Newborn photography

How to put in a little extra effort when you snap your baby’s first shots

By Anson Yu

When Adrian De Vera, MD, decided to document the first two weeks of life of his firstborn Adriana Alexi, he undertook the role of photographer. At the time, Dr De Vera was a pediatric resident who did wedding photography on the side. But like certain painstaking surgical procedures, the photo session lasted for eight hours and yielded—for Adrian—only five passable photos, making him swear to never do newborn photography again.

While completing his residency at the Philippine Children Medical Center, his colleagues and co-workers admired his newborn baby’s photos, and began requesting for Dr De Vera to take the photos of their own infants. At first Adrian refused, but later agreed on the condition that his patrons would pay for his props instead of his services, and these items had to be shipped in from as far as the United States. Soon his reputation spread, and when he finished his residency in 2016, he had accumulated so many props that he could open a photography studio specializing in newborns: NouveauNee Photography.

But what’s the difference between newborn baby photography and regular baby photography? Dr De Vera explains: “It’s newborn photography if it’s done the first two weeks of an infant’s life. During this time the tone of the infant’s muscles are still soft. This makes it easier for me to position their head and limbs into a variety of poses. After the first two weeks, the muscle starts becoming more rigid, limiting the number of poses that can be done.”

While Adrian sometimes accepts clients after the first two weeks, he cautions that he declines commissions “…if the baby is already in its first month. I would then advise the parents to wait until the sixth month by which time the baby is now able to pose on its own.”

“For newborn photography, my regular shoot can last for three to four hours. On a good day, it can be done in one-and-a-half hours.” The actual shoot itself can sometimes be as quick as ten to fifteen minutes. The preceeding hours are often devoted to pre-production: getting the props ready, getting the baby to sleep, and posing the baby.

With all these preparations you would think that Adrian would want the set to be very quiet, but that’s not always the case. “I’ve read in articles that babies find silence very disturbing,” he shares “They actually prefer some background noise and would wake up if it’s completely quiet.” This makes sense if you remember that infants spend nine months in the mother’s womb hearing her voice and the sound of her heartbeat. So what’s on the Spotify playlist? A selection of white noise.

For his shoot, Adrian uses a mirrorless SLR-style camera combined with prime lenses ranging from 23mm to 56 mm. “But now I am switching to a 16-56mm lens, so that I doesn’t waste time in [changing] lenses. I don’t normally use a tripod unless I have to do a composite shot.” As for lighting, he still prefers using ambient or natural lighting. But when the occasion calls for it, he uses two strobe lights at their lowest strength, sometimes diffused with large octaboxes to protect the babies’ eyes.

De Vera also has special cloths that stretch and swaddle the infant perfectly, and he sometimes uses fur wraps, hats, knitted blankets and pillows. In the case of his second child, Nicolo Manuel, he commissioned a carpenter to make a special miniature bed just for the newborn’s shoot.

The post-shoot process can be tedious, and De Vera elaborates: “Unlike in wedding photography where the clients would end up with hundreds even thousands of photos, I can only promise to the parents 20 to 30 photos. I don’t even give them the raw files as they are all heavily processed.” It usually takes him 15 minutes of work to edit things like skin rashes, but the photographer admits that some images can take as long as an hour to process.

“As much as possible I try to keep things simple. If you look at my work on Instagram, I tend to use simpler props such as cloth and linen wraps. …I always want to put the emphasis back on the baby. …I have my own unique way of using colors and lighting the subject. I think it’s a good thing that I have already established a certain style though it is still evolving.”

When Adrian was starting out as a newborn photographer, there were only a handful specializing in the field. While their number is now growing, it’s still a difficult field to enter, as professionals have to earn parental trust when taking on the job. Adrian admits his background in pediatrics gives him an edge over other lensmen, but even with that advantage, he tries to keep one step ahead of the competition by developing his own style. HT