Newborn Safety Week – Day 1
I am both honored and humbled to have been asked to help kick off Newborn Safety Week both here at LSI and hopefully across the industry as a whole.
I’m sure we can all attest to the recent rise in the number of photographers specializing in newborn photography or at the least counting newborns under 2 weeks amongst their clientele. With the rise in popularity of DSLRs, the field of newborn photography has seen an explosion of photographers in the last few years. Indeed newborn portraiture itself has recently become quite popular with features in newspapers and popular magazines! Now, more than ever, parents are interested and willing to have their days old infants photographed. They show up ready and willing to do what it takes to capture sweet memories of their little bundles propped into position or hanging from apparatus, trusting their photographers are skilled and knowledgeable in their fields of specialization. After all, they’re members of this or that professional community. Certainly they must know the ins and outs. Unfortunately, it takes but a quick google search to find multitudes of tutorials preaching posing practices that are both unsafe and unnecessary.
I’m not here to point those out. Nor am I here to lambaste anyone. What I am hoping to do is inspire photographers to look at imagery in a different way. To analyze popular setups and challenge themselves to think of safer ways in which to attempt them. I hope to present you with a few of the fundamental concepts I teach regarding safe posing and what I believe to be the most important points to consider. It never ceases to amaze me how many photographers are still unaware of the use of composites and so no matter how simple or logistical some of these tips may seem, I truly feel they are important to share!
Babies are resilient yet they are also fragile.
It’s safe to say that while a baby has likely never died from crying, they certainly have died from falls and concussions. Less severe, but still notable is that newborns can also suffer Dysplasia, dislocations, muscular strains and ligamentous injury. And so, here are a few ground rules to preach and follow:
1. Never leave a baby unattended
While it’s true that newborns are often left unattended by their parents to sleep or rest, it’s also important to note that they do so typically swaddled and within a CPSC approved crib or bassinet. I would never ever recommend leaving a baby unattended on a beanbag, in a prop or with young siblings etc. It’s unlikely that a newborn would roll itself out of position, however their startle reflex can be strong enough to jolt them into an unbalanced or precarious position and that’s just never going to be okay with me. If you HAVE to step away to sanitize your hands, grab something or for any other reason, ALWAYS make sure a parent, spotter or other responsible adult figure is extremely close by, has hands at the ready and that there is always at least one set of eyes devoted to baby alone.
2. Newborns have immature immune systems
There’s a reason that hospitals will not allow sick individuals into the maternity / post partum ward(s). A newborn’s immune system is not fully developed leaving them much more sensitive to germs and the like. If you or those in your home are ill, I would highly recommend rescheduling any newborn sessions. The last place you want your clientele to end up is the NICU thanks to their visit with you! Furthermore, ALWAYS wash your hands before, and multiple times throughout, handling baby. Your hands carry the highest concentration of germs on your body and they will be in contact with baby’s fingers and face. It’s a great idea to have a big bottle of hand sanitizer ready for your sessions and to use it frequently.
3. Thoroughly consider the safety of any prop in which you intend to place a newborn
It seems photographers are trying more and more to push the envelope when it comes to their setups and originality. So much so that it becomes increasingly often that I’m struck with concern over the use of particular props or setups. A good rule of thumb is to use items that are soft, comfortable and / or that come with a low risk of injuring your subject. I highly advise AGAINST the use of glass jars or bowls in newborn photography (even if you intend to complete the shot as a composite). Microscopic faults and minor cracks can result in a cracked or shattered prop, either of which could be fatal to a newborn client. Should you decide to pose babe in or on a hard or wooden prop of any kind, I’d refer you back to ground rule #1 and advise that you be extra vigilant in spotting and / or supporting babe in the pose. When it comes to stork, suspended or hanging poses, you should test your materials with at least double the amount of weight of a typical baby for a period of at least 20 minutes. I have personally tested each of my “sling” materials in this way prior to use so that I am confident the thread count and quality of my materials is sufficient to handle the weight of my subjects.
4. Babies have immature circulatory systems
It’s common for newborns to be born with a condition called “acrocyanosis” in which the hands and feet are slightly blue in color. This condition typically resolves after the first few hours of life and occurs because blood and oxygen aren’t circulating properly to the hands and feet yet. It also typically clears up in the first days as the blood vessels in the hands and feet open up though babies do remain subject to reoccurrence and will more readily become blue in the extremities if circulation is compromised. What this means is that you should always keep an eye on the hands and feet when posing to make sure you have not positioned babe such that circulation has been cut off or compromised. Discoloration is particularly common in the hands with the chin resting on hands pose and the feet in the classic taco pose. If you see baby’s extremities begin to turn dark red, purple or blue, it’s a great indication that you should relieve pressure on the extremities, allow for recirculation and more likely reposition baby entirely.
