How to choose a newborn photographer
One of the ways to celebrate the arrival of the littlest, newest member of your family is to have some newborn/family photographs taken, whether they be natural/lifestyle or posed. But there are certain things to be mindful of when choosing a newborn photographer.
Unfortunately, the newborn photography industry in the US is currently unregulated; i.e. any person with a camera can open up shop and start offering the services without first obtaining any training and/or qualifications. However, education is available for those photographers who care enough.
Here are some of the things to keep an eye out for while choosing a photographer for one of the, if not, THE, most precious individual(s) in your life:
I can write an entire post on the importance of photographs, but no photograph is worth risking the safety of a human, especially a delicate little baby. You are lucky if you haven't heard horror stories of things going wrong during newborn sessions when babies are entrusted to untrained and inexperienced photographers.
There are several questions you should ask before you choose a newborn photographer:
a. Professional Training/Certifications: Ask them, or check their website for any professional training and certifications that they have obtained in newborn handling and safety. For example, the American Association of Newborn Photography Safety (AANPS), or Accredited Professional Newborn Photographers International (APNPI) are two professional organizations that offer training and certifications to newborn photographers. Before one can claim being certified, one has to complete their training, pass an exam and continue to maintain one's certification annually.
b. Complex baby poses: Whether it be the use of props, or one of those adorable little poses, question your photographer how they create those. If the answer is, in a single shot by placing the baby in a certain position, get your belongings and run. If, however, the photographer happily discusses with you how they safely handle different props and, most importantly, your baby, then consider them. For example, the photo used in this post is not a complex pose, but still a composite image, which is to say, it is digitally created in Photoshop by layering 3 separate photographs: first, of just the scene, where the baby was not even placed in the basket, because a heavy prop was hanging above it; and two photos where the baby's head was supported on either side, with no hanging prop over the baby. No baby should be expected to support their weight/head on their own. The hands were removed in Photoshop, and the three photos were merged to create this one.
c. Health & cleanliness: Ask the photographer about their policies on hygiene, sickness, vaccinations, and any other concerns that you may have. No question is a silly question when it comes to the safety of your baby. If you are going to be using props the photographer has, ask how they maintain them. For example, the wraps, blankets and other layering fabrics should be washed before and after each session; because most babies have their umbilical cord attached when they come for their sessions; also they cough, feed, vomit, poop, pee, during any given session in no specific order. Needless to say, each baby leaves bodily fluids on props. Even if your photographer says they wash their wraps and blankets, and during the session, it seems like a fabric is not clean, feel free to stop them from proceeding. Same goes for sickness. While there is usually a limited window for newborn photography, you really don't want a photographer suffering from a viral or worse, bacterial, infection to photograph your baby. Ask them what happens if they are sick? Do they cancel/reschedule? If you are pro-vaccine, inquire if your photographer is up-to-date on their vaccines. It is extremely important for your baby to stay clear of illnesses the first few months, considering their immune system is not yet developed.
d. Manage expectations: If you have certain poses in mind, ask your photographer in advance if they will guarantee those. The answer here should be "no". While the photographer should promise to do their best to create a pose, they should clearly state that they will never put a baby in an uncomfortable position or force a pose on them. Each baby is different; and the baby should dictate how the session proceeds. Their safety and comfort comes first. Also, ask them if you need to bring any props - most newborn photographers have an extensive range of wraps, headbands, and props, but it is worth checking in advance. Also check if you are welcome to bring a specific prop, like an heirloom item, and whether the photographer is happy to incorporate them.
2. Availability, location and investment
Since babies plan their own arrival, and their is a small window in which to capture those precious memories of the first few days, it is best to schedule your session well in advance. This enables your photographer to keep their calendar open enough to accommodate your baby's arrival. To avoid later stress and/or disappointment, it is best to book your session once you have had your 20 week scan. This also enables your photographer to plan your session in case you want a specific theme/prop(s).
If the session is not being held at your place, keeping in mind the location of your photographer is also important. Do also consider the session fee and product prices. Some photographers charge a flat fee; others have a creative fee, which does not include digital files or prints. Finally, see if the photographer offers just the digital files, or also has products, such as albums, wall art, and other displays that you may be interested in.
The most important thing while choosing a newborn photographer is your baby's safety. Training, know-how, and certifications like the ones discussed above distinguish a pro from a hobbyist. Any decent photographer would take the steps outlined above to educate themselves in newborn safety, and practice safe handling, even when they are not required to by law.
Last but not the least, the photographer should be happy and pleased to answer all your questions without getting uncomfortable or making your feel uncomfortable for questioning them. And even if they satisfactorily answered all your questions before the session, feel free to question their practices while they are photographing your baby, and never hesitate to stop them from doing something you are not comfortable with. It is your baby after all, and you should always trust your instinct as a parent.
Good luck in your search!