Newborn photography is a fun and rewarding field of photography that also does not require a lot of photographic gear. Generally, all you need is a decent camera, a couple of prime lenses, and beautiful window light.
The challenge you will probably face is how to pose the newborn and keep the mess to a minimum.
In this guide we will touch base on the camera gear that we recommend, as well as useful accessories and props that can help you have a great newborn photo session.
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Camera and Lenses
When it comes to camera gear, just about any modern digital camera within your budget is capable for capturing beautiful newborn images. In fact, you can have an entire newborn session with only one camera and 2-3 lenses. Additionally, advanced pro functions such as sophisticated AF tracking and high burst rate are not as critical in newborn photography as it would be with other photography fields because typically the newborns between 7-14 days old do not move around as much.
For our entry level setup, we are going to keep it simple by using either a Sony NEX-5N or NEX-6 with a couple of prime lenses. Our higher end professional setup consists of a Canon 5D Mark III and 2-3 prime lenses.
If you want to check out our other camera recommendations, you can read our other photography gear guide.
As for lenses, because a newborn is generally not moving around too much, we usually recommend using prime lenses and macro lenses because they can produce higher image quality and shallower depth of field than using zoom lens.
Sony NEX-5N ($548 body only)
The Sony NEX-5N is one of the smallest mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras with an APS-C sensor. What this means is that you have a camera with really good image quality in a portable package. With the advancement of modern sensor technology, the NEX-5N‘s 16.1 MP APS-C sensor provides an image quality that is very comparable to full-frame sensor.
The Sony NEX-5N uses E-mount lenses that are made from a handful of manufacturers including Sony, Zeiss, and Sigma.
Sony NEX-6 ($648 body only)
As the next step up from the Sony NEX-5N, the Sony NEX-6 adds a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) and a second command dial for easier manual exposure changes. Additionally, the NEX-6 also has built-in Wifi for sharing the images with a smartphone or tablet.
Sony E 50mm f/1.8 OSS ($298)
The main benefit of the Sony 50mm f/1.8 prime lens is its bright f/1.8 maximum aperture which allows you to create a shallow depth of field and great bokeh. The lens is sharp even with the aperture wide open and its Optical SteadyShot (OSS) image stabilization makes it easier to shoot with slower shutter speed without having to increase the ISO. This is especially useful for newborn photography since you are generally hand-holding your camera and you may be shooting from a higher vantage point while standing on a chair or a small ladder.
The Sony 50mm f/1.8 on an NEX camera has a full-frame focal equivalent of 75mm, which is good for as a portrait lens.
Sony E 35mm f/1.8 OSS ($448)
The Sony E 35mm f/1.8 with its 52.5mm full-frame focal length equivalent is a great all-around lens for the Sony NEX system. Just like the 50mm lens, the 35mm’s bright f/1.8 maximum aperture can also create shallow depth of field and lovely bokeh. And just like the 50mm lens, the Sony 35mm has optical stabilization.
Canon 5D Mark III ($3,349 body only)
As a full-frame DSLR the Canon 5D Mark III is a great choice for newborn photography because how well it performs indoors and in higher ISO. Its 22.3 MP full-frame sensor will produce more detail and have better control over depth of field than the Sony NEX’s 16.1 MP crop sensors.
Of course, full-frame camera bodies and lenses are more expensive than crop sensor cameras, and while the Canon 5D Mark III does offer a lot more features and functionality when compared to the Sony mirrorless cameras, in reality, the majority of these advanced functions are generally not necessary for newborn photography. So the highest cost will come from potentially better image quality and shallower depth of field.
Canon 50mm f/1.2L ($1,619)
The Canon 50mm f/1.2L prime lens is one of Canon’s most versatile professional prime lenses. With a very bright maximum aperture of f/1.2, you can easily create very shallow depth of field with soft and buttery backgrounds that help separate the subject from the background and give that “cinematic” or professional look.
At around $1,600, the Canon 50mm f/1.2L is a fairly pricey prime lens, but its performance is worth the investment. Of course, the Canon 50mm f/1.4 also makes a good alternative, and at $339, you can pocket the $1300 difference.
