Newborn Safety and Composite Example | Gilbert Newborn Photographer

You’ll hear it from all around you as you enter the professional photography field, particularly if you are trying to learn and improve and do things right. With DSLR’s becoming more affordable, people all over are deciding that they want to be a professional photographer. That is, they want to collect money for taking pictures. However, there is so much more to being a professional and the average consumer isn’t very aware of what those differences are, especially in the current economy. Everyone is looking for the best deal and to save pennies wherever they can. Unfortunately, that also means that corners are being cut, the scariest of which is in newborn photography.

Props. You’d think that props wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But they are, particularly if safety precautions aren’t taken to ensure no harm could possibly come to the baby. Even the head propped up on the hands, or babies sitting up in baskets with their head seeming to rest on their arms or on the edge of the prop, are dangerous if the head is not supported by a helping hand or finger(s). A baby’s startle reflex is very strong and takes very little to trigger.  A baby that seemed to be safely asleep or even resting with eyes open can startle, lose the balance and either have their head dangerously ‘flop’ risking injury to their neck, or they can even shift just enough to tobble from their seemingly safe perch.  What I’ve also found disturbing is images I’ve seen on Pinterest using props that should never have been considered, such as babies in glass jars filled with candy and other items.   This not only restricts how much air they can breathe in as they have objects restricting their lung expansion..but glass?!  Glass can have tiny faults and minor cracks that are often undetectable to the human eye and can result in a cracked or shattered prop.  A sudden startle or anything to cause that glass to break or tip, and you have jagged sharp glass under a falling baby, a potentially fatal scenario.

OK, so I’m starting to get a little hot under the collar here. I just get so aggravated to see shots that are so obviously a bad idea or some that may be great but are done without composite.  I’m terrified for the new or veteran mom that brings their precious new bundle to a photographer who has no qualms about putting “the shot” above the safety and life of the baby. They come to photographers expecting and trusting that the photographer will know the ins and outs of keeping their baby from harm. Unfortunately as I mentioned before, hundreds are entering the field each month and even some photographers that have been out there for awhile are teaching workshops to new photographers and instructing them in unsafe practices, or posting videos, blog posts, etc – and they themselves still haven’t gotten it. So how can you pick or be a newborn photographer that will do all that is possible to keep baby healthy and safe? Here are a few rules to follow:

1. Baby should never be left unattended.

This doesn’t mean that the baby has to be held at all times. But there should be someone close at hand whose focus is on baby, even when baby is sleeping snuggled on a soft beanbag. Babies are also top heavy, holding approximately 25% of their entire weight in their head. Any image where the baby is “upright” must be a composite image in which someone is supporting baby’s head. According to the CDC (, unintentional injuries (including falls) are the 5th leading cause for infant deaths in the US. Always provide for the safety of the baby when attempting any pose in which the baby is more than a few inches from the floor or beanbag.

2. Trust your gut.

If your gut is giving you a feeling of uneasiness, trust it. Figure out how you can make baby safer or abandon the pose/set. Parents, in some cases, you may need to abandon your photographer.

3. Safe props

Props should be solid, and preferably soft, comfortable and low risk for injury. If they can wobble at all, they should either be immobilized or not used. Buckets, baskets, etc should be counter-weighted to ensure they do not tip over once the baby is placed inside. They shouldn’t be breakable (i.e. glass). If you plan on hanging the baby in a sling or other prop, make sure someone is supporting it under the baby. Sling or hanging baby shots should always be a composite shot, if you absolutely must have that shot.

4. Each baby is unique and precious

Babies do not have strong immune systems as they are not fully developed. If the photographer or anyone in their home is ill, the newborn shoot should be rescheduled, even if this means shooting outside of the optimal first two weeks. A simple virus in a child or adult can be a serious illness and possible NICU admittance for a baby without the antibodies to fight the virus.

Keep an eye on the baby’s extremities at all times in every pose. Their circulatory systems are still developing and opening up. If the baby’s extremities begin to turn dark purple, blue or red, it is an indication that you need to relieve the pressure to get blood flow circulating. This may mean that you need to abandon the pose. Which leads me to the next point…

Not all babies can or will do every pose. Each baby is unique and if you feel the baby is resistant to a position or is obviously uncomfortable, move on to a different position. I have had sessions where the baby is resistent to any posing at all and is only happy to lay peacefully and naturally, and those have been some of my favorite images.

I hope you find some of this information helpful. There are newborn safety posts starting to pop up on professional photographer’s blogs all over, which I think is wonderful. Here are a few links to some of my favorites if you’d like to learn and read more.

Jodie Otte on Newborn Safety

Stephanie Robin on Newborn Safety

Jennifer Dell on Newborn Safety

Here are a couple of examples of what a composite shot is:





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