Newborn Pullbacks and Tips with Michelle Thompson

My name is Michelle Thompson, I started my photography business on Jan 1st of 2011. When I started my business I had already known that I wanted to specialize in newborns so of course I had to beg all of my friends to let me take photos of their newborn. Now unlike some, I did A LOT of research on Newborn photography before I had my first session. I remember oogling over Keri Meyers’ beautifully perfected photos and wondering about all of the technical things such as which lens, natural light or studio light, what do you put under blankets, ISO settings?? And yes, I have no shame in admitting that I was even one to ask big photogs silly questions that they had been asked 14 times per day, we’ve all have been there right?

Welp ONE MONTH after I started my business I had my first Newborn session! Pictured below are two photos from my VERY FIRST NEWBORN SESSION. Original edits and all. Not too shabby right? Now I’m not going to sit here and say the WHOLE session looked like these two, (and sure his lips were a little mushed into the blanket) but I was pretty proud and I WAS HOOKED!

Fast Forward 15 months – I had been through ALL types of sessions from families, toddlers, commercial, Boudoir, Weddings, engagement, PROM, dogs, real estate, commercial real estate….. YES EVERY TYPE OF SESSION….. Newborn sessions had a special place in my heart and remained my “thing”. So in March of this year I decided it was time to make the switch. A BIG sacrifice, knowing that I was actually going to have to say NO to clients and NO to money but it had to be done. I was going to specialize in Newborn Photography and so I was on my search for more babies to practice with!

In June of this year I officially made myself a Newborn photographer exclusively. At this point (18 months into my career) I knew what I wanted and I was on a good path to finding my own style. Which by the way is so dang hard for those of you that are struggling in that department right now (I GET IT, We ALL do).  So here I am almost 2 years later sharing my behind the scenes photos and tips on INSPIRE ME BABY. How awesome!

Ok enough about me, Here we go!

The photos below were taken in March-July of this year. By this time I had made a lot of friends in the industry to “chat” photography with. One of those being Erin, from ELL Photography. Last year she told me something that will always stick in my mind as an “Aha moment”, She said “To be persistent and patient with newborn posing, don’t give up on a pose just because you’ve tried for 5 minutes” This has become the MOST IMPORTANT advice that I have received in this business. When I first started I was guilty for doing just that, giving up after trying for 5 minutes. “They just wouldn’t bend like that” or “They wouldn’t do it” Or “I got nervous that I was taking too long because the parents were watching” were my excuses. Soon to be found out was that I was the professional and I had NO deadline to tend to at my newborn sessions, being watched by parents or not.

We all hear so many stories of Newborn sessions going bad because the baby just cried the whole time and would not do any of the poses, even the “easy” ones (and I’m guilty as charged of this too!). Which of course in some cases could definitely be just bad timing – fussy baby, mom was not instructed how to prep for session, etc… But I can guarantee that in most scenarios this probably could have been “handled” with more patience and experience. If you do not have a great deal of patience or you do not ENJOY being patient, this is not the correct field for you.

In the next few photos I’ll describe a couple of tips that I think may be helpful for you as you’re on your journey to perfecting your newborns sessions.

First photo is of me being patient with baby… SEE! …    Ha! Aren’t you glad you took some time out to read this??!

Ok seriously though, This is me fiddling with this little guys fingers. My second piece of advice to you is to get babies fingers straightened out. Take the time to do it even if it seems petty. If their fingers are clenched or clawing their face its going to make them look less dreamy… or let’s just be honest, STRESSED OUT in the photo.

Here’s the resulting shot (his fingers were not completely straight at this point but at least they were relaxed):

In this next photo I wanted to show you my backdrop! When I first got started with newborns I went ALL OUT trying to buy all of these awesome vinyl backdrops and and buying pieces of <expensive> fabric to make EVERY SINGLE photo different. Well, lesson learned after hundreds of dollars spent, that sometimes SIMPLE IS BETTER. Every photo WILL be different even if you have two-three backdrops to work with! You can hang banners, you can use different props, different stuffers, different BABIES!

Annnnnnd this photo shows me being PATIENT again…. I’m telling you, It’s a BIG ONE! ;)

My backdrop is wood boards from LOWES stained on one side and painted a distressed cream color on the other. Going the real wood route is definitely no big secret and is done by many but I just want to stress to you that IT IS OKAY TO NOT SPEND THOUSANDS ON YOUR BACKDROP/FLOORING STASH. It’s so easy and so much more affordable, durable, and versatile! My paint job was less than perfect as well, so don’t think it has to be amazing. Now, I WILL tell you that these boards are supposed to be attached together to make it easier to lug around to sessions, but the Hubs is now on to bigger and better projects and apparently has lost all interest in finishing this for me. So for now I’ll deal with the “OH my gosh! What are those for!!?” statements as I stumble into the house carrying 1,400 boards to their living rooms…

And here’s the resulting photo:

And the other side (cream):

Now with all this talk about patience and persistence, there are also times where you JUST KNOW that it is time to move on to a different pose. Be mindful of babies needs, if baby seems to get fussy when laying on tummy (maybe they have gas), try a couple more times and then improvise and do a side pose or back poses on fur/baskets. This improvisation could be as simple as putting their hands in a different position or pulling their legs up to a more comfortable spot for them. You could even try wrapping them and doing the exact same pose! BUT GET THOSE PHOTOS! Don’t give up on the session!

Below is a time that I was at my “give up on this pose” point so I did this side laying one instead, which baby seemed to love by the way! Not a typical pose but there’s nothing wrong with trying something new!

Recently I had a little gal who was very fussy when on her tummy and I had a feeling it was gas just the way she was squeezing her mid section. So I kind of just kept her there hoping she’d settle down. And  Just before my “give up on the tummy pose point” she let out a little baby toot, and what do you know she was completely fine afterwards! If I would’ve given up earlier I would’ve never gotten those highly desired shots (that mom said she wanted to get) and I would’ve been really hard on myself for it. AGAIN, PATIENCE!

Another tip that you can try in your upcoming sessions if you are wanting to practice or perfect poses:

I know from experience that babies tend to be a lot better at “their job” towards the end of the session, so if there are specific poses that you are trying to nail down save those til the second half. They tend to get used to the moving around, sounds, smells, and also get more tuckered out towards the second half. Don’t get yourself all flustered at the beginning because you’ll wear out your patience before you get to the REALLY GOOD PART!

AND LASTLY…. Of course I’m going to say something about newborn safety! If you are just beginning, PLEASE do your research on posing. Start with the easy ones!! The photo below is the first time I conquered this pose and this was 14 months of experience. They are bendy and fun to pose but not if you don’t know what you’re doing. Parents who read this also, It is your duty to do your research on your newborn photographer as well, make sure they do composites for these types of poses. An example of a proper composite is shown below. (Those are mom’s hand helping me out, you don’t need an assistant although it WOULD be very nice to have one!)

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you learned a little something from my babbling :)




You can follow my Newborn work on my facebook page here:

I also have a Newborn Prop shop if you’re ever in need of something sweet for your little ones

My friend Erin’s page, from Ell Photography mentioned above is found here: 

Textured backdrops available in the store:

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