Capturing Newborn Portraits with a Smartphone: Tips for New Parents

Recently we’ve had to close our doors to portraits because of COVID-19, and it’s been heartbreaking. The most heartbreaking thing is having to say no to clients who want newborn portraits. Babies change so quickly, so I wanted to put together some tips on how to capture your newborn portraits with your iPhone (or Android phone) so you don’t miss out on those photos.

The Basics

One of the most important tips is making sure baby is comfortable. They are more likely to stay asleep when they are warm, dry, and full. You may have heard that babies photograph the best 7-14 days after their birth. I’ve found this to be true for most newborns. I’d recommend shooting as close to 7 days as you can, because your baby quickly starts to become more alert and wants to be a part of the party. This doesn’t mean you cannot capture photos of an older baby, but it may be a little more difficult.

If the baby is a little older and in more of a routine, I recommend trying to do photos around the baby’s established nap time. If one day doesn’t work, don’t fret. Just try another day.

You might be wondering why we want newborns asleep during a photo shoot? Babies can’t control their limbs and sometime their eyes will go cross trying to focus. If these aren’t things you mind, you can always try doing a shoot while your baby is awake. But from experience, it will be much easier getting photos if they are asleep.

Most Importantly: please be safe. Be sure someone is by your baby at all times. This is especially important if you are propping baby up on a basket or chair. Please do not try to balance the baby on something, it’s not worth the risk.

All of the photos below were shot and edited with an iPhone 11 Pro using the telephoto lens (the 2x lens). If you don’t have the telephoto lens, don’t be afraid to get up close with your phone. If you have the ability, I recommend using the telephoto because the background compression in the photo is better.

Posing Your Baby

First, find some window light. I recommend a window to the side/90-45 degrees. Be sure to turn off all indoor light. A nice sunny day is going to work best, but stay away from windows that let in direct light (south/north/west windows in the morning and south/north/east in the late afternoon – evening work best). We want the light to be soft.

Follow the tips above: dry, warm, fed, and sleepy. If you are planning on having baby somewhat nude, use a space heater to keep your baby warm. Newborns also don’t like it to be quiet so use your favorite white noise machine. I use an app called Sound Sleeper on my iPhone for all my newborn sessions.

Baby in a Basket

… Or a chair, or ottoman. One thing I want to dive into is safety. The baby doll I was using weighed about 5oz, so it isn’t weighing down the blankets and laying inside the way a normal baby would.

When you put your baby in something, make sure they are inside it a little so they aren’t able to roll out, but not so far in that they can’t be seen. Also, make sure you have someone there who can catch your child safely if they do roll. Don’t put your baby in danger.

First, pad your basket if it is deep. I’ve put a throw pillow and small blanket inside mine. Find a background that is fairly plain and some nice window light coming from 90-45 degrees to babies’ face. Place baby safely in the middle-front and have an adult close by, hands out as close as they can get without being in the frame.

Shoot different angles. From one pose you should be able to get 3+ images.

Person Backdrop

An easy way to keep baby asleep is to use a person as a backdrop. Although Ms. Nora has a floral dress on in these photos, I recommend a neutral shirt if possible.

Have someone hold baby so that its face is lit by the window light. You can drape a neutral blanket over the person holding to create a more even background. We used the same grey blanket as we used for the basket.

Important: Although Nora (who, if you watch the video you’ll know, asks to be called Elsa) wasn’t holding baby when she had the blanket over her in the video, be sure to secure baby with your hands so he/she doesn’t roll over onto the floor.

Create Your Own Backdrop

Something that is very popular for portraits is a seemless backdrop—here’s how to make one at home. Lay a blanket on the ground. Get siblings or other family members involved by holding the other end of the blanket up like a curtain. I’ve found textured blankets work better to hide imperfections for a DIY setup like this.

Place baby in front of the blanket to create a blurred background. Depending on the size of the blanket, you might need to use portrait mode to blur out the background. Use different blankets, and different poses for the rest of this section.

Siblings/Parent Portraits with Newborn

Use the things you learned from the previous poses to capture a few picture with siblings or with each parent in turn. You can use the same spaces we used above, but don’t forget to get a shot on the couch and/or bed.

Also, if you can, prop your phone up and turn on the timer on the camera a couple times so you can get some full family shots. Just make sure the person hitting the shutter button and running into the shot before the ten seconds is up isn’t the person holding the baby… obviously.

Other ideas to consider are taking photos in your newborn’s nursery, crib or bassinet, and getting one with the family pet. Don’t be afraid to get creative!

These were all taken with an iPhone 11 Pro with props that most people will find around their home—mostly blankets and pillows. If you have other ideas, please leave them in the comment section below. Please tag me to the photos you post, because I’d love to see what you come up with! We’re @jennvanelk on Instagram, @JennVanElkPhoto on Twitter and Jennifer Van Elk Photographers on Facebook. And if you want to see more of my newborn portraits sans iPhone, check out these shoots with Tilly and Zoe.

Finally, if you had a newborn photographer you wanted to use for this shoot, consider hiring them to edit the iPhone newborn portraits you capture. This is a great way to get photos that have a similar look/style to what you wanted, and it’s also a great way to support a small business owner during this time.

About the author: Jennifer Van Elk is an Indianapolis-based photographer who specializes in weddings and commercial work with her husband Steven. To see more of their work, check out their website or give them a follow on Instagram and Facebook. This post was also published here.

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