Unless you’re a photographer yourself and automatically pack a professional camera in every bag you own (including your maternity hospital bag) wherever you go, chances are, the very first photograph of your precious newborn, will be one of them laying in your arms, your partners arms, or snuggled up warmly in a hospital crib – taken using your mobile phone.
You’re definitely not alone. One quick scroll through Facebook or Instagram reveals that almost every new parent does exactly the same thing. All those baby arrival announcements, taken using a mobile and promptly posted as a Life Event (come on, you know it’s true!)
Hospital photos might not be the prettiest. Chances are, they’re going to look a little bit clinical and if you’re anything like me, you’re not going to be looking your best, but that’s not what matters.
What matters is making sure you capture the moments that matter to you during this very special time and making sure you collect as many memories as possible.
Of course, many people choose to invite a baby or family photographer to the hospital for a *Fresh 48* photoshoot (well, they did until Covid threw a spanner in the works) , but at the end of the day, the most important thing is to take some photos. Any photos you can get.
Because the best photographer? Is the one who’s there at the time. And the best camera? Is whatever camera you have to hand.
So, in the absence of an actual professional photographer, what can you do yourself to take the very best Insta worthy photographs of your families first-day? Photos that you’ll want to share with everyone?
Here are a few tips:
1. Start off with good light – which can be a challenge in a hospital, but almost all hospital rooms and wards have windows of some sort and natural daylight is the exactly what you need.
As long as your photos are not horribly overexposed, bright photographs can always be darkened using a nice filter, but grainy photographs that have been taken in the dark can’t always be saved – especially when using a phone camera.
The amount of light available can make or break even the best photographs taken with the best equipment, so hunt for it!
Be aware of which direction it’s coming from. If you take a photograph with the window right behind the subject (back lighting), you can achieve some interesting, silhouette effects, but this might not always be very flattering. Aim for a gentle light over faces with the window either in front, or to the side.
Pull the privacy curtains from around your bed and open the blinds! Window light is always a million times nicer than those bright artificial, fluorescent lights in the ceiling.
Here you can see the hospital crib has been placed so that the side of the crib (top of the photo) and the left side of the baby are right in front of the window.
2. Don’t struggle by yourself – If you’re in the hospital on your own and want to capture a photograph of you with your new baby, ask someone!
Yes, midwives and hospital staff are incredibly busy and other new mothers are going to be preoccupied with their own babies, but snapping a few photographs takes no more than a minute and honestly, most of the time, no one will mind.
Even if you’re not alone, if your want a photograph of you, your partner and new baby together, or even a photo with your other children, rather than miss the moment, just ask. As long as you're not continually bugging people it should be fine. The worst they can say is “not right now”.
In this photograph, the Mama is facing towards the window with the photographer off to one side.
3. Don’t underestimate the close-up. You really don’t need to capture every inch of the hospital ward, the bed, the medical equipment and anything else.
So cut those things out and make the most of your zoom!
Aim for close-up, intimate, gentle photographs, Focus on hands, faces and all the little details.
This photograph is much darker, but you can see that the window is right behind the bed, so the light still bounces off this little one’s tiny toes.
4. Get down to the same level as whoever you’re photographing. It will give you a much better perspective and really does make all the difference.
In this photograph, Dad is facing towards the window light.
5. Blur is beautiful! You really don’t need to have every single thing in the photograph razor-sharp. Only precisely what you want to focus on.
Having a shallow depth of field really helps to separate your subject from everything in the background and creates a lovely, gentle dreamy bokeh effect.
Although this is much easier to achieve with a DSLR camera (because you can shoot with a wide open aperture), smart phone cameras are improving all the time and many now have the ability now to add background blur with built-in software that mimics a shallow depth of field.
Samsung phones have something called Live Focus for both still photos and video, while Apple phones have a changeable depth of field effect, as long as you use your phone in Portrait mode. This background blur can be increased and decreased after the photograph has been taken.
A slightly better option, is to look into depth of field apps which are available for both phone brands. These are often able to give a much more reliable and accurate effect.
Hint - Getting close to your subject definitely helps because your phone will automatically try to focus on whatever is closest and right in front of it, blurring everything else in the surrounding area, but a lot of the time, this will effect what you can fit into the photograph.
In this photograph you can see that the focus is the baby’s face. Mum can still be clearly seen, but the sharp focus in the image is on the babies face.
6. Take your time – It doesn’t matter how many photographs you take, so experiment. Move the cot around the bed into different places (they’re usually on wheels so that you can take your baby with you when you go for breakfast or need a shower). You will probably find that the light and the background is nicer in some places than others.
