This year has been pretty terrible for so many reasons, and I think we can all pretty much all agree that 2020 sucks. And while endless days of quarantine and social distancing have made life very hard this past year, I wanted to try and make a certain aspect of your life a little easier.
As a newborn photographer in San Antonio, my clients that have come into my studio have been so amazing and I’ve been so grateful to safely serve new parents. But, for many people, coming in to see a professional photographer with their newborn has been too much of a risk during this pandemic, which I totally understand and respect.
That said, I thought it would be a great idea to share with my readers how to do a DIY newborn session at home. And best yet? You can do it with your phone! In fact, every single image you see in this post was taken with my phone’s camera. So grab a hot cup of coffee, and get ready to learn my tried and true tips and tricks. I’ll be going over everything from safety to lighting and even basic editing.
How to do a DIY Newborn Session at Home
Safety Is Vitally Important
I cannot stress this enough: safety is the most important aspect of a DIY newborn session at home (and anywhere else, of course). Professional newborn photographers have been trained and taught how to handle newborns and pose them in certain poses and in certain props. And a lot of times, images that you see on the internet have been altered in Photoshop (true story: no photographer out there is actually taking pictures of babies hanging in baskets in mid air 😉 ) When thinking about taking some photos at home please do not attempt to put your baby in a bucket or try something highly technical like froggy pose. Just. Don’t.
Also, be sure to have an assistant there to help you. It should go without saying, but: please do not put your baby in unsafe conditions just for a cute photo. It’s not worth it! Instead, I’d love to see you do more lifestyle type photos, which I’ll share examples of below.
Plan, Plan, Plan!
If you’re planning on photographing your own DIY newborn session with your precious new baby, the best time to plan is actually before you give birth. Why? Because the absolute best time for newborn photos is within that first week of life. My biggest tip is to start gathering ideas, clothing, swaddles and props beforehand and have everything ready when you want to start. If you take these pictures within the first week of your baby’s life then you shouldn’t have any issues with getting them to fall into a deep sleep; they should be nice and milk drunk for you to capture these images!
Sounds and Warmth
For anyone who has ever come into my studio for a newborn shoot, you’ll notice two things: 1.) it’s not quiet and 2.) it’s pretty warm. Why? Because newborn babies are used to hearing white noise from the womb and they are used to being in a nice and toasty 98.6* atmosphere. So, that said, here’s a little pro tip for you: having some white noise like this free one on YouTube will help your baby to drift off into a deep sleep.
Be sure to have a space heater in the room if you plan on taking photos of your baby in the nude – no one likes to be cold when they’re naked, especially babies!
Use Natural Window Light
Ok, like any good photographer, I’m going to say it – lighting is everything. If you have good lighting, your photos will come out 10X better! I promise. While phone cameras have certainly come a long way in the last few years – they still need plenty of bright light in order to capture a sharp, beautiful picture for you. And I’m not talking about artificial light – I’m talking natural light.
You need to make sure so use a room or area with good lighting – and I’m talking beautiful, bright light. In fact: the brighter the better for those phone pictures. So walk around your house and find the room with a big window and plenty of sunlight pouring in. Be sure to turn off all of the lights in the room because having artificial light along with natural light will not only create some funky shadows but also some weird color issues as well. And if you light any subject from below their body, it will not look natural – it’ll look like some sort of spooky Halloween lighting.
Lighting will also effect where you should position the baby. You want the lighting to be angled toward the light (i.e. have the baby facing the window, not having the window behind you). Always, always, always angle your baby with the top of his or her head toward the light at a slight angle. You’ll know you’ve got it right when there is a slight shadow under the baby’s chin, but NOT under the baby’s eyebrows.
Bonus pro tip: I typically recommend late morning for the best natural light so that way the sun isn’t glaring directly into windows, and around high noon is the most neutral color for lighting (meaning it’s not too cool/blue or warm/yellow).
What to Photograph During Your DIY Newborn Session
My clients trust me to know what photos to take during their session, so maybe if you’re planning to do a DIY newborn session at home you might not know. Don’t be overwhelmed and keep it simple!! Here are some of my favorite photo ideas:
- In the nursery. Take some photos of your baby sleeping in the nursery, and try to get different angles of the crib and around the room. If you’ve got a rocking chair, have your partner take a photo of you rocking your baby (and be sure to take one of your partner, too!).
