Don’t Be Hanging Babies From Trees- A Newborn Photography Safety Lesson from Jennifer Dell

I’m excited to have a very informative, important guest post for you all today from Jennifer Dell, a photographer located in Tomball, TX (near Houston). If you are pregnant or have a newborn photo shoot coming up, or even if you are a beginning photographer who’s planning to take pictures of newborns, this is all really valuable information. Jennifer covers everything, so I’m just going to turn it over to her.
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We’ve all seen the super cute newborn photos of baby with her head in her hands or of baby hanging from a tree branch or in an awesome wood basket. What a lot of parents and even new photographers, might not know is that these images are composites. A composite is when you take two, or more, images and combine them very carefully in photoshop in order to create the look that the photographer wanted as an end result. Safety during newborn sessions is becoming a rather hot topic at the moment and when you hire a photographer to help you capture your sweet new baby please be sure that they are taking all the safety precautions to ensure that your baby, and their well-being, are top priority.

This is an example of a composite image is of just the prop set up. The second shot is of the prop set up alone. The first is of baby in the large wooden basket with my assistant helping to brace his head even though it was mainly resting on the edge of the basket (and blanket). She was in constant contact with him at all times while he was in the basket.

Sometimes there is an older sibling that is excited about the new baby and of course we all want to capture that excitement. I have always found that it is best when the older child is surrounded by mom and dad to ensure that baby is safe incase the older child gets too excited.
 
Even when baby is just on a beanbag posing ottoman it is essential that either an assistant or mom and dad be very close by incase baby rolls over (yes it can happen, I’ve seen some very strong newborns!). Even if baby seems to be comfortable and able to hold the position fine on their own it is always good to have a helpful hand to help brace their sweet little heads as most do not have the proper neck strength to keep their heads from bobbling over to the side. In this image I just cloned out my assistants hands in photoshop.
 
 
I know that I have been mainly referring to newborns in this article, however proper safety precautions should always be taken with children and babies. In this image, I had my assistant ducked down just below the frame in front of the girls, their mom behind them ducked down just below the counter and their grandma off to the camera’s left just out of the frame in case one of the girls decided it was time to jump down.
 

 Below are a couple more examples of composites or where I cropped mom/dad out or even cloned them out! The main goal of a photo session for your new baby is safety, while we all love those squishy sweet photos, we need to remember that they are little lives, not dolls and that their health and well being should come first at all times. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to remember for your newborns first photo shoot…

Do’s…

Do remember that they have very fragile bodies and they need support in those popular poses.
Do remember to take baby’s cues seriously… if he/she starts to become uncomfortable at any point. STOP. No pose is worth injuring your child or causing them to be uncomfortable.
Do make sure that the temperature in the home or studio is appropriate for a little baby… as they cannot regulate their body temperatures.
Do keep baby’s safety the top priority.
Do make sure that you are taking time to stop and feed baby or comfort them, bonding is very important in these first few weeks (and beyond) and should be continued even if there is a photo shoot. Newborn shoots can be quite long so take frequent breaks.
Do talk with your photographer about your concerns and their training with photographing newborns.
Do speak up and take an active roll during the shoot. If you are uncomfortable with a pose, just say so, your photographer is there to help you capture memories of your baby and family and will be happy to listen and stop if you wish.
Do try to capture lots of lifestyle images of you with your new baby, as these will be the most treasured when your child is growing.
Do find a professional photographer that has experience photographing newborns.

Don’ts

Don’t literally hang a baby from anything without the proper set up and assistance and even then think twice as most of the “hanging” images are actually composites where they have photoshopped baby into the image.
Don’t leave baby unattended, at any time.
Don’t try to recreate an image if you (or your photographer) do not have the proper training or knowledge.
Don’t try to force a pose.
Don’t treat baby as an object, but remember that he/she is a human life and needs to be treated as such.
Don’t use heavy materials around baby’s face due to suffocation hazards.
Don’t place a space heater directly in front of baby but keep it a little further away.
If you keep safety a top priority you will, no doubt, end up with beautiful photos and a happy, healthy, baby.
*Disclaimer, these are merely my observations, tips and knowledge, (I am not a doctor). Please consult with your pediatrician and photographer for their recommendations prior to a newborn shoot.
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A huge thanks to Jennifer for addressing this topic here. Please spread the word with any new or expecting moms you know. I confess that up until recently I thought many of these poses were achieved by magically posing the baby in these positions and then stepping away to take the picture. It boggled my mind, but I figured I just didn’t have enough talent to pull it off (though I never tried). It’s easy to look at a beautiful picture and not realize all the technical/not magical steps involved in creating it. 
Jennifer is obviously very generous and talented. You can find her on Facebook and over on her blog if you’d like to see more of her gorgeous work.

