When is a newborn not a newborn?
I know... it sounds like a bad joke! However, it's a question I get asked a lot - especially with lots of babies being born in lockdown and missing out on a photoshoot in their first few weeks.
The answer really depends on who you ask: Is it after baby has had their 6-week healthcare check? Maybe after the three month 'fourth trimester'?
If you ask a photographer, we tend to class babies under one month as newborns. Ideally, we would like a baby to be around 1-2 weeks for their newborn photos - anywhere between 5 and 15 days is perfect.
Why is age important when it comes to newborn photoshoots?
When you think of classic newborn photos, you're probably picturing a baby curled up fast asleep. In their first few weeks, babies sleep a lot and that's ideal for this kind of photoshoot (when they're awake they tend to fidget and their eyes are still milky and unfocused).
During a newborn shoot, I'll aim to photograph baby in some natural and gentle poses. Sleepier babies are easier to pose, less likely to be disturbed and tend to remain comfortably in the position. As they get older, they'll fidget more and will be easier to wake when moved.
Whilst that's the ideal, I totally understand that life doesn't always work out that way... maybe you've not got round to booking your shoot, only decided you'd like one after you see how quickly they're growing, or a pandemic has kept us in lockdown for weeks or months on end!
This is what to expect at different ages and the pros and cons of a photoshoot at each stage.
A note about preemies
It's best to take advice from your healthcare team before booking a photoshoot for your premature baby. I'll always ask a few extra questions about their development to ensure they're safe throughout. The guidelines below generally apply at baby's 'corrected' age (their age if they had arrived on their due date).
1-2 weeks old
What to expect: The ideal age for a newborn photoshoot. Most photos will be of your baby asleep with their eyes closed, both on their back and in gentle side and front poses.
Benefits: Curled up sleepy photos that show you just how tiny they once were.
Disadvantages: It's the perfect age, but sometimes life gets in the way! It's rare to get eye contact with the camera at this age.
3-6 weeks old
What to expect: It's still possible to get the classic sleepy photos, but I allow more time to get baby to sleep and settled (the older they are, the longer their waking periods will be).
Benefits: As well as getting some sleepy photos, you're more likely to get some with eyes open looking at the camera. You may even get a little smile from older babies.
Disadvantages: It can take longer to settle baby. Poses where baby is on their side or front become less likely (but not impossible!) as older babies tend to wake more easily.
1½-4 months old
What to expect: This is probably the trickiest age as baby is often not yet holding their head up, but will also be less sleepy. It's not impossible to get sleeping photos but we'll need to allow time and patience (and most will be of baby on their back). If your priority is a few nice photos of baby on their own as well as family and sibling photos, then this is still very achievable at this age.
Benefits: If you've missed the newborn stage, but want to get photos of baby while they're still tiny, then sooner rather than later is better. Eye contact and smiles are getting more likely as baby gets older.
Disadvantages: As baby gets older, sleepy photos are increasingly unlikely. Posing on side and front becomes more difficult.
4-6 months old
What to expect: Baby will have more neck control and able to support their head when held by a parent. As they get stronger, they may be able to hold a seated position with support (this image has mum's arm edited out in Photoshop - a trick I often use with this age!).
Benefits: You'll get a variety of photos of them on their back, sitting supported, as well as on their front if they enjoy tummy time. Eye contact and smiles are very likely and you start to get a real sense of personality!
Disadvantages: Baby is not yet sitting unsupported. You're probably not going to get sleepy photos at this age and they'll easily fight their way out of any swaddles.
Once your baby is 6 months old, they're what photographers class as a 'sitter' - able to sit, usually without support, beginning to crawl and usually with loads of smiles and personality on show. Photos are great at any age from this point onwards, you just need to decide which stage of development you want to capture them at. (Side note: there is a benefit to booking a shoot before baby is on the move crawling or walking, as they'll stay where you put them!).
If you've missed the newborn stage for photos, then hopefully this reassures you that you'll get gorgeous photos at any age. The slideshow below shows what you can typically expect at a variety of ages. Please get in touch to book for your baby or for more advice on what to expect at each age.