Newborn photography safety is a subject which is (obviously!) very relevant to us and our clients, but I wanted to just put down a few words to try and highlight the potential issues when it comes to safety when photographing a newborn baby, look at a few common poses and misconceptions about them and let you know how to ensure, as far as you can, that the photographer you choose is going to handle and photograph your little person safely.
It may seem that in the post below I’m ‘giving away our secrets’ but hang on – this isn’t a magic club or a bit of juicy gossip. This is about handling a precious delicate newborn person. There should be no mystery or secrets about how to do that safely – if the final image is awesome then none of this detracts from that. In fact I would go as far as to say that I think knowing this enhances what you see in the finished article – knowing that the photographer cares enough to do the training and practise required and wants to invest their time and money in order to produce the best images for you. Knowing that the person you’ve hired has the skill to do the posing and the editing required correctly for safe newborn photography should be both a source of trust and a way of understanding part of what makes up the art of newborn photography.
Why is safety important for newborn photography?
I would hope that this is an obvious one, but it’s probably worth a quick mention – babies are quite fragile. They don’t bounce. Their bones and skeletal structure isn’t full formed and isn’t as robust as an older infant. But taking this a little further in the context of photography, something which isn’t immediately apparent is that the poses and pictures that are (quite rightly) very popular now would, if not performed safely, be dangerous for your little one.
Joints and bones are quite fragile on babies, but other things to consider are body heat and circulation – babies can’t regulate their own body temperature so the environment should be appropriately warm for them (especially as many of these type of images are of baby with little or no clothes on). It should be just about uncomfortably warm for an adult – this will be ideal for a newborn baby out of their clothes. With some poses (especially on beanbags and blankets) feet are often crossed at the ankles and heads are resting on hands or arms – watch out for fingers and feet getting purple – if they are getting more purple than is normal for the baby (some are quite purple anyway, just one of those things!) then circulation is at the point of being compromised so the pose should be shifted or changed to allow circulation to pick up again.
How are images produced safely?
Take a simple ‘head with chin resting on hands’ pose for example. If taken at face value, this is generally not a stable position for baby’s head to be in – a tiny shift one way or the other means the head flops over to one side, putting a fair strain on a very delicate neck structure. The image on the left shows what I mean.
But if the photographer has used safe practises, all is not as it seems…..
There should be some support, even in what looks like a basic pose like this – any time there is a chance that the baby’s head could flop, then you just remove that chance (it’s pretty straight-forward, this safety stuff!). In this case it’s just a simple finger against the side of the head but that’s all that’s needed to ensure that the head can’t flop around and damage the neck. See the image on the right here for the ‘Secret Behind The Scenes’ view:
The photographer uses Photoshop to remove the hand and finger and give the illusion of an unsupported baby all content and asleep in a cute pose.
Another popular newborn image ‘thing’ is the use of props – suitcases, buckets, etc. We use some props ourselves and the babies do look very cute in them but again, it’s what you don’t see that makes the image both special and safe.
Buckets and baskets should either be weighted on the bottom or supported whilst baby is in them so they don’t tip. Also the ‘wobbly head’ issue described above should be addressed if the pose used means that the head could flop.
Any prop that involves the baby appear to hang in or on anything MUST be a composite. Put simply, a composite is two or more images combined using Photoshop into one image in such a way that certain elements of each image is masked out and rendered ‘invisible’. That picture you see of a sleepy baby in a sling hanging from a branch? Composite. Laying on a swing? Composite. Snuggled asleep in a Dreamcatcher? Guess what…
Hanging props are generally using two shots – one where the baby is on the prop which is in turn resting securely on or literally 2 inches above a safe area such as a beanbag, and the second of just the prop itself hanging as desired. Quite often extra ‘fake’ space is inserted below the prop to give the impression of height above the floor. Let me demonstrate with one of our own prop images – the lovely Dreamcatcher. Here’s what I mean:
A very popular pose for newborns and one that’s considered amongst photographers to be a difficult one to pull off – the ‘Froggy pose’. This is where the baby appears to be sat down with their head resting on their hands, which are propped up on their elbows – all seemingly without support. This again is a composite (or most certainly should be if the photographer is using safe practises!). One image will have an adult hand at the bottom of the shot support around the wrists whilst the other will have the adult supporting the head from either side towards the rear of the skull – this ensures the head is stable and that there is no undue pressure on the delicate wrists from the weight of the head (up to 25% of total body weight of a newborn baby!). Here’s the way that one is made up:
All babies are different. It’s important to remember this. Some will love lying on their tummies. Others won’t. Some will happily lay with their head on their hands. Others will tuck their head away. The photographer should have the training and experience to handle all of these situations as they occur – a baby will often ‘squawk’ when moving positions, but if it is clearly uncomfortable the photographer should not keep attempting that pose. A little perseverance is fine and should be encouraged, but if baby is starting to get stressed it’s time to move on.
How do I check if a newborn photographer is doing all this?
This is of course by no means a concrete means of determining if the photographer you want to hire is practising safely but here’s a few things you can ask. Don’t be afraid to ask them, either – all good newborn photographers should be encouraging and practising safety and will not be offended if you check this.
- Are they a member of BANPAS (The Baby and Newborn Photography Association)? BANPAS is an organisation who vets their members to ensure they are aware of and practising (as far as is possible to determine, by way of example images provided by the photographer) safety in photographing newborns. They actively support, encourage and advise their members and are a fantastic resource for parents too.
- Do they do composite images?
- What’s their policy for having a ‘spotter’ (someone nearby at all times who isn’t the photographer – we will usually either use dad or one of us will do it)?
- We always operate a ‘one hand on’ policy i.e. if baby is in a position where they could shift by rolling or ‘startling’ then there is to be a hand just resting on them all the time an image is not actually being shot – does the photographer do something similar?
- Does the photographer allow proper breaks for feeding / nappy changes / cuddles or is the whole session rushed through as quick as possible?
- Has the photographer had any kind of formal training with an experienced person?
Don’t be put off by this post!
Finally – don’t worry. As long as the photographer you’re using is adhering to safe practise and is diligent and thorough there is absolutely no reason not to have some amazing photos of your newborn baby. They will be totally safe in experienced hands and you should take the time to step back, relax and enjoy the session, safe in the knowledge that the person handling your baby is putting safety and the well-being of little one first, all the time, every time.