At some point, every photographer feels the need to step outside their comfort zone and delve deeper into a process or personal journey. As photographers who specialize in newborn shoots, we’re privileged to witness one of life’s most important journeys. The moment a baby enters the world and begins to develop into an individual; unique among billions of people.
Many newborn photos follow the same sort of formula—pose the baby and snap some cute shots. But to take your work up a notch, you need to move beyond the clichés and try to convey the story of a new human life coming into being.
What Is A Story?
You might think that this is a silly question. Who doesn’t know what a story is?
Everyone knows stories are what you find in fiction books and films, but people are often unaware of the elements that make a story. All creative media can convey a narrative with just as much depth as a novel or TV show.
Strictly speaking, a story has various parts: characters, setting, plot, conflict and resolution. These are easily recognizable in written fiction. But with visual media, they require some adaptations and thinking outside the box. When using photos to tell a story, you are working with viewers’ imaginations and need to show, rather than tell.
Elements Of Photographic Storytelling
It’s easy enough to identify characters when using photographs to communicate a narrative. Yet when it comes to plot and conflict, you’ll need to think laterally.
Newborn photography can include capturing the time leading up to a birth and the birth itself, apart from the traditional brief of showing an infant’s first days and weeks. That process, the first journey taken by each human being, is a worthwhile story. However, to explore this niche fully demands a bit more creativity.
Casting aside the rigid ideas of plot and conflict, the aim of newborn photography is to allow parents to remember this important process. The “drama” of infancy is the path from a perfectly helpless being, to a whole, imperfect person.
Skills: Planning And Preparation
One vital part of successful newborn photoshoots is planning. Using a StandInBaby is the perfect way to get some practical preparation for planning shots and experimenting with composition and poses.
When shooting a newborn it’s necessary to consider their feeding and sleeping patterns, although it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to anticipate every situation. Planning and practicing for a shoot is helpful in many ways. Being able to rehearse compositions and poses without time constraints, for one example.
One tip when it comes to storytelling photography is to include small details that add an extra element to what would otherwise be a pretty-but-mundane image. This can include the use of props, lighting, and the interaction between baby and parents. Experimenting with props allows you to go into a shoot with some ideas of what could work.
Go Deeper Than Appearances
Some newborn photographers limit themselves to the goal of providing attractive photos that will please parents and serve as a reminder of this period in their lives. There is no need, however, to confine yourself to this objective.
In newborn photography a baby might end up as a prop more than a “character” in their own right—the focus is their cuteness, rather than the emotions of the parents and their child.
Using a StandInBaby to prepare for the shoot can allow you to rehearse poses that allow for interaction between parents and baby. Welcoming a new family member is one of the most momentous occasions in life, and the accompanying emotions are complex and overwhelming. A birth might have been the culmination of arduous months of IVF; some newborns might be adoptees. Parents can be any combination of feelings—overjoyed, scared, unsure, fulfilled, or full of love.
Being able to shift between poses efficiently, you can maximize your time, making it easier to focus on interactions and emotions. Moving towards photographic storytelling may require participation on the part of parents instead of focusing solely on the baby.
Adjust Your Vision–See Things Differently
If you’re used to shooting in a studio, you might be in the habit of posing subjects to create a visually appealing image you’d happily add to your online portfolio. When shooting newborns that is still a goal, but capturing a story demands a change in your approach. Instead of settling for “cute” you will need to break that mental barrier and consider the baby as a unique individual, with quirks and independent emotions.
Celebrating the birth of a child isn’t a static moment. The days and hours before a baby is born are full of a complicated mix of feelings like anxiety, hope, anticipation and euphoria. After delivery, parents are usually overwhelmed by a similar wave of emotions. This is an emotional journey that doesn’t need to be hidden in photos.
A story is in essence a type of journey. Inner conflict and changes replace the literal conflict you might find in a novel or film. Conflict in a photographic narrative isn’t necessarily hostility between two forces, two emotions within a person can create friction without being negative.
How To Approach Visual Storytelling
As with all shoots, planning is vital long before you arrive in the studio. If your target is to convey a story, then one of the first things to do would be to find out from the parents (or prospective parents) what their experiences have been, and what they expect.
Of course, to redefine traditional photography you must first have a solid grasp of the basics. Rules are made to be broken, but there’s no power in that without first having understood them. Telling a story through your work demands skill and creativity. You need to be familiar with poses, lighting and composition to look beyond those fundamentals and bring a shoot to life.
Once you’ve experienced seeing a story develop frame by frame, you won’t want to go back.