There are so many unknowns in lifestyle newborn photography, especially for in-home sessions with new clients. Will there be enough light? What will the home look like? How will the family be dressed? What if the baby cries the entire time? I used to lose sleep over these questions — even as an experienced mom of a toddler and an infant — because there are just so many things that could go wrong.
But, over time (and with lots of experience), I’ve come to a place where I am now excited and confident before my newborn sessions. Of course, there will always be unexpected challenges and less-than-perfect situations. But I’ve learned to manage my sessions with confidence by having a system in place that works for me and serves my clients.
When I go into a new home I am able to use my tried-and-true process to ensure that, no matter what happens, the session is successful and my work is consistent. Here are 10 ways you can totally rock each lifestyle newborn session, no matter what the situation.
1. Prepare your clients before the session.
There are many things you can’t control when it comes to photographing families. But, there are ways you can steer things in the right direction. Prepping clients is key. For me, prep starts with the FAQ section on my website and continues with my welcome guide, which I send clients upon inquiry.
The welcome guide explains my process and pricing. It also communicates my style (natural & candid) and shows lots of examples of my work so I know the client and I are on the same page before booking.
Once a client has booked and paid their deposit, I send a questionnaire and a style & planning guide. This has been the key to having my clients look and feel great. My style guide provides great tips for dressing confidently and even has five pages of example outfits. Now, nine times out of ten, my clients look amazing!
Lastly, my clients and I have a quick call a couple of weeks beforehand to make sure they’re feeling good about the session, and to build more of a connection before I am in their home.
I use Canva to create my beautiful digital client guide books for free.
2. Prep your gear the day before.
Your gear should never hold you back from delivering beautiful work. Getting prepped the day before saves me from any last-minute rush or panic over having forgotten something. I put in clean memory cards, make sure my batteries (and spares) are charged, clean my lenses, and pack a bag of swaddles. I also know my gear inside and out, so technical issues don’t get in the way of creating art.
3. Go in with a plan.
Before each session, I will open up my client’s questionnaire responses and review one more time. I make sure I know the names of everyone in the family, and I’ll determine a basic plan for how I’d like the session to go. This Click Magazine article (check out the awesome posing graphic!) is what initially helped me create a game plan, and now I adapt it for myself.
The first thing I ask myself is if there are siblings. If there are, I always plan to get the entire family together first. Then, I get those precious shots of the older siblings with the baby. Once that’s done, I don’t have to worry about wrangling a toddler, but if they’re still game to participate, great!
If it’s just parents and baby, my game plan will revolve around whether the baby is asleep when I arrive or not. If baby is asleep, we’ll start with individual photos of the baby and then move to parents with the baby. Or, if baby is awake upon my arrival, I will do the opposite.
I always jot down all of the shots I would like to take and review any special notes that the family put in their questionnaire (such as loving a certain room, or wanting to include their cat, etc).
Keeping notes on your iPhone may work well, but I find writing it down with a pen helps me commit it to memory.
4. Set the tone for the session.
As soon as my client opens their door, I put on my confident and calm hat. I’m in their home with their brand new baby, and I want them to feel at ease and that they are in good hands. I introduce myself and make sure to say hi to older children. I ask how mom and baby are doing, and make sure to give her a compliment.
Then I’ll set the tone by saying something like, “Before we get started, I wanted to give you a little overview of how my sessions go…” I remind them that my style is very natural and candid, and that the more they can interact with each other — being spontaneous and showing affection to each other and the baby — the more genuine the images will be. I’m sure to let them know that we will completely go with the baby’s flow, and can stop to feed or change baby at any time. Then, I have them show me around so I can look at the light. I pick about three to four favorite places around the house, tell them my game plan and then we’re off! Setting a warm, friendly, and confident tone is key.
5. Get the most important images first, then get creative.
My clients almost always want that one beautiful picture of the whole family looking lovingly at the new baby — this is often why they hire me, and most mention it in their questionnaire. This is usually one of the first images I take, especially if there are other children involved. Next, I will always move to photographing the siblings together (usually either on the bed or some variation of holding or kissing the baby depending on their age).