Canon Macro 100mm f/2.8L ($1,049)
Because newborn photography can involve close up details of tiny hands and feet, it is also a good idea to invest in a macro lens. The Canon Macro 100mm f/2.8L not only provides excellent images throughout its aperture range, but it also has Image Stabilization (IS) to minimize camera shake.
When it comes to lighting for newborn, you really don’t need much more than a very nice window light. Although you can use studio strobes, we generally do not use strobes for newborns because they can be extra sensitive to the flashes. Instead, we prefer to use soft (and free) window light.
The good news is that this means that you really do not need to invest in a lot of photographic accessories. In fact, the only really “must-have” item on our list is the pop-up reflector.
Wescott 301 Photo Basics 40” 5-in-1 Reflector ($39.90)
A pop-up reflector such as the Wescott 301 Photo Basics 40” 5-in-1 Reflector is very useful when it comes to working with natural light. It is very cost effective and easy to carry around when folded up. We typically use the semi-translucent white interior fabric to diffuse the light and also the white cover to bounce a fill light and open up the shadows.
Light Stand and Reflector holder ($31.99 + $59.95)
Although it is preferable to have an assistant hold your reflector for you, there may be times where you will be working by yourself. This is where a light stand and a Reflector holder are useful to have. The Reflector holder simply attaches to the light stand and then holds the pop-up reflector in place.
Just be sure to weigh down the light stand with either a sand bag or something similar that way it does not tip over.
Backdrop Stand ($69.95)
We love working with a variety of patterned cloths to textured faux-wood backdrops for our shoots. With a Backdrop Stand, you simply clamp one end of the backdrop vertically unto the cross beam of a Backdrop Stand and lay the other half of the backdrop on the floor.
And if you are planning on doing a lot of newborn shoots, there really is no reason to not have a Backdrop Stand to easily and quickly set up a backdrop wherever you like.
Clamps ($8.69 for a pack of 6)
Clamps are super cheap and will allow you to affix any type of cloth to your backdrop support stand. We recommend having 4-6 clamps with you. You can pick these up from a local hardware store, as well as from Amazon.
Here is a short list of accessories that come in extremely handy during newborn photography sessions. They will not only help your shoot run smoother, but more importantly they will keep the mess to a minimum.
Baby wipes ($10.97 for 448 wipes in a box)
A box of Baby wipes is not a recommendation, but a must have. When it comes to having newborns around, it is not “if” they make a mess, but “when,” so be sure to have the wipes within arm’s reach during the shoot.
Puppy pads ($20.33 for a pack of 50 pads)
When posing for nude baby shots, we will often use the puppy pad under our newborn up until that last moment that we are ready to shoot. You can imagine how much mess it will help catch and prevent.
In addition, whenever you are posing the newborn over layers of cloth, it is always a good idea to place a puppy pad underneath the first layer. That way if the baby does have an accident, then only one layer of cloth will be affected as the puppy pad will prevent it from soaking through multiple layers.
Hand sanitizer ($9.99 for a 1 Liter)
Newborns are very prone to catching colds and doctors even encourage parents to keep the newborn away from public places for 6-8 weeks. So, it is important you and your assistant keep yourselves clean and sanitized throughout the shoot.
Periodically stop to wash your hands, and use Hand sanitizer to kill bacteria each time prior to handling the newborn. One important note is to make sure you get “hypoallergenic” Hand sanitizer that is scent-free as newborns have very sensitive skin.
Space heater ($32.99)
Keeping a newborn warm is one of the most important parts of your shoot. In addition to the dangers of getting sick, your newborn will be unhappy and unwilling to sleep and pose if he or she is too cold. While turning up the heat in the entire room is an option, it can make everyone else in the room uncomfortable.
So if you are frequently shooting newborns, you are better off getting a Space heater that can keep the newborn posing area comfortably warm
Heating pads ($13.49)
In addition to a Space heater, we typically use a Heating pad below the blanket that the newborn is resting on. It is also a good idea to have 1 or 2 Heating pads on hand to keep the posing area warm. Again, just like the Space heater, after you set up the Heating pads, be sure to test it out to make sure that it isn’t too warm for the baby’s skin.
