Newborn babies to be a major genre for photographers. Blotchy and wrinkled, they spend most of their time curled up asleep. Better to wait till they’re old enough to sit up and smile. But then along came and celebrity photo shoots. Described by Vogue as a ‘distinctly millennial phenomenon’ newborn photography is a fast-growing field which photographers with their fingers on the pulse of trends have been quick to capitalise on.
Kristina Mack of Essex-based Tiny Posers is one of those photographers. As well as running her own successful photo she also holds workshops around the country for other aspiring newborn and maternity photographers at which Kristina explains to her students the various ways in which newborn photography differs.
‘The first thing is that timing is very important with newborns,’ explains Kristina, ‘because they that womb-like curve after two weeks or so. Also they sleep a lot deeper in the first couple of weeks after birth, after which they become a lot more alert, which makes them more difficult to photograph. So I tend to schedule my newborn shoots for around 7-10 days after birth. That’s the best time.
It may seem counter-intuitive to want the baby to be asleep but in this genre it is fundamental. You don’t really pose older children you direct them. But with newborns you literally them into the poses. You can’t just lay them down and get good pictures. A soundly sleeping baby can be moulded into of a poses while maintaining an expression of blissful contentment.
‘If a newborn baby is awake then it’s seldom a happy baby,’ continues Kristina. ‘It will usually be because they’re hungry or windy or need a poo. You may have a few minutes of happy wakefulness but it won’t last long.’
Stack the odds in favor of a successful shoot preparation is key. ‘I ask the parents to try to keep their babies awake at least an hour before the session and feed them just before they leave the house for the shoot. Most of my clients live within an hour’s drive of my studio, so by the time they get to me the baby is in a deep sleep and I can start working straight away. If I have clients coming from further away they can feed them when they get here. ‘I then work very quickly, and try to get as many pictures and as many poses as I can while they are asleep. I start very simple with very little posing and then I move baby little by little, transitioning gradually from one pose to another.
It sounds like newborn photography arguably has more in common with stop-frame animation than it does with other genres of portraiture. That and bomb, because before she even starts shooting, Kristina has to very carefully extract the babies from the car seat they arrived in, undress them and place them on her beanbag – all without disturbing them. ‘In truth it is rare that the baby will not notice any of this at all,’ Kristina admits. ‘Usually they will wake up a little bit, so I swaddle them in the blanket and they usually go back to sleep.’
So what happens if they don’t go back to sleep ‘Then we feed them and carry on going. But if you have to stop to feed baby during the shoot the session will take a lot longer because you have to allow for feeding time. So suddenly instead of the shoot being a couple of hours long you could be adding an extra hour or more. I always schedule my newborn sessions for first thing in the morning – around 9.30 or 10am because they are a lot sleepier in the first half of the day and I would never book another shoot earlier than 2pm. Most new parents aren’t yet fully confident with the baby so I try not to them by imposing a time limit.’
After taking some photos of the baby on its back swaddled in a blanket Kristina slowly removes the wrap, taking more pictures as she goes, and using different camera angles to create as many different images as possible. Then comes the higher-risk manoeuvre of turning the baby from its back onto its tummy.