Photography: Carrie Sandoval
Becoming a successful photographer means learning how to handle a camera, understanding how to work with light, and figuring out how to edit and produce an image. You also have to learn business skills, marketing and promotions. And you have to know how to work with people. That can be the biggest challenge of all. While professional models are paid to deliver the poses photographers need, portrait clients have to be coaxed into relaxing and looking at ease for the shot. That’s particularly difficult when you’re shooting a subject so young that he or she can’t understand what you’re saying, and spends most of the shoot asleep. Baby photography poses a bunch of unique challenges but it can also be rewarding and enjoyable, and sometimes involves some interesting marketing strategies.
The biggest problem that baby photographers face is that newborns aren’t just incapable of following instruction, they’re also unpredictable. A photographer can never know whether the baby will arrive at the shoot frisky and full of energy, ready to gurgle, smile and coo, or tired, hungry and irritable, prepared only to cry, eat and curl up. While that can make planning difficult, the odds tend eventually to tilt in the photographer’s favor. Newborns, after all, spend most of the day dozing.
“Some will quietly snooze through an entire session and others are a little bit more feisty,” says Carrie Sandoval, a baby photographer who has been shooting for almost five years. “Almost always, baby will at one point settle down and sleep peacefully. It takes a great amount of patience (and back pats and rocking…) to wait them out.”
Usually, a sleeping subject would be a problem for a photographer but babies continue making expressions even while they’re dreaming. Carrie says that she can capture at least one grimace and one smile from every baby even before they’ve opened their eyes – and while she likes to extend the shoot into a waking session, those open eyes can cause their own problems. Babies cross their eyes a lot, and boss-eyed subjects don’t make the best portraits.
Let the Baby Lead the Shoot
Letting the baby take the lead is always one good strategy for a relaxed shoot. There’s little point in trying to stop a hungry baby from doing anything but eating. Soft light is important, and heat and white noise are essential for masking the sudden noise of the shutter release, Carrie says. And creativity counts too. While it’s possible for portrait photographers to earn a living sitting subjects on stools and photographing them holding diplomas or smiling at the lens, baby photographers have to find ways to accentuate their subjects’ softness, vulnerability and cuteness. When babies can appear relatively similar, it’s often how the shoot is planned — as much as the facial expressions of the subject him- or herself — that make the image. Babies are often photographed swaddled in blankets or cheesecloth, held in naked arms or lying comfortably on soft cushions. Figuring out what works and how to land the shot does take practice so if you don’t have a baby of your own to hand, borrowing a friend’s child for a couple of hours is useful. Model calls can also generate opportunities to try out new poses and composition ideas. Of course, photographing your own baby will give you limitless time to experiment and an even greater satisfaction when you get the picture right. It was a shot of Carrie’s own baby wrapped in cheesecloth that first inspired her to specialize in newborns.
If finding babies to practice on and creating the shots that bring out their personalities, even when they’re sleeping, can be difficult, the marketing at least is a little easier. For Carrie, most clients come through word-of-mouth. She started shooting the children of local friends and they started telling their own friends about her work. Birth announcements that include her own logo on the back also bring in clients, and her site turns up well in search results, bringing her a steady flow of new business.
Creating the Packages
Most interesting though are the packages and deals that Carrie creates to make more money from each booking and turn single bookings into multiple jobs. Her rates begin at $300 for a local session and rise to $3900 for a collection that includes a DVD, a coffee table book and a number of prints. That top-priced package is also the only one that allows the client to keep the digital negatives.
The other extras are also available separately, allowing Carrie to sell prints for up to $1080 for a 30 x 36 wall canvas, and offer “Keepsake Coffee Table Books” that make use of her degree in graphic design. That gives her a unique and attractive product that makes it easy for clients to show off their photos.
One of her packages though also combines two shoots in one job. For $500, clients can order a maternity session that delivers 12-15 images presented in an online gallery and a later newborn session made up of another 35-45 images. It’s a useful way to lock clients in and turn them into repeat customers. And having returned once, it’s likely that the client will come back again in the future as the family grows.
“I have repeat clients, but it is usually whenever there is a new baby added to the family,” says Carrie.
That’s a strategy that might work in other photography fields too. Photographers hired to shoot engagement photos can also offer wedding packages, for example. Whenever one event is likely to be followed quickly by a second, there’s always the possibility of offering two shoots at a slightly cheaper rate.
Baby photography does offer some unique challenges. It’s not for everyone and it does require specialized knowledge in handling babies, understanding their moods and keeping them calm. But the techniques used by baby photographers to win clients and increase sales can be used by any photographer, even those whose subjects don’t fall asleep during the shoot.