We generally leave the Heating pad on the lowest setting as a newborn’s skin can burn easily, and it is better to err on the side of cool/warm as opposed to warm/hot. Also, be sure to keep the Heating pad underneath the padded cloth layers and never in direct contact with the baby’s skin.
Cotton or Microfiber Gloves ($22.95)
For those of you that have cold or clammy hands during a shoot, we highly recommend that you get a set of Cotton or Microfiber Gloves. Nike’s thin microfiber running gloves have capacitive finger tips, which meant that you can still use a touch device such as an iPhone, iPad or android device.
They are only around $23 bucks, so if you plan on doing a lot of newborn shoots and have cold hands, it is a great solution.
Recommended Posing Tools and Props
In addition to the photography gear and newborn accessories, there are posing tools and props that can further add to the production value of your shoots. Many of these items can be substituted with items found around the house, but if you are shooting newborn as a profession, it is a good idea to invest in these tools and props.
Props (Price varies)
Whether you use something that you found lying around the house or buy your props, props can add a lot of production value and interest to your photograph. Get creative, but remember to always be safe. Don’t use buckets or baskets that may have been used to store something that could potentially irritate the baby’s skin. Remember that the baby always comes first.
Our favorite source when purchasing newborn props is Beautifulphotoprops.com. They have a wonderful selection of safe props and clothing specifically designed for newborn photography. Beautiful Photo Props is also invaluable for ideas and inspiration because with most of their items, they give you professional examples of what photographs look like using the respective item.
Keep in mind that if you are on a budget and you have a creative bug, you can make your own props which are completely unique to you and your style. But, again, you do need plenty of time and you also need to be quite good at crafting.
Blankets, Cloth, and Backdrop (Price varies)
Textured and decorative blankets are a newborn photographer’s best friend because they are going to be the base or foundation for most of your shots. The key is to have a variety of textures and colors.
Additionally, be sure to have spare blankets in the case that one or two of your blankets become unusable due to baby mess.
A good place to purchase several blankets and cloth is your local fabric store. For any accessories or cloth that are going to be worn or be in direct contact with the newborn we like to go to boutique newborn clothing shops that specialize in newborn props simply because we don’t have to worry about the materials being safe.
We also recommend to avoid shiny blankets that have strong sheen-like appearances as they reflect a lot of light and can create distracting hotspots in your images.
Pillows (Price varies)
Small pillows are useful for posing and propping up newborns. Although most people will have regular-sized pillows around the house, they may not have these small pillows, so be sure to have a few of them for your kit.
Bean Bags or Posing Cushion (Price varies)
In addition to pillows, bean bags and posing cushions are wonderful little posing tools. If you don’t have any bean bags or cushions, pillows, blankets or even bath towels will also work. Bean bags are the most versatile because you can mold them into different shapes to support the newborn’s pose. Bean bags and posing cushions aren’t a must, but they will definitely allow you a bit more creativity and flexibility in posing. A great place to visit is BellaBun.com.
Foam wedges ($29.87)
Foam wedges are a great little posing modifier because they are firm yet soft and easy to insert when you just need to slightly modify a pose. Having a 1-2 Foam wedges aren’t a must, but they can definitely help out in modifying a pose when needed. Again, small pillows, towels and other objects can also be used in place of a wedge, they don’t always provide enough support.
Ankle Weights ($16.88)
When you are posing a newborn inside of a bucket, basket or other container, it is imperative that you weigh down the container so it doesn’t tip over. Although just about any type of weight will work, we love using love using ankle weights because they are fairly inexpensive, are covered in fabric, and can lay flat in the base of the container.
Standard dumbbells or metal weights create uneven surfaces and have exposed metal which are very cool to the touch, both of which can cause the newborn discomfort.
With the ankle weights, all you have to do is place a couple ankle weights flat at the bottom of the container and cover it with a cloth.