Once I’ve got those key shots, I can loosen up and get more creative. I typically save mom and baby together for the end, because, well, she’s the only one definitely not going anywhere!
6. Be confident.
When I first started doing in-home lifestyle newborn photography, I made the mistake of asking clients what they wanted during a session. Unsure of myself, I would say things like, “do you want one smiling photo of everyone?” or, “do you want any photos of you in the nursery?” I was usually met with a blank stare. I quickly realized that I was making myself look unsure and unprofessional. Clients don’t know photography, and they don’t know what will look good — that’s why they hire us! So learn to think fast, be confident and be direct.
When directing families into different positions, always remember that mom just had a baby. Make sure she’s comfortable and don’t ask her to do anything that might not feel good (like having a child sit on her lap).
7. Go with the flow.
I want reiterate how important it is to go with the flow during lifestyle newborn sessions. Your clients have just been through a life-changing experience; mom is healing and both parents are tired, stressed and full of emotions. If the baby is crying and will not cooperate for a sleeping swaddled photo, have mom hold the baby and take a few close-up portraits in her arms. If an older sibling is refusing to cooperate, let them go play and try to revisit things later. You must be able to think on your toes and change direction when things are not going as planned.
8. Remain calm.
Once in a while, you get that perfect session — a beautiful home, a well-dressed family, and a peaceful baby. But most of the time, something is going to be less than perfect. Especially with first-time parents, it can be quite stressful if the baby is upset. Try to have loads of empathy and be a calming energy. Like I mentioned before, the parents probably have had very little sleep and may be struggling with any number of challenges of having a newborn.
If a baby is crying or a toddler screaming, I keep a smile on my face and reassure the clients that it’s totally OK. I reiterate that we go with the flow of the kids and ask if everyone needs a break. Sometimes mom will feed the baby, or just give some snuggles if the baby wasn’t being held. This is your time to take a deep breath.
9. Review your shot list before you leave.
When I was first starting out, I would keep a shot list in my pocket. I would look it over before going into a client’s home, and then look at it again during a break or toward the end of the session. If there was anything I missed, I would be able to get the shots before I left. Now I shoot more intuitively based on personalities and homes, but I think initially starting out (or any time I am doing something new) I like to review my notes.
10. Wrap up with positive feedback and next steps.
I always tell families when we’re wrapping up the final few shots so that no one is surprised when the session is over. I make sure to tell them that I think the session went great and the images are going to be beautiful. Then, I give them all the details about next steps, including my editing turnaround time and how they’ll receive the images. Before I go, I thank them so much for hiring me and congratulate them again on their beautiful baby.
I make sure to follow through on my delivery time and finish up the process with an excellent customer experience. My last step is to send a thank you card and feedback questionnaire.
Resources for lifestyle newborn photographers
If you want a deeper dive into the creative side of lifestyle newborn photography, I highly recommend Elise Meader’s breakout, which you can purchase in the Click & Company Store. Her PDF is chock full of great information and beautiful images, and her videos are a perfect look into a pro in action.
Another breakout that focuses on in-home lifestyle sessions and really demonstrates how to create connection is Jen Bilodeau’s Connection & Soul, probably my favorite Click Photo School breakout yet.
In addition, head over to the “for photographers” section on my website where I share some free PDFs, including a checklist of the above steps, and a guide to getting your first lifestyle newborn client.
I hear time and time again from my clients that they were surprised at how easy and seamless I made the entire process for them. The thing is, our clients have so many fears going into an in-home session, too — always remember that! So, while it can be very nerve-wracking when you begin doing lifestyle newborn sessions, remember that you are the expert. I truly believe that if you have a good system, provide clear communication, and show up with confidence, then you’ll create work that’s true to you. This will result in very happy clients, too.
All photos by Laura Barr