Today my little business is 10 years old! The 1st of May 2009 was the date I officially registered Rebecca May Photography and launched into one of the most rewarding chapters of my life - that of newborn photographer.
I decided I am going to be VERY brave in this post - and I am going to share with you the earliest newborn shoot I have ever taken and a little of my story!
This image is from my first newborn session and is of our own son, at just 18 days old. It was shot 1st November 2008 when he was a very new baby and I, a very new mummy with a shiny new camera.
I had dreamt about his newborn photographs for nine months.....I even held them in my mind at times to get me through a long and quite frankly, traumatic labour. It was the very first thing I wanted to do with my son when we got home from the hospital....the urge to photograph him was overwhelming. Two weeks after his birth, after the blur of the first feeds, struggling to breastfeed and trying to heal....we circled a date and decided upon an evening shoot in the dining room. Here, my dear friends....are my first tragic attempts at newborn photography.
I had an entry level camera (I remember the flash kept popping up), I did use it on manual, but even so, my settings were not perfect. I didn't understand white balance, so my colour images are wildly too warm. I used a black fleece throw for a back drop, a angle poise desk lamp for lighting (thanks mum), a sheep fleece, a scarf and a wicker basket. We even did the whole thing on our dining room table. Oh and I had a very hungry baby, who wouldn't settle. Don't forget that bit. I shot this at entirely the wrong time of day.... in the evening (when breastfed babies want to do nothing but snuggle mummy and cluster feed!) He spent most of the time looking for milk, on the verge of crying.
Worst still, I thought it would be easy. I was confident (perhaps even arrogant) enough to think that after years as a photography teacher, I could do this and have a handle on it. Boy, was I wrong!
I lay our son down on the fleece on the table and hoped he would just magically and instantly fall asleep. I simply didn't understand what it took to achieve the type of newborn portraits the american newborn photographers like Carrie Sandoval and Tracey Raver had created. At the time they were the leading global newborn photographers in a new and beautifully natural style featuring tiny and beautifully posed newborns. I adored the peaceful, curled up portraits of day old babies and wanted to create the same.
Image by Carrie Sandoval, whose work ignited my passion for newborn photography.
What I didn't bank on was the high level of skill involved in creating these images.... I didn't know about maintaining a high room temperature, I didn't realise how crucial good milk transfer is for a settled baby, the use of white noise, an experienced and gentle workflow whilst posing and adjusting a sleeping baby, or any of the other range of skills which are second nature to me these days.
As I look at my son's photographs from that first session, I can see that the camera settings, posing, angles, lighting angles and well....just about everything in the photographs is not ideal (ahem). In some, he looks distorted, as he is squished against the backdrop, grimacing or angled entirely the wrong way. Poor little love!
I also remember it was tricky as I was breastfeeding in-between shots too and we had only just established a good latch. Looking back I can see that it was slightly distressing for my boy, who was over stimulated and unsettled whilst I moved him from prop to fleece and back again. He was unwrapped and not 'contained', leaving him feeling exposed. I simply didn't know what to do with him. Naturally, he waved his arms and legs and wiggled everywhere, with a myriad of expressions on his little face. He didn't instantly curl up like and look peaceful like all the Carrie Sandoval babies I had ever seen and I was utterly perplexed!
It dawned on me that I didn't have the skill set needed. We finished the session with some baby in arms shots, which were better because he felt close to us and comforted, but I never achieved the curly newborn poses on a blanket, I had hoped for. (I have taken lots of super portraits of my boy since, but you never get those newborn moments again!)
Despite their shortcomings, of course I utterly adore these photographs of my baby boy, who is now a confident, artistic and thoughtful 10 year old. I never knew that time would pass quicker than anyone thought possible.....that the baby photographed....... would be gone and grown so fast. So, I am so happy to have these newborn photographs. It doesn't matter to me that on most levels they are entirely incorrect. These photographs are proof of my tiny baby, our little one. I think there were perhaps three or four images from this session I believed were successful and I do treasure those, to this day.
