Newborn photo safety

A newborn baby. Tiny fingers, perfect little nose, itty-bitty feet, fuzzy little hairs and that delicate, oh-so-soft skin. A newborn photography session truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to document all those tiny details. 

It’s the very beginning of your child’s story, and she’ll never look the way she does right now, during those first two weeks of her life. 

Because of the significant amount of changes a baby goes through during life’s early stages, I believe the best time to photograph a newborn is between 6 and 10 days old. This is when babies are still sleepy and naturally curly. 

Because this window is rather short, you shouldn’t wait until the last minute to find a photographer. 

Selecting the right person to photograph your newborn is critical, not just because you want beautiful pictures, but also for the safety of your child. 

There are things that can go wrong if you don’t hire someone who’s trained in handling newborns. 

Injuries such as dislocated hips or shoulders, pulled elbows, burns, abrasions and even tetanus are some of the injuries that untrained photographers have accidentally inflicted on newborns. Accidental overextension of a baby’s airway is another risk as it can potentially cause partial or complete airway collapse.

Don’t rush into finding just anyone. Take the time to carefully research who you hire. 

Although deciding on the right photographer for your newborn is a very important decision, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Follow these important steps:

 

Hire a specialist 

For the safety of your infant, I recommend you hire someone who specializes in newborn photography — especially if you’re interested in special poses and props. 

Photographers who specialize in newborn portraiture should have portfolios of newborn photography on their websites — and they should be familiar with the safety principles common in working with infants. 

Check references 

Find out what clients of your prospective photographers are saying online. If a company doesn’t have any newborn photography reviews, use caution.  

Look them up on the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website (sos.state.mn.us) to see if they’re licensed to operate their business in Minnesota. 

Professionals who are serious about their business will take the time to obtain proper licensing. 

Having a licensed business speaks volumes about the level of their professionalism and offers credibility to their business. 

I wouldn’t hire a photographer who was operating illegally, just as I wouldn’t visit an unlicensed physician. 

After you’ve selected a couple potential photographers who meet the criteria, it’s time to make the call. 

Questions to ask

Of course there are likely other questions you’ll want to ask unrelated to safety, but these are the key safety questions to ask:

How do you control temperature in the studio and how warm will it be? 

Since newborns cannot regulate their body temperature, the studio should be kept at about 80 degrees to ensure baby doesn’t get cold. Space heaters are a good choice, if they aren’t placed too close to baby. 

I always keep a close eye on babies throughout their session. I watch for signs of being too cold (blue, purple, patchy or mottled skin) or too hot (flushed red skin that’s hot to touch) and adjust the heat as necessary. 

How do you keep an eye on circulation?

It’s really easy for a newborn’s circulation to be cut off. Being watchful of hands and feet turning a deep red or purple is a sign that they need to be moved. 

What types of injuries can result from improperly handling newborns and how do you avoid them?

Many injuries (dislocation of hips, shoulders and pulled elbows) are caused by pulling on the legs, arms and wrists of a newborn. 

To avoid these types of injuries, I gently scoop the legs into position rather than pulling them into position and I avoid tugging or pulling on limbs. Burns can be avoided by placing space heaters a safe distance from baby and abrasions can be avoided by using safe props. 

Overextension of the airway is another avoidable injury. Photographers should make sure the head and neck are never pulled too far forward, and they should keep weight off of the neck during certain poses. 

Do you create images from composites?

Many final images of newborns are careful composites of multiple images layered together in Photoshop, with the hands of the person holding or supporting the baby virtually removed. 

Certain poses should always be composites in my opinion and the only truly safe way to achieve these certain poses. Babies should never hang in slings, hold their chins up independently or be held precariously high in a parents’ hands. 

When done correctly, beautiful composite photography is the result of painstaking and careful editing work by the photographer after the session, and is the only way to ensure your baby’s safety. 


To create this image of newborn Cameron Dodd of St. Paul, photographer Rana Leonhardi had the father pose his hands around the child, who was lying on a black fleece blanket (top photo). Baby Cameron was never lifted in the air to create the final shot (bottom). 
Photos by Rana Leonhardi 

How do you select props?

The list of adorable things you can fit a baby into is seemingly endless, but it’s really important that the props being used are safe. When I’m out shopping for props,
I look for items that aren’t made of glass and that don’t have sharp edges. 

Rusty props are rustic and charming, but tetanus isn’t. So I’ll specifically purchase props that are made to look old, but aren’t. I also like to purchase props that won’t be top heavy, which could cause them to fall over when a baby’s weight is added. 


Many professional photos of newborns — take, for example, these shots of Henry Odegaard of Coon Rapids — are composites of multiple images layered together in Photoshop: Hands of the person holding the baby are erased. When hiring a photographer, be sure to ask about these safety measures. Photos by Rana Leonhardi 

 

How do you ensure my baby’s safety when using props?

While newborns aren’t super mobile, they can flex their legs and project themselves forward and flip out of props if the photographer isn’t careful. 

Using weights is one of the tricks I use in my studio to make sure that a prop doesn’t become top heavy when baby is placed in it. Combining safe props and weights with a spotter’s hands (either an assistant or parent) is the only way to make sure that a baby is safe in a prop. A spotter’s hands would only be removed from the baby for the one 250th of a second that it takes to release the shutter or, sometimes, not at all. The spotter’s hands are then virtually removed in Photoshop. 

How much time does a session take?

The time it takes shouldn’t be determined by the clock, but rather by your baby’s unique needs. Your baby’s comfort and safety are the top priorities. I often take several hours when my little clients need it, and the great photographers out there will be willing to take the time necessary. 

When it comes to hiring a photographer, remember that your newborn’s safety is your top priority.


Rana Leonhardi is a mother and the owner of Rana Leonhardi Photography. She’s a member of the International Association of Newborn Photographers. All photos are courtesy of Rana Leonhardi.