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A Guide to Newborn Baby Photography: The Planning Stage

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In this chapter you’ll learn how to prepare and plan your newborn sessions, which baby tools every newborn photographer needs, and how to work with parents. This information will help you stay organized, gain trust, and complete a successful sales session by learning to shoot for the products you want to sell.
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ISO 400, 1/200 sec., f/2, 50mm lens

Planning everything from educating the parents to the sales presentation is crucial to a successful newborn session. Each session takes careful preparation to ensure that everything goes smoothly. A newborn shoot is more personal than your typical portrait session in that you need to develop a rapport with the parents. They need to feel you are a safe person to handle their baby and be able to trust you.

When I first began my business, I was still learning how to plan and organize a complete session. I had the business principles and policies in place, but I lacked knowledge in planning and prepping the parents. However, with experience and through trial and error, my learning improved. I didn’t have a book to read or someone to guide me through this process, informing me what to tell the parents or how to make them feel more at ease. I had to figure it out on my own. Even now I continue to think of new and better ways to implement the process and will make appropriate changes when needed. It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous when you’re meeting with the parents at first, but once you gain some experience, you’ll be able to relax and feel more self-confident.

In this chapter you’ll learn how to prepare and plan your newborn sessions, which baby tools every newborn photographer needs, and what I’ve learned over the years while working with parents. This information will help you stay organized, gain trust, and complete a successful sales session by learning to shoot for the products you want to sell.

Prepping the Parents

Prepping the parents is a very important fundamental aspect to a smooth session. Parents don’t realize how important their part is in the process of their newborn session unless you educate them. They’re used to retail studios where the photographer takes a few shots and quickly sends them out the door. Custom photography is a luxury most parents have never experienced before. You’ll need to hold their hand and guide them through the entire process, and help them understand how they can help ensure a smooth session.

Initial Contact

Your first contact with a potential client is your first step in establishing a lasting relationship. Photographing newborns is an intimate and personal experience for parents. They need to know they can trust you. To have confidence in you, you must portray self-confidence. When you’re first starting out, it’s typical to be uneasy and anxious. You’re passionate about your work, and you want to do the best you can.

In today’s society, most people use email in lieu of a phone call. In fact, I receive about 90 percent of my inquiries via email. People have busy lives and email communication is the quickest and easiest way to contact someone. Nevertheless, I like to create a more intimate and personal relationship with my clients by calling them after their first initial contact. This is my opportunity to capture their interest in booking me. Before placing the call, I make it a point to smile. It’s amazing what smiling can do to the sound of your voice. It’s like a soothing euphoria over the phone!

I ask the parents a series of questions, such as when they are due, if they have any other children, and what they are specifically looking for in their session. Most parents don’t really know what they are looking for; they just love your portfolio and want portraits of their baby. Basically, I go through a 10–15 minute mini preconsultation over the phone with them to determine if we are a good fit for one another. I’m happy to state my pricing over the phone before booking a client, but I don’t like to start the conversation discussing it. By informing them of my pricing ahead of time, it helps to eliminate booking clients who might later say they can’t afford my rates.

  • Your first contact with a potential client is your first step in establishing a lasting relationship.

During my earlier years, a client came to my studio and hadn’t asked about pricing before the in-person preconsultation because she thought we would cover that later and didn’t worry over it. I wasn’t experienced enough to know to offer it to her ahead of time, so I didn’t think much about it. After spending an hour with her in my studio talking about all the preparations, we began to discuss the pricing and contract, which is when I lost the client. My pricing was out of her budget, and I remember being heartbroken at the time. After the initial shock, I realized she wasn’t the type of client I was looking for anyway. I wanted clients who valued my work and were excited about booking me with the rates that I charge. From that time forward, I decided I would make sure my clients knew how much they were spending before we ever made the initial appointment. If they felt they couldn’t afford me, no time would be wasted on either side. As you grow in your business and gain experience, you’ll learn to adjust your policies and procedures as situations arise, but having some guidelines and policies in place will help alleviate some of the problems later.

Be sure to provide the best “custom” experience you can to your clients from the very beginning. They are paying you for that experience, and they deserve your best customer service.

Preconsultation

The preconsultation day is your opportunity to gather the details and ask the parents all the essential questions. It is the most important step in the process. I bring my clients into my studio for an in-person consult to go over the contracts, products, preparing, pricing, and policies. This is also the time when I start thinking about upselling products, such as wall portraits, canvas prints, and albums. I show them all the products I offer. I don’t wait until the sales presentation after the shoot to show the products. Instead, I set up a beautiful display to show them so they can begin dreaming about how badly they want that gorgeous album and where they’re going to display their beautiful wall art.

With my notebook in hand, I’m ready to write down everything my client desires, including colors of the home and nursery, and even colors to avoid. I want to ensure that the color palettes we choose for their portraits will complement the colors in their home. Although it’s true that my style of neutral colors complements most home décor, I’m still attentive to what will work best in my clients’ home by allowing them to be a part of the planning process. If they desire a specific color, I’m happy to oblige.