5. Newborns are top heavy
It’s estimated that the newborn’s head holds about 25 percent of their total body weight. The adult human’s head is estimated to be in the range of only about 10 percent of total body weight which means… newborns are quite top heavy. Thus, any position in which the newborn will appear upright should (read DOES) require support. Positions such as the hands supporting the chin and the potato sac shots should always be done as composites in which two images are combined using masks in Photoshop to achieve the final product. In other words, newborns should not in fact hold these positions on their own. Many setups are in fact composite shots in which babies are fully supported and at a much lower risk of injury or falls thanks to the support of their weight by external sources (i.e. your assistant or the parents’ hands).
What this also means is that positions in buckets and props require special consideration. It’s a smart move to counterweight your prop by adding hand or ankle weights or a large ziploc bag full of rice to keep your prop from tumbling forward as babe is posed inside and draping over the front edge.
6. A baby is born with reflexes for a reason
Babies are born with a multitude of reflexes. These reflexes have developed over generations and are meant as measures to help the newborn survive in a world outside the womb. It’s prudent to pay particular attention to such reflexes as the rooting and startle reflex as ignoring or paying little consideration to them can lead to situations in which your baby is at risk of injury, even when positioned on soft surfaces such as a beanbag. If rooting is noticed, in most instances, this newborn should feed. This reflex is quite strong and ignoring it can lead to your newborn working their way right out of position sometimes face down on your posing surface. Rooting is particularly risky in the bum up pose as the newborn’s attempts to suck can cause them to roll right out of position towards the front of the posing surface.
Likewise, be extremely conscious of loud noises or disturbances when posing babies supine (on their backs) within props with their arms and / or legs free of a swaddle. The startle reflex is strong and can cause babies to hit their hands or feet on the edges of crates or bowls. There are other reflexes which can be of concern but getting a good handle on these two will definitely decrease your subjects chance of injury.
7. Not every newborn can / will attain every pose
Babies are individuals. Just like you and me, not every person can crank themselves into a pretzel position. If you feel resistance getting baby into a pose, stop and move on. There is enough variety that you need not attain every pose with every baby. Some of my favorite images are those in which baby’s are naturally posed anyhow.
8. An infant can die from a fall
Unintentional injuries (including falls) are rated as the 6th leading cause of infant death in the United States (www.statisticstop10.com). Please ALWAYS consider safety when attempting any type of pose with a newborn in which they are more than a few inches from the floor, or beanbag. There are ways in which these poses can safely and easily be accomplished either as composites or through other safety measures. Never suspend a baby more than a few inches above anything other than a large soft supportive surface such as a beanbag, couch cushions or bed. Even a spotter located underneath of your setup leaves a margin for error. There are ways in which these poses can be accomplished safely without leaving anything to chance. Even one death due to a fall at the hands of a photographer would be a complete devastation for our entire industry.
9. It’s better to educate yourself properly than risk your client’s safety
There are a MULTITUDE of courses out there providing newborn posing instruction. If you are unsure about anything posing or prop related, I strongly urge you to invest in yourself and your client’s safety by seeking out opportunities to educate yourself on the safest methods to achieve those beautiful poses. Thoroughly research the backgrounds of the instructors, their education and experience as well as the way in which they work so that you can learn from someone knowledgeable who poses similarly to the ways in which you do.
10. Please consider insurance
Let’s face it. You simply can’t love anything quite in the same way as you will your own baby. No matter how safe you are, I would NEVER advise you to practice newborn portraiture without first attaining a fabulous insurance plan. Please take the time to properly cover your business and yourself with a comprehensive insurance package. Even a hobbyist should consider their liability when working with models. Contrary to popular belief, your home owner’s insurance will NOT sufficiently cover you, even when shooting in your own home.
Most importantly, be considerate and be safe. Feel out your parents for the type of imagery they are interested in. On the occasion where you meet a baby who just not that into all those curly cute poses, go for natural setups and concentrate on the beauty of their details with some great macro shots. Who doesn’t love a great image of some yummy lips! They’re great for album designs as well.
Stephanie is a multi award winning photographer practicing out of Burlington Ontario Canada. She is a mother of three beautiful children and has a background as a registered physiotherapist. Stephanie has been teaching newborn safety and posing since early 2009 and will be presenting her first online workshop through LSI.
A HUGE thank you to Stephanie for sharing all of this amazing information. I hope you all have gained as much knowledge and understanding about newborn safety as possible and please don’t hesitate to ask questions or leave comments.