Newborn photography began as cutesy calendars and photo books with babies posing inside props like flower pots. Two decades later it has matured and thrives as a standalone niche category of family portraiture, showing no signs of slowing down.
‘I think social media has played a huge part in the increased demand and knowledge of newborn photography. People are wanting more too – they expect quality and want styled shoots,’ AIPP 2016 Newborn Photographer of the Year, Natalie Howe, told ProCounter. ‘Flick through Pinterest or Instagram and there are absolutely thousands of images of newborns, all curly and beautiful. Mums and dads are learning how important it is to capture the new little person in their life at such a young age.’
Newborn photography pioneer Anne Geddes delivered an iconic brand to the masses, selling millions – even billions according to the NY Times – of printed products a year. But few parents sought a shoot for their own baby.
This changed when the social media hungry millennial generation burst onto the scene, photographing any and every life event. Documenting the pregnancy journey or owning a collection of photos of a child during their youngest stage – before they really start to kick and scream – is practically mandatory. Increasingly a job best left for the professionals, rather than smartphone snaps.
Newborn photography is a ‘distinctly millennial phenomenon’, fashion magazine Vogue claims – it suggests hiring a photographer has become as, well, in vogue as it is for a wedding.
While wedding photography is trending towards a reportage ‘fly on the wall’ style, newborn photography remains as staged as it was in Geddes day.
‘Newborn photography, if anything, has shifted to the complete opposite to wedding trends – images are carefully posed and edited, ensuring every image is a piece of art. There is also a big emphasis on colour and texture,’ Howe said.
Inspiration from Geddes’ style is obvious when browsing the newborn photography catalogue in Pinterest, the preferred social media platform for newborn photography – although perhaps less kitschy: Adorable knitted hats and outfits are a yes, whereas sitting a baby on a lily pad to make it look like a flower might be seen as a bit yesterday.
‘There are, however, many photographers who cover all sorts of different styles. One of my favourite newborn photographers uses few props. Most of her work is black and white and very raw looking,’ Howe said.
‘It comes down to personal taste – there is so much to choose from that we now don’t have homes filled with babies in buckets, drowning in teddy bears like the ’90s.’
It’s unsurprising that most of Howe’s clients want a USB stick of pictures. But most leave ordering a physical end product. Those sitting on the fence only take a little persuasion to be convinced of the value of a good ol’ time, professionally-printed product.
‘I’m sitting in the office here, surrounded by orders. A few years ago, I gave up fighting the digital age and added digital products to my price list. They sell 95 percent of the time, but usually in conjunction with a large framed print, canvas or album. Clients get the best of both worlds that way, and as long as you educate them they can then make an informed decision that suits their home and budget,’ she said. ‘I figured, being stubborn about it was just causing me to lose clients, so I embraced it and packaged it well. My digital products come in packages with printed products, so my clients are happy they have the USB, and I’m happy because they have prints. It’s win, win.’
Unlike wedding and location portraiture photography, it would be a challenge to operate a newborn photo business without a studio.
Howe’s studio in Wallacia – west of Sydney – is a fairytale cottage with antique sofas, vintage furniture, and a manicured courtyard and garden. Its elaborate interior décor is as much a sales pitch as it is a gorgeous place to shoot. And her price structure is reasonable – an hour long, weekday newborn portrait session costs $200.
The ‘newborn room’ is equipped with dozens of quilts and outfits with different textures neatly packed into custom-built shelves. Product samples adorn the walls and bench tops. It’s a near-perfect studio set up and the atmosphere carries over into Howe’s photos.
Sourcing the array of props and outfits has become more accessible.
The boom in demand for newborn photography created a ‘flow on cottage industry’. Speaking with The Daily Telegraph Zanelle Walter, Sydney-based founder of the International Newborn Photography Association, said two women regularly import $2 million worth of baby products from China, and sell it in a few days.
Born by necessity
Simultaneous marketplace changes occurred in the photographic industry when Millennials started having children, creating a perfect storm for the rise of newborn photography.
The market for wedding photographers became saturated and constrained by the number of weddings taking place. And portrait studios disappeared or downsized. Many, perhaps most, established photographers had to restructure their business and expand their service reach.
A challenge for some, but the transition came naturally for photographers like Howe, who started shooting portraits in 2004 and drifted into weddings a few years later. Her reputation as a wedding photographer strengthened after winning a few big awards in local and international contests between 2009 and 2014.
‘I actually never wanted to photograph weddings. It didn’t appeal to me, but I was thrown into one and after that I was hooked – it was an adrenaline rush and I needed more. My largest year being 2014, I photographed 45 weddings. This isn’t much to those who just photograph weddings, but when you also run a portrait studio, it was a little too many,’ she said.
Weddings dominate Howe’s business, but the pendulum is swinging back. While she loves to photograph weddings, studio sessions are straightforward and allow for a structured business – and lifestyle – routine.
‘I’d say that my workload is probably a 50/50 split with weddings and portrait at the moment, this year has been a huge year for portraits for me. And in October alone we photographed seven weddings. Actually it’s been a huge few months. Hopefully next year, it will be a 30/70 split, with more portraits,’ she said.
Natalie Howe’s APPA win for portrait work will help achieve the goal.