I’ve been photographing newborns for ten years and have been doing posed newborn portraiture for about nine of those. Over this time, I’ve developed a standard newborn posing flow to help keep my studio sessions moving along while photographing the greatest variety of poses possible. I generally do 10 to 11 newborn poses, in addition to family portraits, so having a plan and flow is extremely important.
If you’re new to newborn posing, I highly recommend that you create a plan and flow for yourself. Pick out the poses you want to do, write them down, and then arrange them in the order that makes the most sense. For example, you don’t want to remove a baby’s swaddle only to have to put it back on for a pose later. Having a plan in place makes everything more efficient and allows you to create easy transitions. Write your plan on a sticky note that you can reference during the session to remind yourself of the posing flow.
I’m going to share my perfect newborn photography posing flow below, along with instructions for how I achieve each pose and how I move from one pose to the next. You’ll see how I create easy transitions and allow for a variety of newborn poses while keeping the session moving along.
1. I start with family photos.
Having your photo taken is always stressful, and stressed-out parents make for a stressed-out baby. I like to get the family photos done first so that the parents can relax. Here are a few other reasons to begin with family photos during a newborn photo session:
- Mom’s hair and makeup are fresh.
- Nobody is sweaty from the hot studio (yet).
- Dad can depart after the family photos, if necessary, to go to work or take older siblings to daycare or school.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how I capture family photos during a newborn photo session:
Swaddle the baby for family photos.
For family photos with a newborn, I like to swaddle the baby for efficiency (and less mess). I give parents the option of swaddling their newborn or having the baby nude in the family photos, and I’m comfortable posing both. However, I also let the parents know that there’s a 50/50 chance their baby will pee or poop on them if nude, and I always recommend swaddling if there are siblings. Around 90 percent of parents choose the swaddle for their family photos. Here are some benefits of a swaddle:
- Baby is more comfortable.
- No need to worry about hand/foot placement or private-part coverage, which adds considerably more time to posing.
- It’s much easier to pass the baby from person to person without waking or disturbing the baby.
- No messes to clean up.
2. Next, I do macro photos.
After the family photos, I capture a quick swaddled-baby photo, and then move to a prop where I can get close-up shots of all of baby’s features (hands, feet, mouth, eyelashes). I do a modified swaddle with the baby lying on his or her back (in a diaper) for these photos. The swaddle usually has a twist in the middle so that both hands and feet are showing.
3. Now, I’ll transition to my first three blanket poses.
Once I have my macro images, it’s time to move on to the first three blanket poses: side-lying, tushie-up, and elbows-out. I always remove the diaper first, as these are nude newborn poses.
Always change the baby’s hat into whatever you’ll use for your next pose before moving them. This way you don’t have to jostle the newborn’s head out of the new pose you want to photograph while putting on a new hat.
For my first blanket pose — the side-lying pose — I need to move the baby from the prop I was using for the macro images onto a blanket backdrop. To do this gently, I tuck baby hands into a prayer position beside the cheek that will be up against the blanket and gently roll baby to that side, while lifting and supporting the baby with my body, neck and cheek so that the baby feels supported and snuggled. Then, I lay the baby down on the blanket backdrop with his or her head closest to me (bum closest to the backdrop) and tuck the hands under the cheek. I adjust the height of the baby’s head and feet with posing cloths under the blanket.
This is one of the toughest transitions for babies, so don’t be surprised if it takes you a while to master the elbows-out pose. I recommend taking the baby’s back hand and moving their arm all the way around until it’s in front of their face. Then, lift the head and front hand together to move the baby up onto that back hand. The elbows should be pointed out with the arms making a triangle shape. Next, position the baby’s chin over the hands so that you don’t get squished cheeks or lose the lips. Adjust the foot closest to you so that it points outward (bonus if you can also keep the back toes showing as well) and adjust the cushioning so that the hands and head are lifted and the foot is perpendicular to the baby’s body.
4. Next, I move the newborn to a prop.
For the easiest transition, use a prop where the baby will be in the same elbows-out position. To lift the baby while keeping the pose, use one of your hands to hold the baby’s hands and head and the other hand to hold the baby’s bum and feet. Simply pick up the baby and place him or her down onto the prop in the same position. Sometimes a baby won’t do the elbows-out position on the blanket but will like it in a prop just fine.
If you want to spice things up, try a different prop here where you can do another pose, like tushie-up on a bed or sitting in a posing pod. Just imagine where baby’s head and bum need to end up so you can pick her up and support her in a way that you can easily lay her down into the right pose without much adjustment.
My fave places to shop for props
- Knit hats and wraps: Baby Le Cradle and Little Lidz
- Tiebacks: Stella Arbor Boutique
- Felt animals and hats: Mimi’s Creations
- Fabric for backdrops and wraps: Fabric.com (look for four-way stretch with a lot of stretch, like 70% or more), Roses and Ruffles
- Wooden props: Home Goods (great for blankets, too), antique stores
5. Now, I change backdrops for a second round of blanket poses.
The first blanket backdrop I use is always off-white. It’s timeless, goes with every color scheme, and looks great with every baby. But for the second blanket, I let the parents choose the color. Most stick with another neutral, like gray or taupe, but some go for colors. The most popular colors for my clients are blush, pale blue and navy blue.
