Why I quickly walked away from the lucrative newborn portrait scene

“Why don’t you just do the types of sessions that are in demand and pay well?” was a question I was asked over the weekend, when a friend wanted to know how business was going.

(A lot of the families who documentary sessions would be a great fit for aren’t really looking for a photographer, because they don’t know documentary sessions are an option. This makes marketing a bit tricky!)
 
So – why wouldn’t I want to take the easier-sounding route?

I did (barely) dip my toe in the newborn portrait photography world, but some things about these sessions did not sit right with me:

The safety of baby comes first

As I was learning more about newborn portraiture, I also learned about the safety risks of several popular newborn poses. Of course I could have learned everything there is to know about newborn posing safety – but it felt really weird to me to put babies at risk in the first place.

Lena's newborn details | San Francisco Bay Area documentary baby photographer

I thought lifestyle sessions were the solution

I thought it was super important to get parents and siblings into the pictures so that they would be part of those memories – enter lifestyle newborn sessions. This way the parents would be the one caring for their own baby, no potentially unsafe posing would be going on – and the sessions could be at their homes.

But I still was not satisfied.

I wanted to make photographs that matter

Most of a family’s memories happen in their home, especially when the little ones are still little ones. Adding a brand new family member is a momentous time in someone’s life. Parents might not know it at the time, but they’ll want to remember it as it is.

That’s how I ended up gearing towards taking pictures of real moments and real life – documenting today for tomorrow, channelling a photojournalist.

Documentary newborn sessions are a challenge for the photographer

In complete opposite to newborn portrait sessions, nothing is controlled during documentary sessions.

Nothing is directed, posed, or propped.

You have to constantly figure out the best thing to photograph in each moment, while considering the settings and the ever-fleeting light. Being able to predict behaviors is important, too.

The challenge is a welcome one. The joy I feel when the composition, the light and the moment all come together for a photograph is nothing short of magic.

Documentary sessions are hassle-free for the family

A newborn session at a studio may take several hours depending on how “cooperative” a baby is. Doing an in-home or in-hospital session eliminates the frustration of carving out time to “get ready” and drive to a studio.

Even if the session is objectively “long”, it does not disrupt the flow of daily life. Staying at home usually makes a session much more attractive for the rest of the family, too.

No one will have pictures like yours

Nobody else has a home, life, experience or dynamic like yours. All the Pinterest Perfect standards of flawless parenthood you are subjected to aren’t what your memories should be about – your real life is so much more interesting.

The pictures will remind you of how you felt – not just how you looked

Even though posed family group pictures may have their place in a frame or in an album, images that truly capture what you were going through will be such an important addition to your collection of keepsakes.

The photos are unique yet relatable

The photographs capture what your life looks like when “no one is looking”. And while every family is different, the struggles are often universal.

On the right path

So to answer my friend’s question – if I was doing photography that wasn’t aligned with my vision,

1. I would lose out on the part of my job that I love

2. I would not be creating art – I would simply be providing a service

3. I would be taking business away from the photographers who *are* creating their art and fulfilling their vision through poses and props

I have to admit, sometimes I wonder how my business would be doing now, if I had chosen that “easier” route over shifting to documentary work. It might have been a total flop, because the work would not have been aligned with my values or my personality.

Families are worth documenting just as they are.

Babies and kids are perfect just as they are.

It is my job to mirror this back to them in pictures.

I have to trust that with time, patience, and hard work I can inspire more families to be brave enough to record their memories for their kids.

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Documentary newborn and family photographer serving San francisco Bay Area, San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and surrounding areas.

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