Take a variety of photos, everything from extreme close-ups of their tiny features, to shots of the whole cot from above and photographs of then being held. Anything and everything you can think of.
In this photograph, the phone or camera had been placed onto the cot sheets, right next to the baby.
And here’s a few ideas:
1. Newborn Baby Collage I’m a huge fan of those lovely newborn baby collages that people put together with photographs of all those precious tiny baby details.
Take photos of as many details as you possibly can because it’s astonishing how quickly the memories of these little things fade away. Collage photos are typically taken super close up.
A close up of their little face when they’re asleep and another when they wake up.
A close-up of their eye when they’re asleep and another when they wake up.
Their lips. Closed and when they yawn (Oh, so sweet!)
Hands and fingers
Feet and toes.
The top of their head – How much hair do they have?
Their belly button.
Collages always look more cohesive if all the photographs have been taken in the same light – so, it helps if they are taken at the same time of day and in the same position, but it really doesn’t matter that much.
2. Use your hands!
There’s nothing that shows off quite how tiny your newborn is more than photographs of them in your hands or with your hands in the shot, so make the most of them!
Photographs from different angles, cradling their little head, their tiny hand grasping your fingers and your hands cupping their tiny feet.
3. Those medical moments
The moments that follow the birth of your baby are all part of your special family story. If you capture any of it on camera you’ll be lucky. Everything moves incredibly fast! There’s the first weighing, the measuring and the health checks.
Most of this will all pass by in a surreal blur, but if your birth partner is quick off the mark (and not completely dazed or otherwise distracted), they might just be able to capture the moment the umbilical chord is cut, the moment your baby is weighed or the first time your baby is handed to you, skin to skin.
4. It’s quite common to choose a special first outfit for your baby and also a “going home outfit”. They’re usually safely packed away in your hospital bag so that when your little one comes earthside, your midwife can get them dressed.
Many hospitals will advise you to include a hat to stop them losing heat from their heads.
These first outfits are perfect for photographs and they also make beautiful keepsakes to store away in a baby box for years to come, so you can see exactly how tiny they once were.
Your new baby will probably outgrow everything in a matter of weeks!
5. A first feed
Breast or bottle, feeding your baby is the most wonderful bonding experience and it’s a beautiful, personal moment to be captured. If you don’t catch the very first feed, don’t worry. There will be plenty more where that came from.
6. A first smile – Yes your newborn can smile! It’s debatable whether it’s wind but there’s nothing more enchanting than that happy little face.
7. A swaddle blanket
Some babies love to be swaddled - and some don't. Used by newborn photographers the world over, if your baby does like to be swaddled, a nice swaddle blanket can be a great investment for newborn photos.
Used safely, you can carefully wrap your baby in all sorts of simple ways to take all manner of professional-looking photographs.
The best place to look for ideas? Pinterest! Search for safe, newborn wrapping techniques.
8. A chosen teddy or toy.
I always find photographs of newborn babies taken next to their first toys amusing. Mostly because babies often start out much smaller than their special soft toys but grow so incredibly quickly.
Photographs are proof that at one point, your little one really was smaller than his or her Jelly Cat bunny - the one they're still dragging around everywhere with them age 5.
9. A first bath
Not everyone chooses to bath their baby immediately because there really isn’t any need. Babies are perfectly clean and often midwives will tell you not to worry, but some people like to. It’s sometimes a confidence boost to be “shown” how to bath your first baby by an experienced professional and some babies can look a little messy following their journey into the world.
If you do choose to bath your baby, it’s well worth keeping your camera to hand to capture the expression on their face in the warm water – and wrapped up in a fluffy towel once they’re done.
10. A first kiss with Mum or Dad.
Because is there really anything as sweet as a tiny baby kiss?
11. Brothers and Sisters
Photos taken with brothers and sisters are always a challenge, one, because it’s so important that your newborn is being held safely, but two, because all of a sudden you have another person in your shot to manage.
The best thing to do when taking photographs with older siblings is to keep things natural. Asking them to pose, sit or look a certain way is tantamount to disaster. Even older siblings don’t tend to take direction that well. If they get upset or stressed, you’ve lost your opportunity altogether. Most of my sibling hospital photographs involved older brothers or sisters placing their heads very close to the crib – but not picking the baby up, and also, laying down on the bed next to them.
Take as many photographs of them as possible with their new little brother or sister – then afterwards, sift through all eleventy-billion photographs to find the half-a-dozen gems.
12. Yawns and Funny Faces.
New babies pull all sorts of very funny faces. Huge yawns, curious eyes and milk-drunk smiles. Your camera gives life to each and every one of these precious, fleeting memories. The moments that matter to you. Capture as many as you can. Enjoy!
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