- Be creative. What are some things that are special to you and your baby? Try incorporating those things into some of your images. This could be things like if you or your partner are firefighters, incorporate a fireman’s helmet. Or maybe you’re really into gardening? Clip some of your blooms and greens and surround your baby with them.
- Don’t forget the tiny details. Be sure to take some photos of those tiny hands and tiny toes! Remember, with each passing day they grow bigger and bigger and before you know it, their feet will be stinky and their hands will be sticky with jam. I especially love taking photos of the tops of baby heads with their whispy, feather-like hair. Pretty soon that will fall out and trust me, you’ll want to remember that in detail.
My Top Tips for a DIY Newborn Session at Home
Alllllrighty … I have a handful of tips for you so I am just going to list them all out and I hope you utilize most (if not all) of them!
- NEVER force a baby into a pose: natural is better. They will tell you when they are comfortable – and when they are not! Listen to their cues, and watch for any discoloration in their hands and feet; if they are turning purple, that is a sign they are in a bad position.
- For breastfeeding mommas, don’t eat any gassy foods the night before. If your baby is grunting by trying to fart or poop all day, it will be hard to take these sweet photos.
- Set your expectations low! I think this is a good general tip for all mothering in general (lol). Sometimes you gotta live life by the old motto “done is better than perfect” and so as long as you have some sweet pictures to hold onto then you have accomplished your task.
- Utilize the noise maker and heater like I mentioned. Make sure the room is nice and warm.
- Less is more. Stay away from crazy patterns and colors. Your baby is perfect and beautiful just the way he/she is – no need to add a ton of props or crazy colors to jazz up your photos. And remember – all because something looks pretty – does not mean it will photograph well. Objects are distorted by the camera lens and things can look different on camera than they do in person.
- Get creative! Think outside the box on fun interpretations of these photos!
- Portrait Mode is your friend – sometimes. I like portrait mode and I think it serves a great purpose if used correctly. However, when you use portrait mode, it crops in and you can lose a lot of the scene – which can cause you to either have to back up a lot, or possibly lose important aspects of your image. So use wisely! 😉
So, you’ve photographed your newborn … now what?
How to Edit Your DIY Newborn Session on Your Phone
This is where the final magic happens!
Enter the mobile Lightroom app (available for Androids and Apple products). I absolutely LOVE this app for editing pictures taken with my phone. They also have a pro version for desktop, but this lovely app works wonders as well. Best yet? It’s absolutely FREE – yay!
When editing pictures of your newborn, there are a couple of key things you can do to every image to spruce it up and take it to the next level – and I am going to tell (and show) you exactly how to do it!!
Step One – Skin tones
Finding a good skin tone color balance is very important. Fair skinned newborn babies have a ton of red color in their skin tone. This is something I always fix by reducing the reds and adding in some yellow to counteract the reds/magentas/purples. The darker the skin of your baby, the less you’ll need to correct redness; in fact, if your baby has very dark skin then reducing reds in Lightroom will only have a small effect and may not even be needed at all.
Step Two – Brightness/Shadows
In every image I take – personally and professionally I always, without a doubt, up the exposure by way of brightness and shadows. I am a light and bright kind of gal and my phone photos are no different.
To keep the picture from looking too washed out I also up the blacks to keep them a nice rich dark color.
Step Three – Detail/Masking
And finally I always add sharpening by upping the detail slider. This can sometimes cause “noise” in your images, which is often referred to as “grainy”. To prevent your photo from looking over – sharpened, go easy on the sharpening slider and also move the masking slider as well. You can up the clairity slider for additional sharpening – but remember, less is more.
And now you’re ready for your DIY newborn session at home!!
Now you know all my phone picture-taking secrets for photographing newborns at home. I hope you try these out and I really hope you are able to create some beautiful images of your baby. Remember, 2020 might suck but your pictures don’t have to!
Just to recap …
Samantha Sloan is a newborn photographer in San Antonio, proudly serving the families of Texas.