All clients are charged a session fee upon booking their session. This session fee includes my time and talent only, is nonrefundable, and assures that my clients are committed. I secure the payment at the in-person preconsultation.

Guiding the client

To ensure a smooth session, guide your clients through the entire session from the beginning to the final stage of selling. Assure them that you are well versed in handling newborns: They can then rest easily knowing that their baby’s safety and comfort are your top priorities, and you will in no way ever put their baby in harm’s way. This is the time to develop a rapport and trust with your client. After all, they are putting their most loved and precious gift into your arms a few weeks after the child is born. You wouldn’t give your baby to someone you didn’t trust, would you? Show confidence in yourself and your work, and in turn your clients will do the same.

Prepare the parents ahead of time by going over your preconsultation checklist of important procedures to follow prior to their session.

Keeping the baby warm

Inform your clients that your studio will be kept between 80 and 85 degrees for the comfort of the baby. Educate them that newborns lose their body temperature fairly quickly once you unclothe them, so it’s essential to keep them warm at all times. Tell them to dress in layers so they are comfortable as well. I ask them to dress the baby in a zip-up or snap-up onesie—nothing that goes over the head because it tends to wake the baby if we need to pull clothes off over the head.

Sleepy, happy baby

It’s helpful if the parents can interact with the baby before arriving for their session. This will help the baby sleep later while in the studio. Although capturing the baby during awake times is ideal as well, I prefer to have them asleep during the first part of the session.

To get curly poses, you need to have a sleepy baby, not an awake baby. But the parents don’t realize this. They think their baby needs to be awake for their session and fully clothed with cute little clothes that can seem to swallow up the baby (newborn clothing tends to be larger than the baby), which makes it difficult to see the baby under all the clothes. Although I always strive to capture some of the darling awake shots, it’s difficult to pose the baby in certain poses while the newborn is awake. My goal is to keep the baby warm, comfortable, asleep, and happy.

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This is an image I took while in Australia teaching a workshop. I used a step stool to get up high and shot from above the baby with a slight tilt of my camera.

ISO 400, 1/200 sec., f/1.8, 50mm lens

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A sweet moment captured when the parents were waiting for me. I asked them to come in close and snuggle for a moment while I got my camera ready. These are the unexpected, natural shots I love to capture.

ISO 640, 1/250 sec., f/2.8, 50mm lens

Let the parents know that when you photograph the baby unclothed, they should be prepared for the baby to pee and/or poo at least once during the session, most likely more! It’s not a matter of if the baby will pee, but when the baby will pee! Tell them not to worry or panic. I always have plenty of wipes, towels, and hand sanitizer in the studio. Everything is washed before each session anyway, whether its been peed on or not, for sanitary purposes. If you will be photographing the parents, make sure they bring a couple of clothing changes. Their clothes should be simple and solid colors, avoiding clothing with logos.

Some parents want to help you and be right by their baby during the session. Although I completely understand this, I let the parents know they are welcome to sit back, relax, and even take a nap if they’d like. A lot of the parents I work with love this opportunity to catch up on some sleep. I ask them to remain in the sitting area, which is close to where I’m shooting and where they can still see their baby. The reason for seating the parents, especially the mother, a bit farther away from where the baby is located is because a baby can smell mommy, which might trigger the need to eat more often, even though the baby does not necessarily need to. This can lead to the baby stirring and possibly waking up. For this reason, I try to keep the baby from being too close to the mom unless the baby needs to feed or I need her to assist me.

  • It’s not a matter of if the baby will pee, but when the baby will pee!

Welcome package

If you are a boutique photography studio, it’s important to give your client a personalized experience, which should reflect in all aspects of your business—everything from the first contact to the final packaging. When my clients arrive at their pre-consultation, they receive a nice little package from me thanking them for booking a session with my studio.

The welcome package includes:

  • Thank you card for booking their session
  • Appointment card for the newborn session
  • Referral cards; five cards to pass out to friends and family
  • Goodies, such as cookies or candy
  • Personalized pen and notepad with my business name, website, email, and phone number
  • Client Welcome Guide (see details in the accompanying sidebar), including Product Menu with pricing
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Cover of the Client Welcome Guide.

Keeping Your Clients Calm

It’s important to educate your parents in remaining calm during the session, even if the baby cries or gets upset. The baby will sense that mommy is frustrated and will in turn become frustrated. As the photographer, this holds true for you as well. Be patient and remain calm. A quiet and peaceful environment is essential for a successful session.

Ask the mom to feed the baby fully before arriving at the studio. If the baby has a full tummy, the child will sleep longer. If your clients are traveling more than 15 minutes to the studio, ask them to arrive 15 minutes before their session to allow for extra feeding.

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