On this second blanket, I do taco pose, froggy pose and fallen froggy pose. Now that we’re over halfway through the session, the baby is much more used to being handled while sleeping and has often drifted into a deeper sleep. When this happens, it’s usually easier to do these “difficult” poses (which will be just as easy for you as the other poses with practice!).
Place the baby onto the blanket facing you in a seated position with his or her legs straight out in front of them. Cross the foot that is closest to the direction the head will go over the other foot. Do a forward fold, bringing the baby’s head down to the side with the front hand under the cheek and the back hand resting on the blanket behind them, out of sight. I like to do taco pose with the feet stacked behind the arm and elbow of the front hand, others do this with the feet under the wrist. Try both and choose your favorite. Lastly, move your cushioning to raise the baby’s head and support any floating knees.
Use an assistant for the froggy pose and plan on compositing two images together. This is the safe way to do this pose, which I demonstrate fully in the video below.
Before moving the baby from taco pose, add the cushioning where you want it to be for froggy pose, with a lot of support in the front and center and smaller ledges to either side for the feet. From taco pose, take the baby’s hand that is under his or her cheek, move it out and tuck it so that the hand is cupping the jaw with the baby’s fingertips on their cheek. Hold that position with one hand, while gently lifting the baby up and placing their other hand under the other side of their jaw. You should then be able to hold both wrists and the baby’s head with one hand, while you use your other hand to gently pull the baby by their ankles up onto the little hill you created with the cushion.
The baby’s legs should have a slight bend and open feet. Bring the elbows of the baby down to rest on the top of the cusion hill. The farther out the elbows, the more supported the baby will be. When the baby pulls his or her elbows back, he or she is more likely to topple. But if the elbows are too far out, the baby will be looking up (which can be cute, too). Play around and see what you like. Do a set of photos with the newborn’s head supported by the assistant first, then a set with the assistant supporting the baby’s wrists/hands. The first photo will be your main photo. From the second photo, you only need the top of the baby’s head.
Watch my froggy pose video demonstration
In this froggy pose demo video, I’ll show you step-by-step how to safely do the froggy pose with a newborn. I created this video during a session to show you the posing transitions, little adjustments that make all the difference, and how I have a parent assist me in creating the composite image.
Fallen froggy pose
This is by far the easiest pose you will do! It’s not hard to move the baby from froggy pose into fallen froggy pose. With one hand, lift the baby’s wrists, hands and head, and tuck the foot that’s in the direction you want to lay the baby down. After the foot is tucked, use both hands to lay the baby down in the same froggy pose with their other foot peeking out behind their elbow. Parents love this pose in close-ups.
6. Lastly, I move the newborn to a back-lying prop.
Both the first and last prop photos I do are with the baby on their back. If the baby decides to be awake at any point during their session, as long as they’re full and happy, I can quickly swaddle the baby and put them in this prop to get photos while they’re awake. And, the swaddle has the added benefit of helping the baby fall back asleep. So, this prop is my back-up insurance for the entire session, which is why it’s last.
For this one, if I’m not swaddling the baby, I use a wrap in a different way to get a different look. Sometimes I have the baby hold a small felt animal. If it fits in the color scheme, I’ll also do these on a dark wood backdrop to change up the look.
I like to continue to grow as a photographer, so I often try new poses! Here are a few poses I love that don’t make it into my usual flow:
Rebecca’s tools & gear
Bean bag: I got my Professional Traveller Poser bean bag from Studio Baby 10 years ago. Though it’s not very tall, it works well since my studio has about an eight-inch tall step where I have my backdrops and pose the baby, so my beanbag sits eight inches higher than I do.
Posing beans: I use Aissimio posing beans.
Backdrop stand: I made my own backdrop stand out of PVC pipe, since you couldn’t buy backdrop stands that would hold up the sides of the blankets when I started my studio. Now there are tutorials on how to do this all over the internet.
White noise: I use the Deep Sleep Sound Machine by Homedics. I keep it on the Calm setting for a constant, deep-static sound.
Heat: My Holmes space heater is amazing. I’ve had it a long time, so they don’t sell the exact model anymore. What I love is that it’s only 10 inches tall, it’s cool to the touch and auto-shuts off if tipped over (pretty much standard features). I keep the room around 80 degrees. If I start sweating, I know it’s too hot. The room should be warm, but not overbearing. Lots of parents fall asleep during the sessions, too.
Lighting: For lighting in the newborn studio, I use the Westcott Solix LED Light Compact Kit along with the Westcott 5′ Octabank. For the family photos, I use either a Spiderlite (constant light) with a 4×6 Westcott soft box and white V-flat (if there are toddlers involved, I can shoot more quickly without waiting for flash to recycle), or a monolight strobe with an Elinchrome umbrella soft box.
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Lenses: Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM, Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM, Canon EF 100mm f/2.0 USM Macro
That’s it! These are the poses I do during my typical newborn sessions. My newborn session flow helps keep things moving along, while leaving me time to try new things.
Have you found the perfect newborn photography posing flow? I’d love to read it in the comments!
Photos by Rebecca Danzenbaker.
Behind-the-scenes photos courtesy of Susie Hadeed.
More resources for newborn photographers:
Whether you’re an old pro or a brand new newborn photographer, we’ve got more great articles you’ll love right here. Oh, and come check out our newborn photography Pinterest boards. You might just find your own work pinned by Click Magazine!