Your iPhone may be brimming with shots of your little bundle of joy, but for many parents that’s not quite enough. A professional photo shoot that captures that fleeting babyhood and all of its roly-poly beauty is a must! And yet getting babies and toddlers to take direction and cooperate isn’t easy.
Consider baby’s schedule
Elaine Yaker of Pierce Street Portrait in Birmingham, who has been photographing children for more than 20 years, says one of the most crucial things parents can do to get the most out of their baby photo session is to consider your baby’s schedule.
“With a young baby, nap schedules are pretty consistent throughout the day. So it would be the morning slot or afternoon slot when they have done the nap, the feeding, bath or whatever, before they’re ready for the next feeding cycle,” says Yaker.
Babies can get fussy and cranky when they are in need of something. Yaker says it’s important that the baby’s needs are taken care of before leaving for the photo shoot.
“It’s essential that they not be hungry, that they aren’t exhausted and that they don’t need a diaper change,” Yaker says.
But it’s OK if your baby needs more food or another nap during the shoot. Besides, sleeping babies make great photos too!
Let go of rules
Monni Must of Naturally Photography by Monni in Sylvan Lake suggests bringing “snacks, full boobs, extra bottles,” and a lot of patience with you to the photo shoot. Must, who has been a photographer all her life, says things can go a lot smoother if the parents are patient and stress-free, because kids can sense that.
“I have no rules here. Anything that they do in my studio is OK. They can touch anything that they want,” says Must. “Parents have to let go of all the rules. If you are going to get a good expression, a kid has to feel really free.”
Must added that parents can’t really control babies or young toddlers during a photo shoot, so they shouldn’t get upset if they don’t do exactly what they want.
“You might as well save your energy, because toddlers, like 2-year-olds, are going to have a tantrum. They are going to have a meltdown or they’re not. You just kind of let them be,” says Must.
Photography studios can be an interesting or even scary place for a baby or a young toddler. Yaker and Must suggest that you don’t rush babies and allow them time to explore and get accustomed to their new surroundings.
Let’s your baby be themselves
Every parent loves her beautiful baby showing off a heartwarming toothless grin or a smile with only a couple of baby teeth. But Yaker says parents shouldn’t get upset if their child isn’t constantly smiling for every shot, because babies express themselves with a variety of facial expressions.
“The more expressive, the better. Everything goes,” says Yaker. “The smiles are wonderful. The pouts are wonderful. The squinchy faces are wonderful. A quiet neutral face is wonderful. I think everything is good.”
Parents sometimes can have a strong vision of having their baby photographed in a certain outfit or with a particular prop, but Yaker says to keep in mind that the baby is the star. After getting a few shots in her poufy dress or his little tux, get a few shots showing off those cute little skin rolls.
“Even if they wanted a specific holiday outfit, I would still tear them down out of that to get the fleshiness of babyhood,” Yaker says. “I love to see the fleshiness of what they are when they are 3 months, 4 months, 6 months, whatever. Usually they have wonderful rolls on their wrists and chubby feet. To me that’s what babyhood is about.”
Must and Yaker agree that less is more when it comes to outfits. Yaker believes a lot of clothing can sometimes overwhelm the baby, causing him to get fussy. So try to keep it simple yet adorable.
Babies with props
Baskets, tubs, flowerpots and platters all have one thing in common. They, along with many other decorative household items, are popular props for babies in photo shoots nowadays. Yaker says fur rugs have been the go-to prop for babies since the turn of the last century. But now, parents and photographers are letting their creative juices flow and coming up with more new ideas.
“I think that there is a cuteness about it. It depends on how playful the parents are,” says Yaker. “I think the first one I ever did was (a baby) in a rubber tire. I think they were going with a sailor theme and this baby had a sailor hat on. And it was adorable.”
The range of props seems endless. Babies are being photographed on shelves, on four-poster doll beds, in drawers, in oversized teacups – and any other item you can think of that a little infant could fit in. The size comparison between items like a bucket with a baby inside may be what attracts parents the most. It shows how small and precious babies really are. Plus, it’s pretty adorable.
Ultimately, this experience is very new to a baby. It’s best to make sure baby is comfortable, free and content. But remember: Babies are unpredictable, so even with the best planning, things may not go exactly as planned.
Illustration by Mino Watanabe
This article was originally published in 2014 and is updated occasionally.