  • Jennifer @ Also Known As the Wife - Great tips! I’m glad she actually showed that the end results are more than one photo and it takes more than one person to get these style of photographs.ReplyCancel

  • Lisa - “Don’t treat baby as an object, but remember that he/she is a human life and needs to be treated as such.”

    I’m having a hard time reconciling that concept with the odd, physically impossible for a newborn shots. I’ve never seen these kind of shots and didn’t even know there were “popular” ones. I don’t get it. Isn’t the the beauty of a newborn her fragility? How he can’t even hold up his head or control his limbs? How she is so small and delicate you alternately are bewildered by how she can exist, just want to munch on her and are deathly afraid you’ll break her?

    I mean, let’s face it, on sheer looks, newborns aren’t cute. They look like they need to go back in the oven a little while longer. I don’t get why you would want to turn them in to something they are not, instead of celebrating what they are.ReplyCancel

    • jennifer - Hi Lisa, I completely agree with you that newborns are perfect on their own. In fact, I don’t even shoot them in the trendy newborn poses that are currently so popular anymore. I’ve gone completely lifestyle for my newborns. That said, the reason for this post was to bring light to the way these positions are created for those moms and dads and photographers that wish to do this… it is merely a PSA so that others realize that the poses are not constructed then left to baby’s own devices. And I will have to disagree with you, all of the newborns that I have photographed have been beautiful…. :) ReplyCancel

    • tesla - Yeah I’m not going to lie, the ones of the babies propping themselves up or in the baskets are tacky. Look at how adorable the ones are of the baby just BEING a baby, even in her sleep or interacting naturally. I blame Pinterest.ReplyCancel

      • Cindy - Hah… it’s not Pinterest, those have been popular for at least 4 years and pPnterest is less than a year old.ReplyCancel

        • Susan - I agree with Cindy – it’s not pinterest. There is an extremely popular photographer who has made her fame and fortune from taking pictures of babies in “props” (for want of a better word), and she’s been popular for at least 15 years…

    • Sasha Grigsby - I disagree. I LOVE newborns!!! They are gorgeous little creatures and the closest thing to perfect we will ever be! I love all the poses and the baby is what makes them cute. The pose doesn’t make the baby cute.ReplyCancel

  • Jess - That’s awesome. I honestly wondered how they did all that.ReplyCancel

  • Brian Schade - Great article. Yes, this is a topic of recent discussion on a lot of different forums I have been on lately, including Facebook. I appreciate you willing to share your tricks, and look forward to when I can apply them myself.

    If I may be so bold, I’m going to have to say that the image of the baby boy in the bucket isn’t working for me. I think the problem is that when you took the image of just the props, you didn’t have the benefit of having the shadows that were cast by the baby in play. So when you created composite for that image, I can tell that there’s something missing directly under the baby’s head.

    I think maybe adding in a shadow would help, but I think more easily it would have worked to have your assistant’s hand supporting the back of the boy’s head instead of supporting it from underneath. Of course, I wasn’t there at the session, so this is all conjecture.

    Again, thanks for the great article.ReplyCancel

    • jennifer - Hi Brian,

      Yes, there have been a lot of discussion lately. It’s been both bad and good. I’m glad that people are wanting to learn the proper techniques.

      As for the shadow with the basket… there would most definitely be a shadow if the light source was coming from in front of the baby… however the light source was from my left therefore no shadow on the wall. What I did was pull the prop only shot in to PS under the image with the baby in the prop and I masked from there… so the final image is accurate as far as shadows and whatnot. Her hand needed to be below baby in order to be assured that his head was in no danger of bobbling downward. It was actually just a precautionary measure as his head was really resting on the very wide ledge of the basket – you can never be too careful. Most of the time when a baby is going to move in this position they are going to try to move forward (or at least that has been my experience).

