visit www.kirstylarmourblog

• Jillian Greenhill Photography - 056 160 3005 or visit www.jilliangreenhillphotography.com

• Fanik Photography - visit www.franikphotography.com

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Updated: September 2, 2012 04:00 AM