Before I became a photographer, there were only two times I had professional photos taken: when I got married and when my first child was a newborn. I had no idea when to do newborn photos, where to go about finding a newborn photographer, or what to expect during the actual session. Several years and much more experience later, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned on the other end as a newborn photographer.
As far as when you should get newborn photos done, you might be surprised to hear that the answer is: it depends! There are three major things you should consider before you choose when to book. Without further ado, let’s dive in!
What to Consider When Deciding When to Do Newborn Photos
1. Are you still expecting, or is your baby already here?
This is a fairly obvious question, but it matters. If your baby is already here, then it may be hard to book a newborn photography session as quickly as you’d like. It depends on the season and the photographer, but availability can be very limited. If you’re finding it hard to book a last-minute session, you’ll be happy to know that lifestyle sessions lend themselves well to babies of any age, so all is not lost (seriously!)—you can read more about this below.
If you’re expecting, you’ll have any of the options below open to you. If you can, book your newborn session in your 2nd or early 3rd trimester so you’ll have some time to prepare BEFORE the baby comes. This way you’ll have less on your plate to worry about once your bundle arrives.
2. Are you looking for a lifestyle newborn session or a posed newborn session?
If you don’t know what the difference is, bear with me. A lifestyle newborn session is typically done at the client’s home sometime in the first few weeks of the baby’s birth, and it includes photos of the baby alone and photos with his/her parents and siblings around the home. Some photographers do sessions like this in their studios, but I honestly don’t think that counts as “lifestyle,” since studio sessions tend to be quite stylized. But that’s a discussion for a different day, so for the purposes of this blog post, we’ll assume that lifestyle newborn and non-posed studio newborn are similar enough to be placed in the same category.
A posed newborn session may not involve the parents at all (aside from getting to and from the session, of course!). Instead, the photographer uses a special bean bag in the studio, which is set up to be as comfortable for the newborn as possible (with a thermostat typically set to 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher) and moves the baby into various poses, using swaddles and occasionally even elaborate props or costumes. Often the newborn will be fully undressed for at least part of these sessions, depending on the photographer.
Both types of sessions can be done beautifully. Personally, I like candid moments and connection more than posed images because I like to celebrate life as it is, but I also understand the value in capturing one of the most precious things in the universe in the most adorable way possible. You should make whatever decision fits your family best.
What does this have to do with when to do newborn photos? I’m glad you asked. Lifestyle newborn photography can really be done any time in the first 12 weeks, although it’s most common for these sessions to take place in the first 6 weeks after birth. Posed newborn sessions really require that newborns are sleepy and easily settled, so the ideal time to do them is approximately when the baby is between 5 and 12 days old. After around 3 weeks old, babies become more alert, and posed newborn sessions will be more difficult to do.
3. What is your highest priority in capturing the early newborn days?
This answer to this question is probably your most important consideration in deciding when to do newborn photos. If your highest priority is getting adorable posed newborn images with your darling in “Froggy Pose,” then you may already have your answer: you’ll want to schedule your newborn photos for when the baby is under three weeks old.
If you’re more interested in lifestyle photography, what is most important to you? When you look at the portraits hanging on your wall 20 years from now, what do you want to see? Snuggly images of the tiniest sleeping baby in your arms? Images in which your baby is catching some zzz’s and your photographer captures every detail from their eyelashes to their teeny little ears? Here are just a couple of examples of what early newborn lifestyle sessions can include.
If those sound like your top priorities, then aim to have your session when your baby is under 3 weeks old. The younger your newborn is, the sleepier s/he will be, so keep that in mind. Every day your baby will grow bigger. I was shocked at how much changed week-to-week in the newborn period with my own children. If you want to make sure you capture everything at its smallest, try to schedule your newborn session early (or even consider a Fresh 48!).
On the other hand, if you’re more interested in a session in which your baby is more interactive—maybe smiling at you and your partner, cooing, or taking in her surroundings—you should consider waiting until your baby is just a little older. By 6 weeks, your baby will most likely have mastered smiling but will still be small enough that he’ll fit snuggly in a swaddle for some great detail shots. Most 6-week-olds still like to nap quite often (although this isn’t true of every baby), which means that sweet, sleepy shots may still be part of your session.
Personally, I will do newborn photo sessions up until the baby is about 12 weeks old, as that’s when what’s known as the “fourth trimester” ends. At 12 weeks, Baby will have much better neck control and will often look around the room at her surroundings. Here are a couple of images from a session I did when the baby was right around that age. You can see her looking over her mama’s shoulder and giggling up at her daddy. She’s so much bigger than the tiny newborn pictured above and you can see that she’s starting to grow into her personality, but she’s still so small.
I know that was a lot to take in, so let’s summarize! When determining when to do newborn photos for your family, consider what options are available to you based on when you choose to book the session (sooner than later if you can!), whether you’d like to do posed or lifestyle newborn photography, and what your top priorities are in getting your newborn’s photos done. Hopefully this has been helpful and given you a bit of insight to a very valid (and very common) question!
If you have any questions about this content or you are in the Greater Boston or central Massachusetts area and are looking for a maternity or newborn photographer, I’d love to see if I’m a match for your needs! And if you’d like to see more of my lifestyle newborn work along with several featured galleries, click here.