While browsing one of my favourite photography forums, I read a heated conversation regarding newborn safety. It was heated because of a photographer bragging about not using any Photoshop in an image. Why the drama? Well this baby was placed on a surfboard in the water. As a mother my heart dropped and I gasped. The image was gorgeous and artistic but 100% unsafe. All my mind kept asking was, ‘What if?’ What if a wave came? What if the baby kicked? Rolled? The photographer claimed the father was nearby but what if he couldn’t reach in time?
My prayer is that no photographer ever has to learn the hard way. Newborn photography is incredibly popular. There is no question why, newborns are beautiful and gorgeous in their perfect newness. As photographer’s we are pushing our art to be more incredible and sweet. From different poses to different props, we have learned how to tug at our client’s heartstrings with beautiful art created around their children. But at what risk? Babies in glass bowls full of candy, head over to Pinterest and you can find numerous examples. What if that glass bowl broke? Common sense will tell you that glass bowls may not handle more than candy and adding a seven pound weight would possible cause it to break. Babies suspended in slings hanging from a branch risk a serious injury of the baby falling. Babies placed in mailboxes, the idea is cute but there is risk.
Those sweet posed babies with their chins propped on their hands and arms? Have you ever seen a seven day old baby do this and hold that pose? No. They cannot naturally, they do not have the muscle strength and there is a risk of injury by straining their little muscles.
So, why are we seeing this in photography? Magic? Well sort of! It is COMPOSITES. Using the magic of photoshop, we photographers take two images and overlap them, erase half the picture so it looks like there were no helping hands.
This is the same for babies suspended over any amount of space/height, babies in props like baskets. Where ever there is the slightest possibility of the baby moving, there should always be a hand on the baby. I have had sessions with babies that are easily startled. In those instances I have Mom or Dad sit next to the baby and one hand on the baby, they lift their hand 3-5 inches off of the baby and I snap my picture. If the baby moves there is no risk.
If a prop or scene has a slight risk even with composites I will refuse to do that scene. I don’t care how much a parent wants that image. If I feel it is risky I would rather lose a client than risk their child. I also feel it is my responsibility as a professional photographer to KNOW the risks. Going back to the image of that baby on a surfboard, it could have been done in the name of safety. Take an image of the surfboard in the water. Take an image of the baby on a surfboard on the beach in the same lighting situation. Photoshop and voila! More work for the photographer but no risk to that infant and the end result is a beautiful picture.
When hiring a photographer for your newborn portraits, ask questions! How much education do they have? What courses have they taken? What steps do they take for safety? Do they use composites?
Below are a few examples of the behind the scenes and reality of my newborn poses. You will see how Mom and Dad hold their son’s head safely in place for the ‘Froggy Pose’, this was a little baby who was in a DEEP sleep (for certain poses they need to be sleeping very deep). He was also a baby that in the womb he had his little feet up around his head. When I was posing him I found he was SUPER comfortable in the position compared to having his legs stretched out. Many babies will not pose like this, it all depends on the individual baby. The second image is him with his head propped on his folded arms. Newborns do not have the neck strength to hold this position without risk to their necks and spines. With a gentle finger on his head (not on his temple!) Mom is holding the weight of his head on her finger tip.
During editing these helping hands are erased to create the newborn art that will adorn their walls.