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article! :) ReplyCancel

      • Sierra - I think what he means is that a shadow is missing on the blanket where the baby’s head rests – where the thumb was removed. It needs both a shadow as well as some of the skin tone from the child instead of just white light- the head doesn’t look like it is actually interacting with the fabric inside of the basket.ReplyCancel

    • Ewa Chang - I think it’s fantastic that newborn safety is discussed openly, but this post just made me upset. I encourage anyone to rest their own chins on their hands placed that way and tell me how that feels. If you must do that pose, do it with the palms facing up. You should never be putting downwards pressure on the hands like that. The fact that this post was preaching safety is simply frustrating. Why was that baby hanging half out of that basket. When baby is placed further back and you have padding under your blanket to prevent cutting off circulation, the baby will comfortably stay in place (though a spotter should always be present!). ReplyCancel

      • jennifer - Hi Ewa, I’m confused…. The baby was NOT half out of the basket. The baby was completely in the basket…. His arm was resting on the outside of it, and his head was resting on the VERY WIDE ledge… my assistant was there with one hand on him and one hand ready, if for some reason she should need to reach for him. This is NOT a case of the blind leading the blind and I think that your comment was uncalled for.

        I do wish that at some point the photography community would stop with the snarkiness and band together and start to support one-another.ReplyCancel

        • Jill - I completely agree, Jennifer. This week has really saddened me in respect to the photography community. There were valuable lessons to be learned, yes, but what was even worse was all the attacking. Ewa, I will be editing your comment.

  • Sharra - I’ve always wondered how those shots are done. Now I’m thinking all of Anne Geddes shots are composites too.ReplyCancel

  • Kelly - Hi there.
    While I know this post is written with the best intentions, its probably not wise to keep up the first image of the baby with the wrists bent all the way down. There is a MAJOR risk for hyper-extending a baby’s wrist doing that pose and it is a super hot topic in the photography world.

    So while this thread is about newborn safety, that is one of those things that should be included in the topic and you should definitely remove that shot as there is nothing safe about that.ReplyCancel

    • Jill - Thanks, Kelly. I’ll defer to the photographer on this one. Appreciate your input!ReplyCancel

    • jennifer - Hi Kelly,

      Well you see that’s the thing. Her head was never completely resting on her wrists. That is actually my niece and I would never in a million years do a thing to hurt or injure her. I have asked that Jill remove them as well as the post… But thank your for your comments.ReplyCancel

  • Jill - Thanks everyone for the feedback. While I understand these types of poses aren’t the look everyone likes, I’d also like to keep the conversation respectful of the photographer who wrote this. Sometimes that’s just what the client wants and the photographer works with them within safety limits. As for the wrists, I won’t speak to that since I have NO clue, but I will say the photos that have been circulating around the internet this week that brought this post to life, were putting babies in LIFE THREATENING positions, and while you may question the comfort of the babies in the pictures above, I don’t believe any of them were in truly dangerous situations. So, no, I don’t think this is a case of the “blind leading the blind” and I’d appreciate respectful conversation from this point forward.ReplyCancel

  • Lynnea - Great post. Hopefully newer photographers will learn from it & that parents will choose a photographer who does safe poses.ReplyCancel

  • Heather T. - Interesting to find out how these shots are done–thanks for the information!ReplyCancel

  • James Thorpe - Fab article and some excellent points for fellow newborn photographers to be reminded of!ReplyCancel

  • Brian Schade - I’ve always wondered about those shots where the baby is hanging in some kind of webbing. I’ve seen shots where that’s very well done (Anne Geddes pulls them off beautifully) and then I’ve seen them where the baby is so awkwardly positioned that I’m convinced they begin plotting their revenge right then and there. I’ve never photographed an infant that wasn’t my own child and I”m not sure I will, but it’s good to know these pointers none the less. Thanks for the awesome article.ReplyCancel

  • Jo - SOOOO glad you wrote this Jennifer! It’s important to get the word out!ReplyCancel

  • Jenny Cruger - Thanks, Jennifer, for sharing this article with everyone! It’s great to see the photography community banding together to speak out about newborn safety and these types of poses. ;) Hopefully newer photographers and new moms alike will keep this information in mind!ReplyCancel

  • Gray - Jennifer, thank you for the great information! You do excellent work!ReplyCancel

  • Megan - Wow. People need to relax. It’s called Photo-shop. I’m so sick of hearing about people (who 99% are not photographers nor have any experience with these poses) complain about the lack of safety from these shots. If the babies were uncomfortable in the slightest bit, trust me they would let you know by ummm,,,,,what’s that thing babies do when they get upset? Oh yeah, cry. To clarify when I say this (because I know SOMEONE will say something about it) in NO WAY am I saying push a pose until the baby cries and then say “oh, we can’t do this pose the baby is crying”. I’m simple saying, if you hire someone to do professional photos of your newborn they are exactly that, a professional. They know the ins and outs of all aspects of posing (or at least they should).

