Recently, renowned Australian newborn trainer and photographer, Kelly Brown, posted a heartbreaking personal video. She got a call from a parent, who went to an Australian photographer, who did not practice safety measures in the session and dropped the newborn baby - on the head. What is worse, the photographer did not acknowledge the accident and tried to continue.
I felt this is an important time to talk about photography and how different it should be treated to newborn photography. They are certainly not the same, and not should be treated in the same way.
I have seen many videos from photography groups and pages worldwide which make me worried. Our industry is not regulated as it should be; there are people who are not registered even with an ABN, let alone training, handling newborns based on little experience. There are many little things they do not know, not wanting to invest in online training - instead watching free YouTube tutorials from photographers who may not themselves be appropriately trained.
You are not just handling your own baby, you are handling someone else’s baby - and every baby is different. Different size, age, body shape, temperament, and even different ways of how they like to be wrapped, posed, held and moved (or not moved). The average parent may not be aware of the posing methods mentioned above.
While everyone (including myself) needs to start from somewhere, and people can make genuine errors in judgement or close calls - it is important to realise newborns are delicate beings, and are not to be handled by someone who is new in the industry.
Not only that, but these images only be taken in a short period of time (5 - 15 days at best, but you can still get similar results up to about 8 weeks), it should be with someone who knows how to handle a baby, but more than that - how to safely wrap a baby, pose a baby and know when it is time to stop, or when something becomes unsafe (and when to say no). Just because something looks good on social media, does not always mean it is safe to do so. Not every pose done on another baby is good for the following baby, or a pose the last baby seemed to be ok with will be ok with the next.
There are various safety matters to take into account with a newborn; from the posing, to the prop use, even how the wraps are wrapped. A new or untrained/poorly trained photographer likely will not be aware of the fact that certain babies, certain weights, certain ages cannot be wrapped and/or posed all in the same way. They need to absolutely be clear with you of their experience with your brand new baby, so you understand that you may be dealing with someone who may not fully understand safety techniques. There are so many to list and consider. It is second nature to me now, and most comes with judgement on the moment - but for someone new, they would have to take the time, or even look up these things.
When I began, I advertised on my website and my socials for at least a year that I was building experience. I even put it in my agreements. I did not take a newborn though until I trained myself in safety techniques and was confident enough. I must say, the first 20 or so were not fantastic. However the clients knew this, I was learning still how to do things. I stuck with very simple wraps and poses until I was confident to grow; which I eventually did.
Each baby is different, as a professional - I usually get a feel of the flexibility of the baby at the beginning by slowly massaging/ moving their legs and arms to see how I will wrap them. If they do not want to be wrapped, are stiff or too old/heavy I change the way I wrap them by using a different technique. Nothing is ever forced. It never should be.
Babies need to feel (and be) safe. Warm. Cuddled. Comfortable. It is the photographer's job to make sure of this.
When it comes to props, many clients will notice in their questionnaires before the session day that I ask not only the baby’s birth date, but also their weight and any known medical conditions. Why? This is because all affect the session and how it is carried out and planned. For babies older than 3 weeks, I use larger props to fit them safely, and for babies which generally weigh more than 5 kilograms - I do a very loose wrap with a nappy cover, showing their legs and arms as I don’t like to do a full wrap at this age as the baby is generally stiffer, they get hot quickly and want to move more.
My base wrapping technique involves a jersey or breathable material base, which is the flexible layer. This helps the baby feel ‘cucooned’ like they are back in the womb. I play white noise, have natural lavender diffused in the room, and if needed - a vibrating pad wrapped in a blanket and placed on the bottom of the posing bowl/bucket/bed. This helps calm the baby.
Then, depending on the size of the baby - if they are small, I add a top layer (the ‘pretty layer’). The pretty later is usually something like a knitted wrap, I do not like to put knitted wraps straight onto the base to the skin, as these materials, while soft and beautiful, are generally in Darwin weather not so breathable (and sometimes itchy). The base keeps them comfortable and cool, and the top is there just as decoration. If the baby is bigger, a second breathable wrap is added before the top pretty layer if I am still doing a full wrap. They can have their hands out, one hand out, or no hands out. I typically prefer to have the hands placed slightly to the left or right under the chin, placed on top of one another, which supports their neck and to also not constrict their airway. If the baby does not want me to place their hands out, I put them closer to their belly - almost as if they are doing so in the womb. Hand placement is important. Too close to the front of the neck and once posed, it can restrict their breathing. Too far to the left or right, it is unnatural and uncomfortable. I see where the baby is moving naturally, some prefer the right or left, and work with what they prefer.
It is important to note that how they feel is also important. Sometimes, the baby has gas or a sore stomach. I change the way I pose to help them (for example, by not posing on the stomach, but posing upright and slightly leaned back on their back). Posing a baby vomiting milk constantly is not fair to the baby. When we are feeling yuck in the stomach, do we lie down on our belly? Most of us don't. These are things to consider on the day.
This is why I make it clear in my communications and contracts that the ‘Baby is the Boss’; if I find the baby does not like something after some comforting, I change the way I do things. This could be the wrap, the pillows, the bucket, the pose - until they are comfortable. Sometimes, only a feed or change of nappy is needed - other times, it is the whole pose.
I also state that I only do poses within my work; I do not copy trends or poses that seem unsafe. If I am uncomfortable, I simply do not do it. Even props not used by the studio (such as items bought by clients) need to be pre-approved before the session so I can determine if they are safe (such as a no to an unsanitary, unclean helmet or a very old, dirty rug). As a professional, you learn when to say no when something could jeopardise not only the baby's health and safety, but your career. When everything in your studio is cleaned and checked, you cannot always guarantee props bought in by someone else are also checked and cleaned. The same goes with trendy poses on social media; such as poses with the baby's head hanging out or froggy poses - they simply are not always appropriate for a baby.
So, if you have chosen someone new to the industry, that is okay and it is your decision. However, be sure that they are clear in their communication with you on their knowledge and experience and that they are comfortable doing the poses you would like. Sometimes, simple is actually way better. Everyone needs to start from somewhere and we all (even us as experienced photographers) are always learning. This industry never stops learning. However, as a client - do your research, check out their work to see how the babies are posed, make sure that either the photographer or you/your partner are within an arms' reach at all times during the session, and that the baby is not forced in any way into a pose or an unsafe pose.
Safety is my priority and I hope this helps new parents to be consider a few extra things when searching :)