That said - to have a serenely posed, correctly exposed, technically perfect and utterly beautiful photograph of my baby boy, would have been even better. It would have been a treasured artwork, hung on our walls to enjoy every single day. I am sad to say that I never achieved anything close to the perfection of the newborn portraits created by Carrie Sandoval, before my son outgrew his 0-3 month baby grows. I wish now, I had taken him to one of the rare UK newborn specialist photographers, back in 2008 and admitted defeat! But I was stubborn.
May I insert very quickly - please let this be a lesson you take from me! Go book the professional!!! DO IT TODAY! I don't even mind if it's not me, but just make sure you book an experienced, insured, fully trained newborn photographer who will deliver first class images, guaranteed. You won't ever be able to repeat these images of your fresh little baby, in your lifetime, so why take the risk of booking less than the best? xx Got it? Ok, soapbox over!
Still, the spark was lit within me to make this my starting point and pursue a dream. I wanted from the outset to become a newborn portrait specialist and so in late 2008 I set out to learn how to beautifully capture sleeping newborns.
Needless to say, in the decade that has passed, I researched and worked hard, very hard, learned quickly, reflected often and always sought continually to improve on my best. I slowly realised that the universe owed me nothing. That's right - nothing at all. It really didn't care about Rebecca May Photography, so I had to create my own opportunities. It had to be by my own graft! I certainly wasn't rich, nor lucky....and I started with nothing more than a small studio in a terraced house (it was a bedroom) and a few items and a cheap entry level camera. Everything I have learned has been from my own seeking, my own initiative and the invaluable experience I have gained hands on, with dedication to this specialist craft.
In time, I sought specific newborn business training, as well as further advanced training in newborn safety and posing with industry leaders Kelly Brown, Jade Gao, Sujata Setia and Maddy Rogers. The generosity and wisdom of these photographers was overwhelming. You cannot build a business in an igloo - it takes a village! Experience and knowledge is everything.
Despite years of experience and training, you know I will never be satisfied that I am 'there', that I have learned and done it all.....there is so much out there for me to learn and accomplish within this fascinating field. This isn't a blog about patting myself on the back....it's a blog about exploring where I have come from and the journey I am still making.
So, where am I now?
'The only photographer you should ever compare yourself with, is the one you were yesterday.'
Arriving finally in 2019 has seen me achieve many goals with my newborn photography, in terms of my studio, client experience and my skills and dexterity in photographing the tiny newborns......but there is always so much more to learn, master and create in this newborn industry. I am certain there is much more to come from me yet! You'll have to wait and see.
Here are a few highlights from Issac's recent newborn session. I chose his photo shoot to share as my 2019 session, not because it was significantly better than any other of my recent newborn shoots, but because he reminded me of my son with his even features and dark hair. It makes drawing a comparison between the two shoots - created a decade apart - even more easy. Isn't Issac beautiful!
Here also are other 2019 babies...
I would like to personally thank every client for trusting me to bring their most precious babies to me to be photographed (particularly those in my early days!) and for the belief that I could do this. I will always present to you my best work, tailored to meet you and your baby's needs. To create enduring, timeless work to bring happiness to your family for a lifetime.
If you are interested in newborn training and taking your own photography to the next level, please don't hesitate to get in touch and hop on to one of my 1:2:1 Newborn Workshops run at my Maidstone studio. The full day course, which includes me posing real newborn babies for you to learn directly from, is ideal for keen amateurs or professional photographers who wish to expand their knowledge and add to their portfolio of services.
If you are expecting your own baby in 2019, don't forget that I am offering 50% discount on all newborn sessions booked in May 2019. The sessions can be taken up until December 31st, so you have lots of time to use your discounted session! Simply click on my website home page, which features a direct link to booking these discounted sessions for the entire month of May 2019.
That's all from me, perhaps in the future I will create a post for those who are starting out with all the tips and advice I can muster! Travelling back in time to my son's newborn session has jogged my memory of the road I have travelled to get here. If I can help others make an informed and educated start in this fascinating career, that would be amazing. It is, after all, such a wonderful, creative and magical profession, when you know how ;)