    Another thing, if you don’t like these poses or feel like your baby is in danger (which they are not) the solution is simple people, don’t book that photographer. Instead of getting on here complaining to a photographer how they should or shouldn’t do something, try taking a walk in their shoes and seeing what actually goes on being the scenes and also with dealing with demanding clients. Or perhaps, do a little more extensive research abut these poses before you get on here and attack someone. Another question you need to ask yourself is do you honestly think if the parents of a newborn thought their baby was in ANY kind of danger during the shoot that they would let the photographer continue. The answer is NO, no they would not. My suggestion is to complain about something a little more productive instead of attacking an innocent photographer who is doing beautiful work and keeping safety a #1 priority. There are a lot more things going in the world that you should worry about but of course those people complaining are most likely the ones that have nothing better to do all day. I understand if you are concerned for a child’s safety but in this case, you need to seriously take a chill pill and talk about something you would have a better understanding of.ReplyCancel

  • Fiona - Yes safety is a huge issue in this industry, though I think anyone considering this trend in photography (newborn posing/props) should take a read of this first. http://www.lecoco.com.au/blog/celebrate-simplicity-thoughts-on-newborn-photography/

    Very well written!ReplyCancel

  • Jennifer - As a beginner, I am so glad this was posted and I found it!! Thank you soo much for sharing! Will definitely be keeping this in mind! :) ReplyCancel

  • L.J. Acker - Thank you for your tips and advice, Jennifer. I shared this article with my friends on facebook. I always wondered how those newborn photos were done. They look great and safely accomplished :) Have a great one.ReplyCancel

  • Sara - Thank you so much for sharing this! I had always wondered about those poses. So glad to be informed! :) ReplyCancel

  • Random newborn shot - [...] really think you should read this…. Don’t Be Hanging Babies From Trees- A Newborn Photography Safety Lesson from Jennifer Dell | B… __________________ [...]ReplyCancel

  • matthew - what did you use to remove the hands holding the baby’s head up with the bonnet, and still smooth out the background. I am having trouble finding a good way to do that on one of my photos. I have a child standing, but the background splits at right about her legs and becomes carpet. I am trying to get rid of all the carpet and put her on an all white background or even a gray one. any suggestions or good video tutorials that you could point me to?ReplyCancel

    • jennifer - I had two images and stacked them in photoshop. Once I did that I masked the top image and brushed off the areas (the hands, etc) to get the look I wanted. :) I can highly recommend http://www.clickinmoms.com for tutorials – there is also a blog full of great tutorials. Annnnnd… you don’t have to be a mom. ;0)ReplyCancel

  • Newborn Safety « The Blog of Travis Parsons (Vinland Photography) - [...] Some of the best samples of this that I have seen online are here at this site hilariously called “Baby Rabies” [...]ReplyCancel

  • STOP PRESS: September Updates and Useful Links | Ian's Studio - [...] For those photographers who shoot babies You might want to have a read of this article. Some hints and tips and some very, very important advice about keeping the little ones safe while you get the shots…. http://www.babyrabies.com/2012/02/dont-be-hanging-babies-from-trees-a-newborn-photography-safety-les… [...]ReplyCancel

  • Kiddo's mom - I love this article! I am a photographer and mom and have always avoided trying shots like this for the exact reasons you mentioned, I had no idea how to do it safely. Totally sharing this.ReplyCancel

  • photographers in LA - Brilliant info! Thanks for understanding your stuff. I can see that you know your topic well. You know what you’re talking about. I can’t wait for more tips from you.ReplyCancel

  • Isabel - I have never commented on a public forum, though I’ve read many. I think the motivation and intent behind this article are good but the comments have completely unraveled the topic (on both sides). I sincerely wish I had not read them. It makes me sad how photogs will impune another’s work. IT’S ART. If you don’t like the idea, don’t use it. On the other side of that I think if you publicly post “opinion”, have the common sense to understand not everyone will agree with you. I find it highly ironic that people are getting blasted for posting contrary opinions. Isn’t that exactly what you’re doing by calling them out?ReplyCancel

  • Jessica drew - I agree with everything you are saying but I’m sorry, the composite p the baby in the basket with one finger under his head is horrible. You can totally tell something looks funny under his head. If your going to do composite images you really need to make it look right. Maybe you should use a different example. The other examples look great so I know you are capable of doing a good job.ReplyCancel

  • ?????? ?? - I’ve been browsing online more than three hours today, yet I never found any interesting
    article like yours. It is pretty worth enough for me. Personally, if all website owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet will be much more useful than ever before.ReplyCancel

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